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Spotlight: Mehreen Jabbar

Mehreen Jabbar doesn’t believe in mincing words. Precise and to-the-point, she is one of the few talented female directors we have today. After working for a decade in the media industry, she took off to America, setting base in New York for three years. But now that she is visiting, it seems local viewers might be seeing a lot more of her work. “I will be travelling back and forth for work, but I plan to keep my base in New York.”

Apparently, the Big Apple seems to have done her good. “One of the reasons why I left was to get away from the rut I had got myself into. I needed a change of scene, and so in NY, I have had time to reflect on my previous accomplishments. It has been great because I got to see films there that I would never get to see here. I got the opportunity to read books and listen to good music. No doubt, life is very fast paced there and unless you have friends or some kind of support structure, it can get very lonesome. But you learn to live independently and become more responsible. Besides, you can meet people from all over the world and get to know different cultures, which is an enriching experience in itself. My aim has always been to have the best of both worlds.”

‘Bad things have happened to Pakistani drama. The trend is mostly towards over melodramatic, unrealistic story lines and there is not enough emphasis on the acting or the stories per se. Instead, the focus seems to be on all the wrong things like make-up or the look,’ says Mehreen Jabbar

Working from NYC, Mehreen’s projects included Pardes, an interview based show about South Asian success stories and quite a few other projects. Besides, she had been officially working for the past two years as a director at Hum TV, and done a handful of programmes in this capacity including New York Maza, a magazine show; tele films Saraab and Sehr Honay Tak, a short film with Nandita Das; and drama serial Pehchan. Mehreen has also directed a few episodes for the series Kahaniyaan which is yet to be aired.

She talks about her work on foreign shores: “It was great experience. The production team was very professional and I ended up working with them a lot. One of the things that I learnt about working there was punctuality and the extreme professional behaviour of actors, assistant directors and the crew.” And the experience of working with foreign actors? “It was actually one of the toughest things to find actors. There are no Indian or Pakistani American actors there and most of them don’t know how to speak Hindi or Urdu fluently. After auditioning around 200 people, I got eight or nine who could speak the language and only two out of those could act, but they were very good. Deepti Gupta and Ismail Bashay, whom I ended up using a lot, were not only fluent at speaking but good at acting as well,” says Mehreen.

The media scene in Pakistan has undergone a drastic change of late. How does she find this boom? “Unfortunately, bad things have happened to Pakistani drama. I’ve seen some good work but overall, the trend is mostly towards over melodramatic, unrealistic story lines and there is not enough emphasis on the acting or the stories per se. Instead, the focus seems to be on all the wrong things like make-up or the look. I can’t bear to watch dramas for more that 15 or 20 minutes at a stretch.”

Although she has had the chance to view only a few projects since her return, she does find some directors praiseworthy: “I really like the work of Imran Patel and Yasir Nawaz Baloch. Imran is making an effort to do something different content wise, whereas Yasir is a hard worker and he gets completely involved in his projects. He doesn’t take up a hundred different projects at once; he does one job at a time and does it well. Ehtesham also seems to be a promising director in the field. The positive aspect of new TV channels, however, is that a lot of people are coming into the field. TV channels should now train people through workshops so that they can learn instead of making the same mistakes their peers have made.”

What about her current projects? “I am not taking any television work, but I am doing something with my father (Javed Jabbar). If I do end up getting a project, I will shoot it here and do post-production work in America. But what I really want now is to just cut down on television and start thinking about films. I have been wanting to make a film for quite a while and now is the time to go for it. Film is not a quick thing and it takes time. My first film will have a story that really moves me. I plan to do what I am good at, but I cannot give any more details as it is too early to do so. But something will develop by next year,” she says for now.

Along with Mehreen, one of her confederates, Saqib Malik, has also taken a plunge into cinema. Does she believe people like her will add something positive to the dilapidated film scene in Pakistan? “Films take a lot out of you. You have to give up a lot of your work and concentrate on all aspects which may take a year or more. I don’t know if I or Saqib would be able to make a change, but we want to make good films so that people come back to cinema and Pakistani films enter the international markets.”

Mehreen has the credit of being one of the pioneers of promoting film culture through the KaraFilm Festival, but curiously, it has been quite a while since she worked along this portal. “I didn’t abandon Kara. I just left the country to set base in America and couldn’t come back for two years. I tried being a part of the festival while in the US but couldn’t be an active member. This year, though, I plan to submit two entries as a director in the shorts category, something I made in the US. One is about a man who starts getting unhinged in NYC.”

Besides Kara, Mehreen has a couple of things lined up for the future which she doesn’t want to disclose right now. “My last project was the series for Hum TV which will run by the end of this year. My father is also opening a media company so we are going to collaborate.”

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