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Imran Ashraf, Amar Khan and Momin Saqib can’t wait to share 'Dum Mastam' with UAE audiences

The lead actors talk about the film ahead of its release.

Photos: Supplied
Photos: Supplied

By Mahwash Ajaz

Published: Fri 29 Apr 2022, 6:26 PM

Last updated: Sun 1 May 2022, 1:37 PM

This Eid for Pakistani cinema is crucial. Since the pandemic began, this is the first Eid after the easing of majority of the restrictions in Pakistan which will see a slew of films being presented to the audiences. Pakistani audiences, who primarily prefer television over cinema, are a hard sell. A product has to offer them everything (and possibly more) for them to consider their ticket prices worth it. Upcoming film Dum Mastam seems to be the strongest offering of the lot (with other films such as Ahsan Khan’s Chakkar, Saba Qamar’s Ghabrana Nahi Hay also in the running) starring Amar Khan, Imran Ashraf, Momin Saqib and Sohail Ahmed. The film is written by Amar Khan and directed by Ehteshamuddin who previously gave the Mahira Khan hit, Superstar. The film is produced by veteran actor and now producer, Adnan Siddiqui, and Akhtar Hasnain.

We sat down with the lead actors Imran Ashraf, Amar Khan and Momin Saqib over a fun online interview where their energy was positively infectious. As they laughed, joked, quipped and constantly interrupted each other with playful jibes, they didn’t seem nervous or anxious at all. With the film release just about a few days away, how are the nerves like for them right now?

“I’m grateful that I have a film to do! I am very thankful to Allah,” said the critically acclaimed and popular actor Imran Ashraf. “I never thought I would be a hero of a film. The nature of work that we have is such that there’s always a set of nerves attached to this. If the film was average, I’d probably be nervous. But what Ehteshamuddin (the director) Adnan Siddiqui (the producer) and Amar and all of us tried to do – when I saw the film put together, I saw that we achieved what we wanted. I’m not over-confident about this film, I believe in it.”

Amar Khan said she was nervous and a little scared. “This time we’re going for an audience who is going to pay money and come. Not that we’re not confident or we don’t believe in our product but obviously there is a box office pressure. But I’m equally excited also. I feel like I’ve been investing in this film for the past 6-7 years,” said the Baddua actress.

Momin Saqib admitted to some nerves but they seemed to have dissipated after he saw the trailer, “I thought it was a masterpiece! I believe that the production quality is fantastic,” he says confidently.

Amar, who has penned the film, has had quite a journey from being a film school student to a mainstream actor to a screenwriter. “I studied filmmaking and then I ventured into TV as an actor,” she recalls her journey. “I don’t know how to write a drama, I don’t think I’ll ever write a drama. Even my own film director says I should write a drama but I don’t think I’ll be able to do justice to it. I’ve made a lot of short films and got selected and screened at prominent film festivals internationally. People ask me who did you write it for? I said – I wrote it for myself. You either have money or passion for which you write: I was going through heartbreak, so I wrote this!”

Both Imran Ashraf and Momin Saqib have burst into dramatic gestures at this point and Imran Ashraf can’t help but exclaim, impressed, “This is so positive. People cry and go into depression. She’s written a film! Also many people go to schools and colleges and study many things. What’s important is that she studied, graduated and actually pursued this field.”

“And what a film she’s written!” chimes in Saqib.

Casting a viral sensation

Momin Saqib’s first mainstream acting stint is Dum Mastam, though the audiences have seen him in various television roles after he rose to fame through his comedic rant about a Pakistan versus India match in Old Trafford in 2019.

Did Amar know she would be casting this viral sensation? Amar said she had no clue who was going to be in this film except Sohail Ahmed, the veteran Punjabi actor known for his comedic as well as serious roles in the industry. “I remember when I was on my sixth draft, I was looking into Guddu Razor and I saw Momin’s video which was going viral,” says Khan. “I reached out to Momin’s older brother’s friend Zayn Afzal, who’s also an actor, that I want to speak to this boy. Momin sent a screen audition twice for this role. We were very excited for him. There are some commonalities in Guddu Razor and Momin.”

Ask why two auditions were needed, a semi-serious Imran says, “He had sent the audition in English!” This allowed everyone to dissolve into another fit of laughter. “And I, being a writer,” continued Imran more seriously, “was also fascinated by Momin. I found his number, got in touch with him and said I wanted to meet him. We ate charsi tikka in Karachi!

Momin Saqib stated how Imran was like a big brother to him on the set and guided him. “Amar ji narrated the story for three hours to me from A-Z,” he says. “And when he got selected,” chimed Amar, “he would call me for two and a half hours asking the same question: how many scenes do I have!”

Momin stated humbly that Imran guided him every step of the way on the set. “Imran was like an umbrella to me,” Momin says. “While it was raining!” quipped Imran, with his characteristic giggle.

“Ehtesham directed me so well,” says Momin referring to Ehteshamuddin, the director. “He knew what he was doing. He had a vision and he made me perform according to his vision.”

Risk taker

Imran Ashraf is a bankable TV star already and in Pakistan, contrary to Bollywood, TV stars rule the roost and are even more successful than film actors. After a period of struggle, Imran Ashraf performed various breakthrough roles which have made him one of the most sought-after actors in the industry. As per professional intuition, TV stars are reluctant to foray into films and film stars avoid television. Why did Imran take the risk of Dum Mastam while being on top of his game on TV?

“If a risk doesn’t hurt anyone, it’s okay to take it,” he replies in his dramatic way. “I will always do dramas. But Ehteshamuddin, as an actor and director, is the answer to all these questions. When you have a team like this, risks are good.” He pauses and then adds, “The only issue is that people are not coming to cinemas. But that’s a challenge everyone is facing. To me as an actor, I’m always hungry for a good script. As soon as I find it, I’ll take it.”

Imran has to rush now, and no one seems to mind it because that’s just how Imran is: he wins everyone over with his sweetness. As Amar and Momin settle in to answer more questions, Momin delves deeper into the process of playing Guddu Razor and choosing cinema over other media. “I’ve worked in all three mediums, I enjoy movies more,” he states categorically. “I’ve worked in RADA and have worked in theatre with Shehnaz Sheikh and Omair Rana. After Raqs-e-Bismil, I did a tele-film too. And I had many offers but I couldn’t resonate with any of the characters. You’ll see what I mean when you watch Dum Mastam. My character in Dum Mastam is very turbulent and exciting.”

The Bollywood touch

Pakistani cinema is heavily inspired from Bollywood right now. As actors and writer, how did Amar Khan and co, manage to keep a Pakistani flavour along with playing to the Bollywood tastes of the audiences? “Two Punjabi actors are performing in their native accents and tonalities, I’m sure that realistic believable element and those outbursts of heartfelt emotions will be very Pakistan-centric,” she answers. “People will connect with Baoo and Alia and Guddu Razor.”

There is always criticism for Pakistani actors and the industry. It’s often called male-dominated and regressive. Does Amar, who is an outspoken feminist, agree with the criticism? Does she believe cancel culture will also come for her film? “As a feminist, if I have to bring other people down to show my strength – this is the wrong approach. We have to think on a humane level before considering gender. I believe our industry is very powerful when it comes to women. Women charge a whole lot more in advertisements compared to men and they have more followers than their male counterparts on social media. So women have a lot of power in our industry.”

What message would they have for their UAE audiences?

Momin Saqib agrees that UAE is a far bigger market for South Asian content than any other in the world. “We really hope people come to see the film on Eid,” he beams.

“There is a logic to bringing audiences on Eid,” Amar says. “It’s hot and people just want sit inside an AC room. And people do flock to the cinemas on Eid more. The film is releasing all across the world and I want to send this message to overseas Pakistanis to please come and watch this film. We have a massive chunk of Asians in UAE. When we were in Dubai a few months ago, our driver in Dubai was a Bangladeshi man and he told me they only watch Pakistani dramas at night. We have Indians, Nepalis, Sri Lankans and Pakistanis in Dubai so I really hope they all get to see the film.”

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