Warsaw is a city steeped in film history. For decades, filmmakers have been falling to its many charms. There are of course the local masters, such as Andrzej Wajda or Krzystof Kieslowski who have set some of their most iconic tales in the Polish capital. And then there are modern directors such as David Lynch or Lars von Trier who have used it as a backdrop for their existential, surreal commentaries on humanity.
Next in line to join this august company is Ahsan Rahim. Together with Ali Zafar, he has created his debut feature Teefa in Trouble, an action-comedy that’s set up shop in Warsaw for the last leg of the shooting schedule. A busy crew and a positive buzz greet me the day I’m granted an exclusive behind-the-scenes look for Icon and what I see looks very promising: high-octane car chases with stunt work to make the heartbeat increase exponentially. But more on that later.
It’s a clear, sunny day and even though it’s the middle of July, for some reason my prejudiced head cannot process this fact. On my way over, I was picturing a dreary, rainy place but Warsaw makes quite the opposite impression on me as soon as my train enters the station. It’s a lovely city bursting with culture at every corner.
One or two monuments checked, local delicacies scoffed, I receive the directions from the production manager and make my way to the set. The place is easy to find but still quite a trek to get to. Looking back at my notes, I’ve scribbled “abandoned warehouse” to keep hold of my initial reaction of the location, but this isn’t true at all. It’s not abandoned; this is some kind of a racecourse where people can spin some laps for a small fee. I also spot, rather ominously, an arms shop. Two guys are sitting in front of it and cleaning their rifles. This is surely the perfect movie setting for hot pursuits and getaway vehicles.
Icon goes on the sets in Poland of Ali Zafar’s upcoming feature film Teefa in Trouble
I finally reach and see an assortment of police cars lining up a narrow, one-way road. I hear someone shout “action” (ah, that one global thing about movie sets) and they speed away one by one, disappearing around the corner. This is part of an elaborate chase sequence that I will get to see in various angles during the first part of the day. But before that, Ali Zafar greets me in his trailer. He’s taking it easy, as the concurrently shot stunt portions don’t require his constant presence.
“This may end up being the most expensive Pakistani production,” he says matter-of-factly whilst listening to Michael Jackson on a music player. “Because of the amount of action involved, it costs a lot of money.” He should know this best, considering that he’s not only the main star and co-writer (his younger brother Danyal was also part of the writing sessions) but also the producer.
Regardless of the many hats he’s wearing, it’s the acting part that will be the big talking point once the film releases. Ali Zafar has seriously bulked up for this role, having trained for four months prior to the shoot and now maintaining this rigorous process: martial arts and fitness training factor into his transformation, as do pre-cooked, protein-filled meals he is regularly handed on set by attentive assistants for immediate consumption.
No one from the tight-lipped cast and crew is telling me anything about the plot, other than Teefa, the main character, being a guy from androon shehr — Lahore’s Old City — who has come abroad for the first time on a mission. I resort to asking about the genre instead. Has Zafar always been a fan of action movies? What kind of films has he drawn inspiration from, for this one in particular?
First up, they do a test run during which the car flips as planned but then the stunt driver seems to lose control of the vehicle. It’s a nightmarish sight, the car’s wheels protruded in the air on the left, while only the right-hand side of the car is driving on the ground. The entire crew seems to be holding its breath; the set’s gone quiet for what seems like ages. This could go terribly wrong and everyone knows, but then eventually the car tilts back to the ground and resumes its course.
“A lot of people grew up on Superman and Star Wars … all these movies. And I mean, Rocky, Bruce Lee, things like that. I’ve been an action buff since I was a child. I used to make comic books. I used to make superheroes. Same with Ahsan. He draws his action heroes and sequences, so we both love action. We both love comedy. I also like intense, romantic stuff and in this film, we said: let’s do everything that we’ve been wanting to do.”
So it’s a little bit of everything. I understand that I won’t get any more information about who Teefa is, why he is in trouble and why in Warsaw, so I make my way across the set to where the action is actually happening. I spot a small crew of locals comprising technicians, assistants, one still photographer and several helpers. Ahsan Rahim is standing tall in the middle of them all, alongside his DoP Zain Haleem. After every shot, they put their heads together and discuss how to get the best possible result. As usual for any set, there’s a lot of waiting, a lot of talking, a lot of trying out and a lot of nervous laughter. And it’s a truly impressive setup, just for this one chase sequence. For the next take, they are using vans, police cars and motorbikes. A drone is being operated together with the camera and this will surely give more possibilities for the editing. A ramp has been installed too, so that one particular car can flip dramatically after driving over it and continue on two wheels only.
This DIY, hands-on approach is heartening to see in today’s day and age where CGI reigns supreme. It’s pure filmmaking by a dedicated bunch of professionals. Nothing makes me realise this more than the ramp shot: first up, they do a test-run during which the car flips as planned but then the stunt driver seems to lose control of the vehicle. He has difficulties balancing the car back on to four wheels. It’s a nightmarish sight, the car’s wheels protruded in the air on the left, while only the right-hand side of the car is driving on the ground. The entire crew seems to be holding its breath; the set’s gone quiet for what seems like ages. This could go terribly wrong and everyone knows, but then eventually the car tilts back to the ground and resumes its course. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief. “I thought for sure he’s going to fall over,” says Ahsan Rahim with a grin. All this reminds me of Ali Zafar’s description of the undertaking: “You could say the film is on steroids, right from the first frame.” I see that now.
Teefa in Trouble has an eclectic cast, comprising industry veterans such as Javed Sheikh and Faysal Quraishi and emerging talents Fia Khan and Mahenur Haider. Maya Ali is the main lead opposite Ali Zafar. From what I’m told, she’s far from “just a love interest.” She’s done a lot of stunts herself and gained quite a reputation. I hear one person calling her “the queen of reckless driving.” So it’s especially funny to me to see her body double, this lanky Polish gent exiting a car during a break, wearing a red dress and a wig. Ali Zafar, who has also done most of his stunts, is also using a body double for this particular chase. A guy with the same jacket and hairdo. Only then do I realise that Teefa has been in costume all day. That’s what he’ll look like!
For all the high energy and the complicated nature of shooting car chases and stunts, there’s an endearing quality to the small size of the crew. A sort-of tent has been pitched up by the side and after every completed take, the crew convenes under it to watch the playback. This gives off a sense of unity, as there’s no real hierarchy. Everyone is in it just as much as the next guy or girl. I’ve been on sets before where, even though everything is going according to plan, the atmosphere is stifled, joyless. Here, while everyone is doubtlessly focused and determined, there’s also camaraderie and a sense of fun. Especially between the four or five Pakistani members of the crew.
One can only hope that all this translates on screen. The chase scene goes on, now in another setup. We were in the open before, but now we’re inside the actual “warehouse.” Stacks of cardboard boxes can be found all over the site and metallic objects complete the structure. If I could paint a picture and choose a cinematic equivalent to what I’m seeing before me, I’m reminded of the last shot in Raiders of the Lost Ark, that vast space where a crate is stored among countless similar ones.
Blue light is everywhere, as police cars follow a motorbike. Round and round they go, until the chase comes to an abrupt, crashing halt. This shot is repeated several times over the next few hours. In the film, it will amount to just a few seconds. And I have no idea whether Teefa is still in trouble at this point or whether the police is chasing him at the beginning, or whether this is already the climax and he is about to ride away from trouble forever. My guess is as good as anyone’s and I look forward to seeing the finished product.
And so we’ve come to the end. The director has called “pack up.” The crew has a day off now and there’s a certain sense of excitement in the air. And it’s been exciting for me too, to get insights into contemporary Pakistani cinema.
Even though this sounds beside the point, I mean this as a compliment: Teefa in Trouble doesn’t feel like a Pakistani production. I’m aware that whatever I’ve seen is a mere glimpse, a small snippet. There’s an entire schedule in Lahore already wrapped. But when I leave, I leave in high spirits, happy that such a film exists, this most unusual cocktail of Pakistan and Poland, an ambitious action, romance, comedy and drama adventure with its heart in the right place. I’m curious to see how it all pans out.
Published in Dawn,
Pakistani-American actor Faran Tahir ─ you may recognise him as Raza in Iron Man (2008) and Captain Robau in Star Trek (2009) ─ will be starring in the final season of popular American political drama series Scandal.
Faran, who is now 53 years old (but hardly looks it?!), has been part of Hollywood for over 25 years now. He has guest starred in many TV series and films, with his debut appearance in Disney's live-action film The Jungle Book in 1994 as Mowgli's father.
The latest addition to Faran's acting profile will be his role as President Rashad in the seventh and final season of American TV series Scandal. The show goes on air October 5.
The 53-year-old actor will be appearing in episodes 2, 4 and 5. Details about Faran's role are being kept strictly confidential, a press release from his PR agency stated.
"No details regarding the storyline [of the show] have been shared so far [either] and the released promos have been maintaining the mystery," it added.
Alongside Scandal, Faran has been busy shooting for three other projects which include the television series Shameless and The Magicians. He will also be reprising his role as Mallick on American TV show 12 Monkeys(Season 4) in 2018.
We knew Shoaib Masoor's Verna would be intense but the teaser proves it more.
The Mahira Khan starrer just gave a glimpse of what to expect in the upcoming film.
Mahira, the leading lady of the film, shared the teaser on her social media.
The teaser is a short scene of Mahira Khan violently lashing out on an undisclosed character. The dark and gritty scene was accompanied by Xpolymer Dar's rap 'Power di game' which is part of Verna's OST.
There is definitely violence in the movie, so it might not be for the faint of heart.
We knew from before that Mahira Khan will be playing a rape survivor who seeks justice against her assaulters. And now we saw her do just that.
Verna also stars Haroon Shahid, Zarrar Khan, Naimal Khawar and Rasheed Naz in main roles. This will also be the second time Mahira Khan has worked with Shoaib Mansoor, the first time being her cinematic debut Bol.
Verna is set for release on November 17.
TV drama Baaghi is picking up its pace and we're seeing lots of new characters enter the frame.
One of these characters will be Osman Khalid Butt, who's said to play Fouzia's love interest in the series and will be making his appearance in the coming weeks.
Is his character based on a real-life wooer of Qandeel's? Why did he sign on to Baaghi? What does he hope to say through his latest project? OKB takes our questions:
Images: Your character on Baaghi will be introduced soon. What can you tell us about it?
Osman Khalid Butt (OKB): In a sea of angry men who wanted to manipulate this kind of headstrong but ultimately naive woman who had no idea what she was getting herself into, my character comes along as a respite.
He represents the kind of characters that I personally as an actor want to also represent, which is somebody who is not judgemental, somebody who sees beyond what's happening in front of him.
He really searches for depth and a connection with this woman, and finds it. Which to those who label her with words one should not mention, it should come as a surprise. The idea that this woman was just not only what you saw on your Facebook and social media feeds, that there was a living, breathing, thinking entity there and what caused her to do what she did and why she crossed the line that she crossed.
I don't want to put the character on any kind of pedestal, he is a human being too and goes through his own set of emotions. He's gone through heartbreak and loss himself, so maybe that helps him empathise better.
A very surprising connection is formed, which neither of the characters anticipated.
Images: When we spoke to Baaghi's writers, they made sure to say that the series is inspired by Qandeel's life but it's not, strictly speaking, an exact biographical account. But I'm wondering if your character was based off of someone from her life...
OKB: I did have a conversation and there are kind of conflicting reports. I myself was kind of unsure.
There was somebody who had promised marriage to her. But for me the character wasn't so much about picking up the characteristics of a person because obviously, that's a whole different research that goes on like the whereabouts of this alleged man that nobody knows.
So I instead chose to draw inspiration from the more reasonably minded people in our country, whether they're men or women. And I chose intentionally to be that kind of voice because there's a fine line between attempting to correct someone and attempting to condemn them. Those lines, unfortunately, get blurred in this country.
We've just recently seen one of our foremost actress' [Mahira Khan] picture being put up and everyone issuing their fatwas sitting in front of their laptops. So we don't know where that line is and I feel that this character for me represents the scores of people who were perhaps, even with the real Qandeel, kind of waiting as to what her next step would be. People who saw that this woman was taking her opportunity but there was definitely something more, which her interviews have revealed post her death.
"I'm really happy this project highlighted Qandeel's past because no matter which side you fall on, at least it corners you to think and understand the circumstances that led her to doing those things."
Those voices of reason kinda got held by this overpowering narrative that she was bad or somebody who just used her body as an asset and nothing else.
I chose to instead kind of pick up on a lot of those voices of reason and people who were not necessarily supporting her but anticipating what was next from her and were not so quick to pass judgement and who saw that beneath all the facade there is something real. I chose to represent them.
Images: Did you have any reservations about this project? Did you have any concerns about how it is ultimately a fictional account and how you may not be able to accurately portray the messier, gritty aspects of her life?
OKB: Obviously we are bound by PEMRA at the end of the day. There are certain rules and regulations as per our local authorities that we cannot bypass. I feel that the story was too important to be not spoken of in such a public way with one of our leading actresses at the helm of the project because what it intended to do it was already doing.
I actually think this is a pretty gritty project already. They've given a backstory to this very strong woman. I'm really happy this project highlighted [her past] because no matter which side you fall on, the pro-Qandeel or horribly anti-Qandeel, at least it corners you to think and understand the circumstances that led her to doing those things.
I'm sure not many people invested time into finding out her back story, even after her demise. The fact that she had a kid, the fact that she was married, people don't know all of these details.
Through a medium like this, we've drawn light to the fact that she didn't just appear out of a cave and start doing these random videos to garner public acclaim, there was a method to the madness, however crude it was.
Images: But there are aspects of her life — like her marriage — that seem to have been sanitised to make the story more palatable or relatable to viewers...
OKB: When I read the project what I liked about it was that the play does not romanticize QB. The way Saba has handled it, it's not like she's presented as some kind of saint. We haven't shown many things explicitly on screen but things have definitely been eluded to.
Images: Pakistani dramas have a tendency to resolve everything neatly and end on a happy note. How do you think we can expect the drama to handle a sad ending?
OKB: Those are episodes that I am also a part of and I feel like they've been handled beautifully.
I think that it will no less upsetting, there is no way to try to make it less of a gutpunch as it should be. I feel a project like Baaghi is now getting good ratings and it's the talk of the town but when we were shooting it, we would discuss the risks attached for such a mainstream project. It could have really gone either way and there was a huge narrative of people saying "why her?".
I feel one of the most pressing issues, as evidenced by even liberals turning against someone like Mahira Khan for what, living her life for one instance in a closely scrutinized 8-9 years of her being in the public eye, is this so-called moral outrage we have when it comes to women, how we lurk in the shadows waiting for women to do something wrong and shatter their self-worth and that of millions of other girls who will be served this as a cautionary tale.
"The idea is to question the norm that the judge, jury and executioner role is always taken up by the man whenever a woman does something that's wrong."
Obviously people know the end [of Qandeel's story], no one is changing that.
Everyone is aware that we are heading towards a tragic culmination yet they're taking the journey, we want people to see the saint, the sinner and everything in between, to see a fleshed out woman. Hopefully they'll learn to empathize with women and the double standards, hypocrisy, misogyny and sexism and God knows how many other isms women have to deal with here regardless of whether their choices are right or wrong.
The idea is to question the norm that the judge, jury and executioner role is always taken up by the man whenever a woman does something that's wrong.
It was a very bold move and I hope the ending does stir a debate, which is what we had hoped for all along because that's what projects like this are supposed to do.
Images: You posted a message on social media defending Mahira Khan after the backlash against her photo with Ranbir Kapoor, so you're using your position as a celebrity to send a message. Do you talk to men and your industry peers about equality and activism in your private life too?
OKB: Definitely. There is a great responsibility, Here I felt it's not just an actress under attack, it's the entire industry. It's the same myopic view that you enter the showbiz industry, obviously you have no morals and you're a rich person who doesn't work and lives a stupendously glam life.
There's this perception that we really need to rid this country from; we might be entertainers, but we'll never get respect. They could love you or hate you but in the back of their mind, they think we're just miraasis or kanjars, sorry to use this language but these are terms I've actually heard.
This one picture has brought so much stuff to the forefront; we're just waiting for the next woman to make a mistake. Then suddenly it's about Islam, and it's as though the yards of cloth a woman's wearing on her body can cause the destruction of the Muslim ummah.
This notion is just ridiculous. This is something that I can proudly say: I practice what I preach. Of course, everyone makes mistakes and I might have too but I'm conscious and cognitive of this. I continue to be more and more aware as I experience life in Pakistan.
If you've been missing Zoe Viccaji performing around town, that's because the 'Ho Jao Azad' singer is off getting some me-time in the US.
But this is no regular vacation.
Zoe is currently enrolled in an artist residency program at the House of Songs in Austin, Texas. During the residency, she is collaborating with songwriters from around the world to write new music.
"I'm here to develop my songwriting skills some more and work with other musicians," Zoe tells Images. "I'm attending a workshop for 12 days and will soon move on to Arkansas [where House of Songs' other chapter is located]. I'm going to do a couple of shows there too."
Zoe's been enjoying the experience so far because it's allowed her to focus on her signature as a songwriter.
"In Pakistan, we get so caught up in what the audience wants to listen rather than our own creative process. This is a place where you can just create," she says, adding that she's working with House of Songs founder Troy Campbell to bring more songwriters from Pakistan to the program.
There's more on Zoe's US agenda. She will eventually be joined by her sister Rachel Viccaji, with whom she will go on a joint tour soon.
How's that for an eventful October!
How did Mawra Hocane celebrate her birthday on 28-Sep-2017?
With her family, lotsa celebrity friends ...and a couple of unicorns!
Mawra's big sister Urwa and brother-in-law Farhan Saeed threw her a unicorn-themed surprise party — and many from the film and TV fraternity showed up to celebrate with them.
Indian actress Priyanka Chopra has landed herself on the Forbes List of World's Highest-Paid TV Actresses in 2017, securing the eighth spot with $10 million among the top 10 big earners of the small screen.
This is the second consecutive time Chopra has fallen on the Forbes list.
The Forbes Magazine describes Chopra as a "Bollywood crossover star" with a worldwide appeal, enabling her to draw revenue from both the US and Indian audience.
Her international fandom grew with her lead role in American TV show Quantico, for which she has won two People's Choice Awards ─ the latest one being in 2017 where she received the favourite dramatic TV actress trophy.
PeeCee was also a presenter at the Oscars, and she starred alongside Dwayne Johnson in her Hollywood debut Baywatch. She will also be seen as a judge on American reality TV series Project Runway alongside Heidi Klum.
However, it's Priyanka brand endorsements that make her the most money. Forbes writes, "Her most consistent money-maker? Endorsements. Chopra has seven-figure deals with the likes of Pantene, Lyf Mobile and Nirav Modi."
The 35-year-old actor ranks ahead of Emmy-nominated Robin Wright of House of Cards. Wright is also famous for her characters in Hollywood blockbusters like Wonder Woman, Justice League and Blade Runner. Actress Pauley Parette, likely known as the forensic scientist in NCIS, ranks the last on this year's Forbes List.
Here's the list of this year's highest paid TV actresses, according to Forbes:
Sofia Vergara — $41.5 million
Kaley Cuoco — $26 million
Mindy Kaling — $13 million
Ellen Pompeo — $13 million
Mariska Hargitay — $12.5 million
Julie Bowen — $12 million
Kerry Washington — $11 million
Priyanka Chopra — $10 million
Robin Wright — $9 million
Pauley Perrette — $8.5 million