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Na Maloom Afraad: The known unknowns

Updated July 27, 2014


They say a Karachi wala can survive anywhere else in the world, but not everyone can survive Karachi. One of the most anticipated films to hit theatres in the near future is Na Maloom Afraad — a movie that focuses on all those ‘unknown persons’ who wreak havoc in the city at every strike call. And as any Karachi wala will tell you, surviving strike calls is a way of life here.

The film features three central characters played by Fahad Mustafa who plays the role of a man who is an utter failure in life as he struggles to sell insurance, Mohsin Abbas Haider plays an electric company’s call centre employee who gets verbally abused on the phone every time the electricity goes out in some part of the city, and Jawed Sheikh is a man who shares and rents his house out to the other two. “This is the first time Sheikh sahib is playing a poor and shareef man!” said Fizza Ali Meerzah, the producer of the film.

These three characters eventually decide to take advantage of the numerous strike calls in Karachi and become the na maloom afraad who cause all the mayhem.

Urwa Tul Wusqa plays the female lead and Mehwish Hayat makes a special appearance as ‘herself’ in the film. Salman Shahid plays a villainous role.

‘Na Maloom Afraad’ emerge from the shadows and onto the screen

Na Maloom Afraad has been directed by Nabeel Qureshi and produced by Fizza Ali Meerza and her brother Mehdi Ali under the banner, Filmwala Pictures.

Of staged strike calls and manic media

Since the film’s main focus is the many hartaals that take place in Karachi, they had to film a few ‘fake’ ones. Both the director and the producer decided this couldn’t in any way be done in the studio and it needed to be shot in ‘real’ locations. And what better location than the incredibly busy market district of Saddar with its distinct colonial-era buildings?

The producer and director on set
The producer and director on set

“We wouldn’t have been able to execute this anywhere else,” said Nabeel, “Fizza went out of her way to get this done and we had Saddar closed for the day.” They shot the scene on Sunday so the market was already closed. “We got all of the relevant permissions, took safety measures, had the fire brigade on standby,” he added.

To make sure everything they shot remained authentic and true to an actual strike they actually bought five cars, one bus and around 60-70 tyres and placed them on location the night before. The next day, they burned all of them.

And then all hell broke loose. “During the shoot when we started burning a few things news vans started showing up,” said Nabeel, “and our ‘scene’ even appeared as breaking news on TV! We went home watched it on the news that night.”

“That day my phone didn’t stop ringing,” added Fizza, “people from the local police kept calling us and we had to give them reassurances. In the middle of all of this we were even asked if we were secretly shooting a Bollywood film! We had to make our production crew stand in the corners and make sure that they told everyone that this was a film shoot, not an actual strike.”

Delhi Belly and the alleged Bollywood ‘inspiration’

When the trailer came out many people likened the film to the Bollywood production Delhi Belly and suggested that perhaps Na Maloom Afraad was heavily ‘inspired’ by it. “Maybe it’s because our film also has three characters,” responded Nabeel.

Nabeel Qureshi, Mohsin Abbas Haider, Jawed Sheikh, Fizza Ali Meerzah and Fahad Mustafa
Nabeel Qureshi, Mohsin Abbas Haider, Jawed Sheikh, Fizza Ali Meerzah and Fahad Mustafa

“The one thing we’re sure of is our film’s content,” said Fizza quite firmly, “It’s all original. It’s never happened before and it’s not copied from anywhere else and it’s a totally Pakistan-based concept. We take immense pride in that.”

“The concept is such you can’t shoot it anywhere,” said Nabeel referring to how gong on strike is the main activity around which the film is based. “If people are saying that it looks like an Indian film it’s probably because of the quality of the film and the way it’s shot,” said Fizza, “We can’t do anything about that. We can’t make our film look bad. It’s our baby and it has to be good.”

“All those people who are saying that should come and watch the film,” said Nabeel, “I’m sure they’ll change their minds after seeing it.”

The film’s own Na Maloom dog and his starring role

“We have a sequence in the film that involves a stray dog,” related Nabeel, “We took one and trained him for a month.”

Where is the dog now? “He’s still with us,” laughed Fizza, “He’s kind of our pet. He doesn’t go away.” “Yeah, we’re thinking of bringing him to the premiere,” added Nabeel. “That dog is such an actor!” added Fizza with a smile.

He was trained by Pakistan’s only stunt man and trainer, the mighty Mehboob Shah. “He’s known for doing the entire country’s stunt direction,” said Fizza, “he can do anything. He trains animals, does rigging, he does all these blasts and things. He’s like a one-man army.” And Mehboob Shah too plays a cameo role in the film.

Mehwish Hayat and the item number we’ve all been waiting for

It makes a small but prominent appearance in the trailer but it was enough to set tongues wagging on the Internet. A bare back, a thumka by a mystery woman in what looks like a maut ka quan (the well of death) surrounded by men … the setting looked like that of an ‘item song’ — a must-have for most mainstream Bollywood films.

It was later revealed that woman in question was the utterly gorgeous Mehwish Hayat — a relatively newer model who’s been making waves in the fashion industry and has a very strong fan following.

“We didn’t want to put an item number for the sake of one,” clarified Fizza, “It’s a performance that is done by an actual character in the film, so Mehwish is also playing a cameo role. She has a few scenes and then she ends up doing the dance. That is what her character is like.”

“People usually say ‘yeh bura hai’,” said Nabeel talking about the public reaction people give when it comes to item numbers, “but in weddings they’re dancing to the same songs!” “There are five-year-olds who sing them,” added Fizza.

“Even in your nine-o-clock news bulletin if Katrina Kaif is coming in an item number that is presented as breaking news. We wanted an item number in our movie, so Pakistan could have its own item number!

He mentioned how in the many award shows held in the country, most of the music people perform to come from Bollywood films. It’s about time they started dancing on their own songs. “An item number doesn’t mean that it be vulgar,” said Nabeel, “We made it aesthetically sensual but it’s not ‘dirty’. When you see it, you’ll be able to assess it for yourself better.”

Why did they pick Mehwish Hayat for the song? She doesn’t have any experience in acting. “The song itself is very loud,” responded Fizza, “We needed a personality who could carry it. She heard the script and the song and agreed to do it.”

The song is shot in a real maut ka quan that had been relocated from another city. Where everything else in the film took place as scheduled, with this sequence, unavoidable delays kept taking place. The next time they touched base with the owner of the quan, they discovered he’d set up shop in an empty plot and was making use of his free time by doing shows! They had him relocate to another place where the actual shoot took place. They individually transported all of their extras there as well — a whopping 500 of them!

No ‘phoren ka maal’

The producer and director feel very strongly about the fact except for the background score of the film, everything else was done in Pakistan with a Pakistani crew. They even did their grading and post-production in the country once they discovered a local company that does it here.

“This film is made with pride in Pakistan,” said Fizza. Na Maloom Afraad is slated for a September release.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 27th, 2014