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Aur Zindagi Badalti Hai (2000), Kahaniyan (2001), Pehchaan (2005), Doraha (2008), Malaal (2009) Daam (2010) and Mata-e-Jaan (2012) – the list of Mehreen Jabbar's achievements is a long one, and the acclaimed director has yet another new drama Jackson Heights, currently airing on Urdu1 on Fridays.

Written by Vasay Chaudhry and produced under Six Sigma Plus, the drama is shot in New York and revolves around obstacles faced by overseas Pakistanis. The title is based on a neighbourhood, Jackson Heights, which is located in the northwestern portion of the New York City borough of Queens.

Jackson Heights features an ensemble cast including Noman Ijaz, Aamina Sheikh, Marina Khan, Adeel Hussain and Adnan Jaffar.

In an email interview with Dawn, Jabbar talks about Jackson Heights, her views on the evolution of TV dramas and the revival of Pakistani cinema.


How do you personally relate to Jackson Heights?

Mehreen Jabbar: I've been living in New York for almost 10 years now and Jackson Heights has always been a part of conversations with our South Asian friends, primarily of course because of the food and the grocery stores. But aside from that, it's one of the areas in New York apart from Coney Island that has a large South Asian population.

Almost all of the cast of Jackson Heights has previously worked with you. Do you feel comfortable working with them?

MJ: It was a wonderful team to work with. They are all highly accomplished actors and yes it helped that I had worked with all of them before except Ali Kazmi, who was a very welcome addition to the team. The ensemble cast really gelled well with each other and brought so much to their characters. Sab ne jaan laga kar kaam kiya (everyone put their heart into it) so it was a treat to watch them work.

  Mehreen Jabbar with cast and crew of Jackson Heights. – Photo Courtesy: Mehreen Jabbar
Mehreen Jabbar with cast and crew of Jackson Heights. – Photo Courtesy: Mehreen Jabbar's Official Facebook Page

What do you want the drama to project?

MJ: There are many themes and threads in the storyline and I would just want the audience to really enjoy each track and relate to it in some way and be entertained and moved by it. I think Vasay has done a great job with the script so hopefully this serial offers a little variety in terms of characters and their conflicts.

Previously you have made Aur Zindagi Badalti Hai, Malaal, Mata-e-Jaan and Neeyat – dramas that were set abroad. With the exception of Aur Zindagi Badalti Hai, the three dramas have a similar feel to it. Is Jackson Heights any different?

MJ: I've also done Pehchaan and New York Stories that were shot here [in New York].

Each serial has a different story, different writers and actors, but the common part was of course New York being the location apart from Aur Zindagi Badalti Hai, which was shot in Spain.

I think Jackson Heights is different because the characters in it are very diverse and there is unpredictability and a surprise element too.

  Nauman Ijaz and Aamina Sheikh on the set of Jackson Heights. – Photo Courtesy: Mehreen Jabbar
Nauman Ijaz and Aamina Sheikh on the set of Jackson Heights. – Photo Courtesy: Mehreen Jabbar's Official Facebook Page

Also, Vasay takes his time to explore them so once you get to know all of them, hopefully you will want to know more.

Another thing that is different in Jackson Heights is that there were a lot of locations and a lot of supporting actors that were a part of this which wasn’t the case with the other serials.

And of course, it's been shot by a Pakistani-American female cinematographer, Nausheen Dadabhoy, which is probably a first as well for our serials and it is all shot hand held.

How important is the soundtrack of a drama, given the fact your dramas always bring out memorable ones, and are composed or sung by famous artists like Bilal Khan, Zeb and Haniya, Tahira Syed?

  Mehreen Jabbar with actor Adeel Hussain and Marina Khan. – Photo Courtesy: Jackson Heights Official Page
Mehreen Jabbar with actor Adeel Hussain and Marina Khan. – Photo Courtesy: Jackson Heights Official Page

MJ: I think music is one of the most important parts of any project and I am very happy that I was able to use this wonderful cover of 'Laiyyan Laiyyan' sung by Saad Sultan and Rizwan Anwar. Also, Ziyyad Gulzar who has worked with me on background scores of Daam, Mata-e-Jaan, Malaal always brings a fresh perspective to his compositions and for Jackson too, I think he's really produced some great pieces.

Canadian drama serial Mangoes, which aired on ATN Canada in 2012, also follows the life of South Asians living in a foreign land. Was Jackson Heights in any way inspired by Mangoes?

MJ: I'm aware of Mangoes but haven't seen it yet unfortunately. The idea of making a serial called Jackson Heights was suggested by my friend and fellow director Shehrazade Sheikh while we were filming Neeyat. It was a catchy title and an ideal setting. And so Vasay was approached with this and he came up with something quite unique.

Many Pakistani films have released this year and are receiving great response from the audience. Do you plan to make another film given the international success garnered by Ramchand Pakistani?

MJ: I am very excited by the hul chal in the film sector in Pakistan and I am definitely planning my second one. About time!

What are your thoughts on the breakthrough of Pakistan’s film industry and the effect it may have (if at all) on the television industry? Particularly with more TV artists moving towards working in films, do you think we should be concerned that we might start seeing a similar cast in dramas and films as well?

MJ: A revival of the film industry is always something to look forward to and even if that results in actors coming from television, I don't think there is anything wrong with it. We have real talent in television and it's their time to showcase that in the other medium too.

Also, a revival of cinema will encourage new faces and new talent to grow and develop. So it's all good and I hope more and more films are made each year.