When you meet Yasir Nawaz you get a whiff of what his upcoming movie Wrong No. is going to be like. Yasir’s grounded, yo-yoing from discussions on his upcoming movie premiere, stars and starlets to mulling over his family life. He jokes about himself easily, completely comfortable in his own skin, a certain part of Pakistani show-business and yet, without any starry airs and graces.

Wrong No., if the trailers are anything to go by, is similarly without any allusions to grandeur. Instead, it promises to be an absolute entertainer, with its roots in Karachi’s down-to-earth gritty avenues, delving into humour that varies from slapstick to witty to downright bawdy.

“I felt like working on a comedy,” says Yasir. “Who knows, tomorrow I may decide to create a high-fangled elitist drama.”

Comedy, he says, is actually a more difficult genre to tackle. This may be his first cinematic venture but the director has long been working on television dramas and has experimented with varied storylines. “It is easy to make people cry and we find plenty of inspiration for tragedy from within our surroundings. To make people laugh, though, can be tricky. You have to pack in the punches in just the right way.”

In a candid interview with Images on Sunday, Yasir Nawaz discusses Wrong No. and the travails of being a director

Q. Wrong No.’s trailers have been well-received but the movie’s releasing on Eid day along with two other heavyweights; Hum Films’ much-awaited Mahira Khan-Humayun Saeed starrer Bin Roye and Salman Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Does that make you nervous?

It makes me very nervous. I have invested my time, effort and money into this movie and I am perpetually under pressure, wondering how it will fare at the box office. I think it’s great that Bin Roye is releasing on the same day. It gives audiences the option to choose between a comedy and a romance. Bajrangi Bhaijaan, though, should have released some time later. Our cinemas owe us that much at least. It is unfair to pit limited budget Pakistani movies with a high-fangled star-studded Bollywood film.

Q. Bin Roye is set to release in limited cinemas internationally. Is Wrong No. also venturing onto international territory?

Yes, but only a few weeks following our Pakistani premiere. I want the hype surrounding Bajrangi… to die down before I put my own film out in the market. We have already confirmed release dates in the UK and the UAE and are currently in talks with distributors in India.

Q. Aside from Javed Sheikh, your movie does not boast any major stars. Danish Taimoor, Sohai Ali and Janita are well-known but they certainly don’t have huge fan followings. Why didn’t you opt for bigger, glitzier stars that could draw in more crowds?

I don’t think we have any cinematic stars right now. The industry is just starting out and we are in the process of creating stars. I have a lot of faith in my cast and we have worked long and hard. Most of the movie is based in Karachi’s Meethadar and Kharadar areas and we would be on set from four in the morning.

I worked on actors’ accents and overall demeanor, making sure that they were believable. Danish, for instance, often had to be guided on how to shed aside class-consciousness and enact the street-smart filmi hero. A certain action sequence involved Danish jumping down to the ground from a second-storey window. We had him wired up and showed him precisely how to go through the scene but he was still very jittery. The scenes were shot over a span of three days and every day, I would spend about half an hour just giving him a pep talk.

Similarly, Javed Sheikh was wired up for the final fight scene that he had with Shafqat Cheema. He went along with it at first but on the following day we noticed that his upper arm was completely bruised by the wire. We had to shoot the scene differently. He plays a butcher in the movie and is often featured in a vest. We had to tie a handkerchief around his arm so that the bruise wouldn’t show!

We may not have huge stars in our cast but they are all good, diligent actors. That’s all that matters, that’s what will make the movie worth watching.

Q. But what do you think will initially draw people to buy tickets for Wrong No., especially considering that they also have other options to choose from?

I think people’s interest will be piqued because everybody enjoys a good comedy. And Wrong No. is definitely going to make them laugh constantly. Every scene, every dialogue and even the most nominal character is funny. And then, I am counting on word of mouth to attract in more and more people.

“I think it’s great that Bin Roye is releasing on the same day. It gives audiences the option to choose between a comedy and a romance. Bajrangi Bhaijaan, though, should have released some time later. Our cinemas owe us that much at least. It is unfair to pit limited-budget Pakistani movies with a high-fangled, star-studded Bollywood film.” — Yasir Nawaz

Q. And yet, comedy can often downslide towards the vulgar. Are rumours true that your film is often going to veer towards lascivious bawdy humour?

I got very irritated when people say that Wrong No. is going to be vulgar, based on just watching the promos. It doesn’t even have an item song in it — not because I am against item songs but simply because I felt that the script didn’t require one.

Wrong No. is a family movie but having said that, it is a movie and not a television drama. When I direct a drama, I abide by some very set boundaries. It is going to be aired on TV and be viewed by families sitting together. On the other hand, people buy tickets to watch a movie only if they want to. A movie is going to be more risqué than a teleplay. Wrong No. is a comedy that I feel can be enjoyed by anybody who likes to have a good laugh.

Q. Did you cast your brother Danish Nawaz in the movie keeping the comic requirements in mind? Danish has long been acting in comic roles and has earlier worked with you in the comic sitcom Nadaaniyan.

I tried my utmost not to cast Danish. When Danish, my wife Nida and I worked in Nadaaniyan, we realised just how tricky it is to work with family. Creative perspectives would inevitably clash and we’d end up arguing. For Wrong No., I kept considering other actors for Danish’s role but ultimately, he was the only one who truly fit the bill. He plays a goof and he does it extremely well. In a certain scene, Shafqat Cheema was supposed to slap him and he just wasn’t able to do it convincingly. I had Danish slapped about 40 times before I was satisfied. And even though his elder brother was calling the shots behind the camera and he could have complained, Danish persevered.

Q. Your movie also features two leading ladies. That must have been a tricky situation.

It was and I am so glad that the two only had one scene together. They refused to talk to one another and had these frustrating preconceived notions about each other. They’d come to me cribbing about each other and I’d have to iron things out. It’s a problem with the new generation of actors. They start thinking too highly about themselves even though their careers have only just started out.

Q. Divas and egos must be nothing new to you though. Have you also had to contend with star tantrums while directing for television?

I have, but then I have refrained from working with people who have given me too much grief. I remember directing Samina Peerzada for a drama called Dil Diya Dehleez and she gave me a lot of trouble. Perhaps it was because I was just starting out while she was an established actress. After that, I refrained from working for her for a long time.

Q. You’ve been in the field for long enough to know what works and what doesn’t. Your wife Nida Yasir is a morning show host but do you feel that morning shows still have an audience in Pakistan?

Morning shows are still being watched although, perhaps, they aren’t as popular as they used to be. Hosting is Nida’s own career choice and I have nothing to do with it. I don’t even watch her show and I’ve been a guest at it only four or five times. As a mother, the work timings required for a morning show suit Nida. She can keep doing it as long as she likes and if and when she feels the need, she can leave it.

Q. You are a definite part of Pakistan’s celebrity fraternity and yet, you are uniquely down-to-earth. You don’t frequent the red carpet, attend celebrity after-parties or walk the catwalk for designers. Do you not feel the need to network within your industry?

I can barely bother to go for a haircut let alone pose for the social pages and attend fashion shows!

Media cameras and after-parties are nothing new for me and don’t really appeal. My father was a director and I have grown up within this industry. We’re surrounded by people who sycophantically applaud everything we do. I don’t need to socialise with these people simply to get an ego boost. It’s something I watch out for because one can easily begin thinking that he or she is the absolute best and stop working hard. Much more important than networking is that my work should remain good.

Q. With Wrong No. you are delving into a genre that has, in recent times, deteriorated in content. Veteran playwright Anwer Maqsood has long been lamenting the lowered standards of comedy in local entertainment. Do you agree that standards have gone down?

I don’t think standards have gone down. You have to move with time, adjusting your work according to audience requirements while simultaneously maintaining a certain quality. It’s very easy to sit back and say that the work I did in the past is the best that there will ever be. It’s not true, though. Younger people are always entering the field, introducing new genres and making changes.

Two years ago, I met Indian lyricist Gulzar. I told him that it was difficult to accept that he had penned the lyrics for classic movies like Ijaazat and Mausam and then, gone on to write songs like Beedi and Kiss of luv. He replied that his work would stagnate if he wouldn’t improvise with the times.

I am bringing out a commercial movie and it delivers the kind of entertainment that current audiences enjoy. I don’t want my work to stagnate.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 19th, 2015

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