Vasay Chaudhry may not hail from a family of actors or writers, but his interest in Pakistani cinema has a lot to do with his family background. His grandfather was in the business of cinema even before Partition; Lahore’s Ratan Cinema, established in 1945, was first run by his grandfather and later by his family, and he terms the frequent visits to ‘the office’ as an inspiration to his turning to films. “I never had to pay to watch a film when I was young because my father and his father owned the cinema, and while many people waited for the film to air on television, I ended up with the best seat in the house,” he explains in his usual style.
The talented actor-writer is never short of words. “I still believe Jawani Phir Nahi Aani (JPNA) should have won in the Best Film category at the 15th LSAs. If the jury decided that JPNA shouldn’t bag the awards, then I have no problem with their decision. The Best Film and Best Director categories were open for voting on online polls on Lux’s own website and Facebook pages, which is why I refuse to believe that a film with a viewership as big as JPNA can lose to Moor. I don’t have any doubts over the artistic merits of the latter, but if it was going to be a jury decision, as conveyed by the LSA people, then why was it open to voting in the first place?”
Vasay says that he also feels that this whole method of awards being given out according to viewers’ choice is degrading for the artists. “We must do away with the online polling format; it not only undermines the jury but is also unfair on a lot of talent. Had the public been allowed to vote for the Academy Awards, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt would never have lost, and actors such as Adrian Brody or Forest Whitaker would never have won.”
Be it the criticism of Jawani Phir Nahi Aani for being too Bollywood-ish or its snub at the Lux Style Awards, the writer-actor has fighting words for everything
On the eve of the LSAs, Vasay Chaudhry was involved in a Twitter spat with the eventual winner, director Jami, whose Moor won the Best Film and Best Director trophies. While the award was the first for Jami from the platform, Vasay believes that the JPNA camp deserved it more. “You win some and you lose some. It’s just another award for me but Jami went on to say things like JPNA won at the ARY Film Awards (AFA) earlier because it was backed by the channel. Firstly, the AFA jury comprised people like Anwar Maqsood Sahib, Mehreen Jabbar and Usman Peerzada, to name a few. If he doesn’t agree with the judgment of these actual film-makers then it’s okay [Moor also won a few awards at AFA – Ed] but in a way I’m happy for Jami as now he has also become part of commercial cinema. He detested these award shows for a long time but now he is happy to accept them. Soon he will also stop blaming the Pakistani audience for not liking his films,” Vasay concludes.
Vasay also wrote the script for Main Hoon Shahid Afridi and he believes that JPNA is unnecessarily criticised by a certain section of media for following Bollywood. “Pakistani cinema has had song and dance in it since 1948. Waheed Murad danced on Ko Ko Korina about 50 years ago. Mohammad Ali Sahib lip-synced to Aise bhi hain mehrbaan. Madam Noor Jehan sang Chandni Raatein and Nadeem Sahib sang and danced in Mundiya, a Pakistani film. Similarly the style of storytelling which certain film-makers call ‘Bollywood-inspired’ have been the trademark of Pakistani cinema as well. Na Maloom Afraad, Wrong No, Bin Roye, JPNA are all totally in line with Pakistani cinema and its history. People who haven’t seen Pakistani films in the past may term them as extensions of Bollywood, but this ignorance can’t change history.”
Vasay believes in the revival of cinema and feels that it will only become permanent if we follow our values and pay tribute to our legends. “Akira Kurosawa wasn’t a Pakistani great, Nazrul Islam Sahib was. New age directors can take the film industry forward with their new way of thinking but they can’t undo our past. JPNA was a tribute to Pakistani cinema as most of the jokes incorporated in the script had a Pakistani flavor, and Pakistanis all over the world loved them.”
The writer also feels that it was just pure luck and precision of timing that garnered him recognition. “I take a lot of time writing a script and that’s the reason people remember Main Hoon Shahid Afridi and Abhi To Main Jawaan Hoon [a telefilm released on cinema]. Even the script of JPNA took some 14 months to complete.”
“Pakistani cinema has had song and dance in it since 1948. Waheed Murad danced on Ko Ko Korina 50 years ago. Mohammad Ali Sahib lip-synced to Aise bhi hain mehrbaan. Madam Noor Jehan sang Chandni Raatein and Nadeem Sahib sang and danced in Mundiya. People who haven’t seen Pakistani films in the past may term them as extensions of Bollywood, but ignorance can’t change history.”
Like other stars of the present day, success hasn’t been easy for Vasay and he believes that it comes at a price and only after struggle. The same can also be said of his friendship with Ahmad Ali Butt and Fawad Khan. “When I was in college some 15 years back, Zain Ahmed assembled a team of youngsters for Jutt & Bond, and that’s how I came to know Fawad Khan and Ahmad Ali Butt. We have been friends ever since and our struggle has been the same. Fawad is now a major Bollywood star and Ahmad is considered to be the funniest guy around, it’s great to see them succeed. Even at the LSAs, we collaborated for a skit – I as a writer and those two as performers.”
For a writer who has given television hits such as Jackson Heights, the Baraat series and Jutt & Bond, Vasay doesn’t seem as prolific as his contemporaries. In a career spanning more than 16 years, he has hardly penned five serials and a handful of films – besides his acting roles that have gained him recognition. “The only reason I act on television and films is to escape boredom and monotony,” he says. “Had it not been for acting, many wouldn’t have known me by face because in Pakistan, the writer is the last person anyone acknowledges. We must give them their due because it’s their characterisation, script and story that makes or breaks a project, not just the actors’ abilities. I also feel that actors don’t like to highlight writers’ effort when their characters become popular. I must mention Noman Ejaz here who repeatedly acknowledges me as the man behind his Jackson Heights character which is a big deal for me, coming from an actor of his stature.”
Talking of Noman Ejaz leads us to Mazaaq Raat, the comedy talk show Vasay hosts in place of the veteran actor. “Noman bhai is like an elder brother to me and believe me, I had nothing to do with his decision to leave the show. In fact, I was asked to host it after he left, and comparing me with a talent like his is simply ridiculous.”
Hosting seems to come naturally to Vasay and he says he feels at ease when on stage. From the first Hum Awards to the recent LSAs, he has been a part of it all either as a host, a writer or as both. “When I am hosting, I write my own lines but when a friend of mine asks me to help him, I go behind the scenes to make him look good.” Ironically, no one remembers the man who was constantly talking to Ahmad Ali Butt during his ‘Lollypop Awards’ skit or the Angel sequence at the ARY Awards this year. Vasay discloses, “What can I do if no one waits to read the credits or if people involved don’t mention you in their interviews and stuff? Ab tu aadat si ho gaye hai [winks]!”
Vasay Chaudhry credits Anwar Maqsood and Farooq Qaiser for his ascent as a writer. He also terms the late Saleem Nasir and Sohail Ahmed as inspirations for acting. “I always admired the way Anwar Maqsood Sahib wrote comedy as well as serious lines, whereas I was always a fan of Farooq Qaiser’s comedy. In the acting department, I haven’t seen a better range of roles and versatility in Pakistan than Saleem Nasir and Sohail Ahmed. They were at ease in comedy as well as serious roles, and while many have tried it before and after them, nobody has managed to excel in both like these two.”
When asked why no recent film has been able to match the box office glory of JPNA, Vasay goes down memory lane. “When Hum Aapke Hain Kaun was released more than 20 years back, it became the first Bollywood film to cross the 100 crore barrier. But the films that were released after it didn’t do that well for one reason or another. The same thing happened with Syed Noor’s Choorian, Bilal Lashari’s Waar and later with JPNA. Some films just catch the audience off-guard at the right time and become exceptional hits. It’s like an unseen connection between what the audience want and a certain film being able to cater to that need. I won’t call JPNA’s success something planned -- it just happened. If it will happen again with our next film, we have absolutely no idea. I have great expectations from Actor In Law which promises the same kind of entertainment.”
Currently Vasay Chaudhry is with Hum Films as General Manager. He looks after the content and advises them on film scripts. How he manages to do that as well as act in Pyare Afzal, Mann Mayal and even JPNA, remains a mystery. “After JPNA, I stopped acting on TV as it became hectic – my scenes in Mann Mayal were shot one month prior to the release of JPNA and I accepted the role to act alongside Talat Hussain Sahib who played my father. I would have liked to act in Jackson Heights as well but maybe Mehreen Jabbar doesn’t think highly of me as an actor [laughs].”
He is now working on the sequel to JPNA as well as another movie. “Currently, Humayun [Saeed] and Nadeem [Baig, the director] are busy with Main Punjab Nahi Jaoongi written by Khalil ur Rehman Qamar. Once they are free, we will start working on the sequel. Wait for another two months and you will know all about my other project,” Vasay says with a glint in his eyes.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine August 21st, 2016