At midnight, a multi-coloured van speeds down the motorway towards Lahore. It stands out from the other vehicles on the road because of its unique exterior, with Na Maloom Afraad 2 (NMA2) emblazoned along its length along with images of the movie’s star cast. With the film releasing in just a few days on Eidul Azha, this vehicle is the cast and crew’s transport as they traverse the country on promotional rounds.
“It’s like a picnic,” laughs director Nabeel Qureshi. “Our stars have the option for travelling in separate cars but we all get along so well that we prefer to travel together. We sing songs and make jokes along the way.”
The van stops at a dhaba in the middle of the night and its star-studded passengers trickle out. “I wanted to have tea but it is so hot that I think that I will stick to juice,” shrugs Fahad Mustafa good-naturedly.
The bonhomie is also evident in the behind-the-scenes clips from the movie that one occasionally sees on social media. A large chunk of the film was shot in Cape Town and a short video shows all three male leads — Fahad Mustafa, Mohsin Abbas Haider and Javed Sheikh — lying on makeshift beds while filming preparations are underway, singing Kishore Kumar songs together. “We had long shooting schedules,” explains Mohsin Abbas Haider, “and often, while waiting for the shooting to begin we’d lie down and begin singing.”
The sequel to NMA brings back the trio who are richer but still open to bending the law for a quick buck
What goes on behind the scenes often resonates with what comes out on screen, and this means that NMA2 could turn out to be an all-out entertainer. “You’ll see how comfortable we are together,” confirms actor Javed Sheikh. “In the first movie Fahad and Mohsin still were a bit reserved towards me since I am their senior. This time round, we were shooting abroad and just had fun throughout.”
In continuation to the 2014 hit Na Maloom Afraad, the sequel brings back the trio who are richer but are still open to bending the law for a quick buck. In a roundabout way, the movie touches upon economic discrepancies within society while unfolding a comic mystery centered on a missing ‘toilet pot’ made of gold. Urwa Hocane and Hania Aamir are also part of the cast but as in the earlier part, the women’s roles are less substantial with the lead trio taking centre stage.
“It’s heartening that people still remember the first movie so well,” says Fizza Ali Meerza, producer and co-scriptwriter with director Nabeel Qureshi. “During our promotional rounds, I have met people who have quoted entire dialogues to me and know the characters’ names.”
Bolstered by this enthusiasm, the group — consisting of Fahad Mustafa, Javed Sheikh, Mohsin Abbas Haider, Hania Aamir, Nabeel Qureshi and Fizza Ali Meerza with the leading lady Urwa Hocane conspicuously missing — continues to trudge their way from malls to college campuses to unique promotional events such as a bike rally organised in Karachi and a ‘Hug Day Party’ held some weeks ago. “We all have the flu now,” laughs Fizza, “but it’s still amazing.”
What goes on behind the scenes often resonates with what comes out on screen. “You’ll see how comfortable we are together,” confirms actor Javed Sheikh. “In the first movie Fahad and Mohsin were still a bit reserved towards me since I am their senior. This time round, we were shooting abroad and just had fun throughout.”
“It’s tough but it’s worth it,” agrees Fahad, who had to pre-record several episodes for his show on ARY Digital, Jeeto Pakistan in order to make time for the film’s promotions. “It helps that we all get along so well. The day I came on set, Mohsin, Javed Sahib and I just clicked and slipped back into our characters immediately.”
All in a day’s work
Aside from his co-actors, Fahad also gets on well with his director. This is the actor’s third movie with Filmwala Pictures, helmed by Nabeel and Fizza. “People keep asking me why I continuously cast Fahad and I retaliate [with] why not?” says Nabeel. “He and I are on the same wavelength and I may not be able to achieve this as easily with another actor. Also, he is a star and he works very hard.”
This ‘hard work’ included following a strict workout schedule for Fahad as well as Mohsin. “When Nabeel sent me the initial looks for my character, I realised that I would need to develop a certain body image,” says Mohsin. “We are all more suave and slicker.”
“It was gruelling and we were perpetually cranky,” adds Fahad. “For 27 days in Cape Town we only ate oats and spent our free hours in the gym. And then, when we finally took off our shirts during a song that was being filmed at the beach, we realised that the girls there were actually slimmer than we were! I decided to wear a vest instead while Mohsin went shirtless.
Beach sequences in past movies have endured flak — one recalls Hamza Ali Abbasi apologising for a similar thing in 2015’s JPNA. One wonders if Nabeel experienced any trepidation while placing his actors on Cape Town’s bikini-clad, white sand beach. “No, because the scene made sense,” he says.
“My next movie is the sequel to Jawani Phir Nahin Ani (JPNA) where I will be acting with Humayun Saeed and Ahmed Ali Butt. I think I will be the slimmest of the lot there and perhaps then I’ll go shirtless,” says the actor.
Beach sequences in past movies have endured flak — one recalls Hamza Ali Abbasi apologising for a similar thing in 2015’s JPNA. One wonders if Nabeel experienced any trepidation while placing his actors on Cape Town’s bikini-clad, white sand beach. “No, because the scene made sense,” he says. “If I was filming on a Karachi beach, the women would be dressed differently, but in South Africa the women will obviously be wearing bikinis.”
Similarly, the director feels confident about including item numbers in his ventures. The first movie featured Mehwish Hayat sizzling in Billi and NMA2 has Sadaf Kanwal trying out Arabesque moves with Kaif O Suroor. “I have included the song because it fits well into the storyline,” he says. “My movie last year, Actor In Law, did not have any such song in it simply because there was no need for it. The complaint that an item song can make a movie a hit just does not make sense. People won’t come to see a movie just because of a single song.
“In my movies, at least, the story is the most significant selling factor. NMA2 is a situational comedy with plenty of irony to it. The music is circumstantial and although we have developed the characters, the story starts off from where the first movie ends. Even our promotional strategies are unique. Right now, we have about 50 to 60 golden pots placed on cinemas across the country.”
The big, fat Eidul Azha clash
But while Nabeel and co. may wax lyrical about their movie, NMA2 will be treading tricky ground while clashing with another cinematic heavyweight, Nadeem Baig’s Humayun Saeed-Mehwish Hayat starrer Punjab Nahi Jaungi (PNJ). Both movies are Eidul Azha releases, the festival being a time when political unrest takes a backseat and the country is in the mood to celebrate and splurge. Given that PNJ is also being promoted as a family entertainer, are Nabeel and Fizza worried that they won’t be able to maximise profits?
“I’m not worried because I think both movies cater to very different audiences,” observes Nabeel. “Ours is a comedy while PNJ is a romance that has a drama-like feel to it. When I saw the trailer I was reminded of Humayun and Mehwish’s TV drama together, Dillagi. It looks like a good movie but personally I feel that we have a bigger cast, more masala (spice) and a storyline that has a cinematic feel to it.”
Fizza pragmatically says, “It’s a good sign that two good movies are releasing at the same time on Eid. They’ll both do well hopefully.”
Regardless, there’s no denying that both movies would have had possibly gained better innings had they released separately.
“Don’t a lot of movies similarly release on Diwali or Christmas?” Fizza points out. Yes, they do and perhaps, as local cinema gathers force, such clashes will be inevitable.
Regardless, it’s going to be a rollicking Eidul Azha this time round.
Published in Dawn, ICON, August 27th, 2017