One of the fantastic minds in rib tickling comedy, Faisal Qureshi can see through reality and present it to you in the same manner as a ninja pulling your heart out and showing it to you before you die laughing. If that makes sense, you’ll want to listen to our candid interview with him.
Both you and your brother studied at NCA, but while he became a miniaturist, you took to the theatre. Why did you opt for this line?
Actually, it was my brother, Imran, who was very actively involved in theatre and also conducted puppet shows, and I used to help him with the stories, lighting, etc. his friends formed a drama group by the name of ‘Nautanki’ and they were insistent that I join them, and try my hand at writing plays, as the group needed writers. So, I wrote a play for them called ‘Dracula ki wapsi’, which became a hit.
How did you make your forays into television?
After passing out, one of our drama circle friend, Ahsan Rahim started a music show hosted by Haddiqa Kiyani. When Hadiqa decided to start singing full-time, she resigned as hostess of the programme and Ahsan approached me to write a script which could be used by their new host. In those days, TV anchors were expected to be very formal, but I suggested an informal approach, in which they could make jibes at people, etc. ahsan liked the idea, but the new host simply couldn’t get the format right, and finally I was asked to do the first show myself. However, when I felt the light and camera focused on me, I panicked and it took me numerous shoots to present it the way I wanted to. By the end of it, Ahsan told me I better not show my face to him again, but when the programme was aired it was so well received that the producer wanted me as its permanent host! With time and practice I became better and more confident and we later changed the name of the programme to Video Junction (VJ) and introduced humorous skits in it, which were very appreciated.
Has your art background been of any help in your career?
I had done graphic design in college, and although people get the impression that I have abandoned my art background completely, that is far from the case. When I direct dramas and shows, I am constantly drawing on my art knowledge for creating aesthetic frames and titles, etc, and I think I have an edge over others because of it.
After VJ, what were your next memorable assignments?
My friends Ayaz Kidwai and Jawad Bashir had formed a band called ‘Dr and Billa’, with Ahsan directing their music video. He asked me to pose as the drummer in it – although I don’t know a thing about drumming! So I started coming in their videos and people thought I was a musician. Then I started a show called ‘Teen bata teen’ for PTV, which also clicked, followed by Agent X, which had a cult following. Some hated it and some loved it.
Why have you performed such limited roles in your nine-year career?
Since I began my acting career with a sit-com, I have landed up being type-cast as a comedian. Only those roles are offered to me that have a comic element. In any case I don’t take on too many acting assignments – maximum of two projects at a time – as it’s not possible for me to give so much time.
What are you working on currently?
I am doing a show for Geo called ‘Ulta Seedha’ – I’m producing, directing, writing and hosting it. I’ve also directed a commercial for U-Phone, which hasn’t been aired yet, in which Ayesha Alam and I have modeled. I’m planning on making a film too and have been working on the script for a long time. It runs out film-making is a lot more difficult than I had bargained for and I am very confused about how much of it should have commercial masala, since we don’t really have any yard-stick to go by.
Jawed Sheikh’s film was a super hit, so you do have a yard-stick.
We are planning on making a different kind of movie – an action oriented one. We’ve already rejected two scripts and are now going to start on the third, which will hopefully be the final one. Ahsan Rahim will direct the film, while I am doing the script.
Why is it, that people from television are suddenly becoming interested in film-making? Don’t you think it is too late to join the industry now, given its current pathetic state?
I think it’s never too late, although this trend should have definitely started sooner, I think earlier, the television circle was so limited that they could hardly fulfill the requirements of television itself. The advent of so many channels encouraged many more to join the field and the rapid expansion in the industry has led people to now aim higher. But, I feel that we still need to concentrate on television as well, for given the progress and quantum of work, the quality has not improved as much as it should have. In fact, if anything, it has deteriorated.
What makes you say that?
In the eighties, regarded as a terrible period because of all the restrictions, the quality of plays produced, such as ‘Dhoop Kinaray’ and ‘Tanhaiyan’ were such that they were shown in the Poona institute as part of their teaching programme, but now our plays are no longer considered of the standard that they can be used as sources of inspiration. They are being churned out as if from factories. I feel our television industry has not been able to make proper use of the freedom it has been bestowed with. Just wearing mod clothes, speaking in English and adopting western culture do not translate into freedom. True freedom manifests itself when you can express thoughts and ideas through your work that you could not earlier
So, you feel the main drawback with today’s plays is that they don’t highlight sensitive issues?
That’s not the only problem. Our production quality has gone down. Actors have taken on eight assignments at a time and can’t devote adequate time to each performance. They don’t do rehearsals and it’s difficult to get the cast together to shoot a scene. Everybody wants to become an overnight success, without putting any effort in it.
As a director, do you insist on rehearsals?
I think they are a must, especially for serials, and at least six to seven days should be spent on reading the script and rehearsing. However, I must admit that I am in the same rut as the others. For ‘Teen bata teen’ initially, we used to spend three days doing rehearsals before shooting it, but when we restarted the show. I couldn’t devote more than one day to it because I was doing so many things. I could feel the difference in the quality of the programme, even though we were so tuned to doing the episodes that it came almost naturally to us.
Do you fell Indian plays have had an adverse effect on the quality of our dramas?
I think we cannot blame anyone for our mistakes. It’s like saying such-and-such kid took up smoking because of peer pressure. I’ve never smoked, although all my friends do. We have to learn to hold ourselves responsible for our shortcomings. We could have adopted the positive aspects of India’s plays – like their production quality – but instead willfully opted to follow their negative features.
Which director do you admire the most?
Shoaib Mansoor. I’ve seen the way he works, spending time talking to the characters, doing rehearsals, etc. most writers are not willing to make changes to their scripts, whereas he has no qualms critically studying his work and even changing the endings, if need be. Mehrin Jabbar and Saira Kazmi are also very good directors.
How are you enjoying modeling?
I think its great fun. In a 30 seconds commercial, we are expected to communicate an important message. Concentration levels are high as everyone puts in their very best shot, resulting in quality effort and acting. And the best part is that since it runs for a long time, it reaches a larger audience.
You do concepts for commercials as well. Do you brainstorm with your wife, since she works in an advertising agency?
No. we don’t talk shop at home usually, but I do discuss my ideas with her sometimes, and she doesn’t hesitate to criticize if she doesn’t like it. Not that it makes any difference!
Other than the film, any plans for the future?
I have two sit-coms in mind, but don’t want to divulge the details yet.