Halfway through the Mah-e-Mir press conference on Monday, actor Fahad Mustafa made a light-hearted comment, saying, “I may be Sindhi but I speak better Urdu than the Urdu-speaking people! It is ironic that I am playing a character modeled after Mir Taqi Mir!”
While the statement was followed by a few murmurs in the crowd at a local hotel in Karachi, the film’s writer Sarmad Sehbai concurred with the actor. Having joined the proceedings over the telephone, Sehbai threw weight behind Mustafa, saying that there no one in the industry matches Mustafa’s command over the language.
To avoid unnecessary controversy, the actor clarified how Urdu was stressed at his household. Yet, he maintained, he had to put in the hard yards to prepare for his role. “I spent a lot of time working on my diction and language with Sarmad [Sehbai] sahab. I would listen to recordings of the lines in his voice all the time, just to get into the skin of the character,” he said.
The Na Maloom Afraad star feels traces of his on-screen avatar are evident in his daily life. Speaking of the element of madness in particular, Mustafa drew parallels between his personal life and Mir’s persona, saying, “There was a time when people used to tell me that I’ve become very rude and arrogant.” Mustafa said while Mir was obsessed with the moon, he in his real life is obsessed with his desires.
For a character that revolves around the life and times of perhaps Urdu’s greatest ghazal writer, Mustafa opted out of putting in a lot of research. “I hate poetry,” he exclaimed, adding, “I did not want to read too much about Mir because this is a fictional account. It is a fantasy that we’re creating on our own and we have the advantage of not carrying the baggage of being historically accurate.”
Mustafa may not have read a lot of Mir to prepare for the role, the beauty of his writings has not been lost upon the actor. “I have realised that all literary provocateurs are ahead of their time and when people see the movie they will find out how relevant Mir is to our present day society.”
One verse in particular still resonates with the actor on a personal level: Hai naam majlison mein mera Mir-e-bedimaagh, Az baske kam dimaaghi nay paaya hai ishtihaar. “This verse doesn’t encapsulate the entire theme of the film but, I don’t know why, I believe a lot in these lines.”
Given the spate of ‘bubble gum’ and ‘formula’ films that are releasing nowadays, Mustafa believes that Mah-e-Mir can be a major game-changer in the long haul — not just for Pakistani cinema but also for its audiences. “It is not the responsibility of a film to represent a particular culture but movies such as this one can help rekindle the audience’s romance with their own literature and heritage.”
Citing his own example, Mustafa said after seeing Gulzar’s Ghalib, he felt the desire to read more about the legendary poet. “Mah-e-Mir could have a similar impact … it could prove to be a gateway to the world of Mir and introduce new audiences to his work.”
Directed by Anjum Shahzad and starring Fahad Mustafa, Alyy Khan, Manzar Sehbai and Iman Ali, Mah-e-Mir will release on May 6.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 20th, 2016.