On Thursday afternoon in a luxury hall at the Crown Plaza Hotel Lahore, Ikram Akhtar sits in a quiet, empty space with the production team of his new film India Mein Lahore. Akhtar, an influential screenplay writer, has driven the new story trends developing in India. He is well known for writing the screenplays of films such as Ready, No problem and Thank You. He, however, is now looking to try something new, by donning the director’s hat.
“I have written a lot of films for others…it is time I do something for myself,” says Akhtar about his directorial debut. “There were two ways to go about it — I could play a secure game using well known actors and ensure the film’s success or cast new actors, develop a strong script and delve straight into it with conviction,” he says.
The problem with that, he says, is if the film does well, people will credit the stars for its success. If not, they’ll say Akhtar doesn’t know how to direct.
Sanjay Masoom, known for writing the script of several blockbuster films including Krrish 3, Aashiqui 2 and Shortcut Romeo, has accompanied Akhtar on his trip to Lahore.
The Dubai-based project is being advertised as a co-production, which includes talent from India and Pakistan.
“Whenever we speak about India and Pakistan, I feel as if we are talking about war,” Akhtar says.
“There is actually a lot of love between the people of both countries, which is why I came up with the idea of a cross-border romantic comedy,” Akhtar says, “It stresses on the fact that the perceptions we share about each other are wrong.”
The film will be released both internationally and in India.
“I think our title is great. We are not looking to physically bring India to Lahore…we want to envoke the romance of the era when our differences were less pronounced,” he says.
The production team has been scouting for fresh talent for the last couple of months. They hope to cast a team that would encapsulate the emotions of the cross-border love story. This has meant holding auditions in the UAE, Pakistan and India, with hopes of finding real talent who can take on the characters roles. Auditions are currently being held in Lahore, after which the team will move to Karachi.
While auditions in Lahore were for female leads, there was instead a surprise addition to the cast. The film has turned heads with its decision to cast banned cricketer Muhammed Asif, who has been largely out of the spotlight since he was ousted from the game due to his role in an infamous spot-fixing scandal.
Shahenshah Zaidi, a Dubai-based Pakistani, originally from Lahore, will be playing the lead character.
“All of us had to audition, the name [of the movie] was catchy and I felt that I could fit well in the role,” says Zaidi. This will be his debut performance.
Producer Rajesh R Tripathi says that his production company had long planned a collaboration between India and Pakistan on a commercial film. “While the budget for the film is less than the blockbusters Akhtar has previously written for, I am optimistic that the film will resonate with a wider audience,” he says.
“When Raj Kapoor introduced Zeba Bakhtiar to India, in his last film Henna, I remember the immediate craze that followed. People wanted to see how a Pakistani heroine would look on the screen. That will happen once again,”says Tripathi.
“There is so much talent here and collaboration should definitely be encouraged. I think that if there was a way we could make it easier to obtain visas, it would not only help encourage more filmmakers to take up the craft professionally, but would also be great for the general public,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 3rd, 2013.