A good actor is the sum of many parts and similarly, you cannot pin down Sheheryar Munawar to a stereotype. Just watch his patriotic act in Project Ghazi, or a nerd in Saat Din Mohabbat In, or an ambitious young boy in Ho Mann Jahaan and it will become clear that he is your ‘everyman’. He may be someone you meet on your ride home and he may be self righteous, he may con you, or he may even see you home safe.
One of Sheheryar Munawar’s greatest strengths is that he beguiles you into believing that he’s just like you – nothing better to hook an audience! In the trailer of his upcoming movie Parey Hut Love, for instance, he captures your attention because he articulates the frustrations of unrequited love so perfectly, leaving the audience identifying greatly with the hero who performs so naturally with his eyes, his expressive face and his body language.
I first met him backstage at the Lux Style Awards a few years ago, and his charm and affection drew me into forming a lifelong friendship with the talented actor. It’s always exciting to work with him and this time presenting him as the 70s brooding hero in our cinematic feature which includes the beautiful Maya Ali has been truly special.
From the new girl on the block to taking over the big screen, the tall and lithe beauty Maya has definitely come a long way. Having started out as a VJ on a local channel, Maya got her first break when she appeared in Haissam Hussain’s project Durr-e-Shehwar, which co-starred Sanam Baloch and Mikaal Zulfiqar in the lead roles. The drama was a huge hit and Maya’s subtle and emotive expressions were appreciated by the movers and shakers of the industry, landing her roles in several projects.
OK! Pakistan chats with this talented duo about their upcoming movie and so much more…
Maya, how was your experience of working on Parey Hut Love? How did you prepare for the role?
Maya Ali: I had a wonderful experience working on Parey Hut Love. It was great working with Asim Raza – when you work with people like that you learn a lot of new things.
The cast was fantastic and we have all become a big family now. And when we’re talking about Parey Hut Love we have to talk about the production as well! Half of the credit goes to Sheheryar it was a pleasure working with him – he’s a great actor and also a great person. Overall, I had a wonderful experience!
As for preparing for the role, Asim had kept rehearsals for a month before the shooting spell started. There was an acting coach, Faheem, who also acted in the film. The entire process was very helpful in terms of character development and it prepared us for our roles.
Sheheryar, it took you four months to prepare for your role in Saat din Mohabbat In, and longer to get out of it. Was Parey Hut Love any different? Did you work on your body language and mannerisms in this one too or is this more similar to the real you?
Sheheryar Munawar: I would say this role is a lot closer to the way I am/was. Growing up, I faced similar issues as the protagonist. I would always find myself running away from my issues or trying to sweep them under the rug.
However, every role is different and yes, there are certain mannerisms that are specific to this character. I may not have had to spend as much time working on my mannerisms or body language but I realised it’s easier hiding behind a character you build rather than showing your own self to the camera.
Maya, what inspired you to take up this role? Does it matter that you weren’t the first choice and do you believe that destiny is playing its own part in shaping your career?
MA: I’ve always wanted to play strong characters and portray girls who are strong, as I myself am a very strong independent woman who has struggled a lot in life. Similarly, Saniya is someone who is an extremely strong and bold character who cares about her values.
With regards to being offered the movie, all I know is when it was offered to me, it was only offered to me at that time and it was Asim Raza’s movie so I had no reason to not accept it, plus the cast was great and so was the script.
I don’t believe in getting anything handed to you on a platter; I have always struggled and worked hard for what I want so I truly believe in hard work and not merely destiny.
Sheheryar, how was your experience working with Maya Ali who you didn’t know that well? Do you think how close you are to your co-actor/s affects the outcome of the film?
SM: I think it was a blessing that I didn’t know Maya too well before this so essentially I could be anyone around her and she would take that as the real me and not just the ‘reel’ me.
The lack of a substantial personal relationship allowed us to develop a deeper professional relationship without taking each other for granted as friends usually do. We really respected each other and enjoyed getting to know each other through our work. So yes, it did work for me.
Tell us about the script. What should the audience expect?
MA: Obviously I can’t reveal the whole story, but it’s a very entertaining family movie. It’s not exactly a comedy film but more of a classical romance with an element of comedy.
When the audience purchases tickets to go and see a movie, they want entertainment and that is exactly what they will get when they watch Parey Hut Love.
SM: Imran Aslam is an institution and to have the opportunity of essaying the role of his protagonist in a film is amazing.
The script is a sensitively written classic romance between two unlikely lovers. It is witty, yet sensitive. Light, yet soul wrenching. The best part of the script however, are these warm yet breezy moments and dialogues that will stick.
How was your experience working with Asim Raza? He is known to be quite the strict taskmaster.
MA: Asim Raza is phenomenal at what he does; he is someone who you can learn a lot from. He explains everything in detail to you before each scene and he won’t stop explaining it to you until you fully understand what you’re doing or what he expects from you. Honestly, I have never seen him angry, no matter what issues or problems there may be and I have never seen him shout at anyone – only he can have this level of patience. So I won’t say he’s a strict taskmaster; yeah he loves his work but that’s all, and I love this about him.
How was your experience of working with Asim Raza once again after Ho Man Jahaan?
SM: Asim is a genius who is very sure of what he wants from his characters and how he wants them to approach the story. This makes it very easy and at the same time very difficult for an actor. However, I felt this time the acting process was a lot easier for me; I think that comes from being able to develop a better understanding.
Asim Raza in this film was a different beast (a beautiful one, which is always a must with him) compared to his outing last time. As the genre changed, he adapted so smoothly and made it his own. He brought attention to detail, sensitivity and finesse to this classic romance using ‘masalas’ that would be appreciated by the masses.
Your film has a huge cast. Was it different from Teefa In Trouble?
MA: Yes, the cast is huge. I have never worked in a project with a cast this big; it was really fun working with everyone.
Of course, it was different from Teefa In Trouble – the genre is completely different, my characters are different, and I am glad I got to play these two completely different characters.
Your film has a special cameo by Meera Jee. What was it like to share the screen with someone who has done over 200 films? What did you learn from her?
SM: Working with Meera was surely an experience. She completely owns the screen when she’s in front of the camera and that only happens when one is very secure and confident about one’s craft.
I was in awe of her throughout the time we worked together.
What was your most memorable experience while shooting? What was the most challenging part?
MA: I had many memorable moments while shooting Parey Hut Love so it would be difficult to choose one, but shooting a song in Bahawalpur with the whole cast was really special.
There was one scene which was very challenging and difficult for me – I was shooting with Sheheryar and it was our first scene together on the second day of the shoot. Although we had rehearsed that scene, when Sheheryar came and delivered the scene I was shocked because I didn’t know how I was going to perform next to someone who had performed his very best throughout this film.
SM: All the dance shoots were amazing – and there’s a lot of that in this film. I remember when we did the underwater shots (that you have probably just seen in the trailer), I had weights tied to my ankles and I would descend immediately to the bottom of a 60 foot aquarium. I had to hold my breath and be motionless until we got the shot, and then I had to be pulled up by a bunch of divers. It was very important for me to keep my cool. That has to be one of the most memorable experiences. Also, this one day when Maya fell off the scooter when we were shooting Behka Na, the romantic number. That day was also memorable, but not for the right reasons. Maya braved through a lot in this film that way. I remember this one scene where we had to sit on the edge of a fort wall that had, what seemed like, a bottomless drop.
I think there wasn’t a single moment that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. However, if I think about it, the night cycle got a little heavy. Most of our shoots were night shoots and there came a time when I used to crave sunlight.
“The industry has grown a lot in the last five years in terms of the business and in terms of the risk producers are willing to take on different kind of films.”
The last time we spoke about Sheheryar, you said “I have never seen such a positive and hard working person. He gave me massive respect and made the working environment very comfortable. Work didn’t really feel like work with him”. How did you meet? How was he different from your previous co-stars Osman Khalid Butt and Ali Zafar?
MA: Of course, I still believe that and stand by what I told you then.
I already knew Sheheryar prior to us working together on this film, as we had worked together on a few still shoots before this, but I obviously got to know him better while shooting for this movie.
Everyone is different and everyone has their own place; similarly the three of them are different but they share one thing in common – they are crazy passionate about their work.
Is it true that you touched Sheheryar’s feet before shooting each scene?
MA: Of course not – but I don’t mind touching Sheheryar’s feet before each scene as you haven’t seen what he’s done in this movie.
Sheheryar, Project Ghazi finally released earlier this year. Syra and you supported it fully. Do you think it was a good decision to own it till the end?
SM: I’m not sure if it was the right thing to do or not but I do know that the producer and the director were in trouble and even though we didn’t owe them anything, all three of us (Humayun, Syra and I) spoke about it and decided we wanted to help out.
After the success of Diyar-e-Dil and Mann Mayal, why didn’t you go back to doing more television serials?
MA: I really wanted to go back to television but I didn’t have the time. Also, I am very selective about my projects and like to give them my all, so whenever I get a good script I would love to do it, as I am missing it as well.
Maya, are you in a relationship? Is marriage on the cards? Tell us more.
MA: Yes, I am in a relationship with my work. Of course one day I will get married when the time is right.
You mentioned, “I wear everything and anything which I feel comfortable in”. Don’t you think there is a lot of pressure when it comes to style due to the major role social media plays in terms of publicising pictures?
MA: To be very honest, I’ve never felt any pressure because of social media. As I’ve said before; you shouldn’t wear something you don’t feel comfortable in… always wear what you think looks good on you and what you feel comfortable in. You don’t have to wear something for someone else; wear it for yourself… And until you’re not comfortable in something you won’t be able to carry it properly.
“I had many memorable moments while shooting Parey Hut Love so it would be difficult to choose one, but shooting a song in Bahawalpur with the whole cast was really special. ”
Pakistani cinema is going through a revival phase. How do you see the industry in the next five years?
MA: Yes, Pakistani cinema is reviving. It’s good for all of us and in the next five years Pakistan’s film industry will be making even more movies than we are today.
SM: The industry has grown a lot in the last five years in terms of business and in terms of the risk producers are willing to take on different kinds of films. Our technicians have really improved and even our actors have discovered themselves and are adapting to new mediums. We are all on a steep learning curve; I can only imagine where we will be in five years.
What would your dream role be?
MA: I wanted to do a character like Saniya, and luckily I got the chance to do it. Also, I really want to do a challenging character like Rani Mukherjee in Black.
SM: Ryan Gosling from Drive. It’s such a controlled yet layered performance – you keep waiting for him to lose it but he lets you wait to the point where he’s ready to explode and then doesn’t disappoint. The elevator scene when Ryan Gosling’s character (and I say this because he doesn’t have a name in the film; he’s referred to as ‘The Driver’) finally loses his cool is one of the most nicely envisioned scenes of recent times.
What’s your five-year plan?
MA: I’m just focusing on my work so I haven’t planned anything for the next five years, but I can see myself being married.
SM: Make good content, eat healthy, stay fit, learn new things, read, travel more, give myself, my family and friends time, buy a house on a hill somewhere away from the crazy city life and breathe.
QUICK FIRE WITH
SHEHERYAR & MAYA
The last text you sent?
MA: To my cousin Nosha.
SM: To my work group. There are a million WhatsApp groups on my phone.
Hashtag that describes your life?
One app we should download?
MA: Don’t really have one.
TV show you love right now?
MA: Surkh Chandni.
SM: Made In Heaven and Mirzapur.
Last book you read?
MA: It’s been a long time but The Forty Rules Of Love.
SM: The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck (it was an impulse purchase at the airport on a work trip).
Who would play you in the movie of your life?
MA: Sajal Ali.
SM: A young Edward Norton.
Favourite fictional character?
SM: Tyler Durden.
What’s your karaoke song?
MA: I’m a really bad singer, so I don’t have any.
SM: Cocaine by Eric Clapton.
Last movie you saw?
MA: Avengers: Endgame.
SM: A Star Is Born and Stree – I saw them on the same day.
Last holiday destination?
Last thing you bought?
MA: A pair of white sneakers.
SM: A bag of gummy bears.
Best thing you can cook?
MA: Aloo ka paratha.
Favourite sandwich filling?
MA: Grilled chicken (without cheese) any time!
SM: Roast beef.
Favourite pizza topping?
MA: Pepperoni and cheese.
Favourite restaurant in Pakistan?
MA: I really like Monal in Islamabad because of its view.
SM: I really like Kabul Restaurant in Islamabad and Jahangir Balti in Saddar, Pindi. I know it’s odd since I don’t go to either very often but I try going there when I’m in Islamabad and Pindi. I love the food, plus both places remind me of my childhood.
Dream dinner party guest?
MA: Asim Raza.
MA: I can’t choose one specific one.
Favourite fashion capital?
MA: Paris, obviously.
Star style icon?
MA: Sonam Kapoor.
Your biggest fear?
MA: Losing my loved ones.
Best gift you ever received?
MA: A really special piece of jewellery.
MA: Live and let live.
Word or phrase you say the most?
MA: “Oh no”.
Sarwat Gilani, Sajal Aly or Kubra Khan?
MA: Sajal Aly.
“We enjoyed getting to know each other through our work”