Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Q&A with maker of 'Kukri' and 'Taxali Gate': Abu Aleeha spills beans on upcoming movies

"I am expecting Kukri, Taxali Gate will engage cinemagoers, filmmakers wouldn’t hesitate to invest in Pakistani cinema," says director

Director Ali Sajjad Shah at work. — Photo by author
Director Ali Sajjad Shah at work. — Photo by author 

Abu Aleeha’s Kukri — which is based on Pakistan's notorious serial killer Javed Iqbal — is finally going to be released on June 2. 

The movie was originally supposed to be released last year under the title "Javed Iqbal"; however, right after its premiere in Karachi, the Punjab Censor Board banned the movie for controversial reasons.

Now finally it has gotten a go-ahead and will be released worldwide under the title Kukri.

In an exclusive conversation with Geo Digital, director Ali Sajjad Shah aka Abu Aleeha, shed light on the movie's storyline and said that Kukri is based on the actual life events of the notorious serial killer.

Q: Why did you opt for the story of a serial killer?

A: "I’ve been working as a crime reporter for a private channel for 10 years. [I remember] a criminal was arrested in Lahore and accused of raping 100 children. It was around 1999 and since then, the character has been stuck in my mind.

"Musharraf Sahab’s take over and Javed Iqbal were the two most sensational stories at that time," he chuckled.

He further added: "The case was handed over to the honorary supreme court and Javed Iqbal was detained, where he committed suicide. 

"I got a copy of the challan after a month, from a lawyer and decided to make a web series on the serial killer but no one took me seriously. Then, I published the first book about his crimes and it got a massive response.

"The second edition I published was about the investigation and the back story of this notorious man; the book came out in eight editions and sold out in six months — which indicated that people are intrigued by the story.

"Then I decided to make a film on Javed Iqbal."

Yasir Hussain as Javed Iqbal in Kukri. — Photo by author
Yasir Hussain as Javed Iqbal in "Kukri". — Photo by author 

Sajjad shared that he wasn’t optimistic about the film initially and was sure that the censor board wouldn't permit it.

"When I met Javed Ahmed — the producer — I told him that they won’t approve it", he smiled.

Q: How did the industry react to your decision to cast Yasir Hussain? 

A: The director revealed that when he decided to cast Yasir for a titular role, many from the industry expressed "concerns", calling the casting a "wrong choice".

"They said I am committing suicide and Yasir can’t pull off this character, I received many calls from the people associated with our industry; however, the statements changed when the poster came out, and the very same people spoke to me again and said “ Tum ne ye kiya bana diya hai! [What have you made!]”

The director further added: “I have seen Yasir’s best work in the theatre, I know how far I can go with him. People have seen his work in dramas but that’s not his finest work.”

"No one can play Javed Iqbal better than Yasir Hussain!"

Yasir Hussain will be seen as Javed Iqbal — a typical Punjabi in Kukri. Abu Aleeha further told Geo Digital that he had done great research on the right accent for the character.

“I took Yasir to many chai dhabbay in Androon–e –Lahore. There, I observed local people chatting in different Punjabi accents," he shared. 

"I used to record their conversations and that’s how we picked one of the accents for Javed Iqbal. Later, Yasir practised it," he said.

Geo Digital further discussed Abu Aleeha's other movie with Yasir. A dark comedy named Taxali Gate.

He shared that as an independent filmmaker in the Pakistani film industry, he prefers working on original locations and added that Taxali Gate – releasing this Bari Eid – will be a great cinematic experience for cinemagoers.

Q: Why did you name it Taxali Gate?

A: "Taxali Gate and Heera Mandi are different names for the same location. Taxali Gate is one of the twelve gates of Androon-e-Lahore that leads to Heera Mandi.

"The metaphor is, you can’t enter Heera Mandi without passing the Taxali Gate. Our story connected to this very place, so we decided to name it Taxali Gate."

He further shared that his movie was distinct from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s web series Heera Mandi.

"Taxali's plot differs from Sanjay Leela's web series as it centres around a murder that occurred at the Taxali Gate and is linked to the investigations and events surrounding the homicide. However, the Indian filmmaker opted for a history of Heera Mandi as the narrative," he said.

"Taxali is a truly unique combination of dark humour and tragedy, blended with sheer humour and the original locales of Heera Mandi," he said adding that no one before him had tried to explore the genre of dark comedy in Pakistan.

Q: Who will we be seeing in the film?

A: The director confirmed that actress Mehrbano is playing the leading role of Zainab in Taxali Gate, along with Yasir Hussain and Ayesha Omer. 

"Ayesha Omar is portraying the character of Muskan, a local girl of Androon-e-Lahore. Moreover, Iffat Omer will be seen as a lawyer and Babar Ali as a Chaudhry," he said.

The cast of Taxali Gate pose for a picture. — Photo by author
The cast of "Taxali Gate" pose for a picture. — Photo by author  

He further lauded Yasir Hussain's performance and said: "He may have delivered the greatest performance of the year in Kukri as Javed Iqbal but his portrayal of Shafiq in Taxali is the most polished work of the cinema in this decade.

"I am expecting that Kukri and Taxali Gate will engage cinemagoers, so independent filmmakers wouldn’t hesitate to invest in Pakistani cinema," he concluded.

What's in the pipeline?

Abu Aleeha's recent films Dadal and Super Punjabi  — released on Eid-ul-Fitr — failed to make a splash at the box office. 

However, the director claimed that after Super Punjabi, he has been offered two more Punjabi films, and will be going on to shoot Mango Jutt right after barri Eid.

Sharing details about locations where Mango Jutt would be filmed, the director said: "It will be shot in Doha and Baku." 

He further added that it was "too early" to confirm the cast; however, the script had been sent to two big names and A-list actors.

"One of these is an actor/host and the other has done comedy roles in dramas, and two Indian-Punjabi comedians and actresses will be cast soon," he said.