05 - 11 Sept, 2015

I first met Adnan Malik sometime in the mid 2000s. He had recently moved back to Pakistan and was finishing work on a documentary, while I was looking for a lead actor to star in my project. There was an instant camaraderie of sorts between us – like I, Adnan was familiar with the work sensibility of a very different industry. Working here was, for lack of a better word, new.
A few years later, when I had chosen to undertake writing and directing reigns of a television show’s one-off episode, I reached out to Adnan again with the prospect of an acting job. By then, Adnan, formerly known as the younger brother of noted commercial and music video director Saqib Malik, had a standing of his own – he was a well-known VJ at a music channel; his schedule, however, was full.
Years rolled by again, and I was helping out a friend set-up an underground racing motion picture – this was a few years before the current revitalisation of the Pakistani film industry – and Adnan was one of the few selected candidates who I was backing (along with a very young Danish Taimoor and Ali Kazmi, who had just married and was moving abroad). The producer friend and I had a long detailed discussion at Adnan’s place, a nice, comfy loft in Clifton (if my memory serves me right). Mismanagement doomed that particular film after I left.
This interview then, long delayed as it is, owing to both our schedules, would be our first real collaboration of sorts, since we first met. Although long in the making, let me clarify one thing: there is nothing sensational here. Adnan is still as I remember him – a pretty decent, down-to-earth guy, whose only pursuit seems to be excellence in work.
The quest has led him through a gradual progression of sorts – from a documentary filmmaker, to a television host, to a music video and commercial director, a producer for Coke Studio and now, an actor.
Adnan’s filmmaking spark is a little different than the others: “It was when I watched Monsoon Wedding, in the US two days back-to-back in cinemas. My gora friends had never seen a film that sort of represented my culture – even though it was an Indian film, the cultural representation was very similar – and when they came out, I didn’t have to explain things to them, such was the power of cinema in telling stories.
That was the film that did it for me,” Adnan continues. “That was a moment I realised that a film can represent culture and tell the story from a certain perspective similar to my own. That is the type of work I have always wanted to do. Make a film that transcends borders and connects at a human level.”
In my conversations with Adnan, I have often felt his inclination to make independent cinema – films that do not generally have bigger budgets, but rather better characters.
“Mainstream cinema (often) caters to the lowest common denominator and the intelligence level (too) is often very low,” he says.
“Storytelling is very important to me, there are mainstream films that have excellent storytelling, but I think the alternative or the art house or independent cinema (whatever one may call it) has more interesting storytelling.”
Although Adnan has been approached for roles often, he has been very selective of his acting jobs.
“Acting wise I was waiting for the right thing to come along. At the end of the day, the show, Sadqay Tumhare had the right formula – good actors, a good director, a good production house. It was the script that jumped out at me. It had its own spirit – its own life; had I delivered (the lines) straight, they would have still been impactful,” Adnan tells me.
“As an actor, I would like to do a role that is inspirational. Kaam acha karna hai yaar!” he exclaims. One can easily hear the sincerity in his voice.
“When I came back, there wasn’t much happening. Maximum effort, for minimum attention. People told me to try out modelling and commercials, and I went into that direction for a few years, but then I realised that this was not what I wanted to do, which is why I stopped and set-up my production company Adnan Malik Productions, and at the same time Coke Studio (of which he is an associate, producing segments and behind the scenes) happened.”
“They are just facets of the same thing,” Adnan elaborates later in the conversation on his current direction. “Whether you are in front of the camera, or behind it, you are still telling stories; you don’t have to be so defined that you can only direct or act.
Now I am at a place where I would want to do two or three acting projects a year, and keep up my direction, and ultimately go towards narrative side, like films – hopefully, both acting and directing.”
Has it been difficult being Saqib Malik’s younger brother, I ask. “Again, it was very beneficial to have Saqib established (in the industry), but he has always told me, and I have always believed, that one has to do things on his own strength. In a way it was nice having him as a guiding light, but I have always faced challenges on my own,” Adnan says. “We have a 13-year difference between us. Different inspirations, different approaches,” he elaborates.
“I just followed my heart. I think when your neeyat is saaf, that is when things come to you. When you are confused, things don’t work out.”
As a filmmaker whose chief interest had been motion pictures, I wanted to know what his plans are for Pakistani films.
“I have wanted to do that for a while. For so long there was no point in making films because there was no outlet. Things are now settling down, (in fact), everything I have said in my documentary is sort of coming true.”
Very few people know (outside the industry) that Adnan had made one of the few influential documentaries about Pakistani cinema. The documentary – Bhuli Hui Hoon Daastaan – came at a time when Bollywood movies had yet to make their way back to Pakistani cinema screens.
“The next few years are a good time to make new films, and to watch and observe how well they do at the box office,” Adnan continues. “It is very doable now. In the next two or three years I would love to have made something or acted in a couple of films – Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood, George Clooney, Farhan Akhtar, they have been doing it for years,” he tells me.
I interject, that these actors, are directors who cast themselves in their movies.
“I don’t know if I want to direct myself in a movie,” Adnan clarifies, with a sly hint in his voice. “I think that might be too much. I am two very different people when directing or acting. Let’s see.” •


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