• 26 Sep - 02 Oct, 2020
  • Rubab Fatima
  • Interview

Who doesn’t know Umair Jaswal? The rockstar has made it big with his hit song Sammi, a Coke Studio presentation. With all the great music that he has on his credit, the singer is now on his way biking through Pakistan with his travel documentary series Raahi. The series is a treat for all the travel enthusiasts. Exploring Pakistan on his bike, the singer showcased the culture and heritage while showing places that are not travel attractions for most of the people but are rich in culture and have a relevant significance.

Sitting with the rockstar, I realised how humble of a human being he is. And not to forget, everybody is in awe of his full grown beard. The songster while in a conversation with MAG, opened up about the inspiration behind exploring the country vastly that too on his bike, turning into a producer for the travel series, his writing debut, his music plans and much more. Excerpts:

Who is Umair Jaswal as a person?

If I would have found the answer to that, I think the purpose to live would end. It’s the answer that I’m still finding that who am I actually and what I have to do in life. And Raahi is the living testament of that. It is basically me searching for myself.

What made you travel through Pakistan and that too, on a bike?

I’ve been a biker for more than 20 years now. I first, learnt to drive a bike from the milkman who used to come to our house. I feel free, I feel like myself when I’m riding. So, while travelling up North in 2017, I was going through a lot of life changes at that time. I had just hit a new level of success with my super hit song that came on Coke Studio. With fame comes all sorts of things and I was trying to digest all of that and it was very therapeutic. I then realised how beautiful our country is and there I felt a need to have a proper show to showcase the beauty of this country that we see with our bare eyes. I thought maybe I can do it as I love biking and how else would you want to show this county which has literally everything. That’s where the inspiration came from.

Majority of our people understand and converse in Urdu only, don’t you think it would have been better to have the series in Urdu completely?

Our thought process as a generation has been changed. We do realise that Urdu is very important for Pakistan’s market but then, today’s generation, the youth they understand English. And they do watch English content. So, it’s a mix of Urdu and English both. When we make it that way, it makes it easier for people outside of Pakistan to catch up on it as well. The goal was to make it accessible for audiences from all over the world. I love speaking Urdu and nothing would make me happier to convert the whole series in Urdu. At the same, I wanted to be able to connect with the younger generation who mostly, can’t even understand Urdu which is sad.

What was it that made you document your travel experiences and turn it into a series?

When you’re on the road, there’s so much to see. They say that the road changes you completely. You become a different human being and start to think differently. The reason behind creating and turning it into a travel series was to make a quality product that people enjoy. Not taking away from the kids who are v-logging and creating travel series but they don’t have that kind of budget to do justice to the beauty of this land and for that we needed a big production, and that's why I made my own production company. This is my company’s first ever work and we're very proud of it.

You stepped into the field of writing and turned a producer for Raahi. How was the experience?

It was scary to begin with (laughs). I’ve always written my own songs, so i can write lyrics. But writing a screenplay was the first time. We tried a couple of writers who are very good, but the problem with that was if the writer is not there on the road with you, if he’s not experiencing the same things as you are, he will never be able to translate those experiences into words. So one of the writers, who is also a good friend of mine, explained to me that your truth seems good in your own language even when it’s not perfect, but it will have the most impact. It connects with everyone because it came straight from my heart. As for the production, I thought to produce it on my own and I’m glad that it happened.

The series also features some of the songs from your upcoming album, when will we get to listen to the complete album?

We made the album and most of the stuff has been featured on the show. Once the show is over, people will get to listen to the music that was on the album already so whatever music is left we’ll put that out. We treated the music of the album differently and it’s now a part of Raahi. I’m not sure if it will be in an album format anymore but the music will be out by the end of the season.

What do you love the most about travelling?

It’s the unknown, not knowing what you’ll experience the next day. It’s getting up in the morning and knowing that I have to ride for about 13 hours but not knowing what I will get to see and explore along the way. And that feeling is very exciting for me. Most of the places that I’ve shown on the show are not tourist attractions, and being unknown about what I will get to experience was what really inspired me.

Tell us about executing and planning a travel documentary, is it difficult?

It’s very difficult and first of all you need to understand that Pakistan is a very weather dependent country. We get to experience the extreme weather conditions here. There are a lot of factors which have to be taken care of while planning the travel and especially here, the productivity is really affected by the weather. Also, the bigger the crew, it tends to slow down the travel.

What do you consider as the most rewarding thing after Raahi came out?

It is the connection that I have formed with the people. I consider it as the most valuable thing. Other than that would be the fact that people really have taken the ownership of the show. The massive response that we got from the audience after its first trailer was very overwhelming and they owned up to it. I think the reason to it is that everybody here wants to see a positive image of Pakistan. It’s a perfect mix for the audience. They see Pakistan as beautiful as it is along with getting all the information that they never got before.

How was it to travel with so much equipment and the crew?

I will give full credit to the production team. Every morning, I got all charged up to ride the bike like crazy, but they had to prepare all the equipment every day. So, there was a lot of planning involved and we had to mange everything according to our set time table. It is very difficult and hence we kept the crew minimum, also we kept the equipment limited but all the necessary stuff was carried along so that we could do all that we wanted to do.

When the world was shutting down due to the ongoing pandemic, what is that one thing you missed the most?

The series was shot pre-lockdown. I remember we had to cut down on our shoot when we reached Karachi because by that time there were initial cases reported. This lockdown made me miss the human connection the most. Throughout the series, you will see hugging people, shaking hands, eating with them and being very casual. These are the things that can no more be practiced. So, enjoy the present to the fullest and don't take anything for granted. But now as things are getting back to normal, I also want people to be more responsible towards keeping our country clean while exploring.

What would you advice to all the aspiring film makers who want to make travel documentaries?

I would say that understand the value of research. The layer of information and historical accuracy of a place is very important. Whenever you make a travel documentary it is your responsibility to speak the truth. And for that we came up with a research team headed by Raafay Mehmood, who is a senior journalist now. We had people consisting of historians in our team, who have documented the history of Pakistan. Even on the show, people told me that the way you explained everything is commendable. It’s not just me saying those things, I confirmed the information through many reliable sources. Spend time, value and money on researchers to make things accurate.

What was the need to add animation in the series?

Animation is a very strong tool when it comes to telling stories. Many people are well archived and by that I mean, if you’ve achieved anything there would be enough footage of you available. Whenever you have to tell a background story that does not have any information, animation helps you to imagine it. As we move forward in the series, the animation department will keep getting bigger because we’ll be including normal people more, who are never documented and are the true essence of this show. To tell their life struggles, animation was very useful.

Do you think Zeeshan Perwez has done justice to the series as a director?

I couldn’t have asked for anybody else in the world. The way he’s put all his efforts, heart and soul is insane. I’ve never seen anybody more dedicated than him in my entire life. I wouldn’t have trusted anyone else to make this project than Zeehsan.

Lastly, when will we see Umair rocking the stage again?

Well, right now due to Covid we don’t have shows. And to see Umair perform in front of a huge crowd, I think will take time. We have to respect this time too and have to act responsibly in these testing times. I do feel sad about that though, but it’s for the best.