Sheheryar Munawar – A Star Is Born

  • 26 Jan - 01 Feb, 2019
  • Attiya Abbass
  • Interview

I was asked to wait for my interviewee at The Vision Factory’s palatial premises at Ittehad – which is more apt for an art gallery than an office. Haani, his manager keeps me entertained, sharing anecdotes about life and work until Sheheryar [Munawar] walks in. Dressed in a dark blue shirt and jeans, he jokes, “This is what it’s like to be a producer!”, as his phone’s shrill ringing interrupts our conversation time and again. Sheheryar has his first meal of the day sitting adjacent to me – strong black coffee and a hunter beef sandwich, which his mother especially made for him.

Sheheryar maintains a warm, composed and even excited disposition for the meeting. Yet, whenever he weighs on the intruding phone call conversations and the enormity of his new project, Parey Hut Luv, his brow furrows and his composure cracks into a face of gravitas. “It is very important for films like Maula Jatt and Parey Hut Luv to do well, because they are big canvas films, they are expensive,” he begins. “A lot of hard work and love went into their making. With bigger films, we have bigger crews… about 200 people working just on one segment of the film. It is a huge monetary investment going into the film industry. It’s important for that investment to do well, for that entire industry to do well,” he explains, his voice dropping to a grave note. “It’s appreciable to see how entire teams, directors, and producers have been so ambitious and have taken things to the next level. And because they have taken such big steps it’s important their films do well.”

Sheheryar tells me he had a very “wholesome” childhood. Born in Karachi and raised in Islamabad, my interviewee reminisces happy narratives from his adolescence. “There were quite a few incidents,” he admits and the rest of his words segue in a manner of a story told many times, but which never fails to hurt. “It was something as recent as about five to six years back when my elder brother passed away in a car crash. That event, despite all the irreparable damage it did to me, pushed me in a place where I was made responsible for many things in life. I had to grow and mature faster.” He’s quiet for the moment before proceeding. “He was the eldest and was responsible for many things that I wasn’t prepared to step into, but had to. That shaped me. And then I was only in my A-levels when I moved to Karachi from Islamabad, which was a big cultural change for me, I’d say. That switch threw me into the fast-paced life and a tad bit lack of empathy and I had to adapt really quick. Because life doesn’t give you time. So there was me, trying to balance a quotient of sensitivity and like for arts from Islamabad, buckling up for the fast-paced life here.”

Did he always have a penchant for acting? “It genuinely dawned upon me. I was always a melodramatic kid,” he flashes me a grin. “So, this one time I remember getting yelled at, and I go lay outside my house with a brick on my chest telling passers-bye I am committing suicide. Till I was finally admonished by my dad and taken inside.” He laughs at his whimsical theatrics.

How did the transition from acting to filmmaking fare for Sheheryar? “Oh, it was wonderful, albeit stressful. I was always interested in making content. And being a finance graduate, I knew all the financial aspects that go into the production made sense to me. And I always had this lust for creating good content.”

Which is a tougher deal, producing or acting?

“I’d be lying if I say juggling both producing and acting at once is easy. It’s a struggle every day,” he confesses. “And if someone admits to managing them fine, they are bluffing. When you are the jack of all trades you are master of none. The kind of team that we have onboard and the processes that we undergo, our aim is to find perfection. And when you are performing both such core jobs, you are trying to find perfection in both. You are killing yourself at it, so yeah somewhere something suffers. Quality time with friends, family, gym and some downtime to my own, these are things I haven’t gotten in a long time! Every night I tell myself to find time for my favourite Netflix show, but I barely get any time for that anymore.”

With two pictures Ho Maan Jahan and 7 Din Mohabbat In to his credit, Sheheryar is geared for his third film’s release, Parey Hut Luv which will roll out in cinema at Eid-Ul-Azha. Before I delve into his upcoming, I wanted to know what the actor took away from his past roles.

“At this point, I have dabbled in roles that were poles apart from one another,” he declares. “If you look at my body of work, I have worked on a superhero film like Project Ghazi, a comic, clueless man in 7DMI and a little rewind to see me cast in a realistic role in HMJ. PHL is an outright commercial film. Industry mein job hi different hosakta tha, meiney who karkay dikha diya,” he jokes. I have assimilated and learnt a lot from all these roles that I have played so far. I really got to explore my mettle, trying the skin of different characters until I finally discovered what I do best.”

“I dislike the idea of making sansanikhez headlines. Fame earned overnight jaati bhi overnight hai. If you have big plans, it takes you time to reach there. You start with baby steps. Koi baat nahi, apna time bhi ayega yaar,” his wit cuts through the conversation.

Has there been a role that has slipped under your skin and impacted you mentally and emotionally? “You know my previous director once said, that every time you change the most trivial aspect of yourself, you become a different person altogether. It could be my moustache… or the way I interact with people whilst shooting. I always try giving myself this null period where I endeavour to get rid of the character’s trait. For instance, I was a badtameez dude in Ho Man Jahan, which I felt made me a bit aggressive overtime. Then with 7DMI it took me some time to get hold of my actual expressions. When you want to make the roles work, you begin to emote and express like them. Not a simple science.”

I ask him if he experiences withdrawals from his character? He denies. “I only get withdrawals from the set life, when the projected is winded up. Woh ek ajeeb he nasha hai. It’s a different high.”

What does it take Sheheryar to say yes to a script as an actor? “I get goosebumps while reading a script when I know it is the one. But post-goose bumps your sanity kicks in and you begin processing it rationally, and that’s when you reflect whether you want to take on a project or not. That’s a reality check. Goosebumps are my body’s way of telling me that I can make this script work. I can be impulsive too, which is not always good. ”

As we move to talk about PHL, Sheheryar says, “Asim has a penchant of making things appear beautiful. He was into a serious genre, to begin with, but this is his outing and in a way, he is showcasing his craft onscreen. Ever since the ‘revival’ of the film industry began, we didn’t have a soulful romance. PHL is going to be a classic romance but in a more contemporary wrapping.” The film has a curious story attached to its name. Scriptwriter, Imran Aslam, shared an interesting anecdote about how he came up with the title of his movie: he was at London airport in the ’70s and a Sikh maid was cleaning the floor with a broom. Every now and then, she would tell passersby, ‘Parey Hut Luv’, and that’s how the words stuck with Imran. Sheheryar revealed in Parey Hut Luv’s wrap-up party that the role he is playing is like a mirror to his own personality. It’s very bizarre because actors are not very keen on disclosing their actual self on screen. “His personality traits are similar to mine in ways how he runs away from certain conversations. He makes use of his charms to get things going in his favour and often acts out in anger,” he introspects. “He is also very similar in the way how I interact with friends and family. Also, he’s commitment-phobic, which is an aspect that has certainly bothered me too.” •