Photography: Abdullah Haris

As the man who has directed two of Pakistan’s biggest cinematic hits in recent times, Nadeem Baig might like to stay behind the camera rather than in front of it but his celebrity status within the industry is indisputable. With over two decades of experience working in television, Baig struck gold with his very first cinematic venture, ARY’s Jawani Phir Nahi Ani in 2015. Under his direction, the film boasted of slick production values, gorgeous locales, stylised cinematography and intelligent comedy. Its record as the highest grossing Pakistani film was broken only by Baig’s second venture, Punjab Nahin Jaungi, in 2017. His latest project is the much-awaited sequel to JPNA and it promises to be bigger and better, featuring an ensemble cast of the country’s top stars and shot in multiple countries including the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Pakistan. In an exclusive interview with Omair Alavi, Nadeem Baig discusses what’s in store for cinemagoers this Eid when JPNA 2 hits the screens.

After directing the most successful Pakistani flick ever (Punjab Nahi Jaungi), why did you decide to go back to Jawani Phir Nahi Ani with a sequel, instead of coming up with something new?

You have no idea – despite being the director of the super-hit Punjab Nahi Jaungi, the question I was asked most frequently was, ‘will you make a sequel to Jawani Phir Nahi Ani?’ (laughs). We decided to go for a sequel when we had a story that was good enough for a sequel; we did manage to get a few upgrades here and there. Of course, it was a decision borne out of passion to see the boys on screen again and trust me, the audience will have a field day in theatres.

Hamza Ali Abbasi was an integral part of your Jawani team but he has been replaced with Fahad Mustafa this time around. Was that a difficult decision to make?

Hamza Ali Abbasi is a wonderful actor but he was busy in as many as two films – Parwaaz Hai Junoon and Maula Jutt – while we were planning JPNA 2. It was a difficult decision and we missed Hamza, but going with Fahad was a great experience. Not only does he have a huge role in the film, his fans will have lots of fun watching him become part of the most successful film franchise in Pakistan.

Shot internationally, the movie seems to have spared no expense. What made you go so grand?

The script and the face of the sequel demanded the scale but it was not a forced effort. If it’s looking grand then it’s a good thing because that’s the demand of the story.

Why do you collaborate with Humayun Saeed when you have so many options for a leading man?

Directors are known to have their favourite actors, be it in Hollywood, Bollywood or Pakistan. Pervez Malik had Waheed Murad in the early part of his career whereas he preferred Nadeem sahab later on. Why I work with Humayun is because, in my opinion, he is a proper film actor and has great potential. He brings value to the screen and I like to see that in my films.

This is your third project with Vasay Chaudhry if you count the telefilm Abhi Tu Main Jawaan Hoon… how will you rate working with this witty actor/writer?

Working with Vasay is always great, especially because he takes you on a journey through the film’s story; he has done the same thing here and people will like both his acting as well as writing which is on a different scale altogether.

How true is the fact that Bollywood legend Rishi Kapoor was interested in working in JPNA 2?

I think it’s common knowledge that we offered the role of Kubra Khan’s father to Rishi Kapoor before the Uri incident and he was very excited about it. The only reason that he opted out of the movie was that he wanted us to release the film in India through an Indian distributor and that isn’t possible considering the relations between the two countries. We then offered the role to another Bollywood star, Kanwaljit Singh, who gladly accepted it. As for Chintu ji, he is still in touch with us and has watched both Jawani Phir Nahi Ani and Punjab Nahi Jaungi; his wife Neetu Singh is a huge Humayun Saeed fan and we were pleasantly surprised when she spoke to us about Dillagi and other TV plays, praising our work.

And how did you get hold of Shehzad Ali Khan of Andaz Apna Apna fame?

It was the other way around actually – Shehzad Ali Khan got a hold of us! He had seen both Jawani Phir Nahi Ani and Punjab Nahi Jaungi and got in touch with us to congratulate Humayun and me for a job well done. We saw this as an opportunity and offered the role he is playing in the film to him and he immediately said yes. It was a great experience working with him and I am sure that the audience will love his character as well.

JPNA 2 goes head to head with two other films releasing this Eid (Load Wedding and Parwaaz Hai Junoon), and those have actors with whom you have worked before. What do you have to say about the competition?

I hope that all 3 films manage to do well – Hamza and Fahad are dear friends and their success is my success. I sincerely feel that we should discuss releasing films well in advance so that everyone gets a fair chance to release a film, any time of the year.