Mehreen Jabbar: Redefining Pakistani Cinema by Revolutionary Story Telling

Take inspiration from women who are strong; women who dream, believe and achieve’, from an early age, I have been taught to have faith in myself and look up to women who have excelled in their lives by working hard. One such woman I had the privilege of interviewing was Mehreen Jabbar.
An intellectual powerhouse, Mehreen has been directing and producing groundbreaking films and dramas, which have been recognized and acknowledged globally. Her vast knowledge and outstanding skills are reflected in her exceptional work for which she has been nominated countless times and won the title of the Best TV Director at Lux Style Awards in 2010.

To become as awe-inspiring as Mehreen Jabbar, women need strength and support, which mainly comes from their families. Mehreen recalled her childhood and shared, "I was a reserved, shy and a quiet child. My brother is seven years younger and so most of my childhood was spent with my parents and grandparents who lived next door. I was surrounded by people who were all role models. Starting from my mother and father to my grandparents, all were pioneering professionals in their fields. My grandmother was the founder of Karachi College for Women and Co-founder of APWA College for Women while my grandfather was the Director General of Radio Pakistan in the years following partition. I also remember being very observant and playing battle games with toy soldiers along with my cousin who was of my age."
Moving further down the memory lane, she recalled, "Some memories that stand out from my childhood are sitting in the garden with my family, having freshly made french fries and the cool Karachi evening breeze. Playing with the strange assortment of pets that I owned — hens, roosters, and rabbits. I also thoroughly enjoyed playing cricket and hockey with my cousins and uncles. Those were days without cellphones and iPads, so we always enjoyed staying outdoors."
Mehreen's work is unique due to her strong aesthetic sense and her ability to portray emotions and sentiments in the purest form. I was very keen to know for how long she has been inclined towards arts. "I was always inclined towards visual arts and history. I clearly remember my fascination with the camera and VCR. My first experience with a Video Home System (VHS) camera, which I used to record birthdays and other events, was my father's 8mm camera. In fact, my family was very much entwined in arts so it was only natural to follow their footsteps. I remember recording school and college events with a large VHS camera and convincing my friends to act in my music videos. I also remember insisting my younger brother and his friends to act in my short films."
It is not easy becoming a filmmaker like Mehreen and according to her, punctuality, hard work and honesty, are the key factors towards reaching ones goals. After graduating from St. Joseph's College, she realized she wanted to pursue filmmaking. She said, "I went and I pursued a two-year certificate program in TV and Film at University of California, Los Angeles. While I was there, I also took classes in anthropology, religion, etc, because I felt I could not pass the opportunity to learn about other things as well. It is always best to explore more options and try to achieve whatever you can. Never underestimate your potential."
Talking about how Mehreen entered the film industry, Mehreen mentioned, "Well, the art of storytelling has always excited me. When I was younger, I used to visit a place called 'Star Video' in Karachi Development Authority (KDA). They used to have films from all over the world. I remember watching European, Iranian and many other films and I was impressed by the work of classic directors like Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini. My father also made a film in the 70s. My mother was a part of an advertising agency, so I guess it was just a natural transition."
Mehreen began working with the PTV. "There was no cable and there were fewer distractions as compared to what we have nowadays. My first two projects were based on short stories by Ismat Chugtai and Khadija Mastoor. In that era, there was far more room to experiment and work on stories, which I believed in and the ones I wanted to work on. There were a bunch of extremely talented and dedicated writers and actors in the 90s, which was a fantastic time to explore all sorts of radical stories and helped me produce some of my best work," she recounts.
Keeping in mind Mehreen’s achievements, I inquired if she ever imagined she would make it to such a position. She replied, "I have been blessed so far. Growing up we dream of winning Oscars and Emmys but that is not my goal anymore. I aim to work hard and produce quality work. I still need to tap my potential and I challenge myself to reach even further — not in terms of fame but the work I deliver."
Shedding light on the time she directed Ramchand Pakistani, when Pakistani cinema's revival was at the stage of infancy, she explained, "Based on actual events, the story is about a Pakistani Hindu boy and his father — belonging to the untouchable Hindu caste — who accidentally cross the border into India from their village in Pakistan at a time of rising tensions between the two countries and end up spending five years in an Indian prison (for the crime of being Pakistani) while the mother is left behind not knowing whether they are alive or not. Making that film was quite a challenge. However, my parents invested in the film financially and my father came up with the story line. He has worked in Tharparkar region for over 30 years so he found this story and funded this project. There was no channel investing as no returns were guaranteed. Ramchand Pakistani challenged my comfort zone, as it was an extremely ambitious project. I learned the process of festival submissions when it was approved at the Tribecca Film Festival in New York and won several awards. Leaving a mark on an international forum showcasing social issues and collaborating with some excellent people in the film induatry was a brilliant experience, to say the least." 
Mehreen suggests, "Do not get swayed nor get divided by race or ethnicity. Be open-minded and try to understand people from their point of view. This will help create harmony in your life and in the society as well."
According to Mehreen, patience plays a vital role in our lives. She stated, "A person needs to be calm to find solutions to problems; patience is certainly a virtue. I also believe in being humble; we need to learn from our mistakes and not be destroyed by negativity. Another very important thing is that one cannot be complacent; constantly challenge yourself rather than basking in the glory of the work you have done in the past. I have been fortunate to have worked with wonderful writers and I have not worked on a lot of projects but I chose to work on the ones, which were worth it."
Mehreen believes discipline takes you a long way, she said, "Being disciplined, punctual and respectful has been my strength. I honor commitments and believe in deadlines. Each member of your team should be treated equally as we are all dependent on one another."
Mehreen has worked on numerous projects such as Lala Begum and Daam highlighting women empowerment and for her it means 'equal rights'. She says, "Feminism has been misinterpreted in our society. Feminism makes a society just, it means respect and equal opportunities for women and that is what us, Pakistanis, should stand for. I tried breaking stereotypes through my characters, which reflected in my projects. I will never take up any story, which depicts a woman to be regressive. Television content influences the masses and it should be wisely designed so the viewers can learn from the content."
Mehreen concluded by saying, "Women of Pakistan need to be independent. They cannot and should not be left at the mercy of anyone. You need to educate yourself and fight for yourself. Many role models came from humble beginnings yet made a huge difference in our society. Look up to such women and be inspired, work hard and you will become whatever you desire to be." HH

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