September 15 2016
The star of the current release Pakistani film ‘Janaan’ talks about her hopes for the film and what it means for the industry and what it could come to mean for the country…
ARMEENA RANA KHAN is on a mission and her fellow actors Bilal Ashraf and Ali Rehman Khan are in on it too.
The “Janaan” (‘Beloved’) stars are on a charm offensive – and my, it is working and some…
Of course, we jest…the film hit the top 10 UK box office last weekend and has been released in 17 countries.
Some commentators are saying the Pakistani film industry has truly arrived but we all know a swallow does not make a summer, as they say.
After long being in the shadow of Bollywood, the Pakistani film industry is emerging like a shy debutant who knows she has it, even if she hasn’t been to a hundred balls and doesn’t have the fanciest gown (like her Indian counterpart).
“Janaan” certainly looks good and while the story is a little predictable and unchallenging – as you might well expect of any romantic comedy – it does a decent job of keeping you entertained and even tickling you at the appropriate moment.
Armeena plays a girl not to too dissimilar to herself – at least on paper.
Like the Meena in the film, she is a Canadian, and going back to Pakistan for a wedding.
Meena hails from a Pashtun family – (some of the dialogue is in Pashto as well as Urdu and English) – as does Armeena’s – whose mother hails from Kabul and her father is Punjabi.
“I am a mixed bag of sweets, much like Meena,” she told www.asianculturevulture.com very sweetly last month.
She was actually discovered in Manchester and it remains her home. Yes, our Manchester – ‘oop norf’.
“I don’t really know what possessed me to come to England,” she said a little disarmingly. “A lot of my Canadian friends were moving over to London or Paris, and well, I didn’t want to be left behind.”
Her background was in science – not the Arts, but she was intent on a corporate career and business, she studied business at Manchester University and even today continues to run her own property company.
“It started with some modelling for local Asian magazines and then producers started calling – literally,” she revealed of her first forays.
“At first I was gobsmacked and absolutely petrified but I like to explore and I like a challenge.”
Most of her family are either doctors or lawyers and her father is ex-Pakistani forces.
“I had already broken away from the typical,” she said of her decision to go into business. “But my family have always been very supportive and they find it very interesting (her new career that is).”
She started off in short films and her first starring role was in a crossover UK-India film, “Huff – it’s too much” in 2012.
Further UK work followed, including a short film that premiered Cannes in the short corner section, and she trained at Ealing and Pinewood Studios, honing her craft. More work began to take her to Pakistan, initially commercials but also TV.
“I’d been going to Pakistan a lot, but my Urdu wasn’t the best. I worked hard on it, after I played a Lucknowi girl, I thought I had it, I can play a village girl now.”
All this led her to the film, “Bin Roye” which was released last year to great fanfare and screened in both the UK and India and other countries, with Indian company B4U as its international distributor, as it is for “Janaan” too.
A heavy romantic drama, “Bin Roye” nevertheless did well and opened doors, believes Armeena.
She auditioned for her role in “Janaan” and is keen to dispel any idea that her Canadian roots clinched it.
“There are not very many similarities – I am not as loud or as ambitious in the way that Meena is.
“I am more of an observer, I’m a very theoretical, academic person and I like to get to the bottom of things.”
Meena on the other hand is quite headstrong, has a tendency to leap into things and ask questions later.
Armeena does a good job and the film is generally well constructed but director Azfar Jafari doesn’t take too many risks.
She said she is open to Bollywood roles but hopes “Janaan” will send her in another direction too.
“I am very western facing (in terms of acting). Bollywood is great but I think I would consider it only if it fitted in with my principles and background. I know where my boundaries are.”
For Armeena, the whole experience of “Janaan” was wonderful and she believes the film’s depiction of the area and its Pashtun people is very important and that with this film, the international film world will take notice.
As well as B4U distributing, the film’s editor is Mitesh Soni, who has worked on a number of top Bollywood releases.
Armeena said: “I see an amazing future because the Pakistani film industry is attracting all sorts of talent from all parts of the world. When that happens, you know there is an automatic upgrade. On this film, I could converse in English with everyone– even the runners, which isn’t always the case.
“The film is very important, it’s the first of its kind in representing an area that has never been represented before in the history of Pakistan.
“The Pashtun community has become synonymous with terrorism, but it is such a shame, they are some of the nicest people on earth – the most humble and the most hospitable, and this film is going to break down those stereotypes and we are going to set the record straight – we want to change perceptions both on the world stage and in Pakistan too.”
*Janaan is out in the UK now