The concept behind Shameem was mine, yes, but then why didn’t Kashif Nisar give me credit? Shugal or serious? I assumed Nauman Sahab was pulling my leg. But he sure threw me a googly and drew first blood even as I proceeded to warm up to the actor behind a variety of multi-layered characters from the recent and very stoic Maqsood Sahab in Raqeeb Se to present-day scheming & sharp Haji Marjaan Khan in SangeMah. I couldn’t tell how much he was jesting, as this was an audio call and I would have given anything to see his expressions! The director-actor, (Kashif Nisar & Nauman) have a camaraderie going and there’s no way I was going to get pulled into this one. Kashif Sahab had also spoken of Nauman: “Yeh kambakht mera dost bhi hai” and with that relationship wrapped, I made a quick mental calculation to stay out of it!
This is how my conversation with Nauman Ijaz kicked off after I apprised him that Kashif Sahab had disclosed to me that the initial concept for Mrs and Mr Shameem belonged to Nauman. After telling him to take up this query with his friend directly (as to why he wasn’t given credits in the poster), I proceeded to find out what led to this idea. Was it boredom, too much of playing the masculine hero, was Maqsood Sahab too heavy on the shoulders? He promptly reminded me that Marjaan was his latest conquest – starkly in contrast to Mr Shameem.
“We penned it down after researching on AIDS and then presented it to all the local channels. But they refused, stating that there will be no TRPs on this theme. So we shelved it for many years. Recently Zee 5 asked for something and I asked Kashif to send this story across. I told Kashif they will love it! And they did!” He uttered, with what, I assumed was a triumphant tone. “Then we sat down with Shailja and planned the entire series. I heard lately that some people from Pakistan have asked Zee 5 that they want it and they want to run it on their channels.”
How did Shameem come to you though, I pressed on?
He came to me in 2010 when Kashif and I had visited the US for a project. We were walking hand in hand, in a shopping mall in Washington, discussing something. The guy behind us called out and said: “Do you know who walks like this in this country?” I turned around and retorted, I know, exactly, this is not my first time here. And then to tease him, I started acting like Shameem in the serial. When I returned to Pakistan, I designed the story, adding the AIDS element and contacted Roshaneh Zafar of Kashf Foundation who got us in touch with the regional head of the HIV project in Islamabad. We then penned our story based on that research.
I felt bad ke humaare yahan bamaqsad drama kyun nahi banta. Jisse kisi ka bhala ho jaye. Jisse koi awareness paida hojaye. Jo project itni cheezon ko unfold kare, wo characters jinko sideline kiya wa hai, jinko humiliate karne ke liye hum dramon mein daalte hain, mazaaq uraane ke liye dramon mein daalte hain, usko mein main pe le aaya hoon, toh log understand hi nahi karte in cheezon ko. Humein kisi ko izzat deni nahi aati.
And how did you plan to bring Shameem to life then? I asked, wondering if he went out of his way to meet real life people who struck him as close to what Shameem would be like? But he surprised me with a poignant response:
Did you then feel Shameem had taken over or become a part of you when you were shooting the series?
How invested were you in your character? I wanted to know. Nauman Sahab responded with the astuteness of a seasoned player who has taken a lifetime to carry a plethora of characters upon his very broad shoulders.
Noman disclosed that he had wrapped up the shooting for Mrs and Mr Shameem before he took on Sang e Mah?
Yes, but how did you step out of Shameem to take on Marjaan? I asked, curious to know the process.
Work moments come and go. I never keep any memories of any project with me. I zip up everything in a bag and put it away.
We have put our heart and soul in it. It’s visible in the work. How many people do we have who can do this kind of work? He continued, almost as if he were back in the world of Shameem, and then, went on to defend the project passionately.
Yes, I agreed. (As you can tell, I was doing a lot of agreeing before I pressed my point further). But if you were to transfer this content to a local channel. Right off the bat I know you would have to edit simple, endearing, natural, feel-good scenes like the Mehndi scene in which the women broke into dance spontaneously?
Nauman retorted in sheer, tangible frustration, and I wished this weren’t an audio call, so I could register his emotions.
The scene that had me was Ummi flying into a rage as Shameem attempted to feed her (after proposing to her). How organic was that? How many takes did it take to get such a raw feel? I questioned curiously.
On Saba Qamar
When two professional people work together and the aim is to make a project successful, then they gel like Saba and myself
Nauman expanded on his work relationship with Saba Qamar, (who was all praises for him as well by the way). “This is how their chemistry develops”, he explained. Saba and I have worked together quite a few times. She’s a sweetheart, a lovely person. She started her career with me. I’m not going to claim ke usko mein ne sikhaaya buhat kuch hai, ya usne mujhse seekha buhat kuch hai, lekin hum jab kaam karte hain, ek maza le ke kaam karte hain. Humein kaam ka nasha hai. Jinko kaam ka nasha hota hai unka kaam behtar hota.
On Shameem and mardangi
Mard toh lar parta hai. Effeminate aadmi zabt karta hai. Lekin zabt ka bhi ek saturation point hota hai. When Ummi was slapped, Shameem felt it as if he had been slapped. This is extreme love in a way. Jab aapko kisi se pyaar hota hai, unconditional hota hai. Uski achi buri saari cheezain qabool hoti hain. Shameem loves her soul. Not her wajood (body).
As Nauman explained this to me, I wondered if most traditional men, those our society loves to nurture as prime examples, were capable of this kind of unconditional love? Don’t get me wrong, but Shameem’s effeminate side called to me – the selfless kind of love, rarely experienced, often read in books is a pearl in the ocean – and Nauman claimed Shameem was all of that.
But then, what message are you sending out to audiences? That only when two people are mismatched, can they find and appreciate each other? I pressed on, trying to get to the bottom of this one.
Ummi is not your typical feminine girl. She is independent, strong, she doesn’t need a man. Is she the rare type who can seek companionship with an effeminate man like Shameem? Or can women who don’t identify with Ummi also find Shameem as a possible life partner?
This is just the beginning. There will be multiple messages. Everyone who watches will receive a different message. There’s no one particular message for anybody. Jitna ghor se dekhenge, utna message jayega. Nauman sahab continued philosophically, pulling me into the world of Mrs and Mrs Shameem through his passion for the project.
And what of the moments you cried uncontrollably? How did you bring that on?
The time I spend in front of the camera is not in my memory take. Because it’s not me. I have never used glycerine. Acting is zaat ki nafi. When you finish off your own character to step into another person’s skin. My work process is different from others. Others don’t step out of themselves to take on the character, become the character in its entirety.
But why only respect? I inquired. Would you not want to hold our hand and take us to a point where a woman would want to marry a person like Shameem? And her family feels that he is a good man and will look after her well?
Bilkul! He responded promptly. Effeminate people have a lot of love to give. And they are very, very forgiving.
I had but one misgiving so far. Why is his family not more supportive? Shameem’s mom is the only one who stood up for him. Why not the youngest sister? The elder ones had toxic spouses to deal with but the youngest could have sided with him more?
But he disagreed. Wait for the relationships to play out. He explained patiently. And so I will. Watch Mrs and Mr Shameem if you can. I’m keeping it safe like a box of treasured chocolates, to be devoured over the weekend! Wait for the full review!