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Talented Trio

It’s hard not to be affected by Mrs. Parveen Malik’s ebullience the first time you meet her. Her liveliness overflows to everyone around her. I met her at her tastefully decorated house in Islamabad to talk about her son’s, Saqib and Adnan Malik.

An early childhood educator (she’s running a pre school called “The Children’s House”), she has been president of Asian Study Group and is now president of Indus Heritage Trust, also a seasoned actor she has performed in numerous issue oriented roles.  With an extremely busy schedule she was very generous with her time and what I thought would be an hour long interview, turned into a lively discussion of nearly three hours!

What is keeping you occupied these days?
Apart from the school I am busy with this arts and crafts village that we are setting up in collaboration with CDA (Capital Development Authority), it will be opening soon. Basically it’s going to be a medium for artisans from all across the country to showcase their work and to expose the public to their crafts. We plan on having regular workshops, exhibitions etc.   

There are a lot of cultural activities going on in Karachi and Lahore; it’s about time something like this started in Islamabad as well.
You see the difference is, Lahore is an ancient city, then you have so many universities, student bodies’ there and in Karachi you have the business community and it’s also a very open cosmopolitan set up. The problem with Islamabad is that it’s a new product and it’s been basically a bureaucratic and diplomatic set up. There have been very few openings for things to happen. And then everything is linked with the politics of the country, we’ve had so many up’s and down’s where all our cultural aspects have been suppressed. So unless the political climate is open, it’s very difficult to do all these things.

When Saqib decided to become a director, did it come as a shock, I mean your husbands a doctor, didn’t he want his eldest son to follow suit?
You know Saqib from the age of four was fascinated by movies. His greatest outing would be to get into the car and be taken around to see movie billboards.

He wasn’t allowed to watch movies?
No, not at all. I was very firm about that and I think that is the reason why there’s been a backlash of sorts and he became more involved in movies. When he was a child, a lot of movie adverts used to come in the Urdu paper, so Saqib used to cut them out and keep scrapbooks. He was absolutely clear from the age of four what he wanted to do, his focus was always towards film making, so the question of not encouraging or discouraging him didn’t even arise.   

What about Adnan’s decision to start modelling?
The reason why Adnan’s gone into modelling is not what an average boy or girl would go into modelling for, he started modelling merely because he wanted to make money for his documentaries and didn’t want to ask us for any money. He wanted to make money on his own and I think that I very creditable.

What were Saqib and Adnan like as children?
Saqib was adorable as a baby. I once took him to a park in Karachi and somebody saw him and promptly named their child after him and then this friend of mine called and said does Saqib go to this park? And I said, yes he does, so she said this friend of mine is absolutely devastated by him! He was so cute and precocious and even charming at such a small age.

You really light up when you talk about Saqib, is he your favourite?
No honestly, not at all. All three of my children are very different in their approach to life and I love all three of them for whatever they are. Adnan you see is a very special person; you have no idea what a blessing his being has been for us and Maha is just beautiful.

What sort of a parent are you?
As parents I would put Shaukat and me in an unusual category because we have never stopped three of our children from exploring things of their interest. We’ve actually been very supportive of whatever they wanted to do and I think that is why three of them are reasonable successes in their particular fields and whatever they are pursuing.

“Reasonable successes” is an understatement, don’t you think, I mean Saqib is one of the best directors of the country and even Adnan is doing very well.
The best thing about my children is that three of them are totally self made. They look for a lot of emotional support from us, but economically they have not taken any support from us. When they were studying we obviously had to support them, but even then they managed to get scholarships and worked along with studying, to supplement their incomes. Ever since Saqib and Adnan have returned, they have been so self-contained, they live within whatever they earn, which I think is commendable in today’s generation. We are really blessed, mashAllah.

I think it’s got a lot to do with your upbringing as well.
Well I guess, because they aren’t obliged to do this and still they do. They do it spontaneously because they want to.  

Were you a strict mother?
Saqib used to call me “zalim maa”, this is because he was very fond of eating and I put a strict check on whatever he ate. Actually Shaukat and I went to Copenhagen for a year, leaving Saqib behind with my mother. So mummy used to feed Saqib biscuits and cakes and pastries and when we returned, Saqib Malik, who used to be reasonably slim when we left, had turned into a happy little three year old gool mool. So the bans that I put on his movies and eating resulted in him going around muttering, “zalim maa, zalim maa”. There were no restrictions on Maha, I don’t recall any. In Adnan’s case, I just remember one instance where I really lost my cool with him. When he was around seven or eight, he was told that he could not go to the market alone. One day my maid saw him roaming around alone in the market and told me. So I went out to the balcony and who do I see? Adnan saab coming back munching candy. I told him very nicely that he wasn’t supposed to go out alone, but after 15 minutes when I went looking for him, there was no Adnan, he had again gone to the market. Then when he came I really let him have it. This is the only time that I recall getting really upset with Adnan.

So your children thought you were a strict parent?
I always think parents, no matter how nice they are, will always be on the other side. This is because parents have to be strict, they have to teach children ethics. Once you become a parent, there’s no way that you’re not going to worry about your children. So yes I was reasonably strict. Like Adnan says, mummy you were very tough with us! I think I was very easy going with them. But you know children’s perceptions are different.

Who has the friendliest relationship with you?
There’s a difference of thirteen years between Saqib and Adnan. Maha is the middle child. In many ways Adnan is like a grandchild for us. His relationship with Shaukat is wonderful, while Saqib was growing; Shaukat was very busy with his work, so Saqib and he really didn’t get to hang out a lot. So Shaukat and Adnan’s relationship is very special, Maha is the link between all of us.

Do they visit often or you go and visit them?
Both Saqib and Adnan are living in Karachi and are happy together. Now Saqib’s making a film and Adnan will be helping him with it. My family is also in Karachi so I go and visit them, but they also come over whenever they can.

We’re all looking forward to this movie.
I know so are we, because he’s promised us little roles in a party scene, where all the relatives will be covered. The whole family feels they have a stake in this movie, so he says the only thing I can do is get everyone into a party scene!

None of your children are married, are you comfortable with that?
Absolutely! Earlier Shaukat and I used to think that at least one of them should settle down, but all three of them are so logical, for example, Saqib, you know his lifestyle is hysterical! I mean he has shoots at 2-3 in the morning. He says which girl is going to put up with this?

I guess it’s always better to marry someone from the same field or someone who will understand and is willing to cope with crazy working hours. 
Yes, that’s what they say, that when they find someone with the same wavelength, who understands and is actually professionally involved, then getting married to such a person makes sense.

But marriage is always a gamble; you never know what will work and what will not.
The reason why Shaukat and my marriage has lasted so long is because we have been very respectful towards each others needs. We had a completely arranged marriage; I didn’t know Shaukat at all. We met twice after the nikah, but both these meetings were well chaperoned. I guess in any relationship there’s a lot of give and take, a lot of respect for each other and giving space. I mean today’s our 42nd wedding anniversary and both of us were shocked that time’s flown by so quickly. My daughter Maha called us from New York to remind us. 

What are your hopes and dreams for your children?
The only thing that I pray for my children is that they should lead happy lives; their problems should be minuscule and should be such that they can easily handle them and then I pray for their health. And in terms of success, they should get what they are due.

 One of them is an ace director who has given us masterpieces like Fuzon’s music video Khamaj and Ali Azmat’s Na Re Na, the other has made award winning documentaries and has also been dabbing in modelling, acting and VJing. Both Saqib and Adnan Malik are the beacon of hope for movie lovers, who see the revival of Pakistani cinema as a distant, but attainable dream (anyone who has seen Adnan’s Bijli would know why I’m pinning such high hopes on them).

Here we have them talking about their mother and childhood.

 What are your fondest childhood memories concerning your mother?

Saqib Malik: Watching my mother in a television play was a big occasion.  She also made the best carrot and chocolate fudge cakes in the world.

Adnan Malik: There are so many fond memories with her! One of my favourite memories is when during my school years, I would wake up and in my zombie-like state, saunter into her room and cuddle her stomach. She was my snooze alarm! I nuzzled with her while she ate breakfast and read the paper. About ten minutes later, she would get out of bed, and I would have to wake up.

How did you get into direction? What ventures are you working on these days?

SM: I always wanted to be a filmmaker.  When I joined the field of advertising, I got the opportunity to make ads and then videos.  I am primarily making ads these days and working on a new video.  Also I am working on a script for my first feature film.

AM: My current directorial project is as an assistant director of Saqib's upcoming film. Besides that music videos and some more documentaries are on the horizon! I have directed a number of documentaries that have won awards at local and international film festivals. However, there is no real market for that kind of work here, and since modelling/acting just presented itself to me, I have been doing more of that lately. Yet, whether it is modelling, acting, directing, hosting, or VJing, I think they are all part of the same holistic process. All these things will help me with what I will ultimately end up doing, which is filmmaking. They are all forms of self-expression, storytelling and creativity.

Saqib you've made a number of great video's, which one is the closest to your heart?

SM: My favourite music video is “Behti Naar” by the group Rushk.
AM: My favourite Saqib video is "Mr. Fraudiye" because it heralded a new era in music videos and used prominent people like Tariq Amin, Aaminah Haq, Wiqar Ali Khan and Tapu Javeri. Who are now such media staples, but were new faces back then. It’s got a lot of dark humour and was very inventive and set the tone for Saqib's later work.

How do you feel about Adnan venturing into direction?

SM: I am very proud of my brother.  He has a very sharp mind and is full of ideas.  He also is a sensitive and observant person, so I think he has the basics required to be a good director.  He has all my guidance and support.

Will we see a revival of Pakistani cinema in our life time?

SM: I honestly doubt we will see a revival of Pakistani cinema, unless cinema going becomes a trend again.  And that is only going to happen if Indian films are allowed and rampant piracy is curtailed.  We have nothing to fear from Indian films.  At least they will start getting people to go to the movies, which will in turn improve the quality of cinemas.  Once that happens, cinema going culture will be revived.  And that will help Pakistani cinema, as long as a new, young breed of filmmakers also gets into the act of making movies.

AM: Surely, it will happen. It’s not about if, but when. And that "when" is contingent on the release of Indian films. There are some valiant efforts being made by festivals such as the KARA Film Festival and private producers to promote a cinema culture, but it is all in vain. Moreover, there is a huge increase in the number of people studying film/television/media today, and the only way for these industries to improve is through more professionals working in them. I think Independent Pakistani Cinema will make a huge impact on the international festival circuit in the next five years as well.

Can you tell us a little about your family? Where did you grow up? What was your childhood like?

SM: I grew up in Islamabad when it was a quiet cosy little city that went to sleep after khabarnama at nine.  My parents were very social, but they always found time for us. We went on lots of picnics, trips etc.  Its amazing how they balanced everything, both being professionals.  My staid Islamabad life was punctuated by exciting summer vacations to Karachi, where my grandparents lived.  That was the high point!  As a child I was very curious, individualistic and argumentative.  My parents didn't always take too kindly to that, but nonetheless, let me be.  I too was very social in my own way and had a lot of friends.

AM: My father is a cardiologist and my mother is an early childhood educator. However, both of them have cultivated other hobbies. My father is a photographer, a horticulturalist and an outdoorsman. My mother chairs cultural organizations, like the Asian Study Group and has also been acting for many years and is very urbane. So the three of us, my brother Saqib: the director, my sister Maha: the writer and academic, and myself have gotten the best of both worlds! We are a contradiction of urban and rural, liberal and conservative, and introvert and extrovert.

I grew up in modern day Islamabad, in contrast to my siblings who grew up in the smaller, less self-centric Islamabad of the 70s and 80s. My childhood was very well balanced and wonderful. There is a large age gap between my siblings and I, so I spent a lot of time alone. I was very adventurous, thoughtful and mischievous! It was an ideal childhood in terms of being given enough space to discover myself, but also because I received a lot of love and affection from my family and made friends from all kinds of socio-economic backgrounds.

Is there anything you would like to say to your mother, any message or a tribute?

SM: I have to say that I truly learnt to appreciate and admire my mother once I found my own course in life.  She is a life-force, full of energy and always ready to do things.  There is nothing pretentious about her, yet she always stands out in a crowd.  She is intelligent, sensitive and has a great zest for life.  She takes the issues that concern her very seriously.  As a mother she has been incredibly supportive.  As a great friend, she is always loads of fun! You can have any conversation with her with honesty and you know you will get empathy in return! Mom's in a class of her own, truly! 

AM: Yes! When I was a kid, I used to sometimes steal money from your purse, which I feel very bad about! And remember that one time at age 8 when you caught me running alone to the market and scolded me and never told me to go again, well, I went again after you went to sleep! But mummy, I love you dearly and thank you so much for being so warm, understanding, loving, encouraging, supportive, open-minded and such a wonderful story teller! I love you!

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