Love in the time of Slackistan

ISLAMABAD: It’s mid afternoon in Kohsar Market’s Mocca Coffee and the temperature rises something fierce when the couple walks in looking frosty and unfrazzled; if looks could kill…

Slackistan’s Shahbaz Shigri and Aisha Akhtar are working together on Gol Chakkar. PHOTO: FILE

The long-time on-screen/off-screen lovebirds need no introduction for anyone worth their paisa in Islamabad. For the clueless: Meet director Shahbaz Shigri, 23, and screenwriter/actor Aisha Linnea Akhtar, 21; they are the capital’s prize celebrity duo. After their Slackistan stint, they began Incahoots Films, churning out projects like last year’s Sole Search (a tongue-in-cheek retrospective on Islamabad’s Jinnah Market scene) and the soon to be released Gol Chakkar, a Sole Search spin-off.

This information is neither exclusive nor au courrant — the twosome broadcast their activities and goings-on via Facebook diligently. Project updates are a hop, skip and log in away. But what is little known is the way they work together; how that effects production; and how they negotiate between the professional and personal.

I know that you two are old friends, but when did the chemistry start?
Akhtar (A): Well, we started spending a lot of time together during Slackistan. It got a little awkward.

Shigri (S): Haha.

A: Yeah, so I guess that’s where the chemistry started. We started seeing each other post-production, May 2009 onwards.

Did the cast members suspect anything?
A: They knew something was going to happen. We’re all very close.

Ok, cut to Sole Search. The first project you two worked on together. What were the roles?
S: I did the directing and Aisha did the script. I don’t and can’t write, so Aisha does all the writing.

A: But we both pretty much do all the editing together.

And what’s it like working together?
S: It’s stressful.

A: You put it wrong!

S: Ok, we’re always on the same page.

A: Well, there are never any silences. We’re both very engaged on set.

Oh come on, that’s way too diplomatic. Get to the issues.
A: We’ve never really had any massive issues. If we ever had a spat, it would get resolved pretty quickly because we have to work.

S: Ok, well, sometimes Aisha can’t handle me being too direct. When I’m on set, I talk in a certain way; I’m not there to have fun. I also assume she’s on the same page, technically. I get irritated when she doesn’t get certain things about film-making.

A: Ok, look. Shabby and I are supposed to be a two-man crew. But when you’re involved in a film, it’s a whole bunch of people that need delegation. So when Shahbaz is sitting pretty behind the camera, I have to do everything else, like five things at once so I get irritated when I get flak from him.

So no deferential treatment for the lady?
S: Haha, she gets mad because she doesn’t get special treatment.

A: I don’t want special treatment from him! I want special treatment for doing five things at a time. [The two proceed to shoot daggers at each other].

Ok, ok. Let’s ease up. What was it like working on Gol Chakkar?
A: A million times more intense. It’s a full feature film and just try to manage eight Pakistani guys, ages 12 to 29.

S: Yeah, we’d go into a shoot and have to deviate like five times just to accommodate the actors.

And where’s the film at right now?
A: We’ve done the rough cut and know exactly what we now need to finish it. It’ll most likely be done by August-September(ish). We want to release around Christmas time because there’s already a lot of Christmas themes in the movie.

Any other projects?
A: Next up is Adil Omar’s video, which Shahbaz and I are doing, “Paki Rambo.”

S: Here’s an exclusive for you and nobody knows this. Characters from Gol Chakkar are going to be in the video — making cameo appearances.

Do you two ever get sick of each other? I mean, you already spend so much time together and you work in the same capacity.
A: I never get sick of him.

S: We have to spend time apart whenever I’m away for film school in Dubai or when Aisha is travelling for her own projects so, yeah, I don’t get sick of the time I spend with her.

Everyone pretty much knows you two are an item. Do the families know? And how are you two received in public, a la Brangelina?
A: Both our families know about us and are okay with it, I think. Oh and people actually come up to us for autographs, which is really sweet.

S: Yeah, but Aisha gets all the attention; even the girls are all looking at her.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 23rd, 2011.


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