You're a charmer, aren't you," I say suddenly to the man lounging before me who is absorbed in talking nineteen to a dozen; engrossed in traipsing down memory lane. The abrupt rhetorical question seems to perturb him. But only for a fraction of a second. Within no time Faheem Burney is caught up in another frenzy of articulation, his mercurial features undergoing change with every phrase that he utters; his sonorous voice warm and rich. Not even a tinge of blush comes to his cheeks at the statement.
"People get involved with me very easily," he admits. "I'm not a wonderful guy but people paint me to be." Here one can see a trace of that much-awaited modesty. But, mind you, only a trace. "In fact many actresses whom I've worked with have misinterpreted my friendship with them as something more."
The man may have been a sappy creature as a child but grew up to be one of the most passionate, not to mention, freshest directors our TV arena has been fortunate enough to have.
"Even when I was in school I would be everywhere. Writing, acting, directing!" In fact Faheem's first stint with the camera was when he was but a child in school. "My friends and I were chosen to act in an ad and Rubina Ashraf was the model and I distinctly remember pestering her and driving her insane. After years, ironically when I got to direct Rubina I made her recall that incident. She was flabbergasted and exclaimed: 'Faheem, I didn't realize you were so young!'" The room resonates with his indulgent laugh.
As a teenager when grilled by his father regarding what he wanted to do with his life, Faheem didn't hesitate. His prompt, reply was: "I want to be a film-maker." His father brushed the brazen declaration aside and Faheem was whisked off to London to get a 'respectable' diploma in business and finance.
"The memory of the morose weather and the rain-drenched smell of London still makes me shudder," he says in disgust about the city where he's spent a significant chunk of time as a child too.
In the middle of our conversation he politely makes a demand for tea. "Sugarless," he instructs prettily.
"Even after I came back to Lahore my worst nightmare was to work with my father and get stuck in the rut of clanking typewriters and cramped, soulless offices."
Turning a deaf ear to all his father's maudlin statements of mauling the family name and encouraged by a friend and now-partner Afzal Khan, Faheem put aside his over-ambitious dream of making a movie (temporarily) and dipped his amateur toes into the directorial waters with the Anita Ayub-Deepak Perwani starrer, Kaunsa Raasta for NTM in 1992."People just couldn't digest the boldness I had portrayed in that play," he readily attributes the thrashing that play took to his inexperience as a director and the misfortune of being stuck with an atrocious production team.
Even though Faheem moved to Karachi in 1992, the scents and smell of Lahore still fill his senses. "I'm not a Punjabi, maybe that's why I wasn't able to adjust there but," adds, "even today, when I get off at the Lahore airport I feel I've come home." Alertness, I realize, is a secondary nature to this lithe man before me making me giddy with his emphatic hand gestures like some eccentric wizard casting a spell.
In 1995 Faheem, Afzal and a friend Tanvir Rajput formed their own production house and christened it 'Apricot.' The trio burst onto the scene with a resounding bang with Khali Haath for NTM.
"TV's insufferable monotony, the cardboard sets; it was suffocating me. I wanted a change!" he announces triumphantly. He pauses for effect as if waiting for a drumroll. "That's when we did Manzilain for PTV which was teeming with glamour, fresh faces and was shot in Dubai."
Maybe Faheem Burney expects me to ejaculate in recognition of this play. When I don't he suddenly says in a wounded tone, "You haven't seen any of my plays have you?" As I splutter out some sort of excuse he magnanimously promises to educate me on his creations.
The year was 1998; out of three dramas that were on air such as Alpha Bravo Charlie, Rahain and Manzilain, the latter was the major revenue earner for PTV says F.M.
"It was after Manzilain that every other person hoisted a camera on his shoulders and started going to foreign locations, and models were inducted as actresses adding the much-needed pizzazz to the medium."
"So you were the pioneer?" I quip.
He's prompt to admit to the feat without any pretensions of false modesty. Faheem Burney also has to his credit a play skimming the hypersensitive issue of AIDS called Saharay.
He also spoke about how the illness of his mother and how God curing her had made him unshakeable in faith. "I remember praying to God, 'Please don't take her. It's too soon; I need her. I'm too young!'" As he talks solemnly, with the gold bracelet dangling loosely around his tanned wrist, I listen, mesmerized and sympathetic, at the story of a son desperately praying for his mother's life. Battling and winning. The facade of the charmer before me attains a humane touch.
"I resent the fact that some people don't consider people who are in showbiz to be good Muslims," he said in an indignant voice; passion smouldering in his dark eyes, edged with deep crinkles.
Sensing that he's about to lose himself in another flood of memories I try to steer him to the present. He heartily agrees with the statement that a good director's ability is to be able to conceive.
"Direction is from idea to execution. Conceiving, characterization - that is direction."
Faheem is a director who knows the psyche of the viewers like the back of his hand. His astute realization of the fact that 80 per cent of TV viewers are women has led him to explore women issues.
"To be able to emotionally play with my viewers, that's what a good director does." Lecturing on the intricacies of the bustling, yet, harrowing profession he says, "I never work on ready-made scripts." He seems to shudder at the thought. "And I torture my writers endlessly."
Faheem Burney changes the track of the conversation to what he's really there to talk about his dream project.
"Having had enough with dramas, I put my foot down and declared to my partners that I 'wanted' to make a movie. I had been working personally on my story within the confines of my bedroom, in my mind and on paper for two whole years. By 1999 I had managed to complete the film on paper along with the screenplay much to everyone's astonishment." His mobile buzzes for the umpteenth time. He ignores it. "And like clockwork, in March 2001 my movie started." He's quick to give credit where it's due, "God has been very generous to me. He's always given me what I've wanted."
Faheem's lifetime dream, Pyaar hee pyaar main due to be released later this year, is no puny flick. With extensive thought over the mind-frame of cinema-goers; 75 per cent shooting in Dubai; a crew and equipment flown in from Europe; music composition in London under Wajid A. Nashaad; fresh vocals and spanking new faces; and the sultry Meera in a guest appearance, it holds much promise, according to him.
"Our industry has a maximum of four actresses who have been done to death in the same kind of roles again and again, leaving no room for experimentation. I held extensive auditions for six months to find fresh faces. To find a hero was the actual ordeal," he lets out an exaggerated sigh. Faheem finally struck gold with newcomer Ashar as the leading man; the two sirens who complete the triangle in the film are Nisha and Aanchal.
"Is this film your baby?"
I ask stating the obvious. The analogy pleases him; he sighs. " Yes, this is my baby! Just like I gave drama a new touch, similarly I hope to paint cinema in a different tinge."
The ambitious Burney has already started off his next big-screen project "It's set in Austria with a fresh cast, " he says emphasizing his last words. "My cast will continue to change."
Faheem's latest venture on the mini screen is Meray Apnay Meray Sapnay, running on Prime channel.
"Everyone can make a serial but nobody understands what actually a soap is. According to the channel, this is their most revenue generating play."
I wait patiently as another buzz from his cellular fills the room. He answers with a brusque tone.
The charmer is still very much mama's boy. "I don't work late night, because I make it a point to eat dinner with my mother," he says fondly.
I'm curious about his marital status; no band adorns his finger. "Are you married?"
"It was an arranged marriage..." he begins. I express shock at such a Casanova-type oozing charm and ironically opting for an arranged nuptial. He's not amused at my expression and continues to talk. "I just knew that I didn't want to get married to anyone in showbiz."
"I didn't want a partner in business; I wanted a home. My wife is a complete housewife and was chosen by my mother. Her name is Samina and my one-year-old daughter's name is Maheen."
And how does he fare as a family man?
"Bad," he answers promptly but with a touch of regret; his extensive work hours end up making him spend less time with them than he would want to.
My tape recorder snaps shut but Faheem Burney is still exhibiting his profound gift for the gab. His enthusiasm is infectious. I continue to jot down what he claims are his ambitions. He's a bubbling cauldron of passion and boyish charm - an irresistible combination, surely.