Can you smell what Sikander is cooking?
Dekh Magar Pyaar Say, declares the movie poster and it’s easy to comply when the hero is Sikander Rizvi.
Tall, handsome and with the firangi fair looks that tend to leave us smitten, Sikander is absolute eye-candy. Rumour has it that he also has fabulous screen presence and if this turns out to be true, he may just be able to lure some of those Fawad Khan-crazed fans his way.
His lineage is quite dazzling, of course: grandson to the iconic Madam Noor Jehan, son to Florence of Café Flo fame, brother to actress Sonya Jehan and ‘Xander’ to Karachi’s food lovers. He’s also Alex; the half-French, half-Pakistani eligible bachelor about town, milling casually amongst the who’s who, the occasional showstopper at fashion weeks, as cool and casual as a tall glass of Martini — shaken not stirred.
He’s creating quite a stir now, months before his debut movie hits cinemas.
Sikander and Humaima Malick, the leading lady, are a very good-looking pair and there’s a fair amount of curiosity surrounding the movie based on its initial sneak peeks. “Debuting alongside a seasoned actress like Humaima has been very helpful. She knows exactly how to respond to a scene and I feel that it has prompted me to emote well,” says Sikander.
From catering to the choosy, to performing for the public, Sikander Rizvi has to step far out of his comfort zone
As filming wraps up, it’s difficult catching up with Sikander. The film crew is following a madcap shooting schedule and filming at all hours of the day — and night! From early morning shoots on roads and bridges — in order to avoid crowds of onlookers — to all-night sojourns through Lahore, the movie’s managed to get filmed in 45 days.
“It’s been hectic but fun,” says Sikander, finally free to talk on the day after shooting concludes. “I’ve been able to see a whole new side to Lahore. I’ve also gotten used to stepping on set and have someone run up and fix my hair, somebody else choose my shirt with me and provide me with a watch that complements it. Now, suddenly, I have to go back to choosing my wardrobe on my own!” he laughs.
DMPS will be a cinematic first not just for Sikander, but for also its makers. It’s the debut venture under the Shiny Toy Guns banner with ad-maker Asadul Haq at the director’s helm, refreshingly claiming that he is ‘not inspired by Indian cinema’.
The script has been penned by author Saba Imtiaz, Ali Murtaza is the producer, HSY takes on the mantle of creative director, Saima R. Bargfrede acts as stylist and Bafta winner Nicholas D. Knowland of Jinnah fame is Director of Photography — a motley crew of debutantes and experts known to excel in their respective fields.
What made this enterprising team zero in on Sikander?
He may personify the chocolate hero but so far, he’s mostly been serving chocolates and other savories at the hip, happening Xander’s Café in Karachi. Humaima Malick, starring opposite him, is of course more experienced and looks fresh, svelte and on the quest to redeem herself post her recent Bollywood blunder.
“I first met Asad when I worked with him a few months ago in a milk commercial,” recounts Sikander. “Two months later I got a call asking me if I would like to audition for the movie. I seriously thought that I would not be selected simply because I had never ventured into acting before.
I’ve worked hard to make my character believable, thinking in Urdu instead of English and focusing on body language. There are ways in which certain lines need to be said. For angry scenes, I would take some time off and think about things that irritated me so that I could depict the right body language and tone.”
There’s a fair amount of curiosity surrounding the movie based on its initial sneak peeks. “Debuting alongside a seasoned actress like Humaima has been very helpful. She knows exactly how to respond to a scene and I feel that it has prompted me to emote well,” says Sikander.
What has been especially hard to do? “More than anything, it’s the waiting around that is tedious. Sometimes I’d be ready to film but would have to wait for an hour for my scene to be filmed. Then, I’d be talking to someone and suddenly we’d be ready to roll. It would be difficult to step into character immediately. There were many things I learnt on the job. I’d forget that I was fitted with a mike at all times and be talking to someone, without realising that my voice was carrying all through the sets!”
Has he taken advice from his sister Sonya, who’s been in the field for much longer? “She gives me her advice whether I want it or not,” he laughs. “She is excited for me and has occasionally told me what to do. I’ve realised, though, that a role can only be realistic if you act it out in your own way.”
From catering to the coiffured fashionable ‘set’ through his restaurant, Sikander will now be pandering to the masses — something he understands well. The script traverses a scenic path through Lahore and in the quest to understand his prospective audience, Sikander chalked out routes of his own. “Before shooting commenced, I specifically went and had lassi and paan at Burns Road and travelled all over the city in rickshaws,” he says.
“I have grown up in Pakistan and these are not entirely unfamiliar areas. I visited them now especially because I want my role and this movie to connect with everybody in the country, from the people sitting in the dhaba to the audiences in air-conditioned luxury cinemas.”
A 12 ‘o’ clock show at a cinema in Karachi’s Saddar turned out to be a revelation. “People generally like to sit in the back or the central aisles but there, everybody wanted to sit in the first four rows of the cinema, as close to the screen as possible,” he recalls.
“And when they wanted to move somewhere else, they’d just clamber over seats, jumping from one row to the next instead of walking down the aisles. They brought their biryani and pulao with them, took off their shoes and propped their feet on the seat in front. Every now and then, there’d be a curious belching sound and crimson pan-spit would fly over people’s heads, landing squarely in front of the cinema screen. Nobody seemed to mind!”
DMPS has also revealed a whole new side of Lahore to Sikander. “We shot a lot of scenes at places like the Jinnah Library and GPO. The historic locations down Lawrence Road are beautiful. I used to visit Lahore frequently as a child but filming the movie here has made me see the city differently. I think DMPS will make people want to come to Lahore and see it for themselves.”
Sikander’s initial acting tryst, prior to DMPS, in a side role for the movie Yalghaar, has indefinitely been postponed from release as the movie scrambles to find its bearings. Meanwhile, DMPS is slated for an August opening. As he begins his cinematic career, is he prepared to tackle the occasional intimate scene or, as trends go, shimmy to an item number or two? “I am just going with the flow,” he says. “Perhaps, when the time comes, I’ll feel comfortable with a tricky risqué scene. I can dance well enough and who knows, I may enjoy the sporadic song and dance.”
He is certainly set in his aims for his fledgling profession and he mulls over it, saying that “Perhaps it’s just in my genes. I am not shy of the spotlight and I even walked the catwalk for Deepak Perwani last year. I didn’t dabble into acting earlier but I now feel a definite pull towards it.”
Speaking of genes, Sikander has pretty much extended himself to both sides of the genetic pool. His ease on screen may have been inherited from his paternal grandmother, the legendary Madam, and his ease in the kitchen comes from his French lineage. His mother, Florence Villiers, owns Café Flo and Sikandar’s own Xander’s Café follows in her footsteps. How is he balancing his well-groomed new acting avatar with the grit, grime and sweat of a thriving restaurant’s kitchen?
“I don’t cook anymore,” he reveals. “I understand food and when I was living abroad, I would try new recipes and prepare everything from grilled salmon to lamb racks. Now, I’ve got a well-organised team at Xander’s cooking the food for me. I’ll oversee things but generally, I trust my chefs’ instincts. They have been with me ever since I first started the restaurant three-and-a-half years ago.”
Cinema is a tricky business and time will tell whether Sikander will be a hit with audiences. He’s ‘very excited’ and in the meantime, the traffic jams outside Xander’s are testament to the café’s thriving business. “I am just making sure I don’t waste any genes,” he quips.