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‘Ours is a democracy that doesn’t understand freedom of speech and expression’: Saqib Saleem

Saqib Saleem in ‘Comedy Couple’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In no dystopian world can Saqib Saleem fall short of people fawning over his looks. Yet the model-turned-actor, who is actor Huma Qureshi’s sibling, takes a compliment on his appearance lightly.

“I’m flattered that you think I look good,” he says, over phone from Mumbai. The comment crops up because of his upcoming film, Comedy Couple, in which Saqib plays one half of a stand-up comedy act alongside co-star Shweta Basu Prasad: the reason being the commonly-held belief that a comic role isn’t the strongest suit for good-looking male actors.

Saqib disagrees. “Akshay Kumar, in his 50s, is one of the hottest men around, and the best in comedy. So, I don’t think it is true but yes, as a genre, comedy is entirely different from action films. Timing is crucial in comedy,” he says, and uses a soccer metaphor to elaborate: “Action scenes are like set-pieces, whereas in comedy, you need to add to what you have been provided with and create something else.” He adds: “I consider myself closer to the guy I play in Comedy Couple.”

(from left) Pranay Manchanda, Saqib Saleem and Shweta Basu Prasad in ‘Comedy Couple’

(from left) Pranay Manchanda, Saqib Saleem and Shweta Basu Prasad in ‘Comedy Couple’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Saqib plays Deep Sharma, who alongside Shweta’s Zoya Batra, does a dual standup act. Directed by Nachiket Samant, the film is produced by Yoodlee Films, the movie production arm of Saregama India. The film was shot post relaxation of lockdown restrictions in Mumbai and in the comedy clubs of Gurugram.

To get their timing right, the actors and the director held a workshop for 10 days. “It was important to get the stand-up act in the film right... because I say half the joke and she (Shweta) completes it,” he says.

Saqib then went to work on his standup set. “I watched a lot of stand-up comedy while prepping, and I realised that the most important thing a comic needs is the storytelling ability. He is able to create the environment where people start laughing because, at some level, they share their personal stories. So we used the workshop to craft the standup material for our film by using personal stories and anecdotes,” he adds.

Saqib Saleem

Saqib Saleem   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

However, shooting a stand-up set within a film during the pandemic came with its challenges. “The restrictions meant we couldn’t shoot with an audience. So we shot them separately. The difficult part was to understand where the director wanted his edits — the portions where he wanted laughter or just a chuckle, and then to preempt those emotions in my head before performing,” he remarks.

Saqib calls Comedy Couple’s screenplay “progressive” and it is one reason why the jokes in the film also take on the intolerance in society. “Even if you are offended by something,” says Saqib, “the way you express your opinion is important. It should not be by way of threat. We may be a democracy but I feel we don’t understand what freedom of speech and expression means.”

After Comedy Couple, the actor awaits the release of the big budget multi-starrer film directed by Kabir Khan, 83 — the film chronicling the success of the 1983 Cricket World Cup winning men’s cricket team.

Saqib plays Mohinder Amarnath in a cast that is headlined by Ranveer Singh, who plays Kapil Dev. “I think 83 is eyeing a Christmas 2020 release. Now that cinema halls are open in some places with reduced occupancy, let us wait and watch if 83 can bring people back to theatres,” he adds.

‘Comedy Couple’ is streaming on ZEE5

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Printable version | Dec 5, 2020 9:16:14 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/ours-is-a-democracy-that-doesnt-understand-freedom-of-speech-and-expression-saqib-saleem/article32908714.ece

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