The rehearsals for the Lux Style Awards (LSA) 2011 are underway in Karachi and Reema is in town to ensure that the performance to the title song of her film Love Mein Ghum is perfect. She could easily have done without the practice — Reema, as all Pakistani film aficionados would know, is a choreographer’s delight. She may not be recognised for her histrionic skills in her films but she is an adept dancer. And this is evident when observing her robust number to Resham Ka Hai Lehenga in Sangeeta’s film, Nikaah (1998), her semi-classical dance performance in Bulandi (1990) or even her delightful tribute to Madam Noorjehan’s songs at the LSA in 2006.
Before Love Mein Ghum, her second film as director, was released a couple of months ago, Reema made one last dash to attract audiences, with a star-studded promotional music video and appearances on several talk shows. She financed her film after selling her own pieces of jewellery and with a dip into her personal savings, Reema has given it her all. At a time when local cinemas are lapping up profitable Indian films in favour of non-lucrative local fare, any financial consultant would have advised her not to take such a risky investment. In fact, Reema delayed the release of her film for a year in the wake of the 2010 floods and the deadly terrorist attacks across Pakistan this year. That she went ahead with making and releasing the film without waiting indefinitely for the situation to improve underscores her mental strength and self-belief.
With news reports sounding the death knell for the Pakistani film industry with clockwork regularity, such tenacity is rare in the industry. Reema has, over the years, emerged not just as a courageous survivor but a budding auteur while many others have either given up or are searching for greener pastures in Bollywood. In an industry where the film heroine, largely a showpiece item-girl, disappears into oblivion if she is intermittently seen on the silver screen, Reema has avoided being pigeonholed, undergoing an image makeover and transforming herself into an eloquent and sophisticated celebrity. “She is one of the finest women in the industry,” says Dr Omer Adil, a film historian. According to the image makeover expert Nabila, Reema is now internationally marketable.
Whether Reema can cash in on her global marketability is still unknown but if she does not, it will not be for a lack of ambition — she regularly anchors shows on television, endorses prestigious brands and writes columns for a daily Urdu newspaper. Even as we speak, she is in talks with a major television news channel to host a show and, in an unprecedented move for a Pakistani brand, Lux has sponsored her second directorial feature, Love Mein Ghum. She has a strong, disciplined and professional work ethic according to her colleagues. “She will make it to a shoot even if she is unwell,” says Nabila, who has worked closely with Reema since 2002. “She is very hard-working. If she does not like her shot, she will do it again.”
And she is affable and thoughtful. “Why don’t you have tea at the executive lounge, I just have to attend a small meeting,” says Reema to me over the phone as I wait to see her at a five-star hotel in Karachi two days before the LSA. Forty minutes later, there is no sign of her. I panic. Maybe she is having a ‘diva moment’ and won’t turn up, although, there have been no prior red flags to indicate such behaviour. When I initially got in touch with her through a text message, she returned my call. After deciding on a date for the interview, she confirmed it with a text message as soon she got into Karachi. While I’m wondering what to make of her failure to show up, her man friday appears along with her. He comes ahead of her with her bag. And then a gust of perfume engulfs the entire lounge as Reema stands outside the glass door of the lounge and talks on her phone. She is dressed in a royal blue shirt and white chooridar with a dupatta hanging by her side. A petite woman she walks up to me and apologises for being late.
“I don’t have any memory of how my ten hectic years [1990-2000] in the industry went by,” she says, while sipping green tea and nibbling on cake. “I was the kind of person who worked 363 days a year, barring one day each, for Eid and Muharram.” The decade was one of the busiest periods in the history of the Pakistani film industry, with an average of 80 films produced every year — both in Urdu and Punjabi. During those years, Reema featured in many successful movies such as Munda Bigra Jaye, Haathi Mera Saathi, Miss Istanbul, Chor Machaye Shor, Nikki Jayee Haan and Nikaah.
She made her debut in her early teens, starring opposite Shaan in Bulandi, directed by Javed Fazil in 1990. This was the era of Neeli, Nadira, Anjuman and Madiha Shah. The others who later joined the fraternity included Sahiba, Resham, Meera, Nargis, Laila and Sana — none of whom have really been able to shake off their reputation as item girls in Pakistan’s male-dominated film-industry. Reema has certainly proved that she is much more than that.
Her film performances have earned her several honours at the Nigar Awards, the Bolan Awards and the Graduate Awards. While she observes that the “descent of Pakistani cinema actually began in the 1970s when the gandasa culture was introduced,” she knows that there is much more that led to the industry’s decay. “In the 1990s came another phase of decline when the hero was given a Kalashnikov.” The cut-throat world of the entertainment is also to be blamed. “A lobby, comprising director Syed Noor and Shaan, shoved me and other competent actresses away from leading roles and handed them to Saima,” says the raspy-voiced Reema, her honey green eyes blazing.
We are interrupted by an avuncular man dressed in pilot uniform who stands infront of us and mutters, “Love Mein Gam?”, Reema corrects him, saying, “It is Love Mein Ghum.” The way she deals with the man – who goes on to completely disregard her film and talk about the recently released film, Bol – is fascinating to watch. She does not get chafed even for a moment. Reema praises Bol but also requests him to watch her movie. This conversation is carried out in English, which Reema may not speak with a ‘proper’ accent by our ‘standards’, but she does so confidently and fluently.
“From 2000 to 2007, films revolved around the badmaash — Ek Gujjar Sau Badmash, Accha Badmash, Gujjar Badmash,” says Reema as she resumes our conversation. “When I saw respected directors including obscenely choreographed songs with offensive lyrics, promoting badmaash culture in their films, I felt disheartened. I know I am guilty of working in such films but I discontinued soon after.” Desperate to escape this new fad, she returned advance amounts for nearly eight films in 2003. When survival became an issue, she took on a television serial, went on world tours with major Pakistani music acts and Indian superstars and was signed up by Pepsi as their brand ambassador.
Given a choice, Reema would act rather than direct and she admits that her directorial debut came about “accidently”. “When I found out that people were saying that I was no longer a part of the industry and making remarks such as, ‘Poor thing, she only performs in concerts now,’ I announced my first film, Koi Tujh Sa Kahan, despite the fact that I was clueless about directing,” she says. “Until then I hadn’t even thought of direction.”
A couple of days later, we speak over the phone. Reema sounds tired but is ready to help with additional clarifications. She also tells me about her recent participation in a Saarc conference in Kathmandu, Nepal. “At the conference, I said that films play an important role in connecting countries of the region. There was a time when actresses from other countries found enough work in our film industries and they stayed on for a long time.” As the conversation concludes, she reiterates her sense of responsibility to the movie industry. She is getting dramatist and poet Amjad Islam Amjad to write a screenplay that is worthy of an entry at the Cannes Film Festival.“For me, it is not about what one was doing earlier rather what one is doing right now.”
Reema’s landmark roles
Rani Beti Raaj Karey Gi 
Cast as the daughter-in-law (Rani), Reema is bullied by her in-laws in this feministic-social drama.
This film explores the dynamics of a marriage; despite class disparities Bisma (Reema) moulds herself into a devoted and affectionate spouse.
In this tale of two diametrically opposite sisters, Reema takes on the more dynamic, negative character of a materialistic and egotistic sibling.
Ek Pagal Si Larki 
Psychotic and aggressive, Reema’s character makes the hero’s life miserable in this thriller.
Nikki Jayee Haan 
Reema proves to be the ultimate friend in this superhit Punjabi musical giving up her love interest for her best pal.
Koi Tujh Sa Kahan 
In her directorial debut, Reema plays the role of Bela, a hotel-heiress married to a faithless husband of humble origin