Habib Paracha: "I Found the Diversity in Hollywood Welcoming and Never Faced Any Racism"
Carrying the torch for Pakistani cinema in the West, Habib Paracha shares his experience of making it in Hollywood
Habib Paracha straddles diverse worlds with ease. A successful industrialist, an ardent foodie and now, a producer in Hollywood – he wears each of these hats with equal panache. A name that has done Pakistan proud in the West, Paracha’s journey began in 2014 when he was invited by friends to visit LA to meet a few producers. A few months later, he got a chance to get involved with The Trust, a 2016 film starring Nicholas Cage and Elijah Wood, as executive producer. “I always liked watching movies in my free time and often I used to joke around with my dad that if I could do a few things over in life I would go into the film business as it gives one the opportunity to create and be famous and make a difference,” chuckles Paracha.
And he has certainly fulfilled his wish! Paracha, who counts James Maslow, Eric Roberts and Quincy Jones as his friends, recently released The Terminal, an action thriller starring Margot Robbie, Mike Myers and Simon Pegg. A movie that started over a lunch meeting with The Wolf of Wall Street actress Margot and her husband Tom Ackerley in 2016 in LA, Paracha calls it his passion project because the “cast involved has been so great”. He is now working on two more Hollywood films, The Last Measure and Strive scheduled to release in the last quarter of 2018 and 2019 respectively. Paracha’s vision is clear: he wants to show Pakistan to his western counterparts and explore the as yet untapped potential of the country to its maximum. How does he plan to achieve that? He tells us in this exclusive interview…
How did your journey in Hollywood begin?
My journey into Hollywood began in 2014 when I was invited by friends to visit LA to meet a few producers. I flew from Miami and met with them and we discussed my aspirations and goals. It was a few months later that I got a chance to get involved with my first project The Trust.
What was initial experience like? How welcoming was Hollywood to an Asian producer and what has changed over the years?
My initial experience was not bad as I went with no expectations and met all sorts of people along the way. Some were not good. However in the end, I have managed to find some really good people to work with. I found the diversity in Hollywood to be very welcoming and never felt any sort of racism.
You have often mentioned about your desire to showcase Pakistan to the rest of the world. But what will it take for Pakistani cinema to rise above media-induced stereotypes and make an impression on the world scene?
I think the missing ingredient is to make films that are applicable to a global audience without losing sight of our home audience. It needs to be a good script that finds balance so that the final product can be showcased anywhere in the world. It’s important to make films that can be relatable to audiences regardless of whether they know anything about Pakistan or not. Such films also need to show the positive, progressive and peaceful side of Pakistan and all its natural beauty so that it leaves the viewing audience wanting to know more. This is not an easy feat as it requires a lot of planning and a really well made film of international standards so that it sets itself apart from what is already out there.
What was the most exciting part of your latest project, The Terminal?
It was amazing overall! A standout memory from The Terminal was going out at 3 AM with the cast to a cafe in Budapest and hanging out with them after the shooting for the day was done.
How do you straddle these various worlds of food, cinema and business? Are you able to equally devote time to each?
It’s really not easy and sometimes I wonder why I’ve taken so much on my plate simultaneously. However I enjoy it and it keeps me occupied in a positive way. The results justify the efforts and my time is really allocated based on the most urgent requirement at any given time. I spend about a 100 days flying a year and that’s the most taxing on me to go through so many time zones so frequently.
Personally, what kind of cinema defines you? What are your favourite movies and who are your favourite actors?
My favorite movies are The Godfather, Star Wars, Indiana Jones and most of the Marvel Films. It has to do with what I watched growing up. I relate more deeply and fondly to that. In terms of actors, it’s hard to pick a favorite but the ones I would love to meet the most in person or work on a project with are Sir Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Reynolds.
Do you follow Bollywood movies? Would you ever plan a collaboration if there is an opportunity?
I watch a few films if they are recommended by my mother or sister. The last one I saw was Padmavaat as my mom’s ancestors were Rajputs so she dragged us all to the cinema to watch it. I’m always open to collaborations if they make sense for the parties involved. So I would never say no to it but it would need to be seen on a case to case basis.
What would be your tips to a young Pakistani filmmaker or actor hoping to make a mark in the West?
I need to answer this in two parts: to the Pakistani filmmakers I would advise that please raise the bar, improve the quality of scripts so that most of the local projects don’t turnout looking like Bollywood copies. It’s ok to learn from each other but I think we really need to work on better stories and kind of grow into our own global space. To the actors, my advice is to think outside the box. Work on plays and in shows locally and abroad to expand the range of their acting abilities. It will only be an asset in the long run.
What are your upcoming projects?
My upcoming projects are The Last Full Measure a true story based on the Vietnam war. It has Sebastian Stan, Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris and Christopher Plummer. We are very excited about it. It’s scheduled for release towards the later part of this year and I know it will be a huge hit globally. My other project is Strive, about a teenager who is from an impoverished background and is trying to get into an Ivy league university against all odds. This will release sometime in 2019.