Sonakshi Sinha's 'Noor' Is Based On This Hilarious Novel By Pakistani Writer Saba Imtiaz

'Karachi, You're Killing Me!' will leave you in splits.
Saba Imtiaz
Saba Imtiaz

Sonakshi Sinha is all set to hit the screens next month in her latest avatar as Noor in Sunhil Sippy's movie of the same name. From the little we can discern from the trailer, Noor promises to be as funny as the book it is based on — Karachi, You're Killing Me! by Pakistani writer and journalist Saba Imtiaz.

Published in 2014 by Random House India (now Penguin Random House), the novel is a cross between Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary series and Moni Mohsin's Diary of a Social Butterfly. Narrated by Ayesha, a 28-year-old reporter working in Karachi, the story, presented as her journal, is uproariously funny.

Ayesha's boss, Kamran, is a manager out of hell, who sends her scurrying to cover almost anything that happens in the city. From interviewing couture-cupcake designers to reporting on gang wars and fashion shows where the models are dressed as suicide bombers, she is thrown into adventures that are at once scary, dangerous and laugh-out-loud funny.

Each chapter starts with a "Headline of the day" — "Deadly brain-eating amoeba resurfaces in Karachi", "Taliban gift car to militant who shot at a drone" — and captures the absurdity of Ayesha's life and the life of the city she lives in. In spite of her lousy luck with romance, having to live with a judgmental cat and endless struggle with penury and her weight, Ayesha's keen sense of social satire remains intact.

Sonakshi Sinha as Noor.
Sonakshi Sinha as Noor.

HuffPost India spoke to Imtiaz about her experience of writing the book and her reaction to journey to becoming a Bollywood movie. Edited excerpts.

How did the idea of the book come to you? How much of it is fact and how much fiction? Was Bridget Jones's Diary a starting point of sorts for you?

I wasn't planning to write a novel. I'd quit my job at a Pakistani newspaper at the end of 2012 to work freelance full-time, and Faiza Sultan Khan — who was then an editor at Random House India — suggested I try writing fiction. I really hadn't written fiction since school perhaps, but I figured I could try — probably driven by a mix of unemployment and a genuine curiosity to see if I could do this. Faiza and I came up with a structure and core idea and that's kind of how it went forward — she made everything happen for this book. Without her, I'd still be stuck on chapter five and eating chilli chips instead.

I am a huge, huge fan of Bridget Jones, and I wanted to bring out what I'd connected with: the life of a 20-something in a big city. And while some of the anecdotes and character sketches are drawn from a mix of real-life events and people, the book isn't autobiographical.

When was the adaptation right sold? What role did you have, if any, in the process of turning the book into a movie?

In 2014. I didn't work on the adaptation, and this was a conscious choice. I was, and am, excited to see how someone else interprets the book and uses elements of it in an adaptation.

While some of the anecdotes and character sketches are drawn from a mix of real-life events and people, the book isn't autobiographical

How do you feel about the result, now that it's got an on-screen life?

It feels completely unreal and I'm ridiculously happy (imagine the Wah Wah Productions scene from Andaz Apna Apna, and that's me). I didn't imagine anything with this novel — not even who would read it — and so the idea that a film will be drawn from something I wrote is really just hitting me now. Everything I've seen so far — from Sonakshi's raised eyebrow to the dialogue and the details of the characters' lives — looks great.

Do you think the transposition of Mumbai for Karachi works? Does it not take away from the unique flavour of the city you so vividly captured in the book?

The adaptation isn't a word-for-word reproduction of the book — it's drawn from elements of the book — so, in that sense, it's not the same story just set in a different place. After Karachi, You're Killing Me! was published, it was always interesting to hear from readers who weren't Pakistani and/or had no connection to Karachi but who connected with something in the book. To me, Karachi, You're Killing Me! was about an aspect of urban life for women in a big, complicated city, and that's why I'm excited to see the adaptation and how some elements of the book play out in a different place.

I've been watching Indian films my entire life, know several pieces of dialogue (and entire films) by heart, and my secret (well, not anymore) talent is doing Bollywood mashups for wedding dances

Are you interested in Bollywood? How does it feel to have a movie made on your book at a time there is so much antagonism against artistes from Pakistan in the industry?

I've been watching Indian films my entire life, know several pieces of dialogue (and entire films) by heart, and my secret (well, not anymore) talent is doing Bollywood mashups for wedding dances. I think I can safely say I'm interested. I don't watch everything that releases though. As for the timing — I really wouldn't know, since I'm neither an artiste nor do I work in films.

What are you working on these days?

I'm pretty much based out of the Middle East, primarily writing about culture and urban life, and so most of my upcoming journalism work is set in the region. I'm just finishing up a fellowship with the International Reporting Project, so I've been in Karachi for the last six weeks or so to work on stories around gender issues. I should finally complete my extremely-delayed non-fiction book No Team of Angels — Murder, Violence, and Land in Pakistan's Largest City: Karachi this year, and I recently helped edit Master Arabic, a guide for intermediate Arabic students.

P.S. While you wait for Noor to release in the theatres, it would be totally worth your time (and money) to pick up Karachi, You're Killing Me! in the mean time. Just in case, here's the trailer, ICYMI.

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