FROM TEENAGE ANGST TO SOCIAL ISSUES THE EVOLUTION OF ‘MIDSUMMER CHAOS’
In an exclusive interview, we had the privilege of diving deep into the world of ‘Midsummer Chaos’ with the cast, Mustafa, Shameen, Haider and Azariah, and visionary director, Ahmed Sarym. Inspired by the dearth of relatable content for the youth in Pakistan, Sarym embarked on a mission to bring their experiences to the forefront, shedding light on the challenges, realisations, and newfound responsibilities faced by young adults. Discover the inspiration behind the web series and how it tackles the challenges faced by today’s youth. Ahmed shares his journey in bringing this captivating story to life while exploring themes of mental health, power imbalance, and the need for authentic representation. He reveals his organic approach to storytelling, capturing the essence of coming- of-age experiences, and how it resonates with audiences across Pakistan. He talks about the challenges faced while developing the storyline for season 2, how he addressed critiques from the first season, created complex characters, and explored sensitive themes like gender power dynamics and the impact of cancel culture. Read on...
Please give our readers a bit of an insight on yourself and the character you play in the series?
Mustafa Taifoor (MT): I’ve always been an artist with a passion for the entertainment industry and being in front of the camera, venturing into modelling and when ‘Midsummer Chaos’ established itself as an opportunity for me to expand, I took it without any hesitation. Before I even knew I’d be debuting as an actor, I would record random TikTok videos acting out scenes from different movies and shows that I’d never post. When I showed Sarym and Ayesha videos of myself acting, they put their faith in me and here we are today. The character I play is that of ‘Alti’, a seemingly shy, quiet guy, but someone who is always observing, has a lot of opinions and dreams but is too afraid to say them out loud. It was interesting to become him because I relate to him a lot.
‘It’s given me a taste of what it’s like to be an actor and I can’t wait to do more. I’ve learned that it’s not just about saying lines, it’s about becoming the person and I’m really excited to continue developing my craft and see where it takes me’- Mustafa
Shameen Tariq (ST): I’m a lover of all things classic: Jazz for music, Capra for film and cheese for pizza. As an actor and singer, I find that sensitivity to the world is what pushes me to create. It helps me observe and rationalise my immediate surroundings to best apply in my work. ‘Noor’ is a fighter. She represents womanhood in 2023 — battling for survival by attempting to make herself independent.
Even though she finds a place in her group of friends, she often feels like an imposter owing to class differences. Still, she feels no shame in addressing and challenging the privileges that protect her friends. She’s determined, angry, fierce, straight- forward and hard-working. And most importantly, is someone who values integrity.
‘Noor’s character was assigned to me the day before our shoot began, so ideating the character on short notice was a challenge that I learned from a lot. She could have gone a different route but I wanted her anger to represent the rage that women today feel against injustice’ - Shameen
Haider Abbas (HA): Along with my debut in the web series, I’m also a model and absolutely love playing football. Besides that, I’m diving into business studies and always looking to try out new avenues. In the series, I take on the role of ‘Dayaan’, a self- absorbed, privileged guy who makes certain decisions that impact his entire friend group. It was interesting to take on a part that I initially wasn’t too sure of because of its dark undertones; it’s definitely been challenging, but I’m excited to let our viewers see this side of me.
‘This experience has not only honed my acting skills but also heightened my understanding of the complexities of human nature. It’s been a transformative journey if you ask me, one that has pushed me to explore my craft and hopefully, be able to connect with the audience on a profound level’ - Haider
Azariah Naseeb (AN): I am a model, actor, dancer and writer. If there’s one thing I would want people to know about me, it would be that I’m a ‘live, love, laugh’ kind of girl. To me, my joy is my responsibility and that allows me to show up as my most authentic self, regardless of how harsh life can get. ‘Zerlina’, my character, too, is very complicated and tough. She is a lone-wolf who is willing to fight all her battles on her own. She finds it hard to accept help and love into her life. She, to me, is the most badass character in the show. She has taught me that as a woman, I don’t need to just be caring, nurturing, sweet, kind and loving. I can also be assertive, tough, opinionated and self-assured. It doesn’t make me any less feminine.
‘The repetition of lines, the relationship that you develop with your character, to understand and portray it in the most honest, sincere manner, the warmth, the cold, the sickness, the joy, the laughter, the love. ‘Midsummer’ gave me a lot and I hope I was able to give something back to it’ - Azariah
If you could switch roles with any other character in the series, who would it be and why?
MT: I would love you switch roles with Meher’s character, ‘Ayra’, who’s the quintessential ‘It girl’; not because it would be refreshing to see a male character like that, but because it would break gender stereotypes. It would be empowering for young boys who are interested in fashion and want to express themselves a certain away.
ST: Maybe ‘Dayaan’ or ‘Ayra’. It would be interesting to play a character that’s so out of touch with reality.
HA: I think the character
Mustafa plays, ‘Alti’. It’s the complete opposite to my character and I wouldn’t mind playing the nice guy also (laughs).
AN: I am very honoured to be ‘Zerlina’. The lessons she has taught me, I hold very close to my heart. So, I don’t think I would want to be any other character in the show. In real life though, I’d love to be a rich spoiled brat like ‘Ayra,’ but alas (laughs).
Can you share any behind-the-scenes anecdotes or memorable moments from filming the second season?
MT: There was one day where I was on-set, but didn’t have any scenes, I just spent the entire day observing my co-actors act, the director, the cinematographer, the ADs, the spot boys and I just fell in love with the process of creating art. I feel like being an observer once in a while gives you a lot of perspective on how everything is created; it’s very enriching for me.
ST: Shooting in old Lahore with Mustafa and Sadia (the actor who plays my on-screen mother) was a day on-set I’ll never forget. It was the epitome of Murphy’s Law: everything that can go wrong will go wrong. Fortunately for us, everything that went wrong sent us on an eight-hour spiral of nothing
but laughter and fun.
HA: There’s a very intense, confrontational scene between Meher and I on a rooftop. Without giving away much, it’s the climax and it took us all night to shoot it. I kept forgetting my lines which were really long and I was expected to give it my all, emotionally. I was literally on the verge of breaking down (laughs). Completing that scene gave me a certain sense of achievement and looking back, it has to be one of my most memorable days filming.
AN: I don’t have many scenes in the show so I was not on-set for a very long period of time. But the days that I was there, my favourite part of it was Sarym driving me back home every day while we listened to music and talked about love, literature, music and our hearts. I hold that softness very close to my heart. Other than that, I have a very baby vibe to me so everyone treats me like their baby and takes care of me. I’d spend most of my time either working or hugging my friends (aka cast members), there’s no in between.
How has being a part of ‘Midsummer Chaos’ influenced or changed you as an actor?
MT: ‘Midsummer Chaos 2’ is my first ever acting job
and I was really excited to act because you can disappear into your character. The experience was slightly overwhelming at first because of how new all of it was for me. We had rehearsals and an extensive read-through of the script, and had a chance to discuss our characters with the director and one another, their motivations, emotions, what drives them, what upsets them, which really helped me get into ‘Alti’s mindset.
Throughout production, we kept running around the city, shooting different sequences at different locations, sometimes in public places even like the Walled City of Lahore, and it was very exciting to be a part of it all. Everyone on-set was so supportive and helpful. I’m so grateful for the opportunity. It’s given me a taste of what it’s like to be an actor and I can’t wait to do more. I’ve learned that it’s not just about saying lines, it’s about becoming the person and I’m really excited to continue developing my craft and see where it takes me.
ST: I think it’s made me more open and vulnerable. It also helped me learn to improvise on set. ‘Noor’s character was assigned to me the day before our shoot began, so ideating the character on short notice was a challenge that I learned from a lot. She could have gone a different route but I wanted
her anger to represent the rage that women today feel against injustice.
HA: Being a part of ‘Midsummer Chaos’, essaying a troubled character has deeply influenced me as an actor. Exploring the intricate layers of ‘Dayaan’s personality, how growing up in a wealthy, but ignorant household shaped him, while also somehow humanising him, despite his wrongdoings allowed me to dive into the depths of human emotions. This experience has not only honed my acting skills but also heightened my understanding of the complexities of human nature. It’s been a transformative journey if you ask me, one that has pushed me to explore my craft and hopefully, be able to connect with the audience on a profound level.
AN: The most important lesson I learnt as an actor was understanding the harshness and struggle being behind the camera and acting. There were times when I had to tap into very dark places in my mind and that was a very emotionally taxing experience. The repetition of lines, the relationship that you develop with your character, to understand and portray it in the most honest, sincere manner, the warmth, the cold, the sickness, the joy, the laughter, the love. ‘Midsummer’ gave me a lot and I hope I was able to give something back to it.
Ahmed Sarym (Writer/Director):
What inspired you to create ‘Midsummer Chaos’ and bring this story to life?
I feel like there’s always been such a dearth for content that’s catered to the greatest population of our country, the youth. Gen-Z’s only consuming media that’s not from here. When I started writing the first season, I had just gotten done with my A-levels in Islamabad and wanted to speak about mine and my friends’ experiences with teenage angst, as young adults with newfound responsibility and realisations. Last year, when I moved to Lahore for my university, my co-writer, Ayesha Naveed and I thought of bringing the ‘Midsummer’ world to a new city, establishing an anthology, with new characters and a new setting this time around, in Lahore.
‘I would want to revisit ‘Midsummer Chaos’ and complete it with a trilogy; I’ve told stories from both, Islamabad and Lahore, I’d love to bring forth the lives of adolescents in Karachi...but all in good time’ - Ahmed
How do you approach balancing the mystery and adventure elements of the series?
I think now, after having done two seasons of ‘Midsummer Chaos’ independently, I view writing and developing scripts as a very organic process where I let my inspiration guide me. You simply have to be honest with yourself, with your plot, your characters, your vision and see where it takes you. I’ve only focused on the coming-of-age genre so far, so the mystery and adventure, therefore, is centered around the issues and conflicts of that certain age-group it represents. Can you share any challenges you faced while developing the storyline for season 2?
I took the critique I got for the first season very constructively. I know where I faltered and also what my wins were, so with the second instalment, I really wanted to make my characters more complex, more real, vulnerable, relatable. Ayesha and I would pull all-nighters writing, re-visiting, scrapping pages and writing all over again with different possibilities for our characters until we’d both agree with the direction we wanted to take. Again, you just have to trust your intuition as an artist and give it your all.
Are there any new themes or messages you wanted to explore in the upcoming season?
We have chosen to speak about a very sensitive subject — the power imbalance between genders, one’s social standing based on where one comes from, whilst reflecting on the cancel culture and its impact on perpetrators, enablers as well as victims of abuse. With both the seasons, what remains consistent is that I have tried to shed light upon mental health, exposing viewers to a spectrum of
emotions, one’s passions, ambitions, the decisions you make to progress or sometimes to even protect yourself, the uncomfortable realities one simply has to come to terms with in order to understand certain realities of life. The purpose is to be able to do justice to the idea of creating stories that mirror real human experiences around us.
How do you envision the future of ‘Midsummer Chaos’? Any plans for spin-offs or related projects?
I didn’t even plan on doing season 2, it started off with a rather arbitrary conversation and the next thing we knew, Ayesha and I were done with the script for the pilot episode in a day.
Going forward, I’ve completed a script for a series, which is a complete opposite of what the audiences have seen me create, where I’m exploring comedy and tragedy in a family drama, so I’m excited to be dabbling into uncharted territory. I would want to revisit ‘Midsummer Chaos’ and complete it with a trilogy; I’ve told stories from both, Islamabad and Lahore, I’d love to bring forth the lives of adolescents in Karachi...but all in good time. The series explores various themes and social issues. How do you think ‘Midsummer Chaos’ contributes to the dialogue surrounding these topics?
The extreme response ‘Midsummer Chaos’ garners goes onto show how important it is for younger people to produce, write and direct. Most people that follow the show don’t consume any other local content on TV or even in cinemas. Pakistan’s youth wants to see content that’s made for them, that gives them a voice. After releasing the first season, I closely observed the discourse on social media and realised we need to pay more attention to what people want, they’re ready for more intellectually evolved plots and we’re tried to play our part in furthering pertinent conversations. We talk about an array of nuanced subjects and the more conversation there is, the more I would learn to tell those stories in a more refiners’ manner, and people will become aware and accepting of contemporary and liberal viewpoints.
What are some of the goals you hope to achieve with this new season, both creatively and in terms of impacting the audience?
I hope that my growth, both in technical and artistic terms, is reflected in the series and that it instils some kind of emotion in the audiences. My team and I have worked day-in and day-out to make sure that we’re able to put out a product that we can personally be proud of; something that’s raw, earnest and discomforting when need be, leaving you with empathy for our characters and as a result, for one another.
INTERVIEW: SAFA ADNAN
STYLING & CONCEPT: AARINDA NOOR
CAST WARDROBE: AOMI
AHMED SARYM’S WARDROBE: NAQEES
PHOTOGRAPHY: KHADIJA NAVEED
HAIR & MAKEUP: SHAMROZ SUNDHU