The multi-talented Salmaan Peerzada has out-done himself no matter what his role may be — actor, director, writer, cinematographer or film editor.
While the fast-deteriorating state of the Pakistani film industry left him no choice but to migrate to England in his early years, his talent enabled him to carve a place for himself as the most sought-after South Asian actor. Today, the much older and much more seasoned Peerzada has steered the wheel away from acting and has focused his strengths on film-making.
“The Pakistani film industry, as it was known, never expanded in terms of technology or government intervention,” the credited independent film-maker tells The Express Tribune. “Everything was controlled by the government, thus never allowing it to become a proper industry,” he adds, about the film industry in Pakistan which emanated from Indian film culture after partition. “There was a film-going culture in Pakistan. Even if you went to Nowshera, Mianwali, Sargodha or Jhang you would see the warehouses were like ‘skeletons’ — the local film industry was in competition with foreign films.”
In the early ‘60s, Peerzada migrated to England and joined the film industry as an actor and technician in Britain’s Studio Systems, where he worked with legendary directors and played several memorable roles. In those days, only a handful of Pakistanis managed to make a name for themselves, Zia Mohyeddin being one of them. According to Peerzada, there were limited options for actors — supporting roles were the clichéd “Mr Patel” roles.
“If a kid wanted to join the film industry, he would have to think over it as it didn’t always guarantee a pay cheque at the end. It was a very tough industry and a person should have the ability to feel lucky to be part of it and work his way up the ladder,” he says about the struggles actors had to face in the film industry back in the day.
“I got my first big break as an actor in a drama series based in a hospital which was something like the popular TV series ‘ER’,” he explains. “I played the role of one of the doctors. It was the first time in Britain that anyone from a non-British background including the French and Americans was playing a character like that — it was unthinkable.”
Receiving quality roles in both cinema and television and the opportunity to work with some of the best directors and producers, Peerzada’s career as an actor blossomed. Following the death of his father Rafi Peer in the late ‘70s, he returned to Pakistan to assist in starting up the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop — an organisation that worked extensively on the development of theatre in Pakistan, with a keen focus on the youth. He simultaneously started working on a controversial movie called Blood of Hussain, which was later banned by the state.
“Regimes have always been oppressive in Pakistan. The truth is, it was Mr Bhutto’s government not Ziaul Haq’s, which took action against Blood of Hussain,” he says. “Pakistan is one of the most racist countries in the world — working according to its own culture and political views which are in turn defined by a bureaucratic culture,” he adds regretfully.
Speaking of his current agenda, Peerzada tells The Express Tribune that he has several upcoming projects. He is working on an independent film called Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart. While most films based on Poe’s stories are stereotyped as horror films, Peerzada intends on bringing an element of drama to his rendition. Although the production date has been delayed, the film is being shot as a “stage show” where the plot is set in 1941.
Other projects include an untitled Pakistani film (bilingual and action-drama) about a Pakistani journalist and a graphic novel based on his photographs, drawings and stories.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 22nd, 2012.
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