In Ainak Wala Jin, the titular character Nastoor’s declining vision compels him to visit the earth to have his eyesight cured. Once the genie lands on the planet, he befriends a family that helps him solve his otherworldly problems.
Nearly two decades after the conclusion of the hit TV series, the actor who played Nastoor finds himself in a similar situation. Having lost his left eye nearly two years ago and his right eye barely holding up, actor Shahzad Qaiser recently posted an impassioned note on Facebook, detailing the tragic story.
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After the conclusion of the A Hameed masterpiece,most of the actors were left strapped for cash. In 2013, Qaiser thought it would be wise to produce a sequel to the show, Return of Nastoor. He was willing to pour in his lifesavings in reinventing the character that gave him his screen identity. “The decision seemed plausible at that time as PTV had started airing private productions and Ainak Wala Jin had become a brand on its own, due to numerous re-runs,” he recalled. As word about the production spread, he was swarmed with requests from people who wanted to be involved in some capacity. “One day, out of nowhere, this guy named Idrees Adil comes over to my house and starts doing all sorts of favours for me and my family. From running errands to cleaning my car, he did everything,” Qaiser maintained.
Assuming that Adil was doing all this as fan service, Qaiser continued to keep him around. “He even cajoled me into beginning work on the sequel and took charge as its director.”
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In no time, the project was in motion. Qaiser had plans of incorporating state-of-the-art animations, grand sets and even inviting screen legends such as Nadeem Baig, Habib and Aurangzaib Leghari for cameos. “Everything was in place. Shafqat Cheema had been roped in to play the villain,” he said. With a daily production bill of Rs0.35 million, filming began at Lahore’s Bari Studios.
Meanwhile Qaiser thought getting the PTV administration to issue a letter guaranteeing the show’s broadcast would be a smart idea. Adil, however, talked him out of the plan. “Why wouldn’t PTV run a sequel to a show as huge as Ainak Wala Jin?” Qaiser recalled him as saying.
On the other hand, one fine morning, Adil turned up at Qaiser’s door, informing him that he had secured a letter from PTV. “I didn’t know that he was running an elaborate con and using the show as a ruse to make money off of me.” Handing Qaiser the letter, he left, never to be seen again.
With help from fellow crew member Khurram, Qaiser managed to wrap up the project and drove all the way to PTV Islamabad, not knowing that his world was about to come crashing down. There he was informed that the letter was nothing but a sham. With Adil nowhere to be found, Qaiser knocked all doors, seeking help. “I came to Karachi and stayed in a hotel for three months but all of the channels refused [including PTV] to air my series, saying they don’t have a children’s time slot,” he said. “They have time to air programs like Hanuman and Chota Bheem but not a show like Ainak Wala Jin.”
Qaiser, who at one point of time owned properties in three different areas of Lahore, was eventually forced to sell off his assets to pay the creditors. “My eldest son had to drop out of college whereas my younger sons were almost taken out of school.”
Throughout the course of the interview, the actor reiterated that he is not begging for money or sympathy. “Somebody needs to remind these people that they won’t be able to take this money to their graves,” Qaiser added, his voice starting to break.
Although Qaiser has remained silent for the better part of the past twenty years, he feels that he and his fellow actors have been mistreated by the PTV administration. “Were we that bad that we didn’t deserve to be cast in another TV series? Not even a Punjabi drama?” he questioned.
He said owing to the several re-runs of the show, the state-owned channel could have at least paid the actors syndication money. “There was a time when we were the toast of the town but now I live in a jungle somewhere.”
Qaiser still hopes that someone will pick up his shelved project one day. But for now, all he can do is pick up the pieces of what he has got left.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 6th, 2016.
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