ISLAMABAD : It’s a pleasant winter afternoon in Islamabad as I head out to the sets of much-anticipated film, Sherdil at an exquisitely built mansion in what can be called the suburbs of the capital. Sherdil, by definition are the aerobatics display team of the Pakistani Air Force (PAF). The feature film, however, fuses much more than mere jet flying in its narrative. One walks in to be greeted by a local crew that has previously worked on films like Janaan and Parchi.
Produced and written by debutant film-maker, Nomaan Khan, who will, through Sherdil , be launching his banner of ‘NK Pictures’, has previously worked with the PAF to produce a track called Tum Hi Se Aye Mujahidoon that was sung by the late Junaid Jamshed and featured Sherdil’s leading man, Mikaal Zulfiqar.
Armeena Khan and Mikaal Zulfiqar to star in Pakistan Air Force film 'Sherdil'
Rarely does one see a producer this involved in the creative space, but Khan’s contributions to the film’s mounting seem more than just providing finances.
“Junaid Jamshed kept insisting that if you’ve made this song, you must do more,” Nomaan disclosed as we sat down to chat between takes, he spoke of how the late musician-turned-religious scholar had influenced his decision of turning to film-making. “It wasn’t till we lost Junaid that I really decided to pursue it. In fact, I was supposed to be on that very aircraft flying out of Pakistan to look for locations. Junaid suggested we did it very discretely, but he was very much a part of it.”
Jamshed, who turned down several film offers including Shoaib Mansoor’s, was on-board for Sherdil. “He agreed to sing and compose its soundtrack, and he wanted to act in it as well. You know Shoaib Mansor stayed at his place for a couple of days to convince him to do a role in Bol, but he told me it would be an honor for him to be a part of Sherdil and wear the uniform again because his father was a former Air Force officer. We’re giving him a tribute by naming one of the characters in the film Junaid,” Khan continued.
Contrary to popular belief and unlike Haseeb Hasan’s Parwaaz Hay Junoon, Sherdil is a privately-funded project that is only logistically supported by the PAF. Nomaan feels that it was essential for the aerial warfare branch of the armed forces to be involved.
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“It was very important for me to take PAF on-board, otherwise I couldn’t have the F-16s or the FJ-16s and the helicopters, or access to the base. I kept going to them and they would call me, we would talk about the story, but they never said ‘yes’, until the Air Chief indirectly approved by handing me a chit at a Board’s Meeting a couple of months ago,” he shared.
Sherdil’s protagonist, Mikaal Zulfiqar, after having a cinematic run across the border, will finally be making his foray into local theatres with an extended cameo in Cake. He’s also shot for a romantic-comedy, Na Band Na Baraati in Canada and ISPR’s tentatively titled The Trial alongside an ensemble star cast comprising of Sadia Khan, Shamoon Abbasi and Resham amongst others. All of them have had their fair share of ups and downs, when questioned, Mikaal sees film as a “tedious process” at large.
“If my fans are my fans, whether they have to pay to see me or watch me on TV, they’ll do it; that’s my star-power,” he says, as we speak of him simultaneously taking up television assignments with films. “TV is something completely different than films, its drama. But you see I’m playing an action-hero in Sherdil and they’ve never seen me like this before. I think even romance on both the mediums is very different from one another. I just want to pick up the best projects.”
Having done two films backed up by the forces, The Trial and Sherdil, one wonders if propaganda taking centre-stage has even been a concern for Zulfiqar.
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“It has. But I don’t like to be too risky with projects, like I didn’t do Baaghi because I was a little worried about the Qandeel (Baloch) aspect. Or Udaari, I couldn’t see myself doing the molestation scene, being a father. However, with our story, there’s nothing of such sort. In fact the PAF is a huge support. They love our story and are as passionate about the film as we are,” he responds of being heedful of his assignments.
Though the Indo-Pak peg very much exists in the narrative, Mikaal assures that it’s been done subtly and won’t overpower the flow of the film in any way. “We’ve tackled the subject in a way it hasn’t been dealt with before; in a beautiful manner and not trying to take sides at the same time,” he observes of the plot. “I don’t want to reveal too much, but it’ll be something very new for Pakistan without being controversial.”
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We’re also joined by the film’s director, Azfar Jafri, who marks his many firsts with Sherdil. Starting out with the fact that he collaborates with another banner after three consecutive directorial projects with Imran Kazmi and Hareem Farooq’s IRK Films – Siyaah, Janaan and Parchi. Having dealt with an array of genres, ranging from horror-supernatural to comedy, Jafri’s plunge into yet another unknown territory will be a fresh take on the military-drama.
“As a director, I’m a storyteller and the genre of a film shouldn’t affect that at all,” he says of having been able to successfully shift from one theme to another.
“There’s always a story to tell; in my opinion, the genre is just the wrapping. I try growing with each project and try new things. I think our industry is at a stage where we can experiment. Once it’s established, you can venture into parallel cinema, which I will eventually, but at the moment, you need to make things for the audience and keep that in mind with whatever you do.”
After over four years with IRK, what made him step outside? “It was difficult to decide. When I first met the team, I knew I wouldn’t do any other film than IRK’s. But when I read the story and I had long discussions with the producer, since he’s the writer as well, and we came to common grounds eventually,” he revealed. “From my experience as a director and having received the audiences’ response, we made some subtractions and additions. I and IRK are already working on our next, we started off together and they’re family to me.”
Just when one steps out of the manor, the film’s leading lady and the endearing Armeena Khan arrives, having a late call-time; I managed to get her view of the film and what it propounds. Her last cinematic appearance came with Yalghaar last year, but hasn’t been seen as the prima-donna for about two years now. Though she’s found acclaim on the small screens, Khan’s sabbatical of sorts comes to an end and for all the right reasons.
“I waited for the right film to come along last year, with a strong script and Sherdil was just that. My father is a former-armed forces’ officer, so the forces always fascinated me,” she maintained as her face lit up. “I loved the storyline and all that entailed; the struggles and the love. It’s family-oriented, so that’s what I go with as it caters to the entire family. I was approached with a full presentation in an organised manner, I was shown the storyboards, and I knew it would be something different that takes us to the next level.”
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Unlike most women portrayals on the silver screen, Armeena guarantees a significant female part in Sherdil. “It’s my thing to be part of ground-breaking projects, as you’ve already seen in Daldal,” Khan asserted. “I go for two things mainly, the team and the script. It’s of a very strong, empowered, modern-day woman who knows what she wants, and there’s tremendous potential for me to explore that side because I’ve played the bechari way too many times.”
Currently being shot in different localities of Pakistan, Sherdil’s last leg of shoot will take place in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Slated to wind up production by mid-March, the film is slated to take local cinema to a worldwide audience with a release in forty-countries and will be dubbed in six-languages.
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The film is being shot by renowned Hollywood cinematographer, Riki Butland who’s been associated with franchises like the Fast & Furious and Star Trek, and has signed onto Sonu Dangerous for choreography.
Also starring Hasan Niazi as the antagonist and Sabeeka Imam in a supporting role, the soundtrack is being composed by Adnan Dhul and Rabi Ahmed of Soch, who have previously worked on Bollywood film, Ek Villain and the recently-released local production, Chupan Chupai. Here’s hoping Sherdil is a flight in the right direction; something one can imagine without much hesitance by the zeal of its professional, yet romantic team.
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