ISLAMABAD : You know any project with both Hania Amir and Ahad Raza Mir is destined to do wonders.
After making her film debut with Janaan (2015), Hania found success on the small screen whilst Ahad acquired heartthrob status just within a year, with his record-breaking serial Yaqeen Ka Safar. Though polar opposite from one another, the two budding superstars have come together for Pakistan Air Force’s return to celluloid after nearly half a century: Parwaaz Hai Junoon (PHJ).
In conversation with The Express Tribune, Hania and Ahad talked about their upcoming project (PHJ releases on Eidul Azha) and how it will be a departure from the usual armed forces-funded features, amongst other things.
‘The Express Tribune (ET)’: First and foremost, ‘Parwaaz Hai Junoon’ marks the first film lead roles for the both of you. What was it like shooting the film?
Hania Amir (HA): I took it as the project of a lifetime. The films I’ve done before this were big of course and I really loved them but I was a supporting character. PHJ was more of a moment of truth; how much I could do as a lead.
That’s why I gave it a lot of importance. I was very energetic every day; I’d get up on time, go on-set and just work. Considering the situations we were shooting in, it was really very hard. We wore sweaters in immense heat and acted in -21 degree temperature as well. A lot of people started giving up, but I’d be the motivator. I’d gather all of my emotions and just shove them deep inside to remain disciplined. I just put in a lot of effort into it. I was 19 when we began filming and it took a lot of time, so let’s hope it’s a good film.
Ahad Raza Mir (ARM): Filming was great but kind of daunting because it was a first for me and I had a lead and I had to perform. But I was really very excited. Seeing myself in the film-zone was very interesting, scary and made me realise what big a responsibility I had to my family and myself.
I did this one scene in a JF-17 plane with no dialogues and it was beautiful, and when we watched the preview, the entire team started clapping and I went into a corner and broke into tears. It was that realisation that something you wanted so much is actually happening, you’re in the middle of it and nothing can replace that. I’ve been very lucky this whole year.
PHJ is also important because after my grandfather, father and now me… it feels like I’m finally taking my place. Overall, the experience has been like a fantasy for me.
ET: The two of you play cadets in ‘PHJ’. Tell us a little about how you got into your respective characters?
HA: Mine is an average girl’s character. Whenever I read a character, I can’t just go on-set and act. As an actor, I’m so passionate about it that I want to deliver my best. If I have the script, I want to rehearse it as many times as I can. I wasn’t given the script for a very long time before we began so I’d rehearsal in the bathroom instead, while the set was being put up.
People said I’d gone mad because I’d come out with tears in my eyes. But with the emotions, I just have to read the script and understand how the story is being told. For me, I need to figure out what the girl I’m playing is like and how she would react to different situations. And once you’ve practiced all of that so much, you become that character and don’t have to think about it when you’re in front of the camera.
ARM: I wasn’t as familiar with the PAF as I should’ve been. But when we were preparing, I asked Haseeb bhai (the director) what I could do to understand the role better and he suggested I watch Top Gun or Alfa Bravo Charlie. But then I wondered if I really wanted to create a false reference for myself or actually go to a PAF academy? I opted for the latter and we were so lucky to have gotten to interact with real cadets and air commodores! My references were real people, which is very rare.
ET: Apparently, Mahira Khan and Osman Khalid Butt were a part of the original cast, with Hamza Ali Abbasi. What does it feel like replacing them?
HA: If you think Mahira Khan was supposed to do this and they thought I could fill in her shoes… me being a fan-girl, who had done one film only at that time… is huge! The day I got the call for PHJ was actually the day Janaan premiered in Karachi. And when they talk about Mahira, they want some controversy out of me. But if she was doing it and backed out for whatever reason, it’s such a big deal for me that I got to do this! She’s also very supportive, whenever I meet her. She only has nice things to say about PHJ and otherwise also.
ARM: There were no reservations whatsoever. I never replaced Osman; you can’t replace people. But sometimes, such things happen. I’m sure his and my take would be different, but at the end of the day, I’m happy I got the part. For any actor to be given such a role is major and what happened was meant to happen, I think.
ET: Having been made by PAF, do you feel that the plot was heavily influenced into propaganda?
HA: There are good films and there are bad films, whatever you’d like to perceive them as. You want to compete with Bollywood, they make thousands of films a year, four out of which you get to know of. You don’t have to criticise yourself for it. Let’s not put films into brackets. Yes, films need to be good but you have to cut them some slack. There’re people scared to put in money into an art-film, they might not give chances to younger actors, so all of this happens. We just need to support Pakistani cinema, go watch all of these films and give your opinion after.
ARM: I think the most beautiful thing about PHJ is that it has none of that. One very specific example is the trailer. PHJ doesn’t pick on any big issue; it’s just showing off the beauty of our country, our actors and just because it’s an ‘action’ film, it doesn’t mean that we’re not giving it our Pakistani-touch. We still have the songs, the romance and the comedy. It’s a wonderful family film, which is why I’m also glad it comes out on Eid.
ET: Lastly, what is your takeaway from entire, two-year experience of working on ‘PHJ?’
HA: I grew up a lot. I learnt a lot from the different people I met, the experiences that I had. Throughout the journey, I started thinking about things more and everything became clearer. I was 19 when I started and didn’t know a lot. But I’m a quick-learner, I’ve evolved and so here I am!
Before, when someone asked me what my goals were, I’d just say I wanted to be happy and I still want that. But as soon as I turned 20, there was some dilemma. Questions like what I’m doing in my life started popping up in my head. Where is this going? Am I only going to act and make money?
I went through a confused phase. I didn’t know how the industry worked…people talking behind your back, etc. And then, finally, when I came out of it, I wanted to talk about what I believed in so I pushed myself. At such a young age, when you start, your confidence is self-taught and you just develope yourself.
ARM: Firstly, I now have the experience of making a feature film. It’s one off the bucket list for me; a big personal achievement. Things I take back are performing and realising how difficult making a film actually is for an actor. You realise there is such a small amount of time to make big, specific decisions.
For me, every scene is like the most important scene of the film. PHJ has opened up my eyes to how in-depth the work is. I thought I already did it but there’s more work for me to do. I want to start exploring more as an actor. We love the idea of ‘hero’ but my challenge now is what I can do with this idea and turn it into something very deep and rich. How I can turn someone handicapped into a hero? I’ve understood South-Asian film-making, which I didn’t before.
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