ISLAMABAD: Hamza Ali Abbasi is anything but a hypocrite and that’s what makes him endearing. The actor believes it’s become redundant to “beg audiences to watch Pakistani films” and in that spirit, requests film-makers to go beyond the ‘revival of Pakistani cinema’ excuse and produce quality content.
Perhaps that’s why Abbasi has been looking for meaningful projects. The upcoming Parwaaz Hai Junoon (PHJ) marks his return to the silver screen after a good three years, alongside Hania Aamir and Ahad Raza Mir. As the film nears release, Hamza clarified that he isn’t playing a cadet therein but an Air Force pilot.
“I don’t think I look as young as a cadet so I can’t be one even if I wanted to,” Abbasi joked, whilst speaking with The Express Tribune. “But I must say that I love Hania and Ahad as cadets! It gives me a very Alfa Bravo Charlie-feel. And then there’s the part with me, Shaz Khan and Alamdar Khan as pilots and squadrons. I feel these are two different films.”
Abbasi further revealed what made him take up PHJ and why it’s different from the previous other local films.
The Express Tribune (ET): Pakistani Air Force (PAF) has co-produced a movie after half a century. Why do you think ‘Parwaaz Hai Junoon’ (PHJ) was their choice?
Hamza Ali Abbasi (HAA): Waar was my previous military-movie experience but this is completely different mainly because we haven’t used ammunitions or warfare as a backdrop. It does come into the film at a point since it’s a part of PAF but we’ve focused more on the emotional side of the soldiers. They are also humans but we unfortunately think of them as machines that will fight and die and then, we’ll just put up their pictures on social media.
The sensitivity of a military martyr – be it from the navy or PAF or anywhere – is that he’s human first. That’s the aspect we’ve tried to explore. Of course, we’ve got the cool stuff too, like the F-16s and JF-17s but I hope people focus more on the humane side.
ET: How was your experience of shooting at live locations?
HAA: It was the first time we’d all gone to an Air Base. I got to sit inside fighter jets and see the entire mechanism. We went to places where people from within the Air Force cannot. And let me assure you that it’s very impressive how our forces are able to achieve so much with such limited budgets. From what I’ve read, PAF is amongst the world’s most efficient with regards to the economic input and performance.
For 24-hours straight, at the Sargodha Base, there’s a plane taking-off or landing, one after the other. They have four to five missions a day, working through the night. That’s what I carried home. There are also many other things we found out. For instance, I never knew our pilots have trained people in the Middle East. There’s also this myth that China constructs and sends us JF-17 but I’ve seen our kids make them themselves, from scratch.
ET: How did you prepare for your role? How did you get into the skin of a fighter-pilot?
HAA: I talked to a lot of people on the kind of mannerisms I should acquire and with my own police background, I kind of know what it’s like, so it wasn’t very difficult. I think I kind of played myself.
But I’m not one of those method actors. It naturally comes to me because I try to keep it as casual as possible. I believe the more you work on it, deliberately, the more mechanical you appear and that’s why, I just let it flow. I don’t even do any pre-rehearsals, because I don’t want to.
ET: Most of the recent films funded or supported by the ISPR have been called out for propaganda. Do you think ‘PHJ’ is any different?
HAA: I think every film has propaganda, if we look at it that way. Weren’t Khuda Kay Liye and Bol propaganda films too? Why is propaganda associated with the army only? Every film that’s trying to give out a message is either labelled preachy or propaganda. But these are terms we’ve invented ourselves. Are there no Hollywood films with similar messages? Have we not seen Saving Private Ryan? But if you still want to call PHJ an army-propaganda, I’m honoured to be a part of it.
ET: In that sense, how do you feel ‘PHJ’ would be a departure from the regular forces’ films?
HAA: I got to meet the soldiers as regular people and I now appreciate how organised our forces are. I think the previous films that have been made along these lines have been historical, on either Shaheed Rashid Minhas or there was a drama on Dwarka Navy.
PHJ is perhaps the first film that’s presenting the modern-face of Pakistan. It’s not 1965 or 1971 and that’s what I’m excited to show the world. We’re considered this backward, poor, third-world country but that’s not true. If we become politically stable, we’re great.
ET: What do you make of the current state of Pakistani cinema?
HAA: I think we’ve grown exponentially over the last five years; we’re on a completely new path. It’s all a part of evolution that all sorts of films are being made. One of my favourites this year was Motorcycle Girl; a brilliant, message-oriented film. Then, of course, we have the senseless song-and-dance flicks and comedy.
But we need to understand not all of them would be substantial. There are about 2,000 films made in India every year, three out of which we come to know of. We can’t expect everyone to be James Cameron. But I want the audiences to say what they feel so film-makers know what’s demanded. We underestimate the audiences also by simply adding five songs, a wedding scene and some romance, assuming we’re good to go. But people want to watch good content now. Budgets are also increasing and more screens are being built. I think it’s going pretty well.
ET: Lastly, what is your greatest takeaway from ‘PHJ?’
HAA: The one thing that I’ve taken away from the film and which means a lot to me is the fact that I do not look good without my beard and moustache! I look awful clean-shaven and have Hania to blame for it. When I stand next to her with my beard, I look like her uncle so I had no other option but to get rid of the facial hair. But now, without the beard, Hania and I look like sisters! (laughs).
On a more serious note though, the military aspect of things has been an eye-opener. How different life is beyond what the news channels report! It’s made me more sensitive. PHJ gives out a message to people who I call ‘pseudo liberals’ because they believe our forces fight for money and question why we should be grateful for them.
But this isn’t the American army where budgets of trillions of dollars. Every pilot I met has such strong jazba that it makes you question the kind of Pakistani you are. I’ve seen their lifestyles and I hope others understand what I now know, which is the fact that these brave men and women do so much for Pakistan. We need to cherish that!
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