People think we are Bollywood when they talk about Pakistani cinema: Ali Rehman Khan

Lead actors of 'Heer Maan Ja' talk about breaking stereotypes and finding an identity for local films

Sarah Price July 30, 2019

KARACHI: Most of us know Hareem Farooq and Ali Rehman Khan for their highly-anticipated film, Heer Maan Ja. But who are these actors behind the glitz and glamour of the Pakistani film industry? What are their thoughts behind the bigger picture of what it means to be an actor? Talking exclusively to The Express Tribune, they take a deeper look at societal issues and how cinema can play a part in bringing about change.

The Express Tribune (ET): Do you feel that the Pakistani films are getting more international traction?

Hareem Farooq (HF): Absolutely. Credit goes to a lot of film-makers here; because we make a conscious effort to release films internationally so that Pakistan’s soft image can be promoted across the globe. Given many people think Pakistan is just about extremism or terrorism, when they see a film come out of the country, they think “oh wow this happens as well.”

ET: Do you think it is important to break stereotypes associated with Pakistanis, such as the taxi driver and the terrorist?

Ali Rehman Khan (ARK): I think it’s just the need of the hour. I’m specifically talking about Hollywood’s films. For Pakistanis [trying to make it in Hollywood], we have to break a lot of barriers to get into the industry perhaps because of our accents and the way we look. Getting a role in Hollywood as the taxi driver is maybe just a requirement. I think in some ways we are much better suited to the Pakistani industry rather than the foreign industry, unless we make the effort [to break stereotypes]. Actors who have done really well such as Riz Ahmed, who is British-Pakistani but identifies with Pakistan greatly went that extra mile to challenge the stereotypes.


ET: Where do you think the Pakistani film industry can improve?

ARK: I think in terms of the films we make. Right now, we only make films for ourselves and for Indians, with the hope that our neighbours will someday watch our films. Mostly, our films are geared towards our audiences in Pakistan. Films like Cake are what we can showcase to the world. Yet, they are box office failures because they don’t draw crowds from the country. We then have to make a decision, to make money or build a reputation?

HF: This is the feedback we received about Janaan which wasn’t a particularly subject-oriented film like Cake it was an all-out entertainer focusing on the Pukhtun culture. When we released the film abroad, we had a lot of foreigners coming in for the premier because they related Swat with Malala [Yousafzai]. The questions were; "Did you actually shoot there? How is that possible? How come nobody got shot? How is everyone alive?" Any good film that goes out is in itself a message that we are normal people and we can do quality work.


ARK: Now we’ve moved beyond the ‘normal people’ stuff and we are trying to tell people that our cinema is more about what they might think it is. We have our own stories, our own different identities. Still, people think we are Bollywood when they talk about Pakistani cinema. This is why Cake and Laal Kabootar are special because it’s indigenous to what our stories are about. Same was the case when Slackistan was released in Islamabad 10 years ago; everybody was interested how a film was shot with all the attacks happening.

When I make my Austrian friends watch Pakistani films, they think our films are colourful and expressive. Over there, the acting is not so expressive like how we do it. But it’s not because we try hard, it’s because we are like that. We think with our hearts. That’s in our expression, not us over acting. Expression is in our identity, in our DNA. So of course, we should make films that are more internationally acceptable and relatable - that are indigenous to us but still touch people's hearts around the world.


ET: How do you see the industry changing in 10 years?

HF: I think the government is going to eventually realise the importance of cinema as an industry. Producers are the ones who are suffering the most. They are not making enough money and are making films out of pure passion. How do we educate our audience? Cake is amazing for us but for a certain class. Producers are making films either for the lower classes or just for the upper class. There's a huge gap in between.

ARK: Unless we abolish this classism, I don't think we will have a situation where some segments of society will accept a certain kind of film. It will take us time to learn how to make films that are commercially viable and internationally feasible.

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