“I don’t do this anymore,” says Shaan Shahid as he wears his Ray-Bans and walks away from the camera in a scene from Waar (2013). It is a significant one-liner, not only for the storyline of the highest-grossing Pakistani film, but also to Shaan’s personal narrative as an actor, who does not sport the ‘gujjar’ look anymore.
From playing the eponymous hero in Moosa Khan (2001) to Major Mujtaba in Waar, Shaan has stood the test of time and his fans have remained loyal to him. As he gears up for the release of his much-anticipated film Operation 021, the actor looks back in time only to look forward.
“You just have to believe in Almighty, your own soil and people,” says Shaan, not sounding any different from the many patriotic characters that he has played over time. “How much you believe in them is going to reflect on how much they believe in you and that’s where success lies.”
With a multitude of hits and misses under his belt, the 43 year old justifies that his film choices have been driven by what the industry has had to offer at a given time. But for him, the roaring success of Waar has been a game changer. He feels that it is because of Waar that upcoming films have better prospects, not only at the box office but also in terms of representing Pakistani cinema on the global stage.
This is why Shaan hopes to share the true Pakistani narrative with the rest of the world rather than the one that international cinema likes to project about Pakistan. “We don’t need someone to come and make a Zero Dark Thirty for us, especially when it’s our story to tell and when we have the capability of telling better stories,” he says. “Pakistan is the ‘Ricodic’ of powerful stories. Just imagine the kind of romance, suspense, horror and tragedy [films] that can be churned out of a country that has undergone 20 years of war and is still fighting one.”
Patriotism and Shaan go side by side and that was also one of the main reasons behind the success of Waar. And from the wardrobe and styling of Shan in Operation 021, it seems that the film will take a similar course.
If Waar was about fight sequences and ballistics, Operation 021 is about mind games and revolves around the idea that it’s important to strive to save what you love. “There is a thin line between the characters one chooses to play in an action film because at the end of the day, it’s all about the hero getting off the bike while maintaining the crease of his pants,” comments Shaan. That is the kind of cinema that Shaan likes and also the kind he believes people want to watch: suspension of disbelief at its best.
“At present, we need more people to watch a film than like it,” he quips. For Shaan, Operation 021 was an opportunity to see the extent to which Pakistani filmmakers aspire to be as good as those in Hollywood. He has been pleasantly surprised by the way Zeba Bakhtiar, Jaami, Azan Sami Khan and Summer Nicks have made a film that is at par with any good-quality Hollywood film.
“Hollywood is the way to go and so are China and Turkey, not because I have something against Bollywood, but just because the rest are better storytellers,” clarifies Shaan and explains that this is how Indians made Bollywood an internationally recognised industry.
“The Yash Chopras and other bigwigs of Bollywood sent generations of filmmakers to all these places to learn and educate themselves in storytelling,” says Shaan. He believes that this is how the new wave of Indian filmmakers has surfaced. “[These are] the ones who rely less on mythology and more on original content and that is the only way to create and support Pakistan’s new wave of talent.”
Although notorious for his anti-Bollywood statements, the actor with the most number of films in Pakistan is more worried about the Karachi and Lahore industry divide than that between India and Pakistan.
He believes that ‘gujjar’-centric films were never owned by media practitioners in Karachi and Lahori artistes always felt alienated from the growing drama industry of Karachi. These discrepancies gave artistes someone to blame their shortcomings on and more so, put them in a comfort zone that they needed to be taken out from.
“The requirement of the television industry is 286 dramas in a year, which is great and also a well-paying avenue for artistes who want to make more money by repeating the same thing,” a concerned Shaan comments.
“But someone has to think big, not only in terms of an audience, but also in terms of the big screen because if we all play it safe, then who is going to take risks? Industries are made by risk takers and game changers, not followers.”
Operation 021 is slated for an August 14 release and will be the first Pakistani film ever to release in 22 countries simultaneously including tje United Kingdom, the United States and the United Arab Emirates.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 9th, 2014.