Filmstar Shaan Shahid has acquired quite a reputation recently for his (often misconstrued) jingoistic statements about working in Bollywood which inevitably triggered bigger debates about patriotism and artistic freedom. But for the millions who admire him, their love for this timeless hero — who plays a gandasa wielding gujjar and a morally upright army officer with equal ease — is not determined by words but box office numbers. Shaan may have skillfully maneuvered the complicated landscape of the Pakistani film industry over the decades but his love for celluloid is pretty straightforward — it is the manifestation of a young boy’s adulation for a father he only knew through his work and the desire to breathe life into things on a majestic 65mm screen.
It’s all in the family
Shaan’s performance as a morally upright army officer in Waar was highly appreciated by audiences. PHOTO COURTESY: PUBLICITY
Shaan’s genes can be partially credited for his undying love of films. Being the son of well-known filmmaker Riaz Shahid — who started his film career in 1962 with the film Susraal and went onto write several hits such as Yeh Aman, Farangi and Zarqa to name a few — the understanding and devotion to the medium came to Shaan naturally. Even though his father passed away when he was just a year old, his ideological influence continued to shape his career and decisions even long after. Perhaps it was the vacuum left by not having spent enough time with his father that made Shaan consciously search for the principles that his father once stood for, such as loyalty to the craft and persistence, and eventually embrace them. “The ideological DNA has to be carried through the generations from father to son or mother to daughter,” he says in an interview. “That is how you find a set of principles to build yourself upon.”
With a portrait of his father, acclaimed filmwriter Riaz Shahid, who remains a strong influence on Shaan’s personal and professional choices. PHOTO COURTESY: SHAAN
Following in his father’s footsteps is also one of the reasons why Shaan believes he has survived the test of time and regained his status as the face of Pakistani films without switching to any other form of storytelling. “I had a legacy to take forward which was more of a responsibility on my shoulders,” he asserts. “The fact that my father made so many controversial films in that era gave me the motivation that things will only get better.” His decision to pursue formal training in filmmaking from The City College of New York further convinced him that films were his true calling. “My studies just did it for me. The entire process of working with a team to put a story together is so engrossing that I knew that if I can get this form of communication right, then nothing else will surpass that experience,” he shares.
As Shaan evolved from a young wide-eyed boy struggling to mark his presence in a frame to a suave powerhouse who commands attention on screen with every gesture and dialogue, his family remained a staunch constant in his life. Everyone, from his mother to wife Amina, his triplets and brother’s family kept him rooted in reality. So while the characters he played changed constantly, the Shaan who walked off the film set always remained the same — a husband, a son and a father. “You must have heard of actors who grow a beard when they take a break from acting and are just chilling at home but that is not the case with me,” he shares as he blushes and rubs the goatee that he is sporting these days for a press release. “My daughters don’t let me kiss them when I have a stubble, so I basically have to shave every other day to meet ‘their’ expectations.”
With his wife and daughters. PHOTO COURTESY: SHAAN
Everything’s better on the big screen
Currently, as Shaan prepares for the release of his highly anticipated thriller Operation 021 which hits cinemas in the first week of October, his eyes are already set onto his next goal — venturing into film production and direction. The transition should be smooth given his vast experience and understanding of the medium. But Shaan’s focus is much bigger — he wants to stabilise an industry that has long been fractured by inflated egos, unnecessary politics and divisions between Karachi and Lahore, the two major Pakistani centres for film. “First of all we need to have a no-ego club because that is the only way to work for a common cause,” he says.
On the set of Waar, with director Bilal Lashari. PHOTO COURTESY: PUBLICITY
“Once the club is formed, we will have to include all the Karachi and Lahore-based filmmakers in it and help them understand why ending the Lahore-Karachi clash is more important than resolving the India-Pakistan conflict.” He elaborates that all the experienced film writers and technicians are twiddling their thumbs in Lahore whereas all the fresh minds are in Karachi. To bridge this gap, Shaan recommends the formation of a national guild, where actors, producers, directors and technicians from across the country can collaborate. He cites acclaimed Pakistani entertainer, Shoaib Mansoor as an example of someone who missed the opportunity to create an industry.
“Had Shoaib Mansoor come out of his ‘Shaoib Mansoor’ mode, he could have easily become the Yash Raj Films of Pakistan. But he chose to keep everything to himself and as a result ended up producing two films in 10 years which is nothing!” He pauses to take a sip of water. Being a staunch advocate of seniors’ responsibility to support and promote the younger lot, Shaan has also set up his own production company called ‘Riaz Shahid Films’ where young filmmakers will be welcomed to pitch their ideas. Similarly, he also signed a film, Shiny Toy Guns with a Karachi-based production company which is scheduled for release in 2015.
A scene from the film, Waar which broke all box office records in Pakistan. PHOTO COURTESY: SHAAN
The times they are a-changin’
Despite all its challenges, the Pakistani film industry has gone through a major revival in the past few years. Films like Khuda ke Liye, Waar and Zinda Bhaag have not only proven their commercial worth at the box office but also put the Pakistani film industry back on the entertainment map. Local artists like Ali Zafar, Humaima Malik, Imran Abbas and Fawad Khan have also landed Bollywood deals. Recently, the Fawad Khan starrer Khoobusrat created havoc at the local box office by beating the Yash Raj Film’s production Daawat-e-Ishq.
The poster from Operation 021 scheduled to release this month. PHOTO COURTESY: PUBLICITY
The film has also been labelled a hit in India and Khan has been flooded with modeling and acting offers. The overwhelming reception, both at home and across the border indicate the arrival of the new Khan in Bollywood but will it create serious competition for Shaan back at home? “Not really,” Shaan responds confidently. He turned down the role of the villain in the 2008 superhit Ghajini as he was dissatisfied with the limited scope and potential of characters that are usually offered to Pakistanis in Bollywood. “Although I have not seen his film yet but the Ali Zafars and Fawad Khans have to compete with each other to prove a point.” He adds that he would only consider them competition if they remain as resilient and picky as he has been in refusing to do certain kind of films for a long time.
During a shoot for Operation 021 with co-star Shamoon Abbasi. PHOTO COURTESY: PUBLICITY
More than his acting, Khan has been hailed for his charming good looks and has had women sighing and swooning on both sides of the border. Seeing Khan’s reception, one can’t help but wonder how the chiseled maverick Shaan will be received by audiences, women especially, if he starred in a Bollywood production. “I like the idea but then I also have a wife,” says Shaan with a mischievous smile. However, he is quick to add to the comment on a serious note, “I am not closed to [the idea of] working in Bollywood, given that they don’t cast me specifically as a Pakistani. Secondly, this is not the time to go anywhere because if I go to Bollywood right now then no one’s going to stay back.”
A scene from his upcoming film, Operation 021. PHOTO COURTESY: PUBLICITY
Even though, it is his firm stance about working in Indian films that has attracted all the media attention, Shaan’s approach towards working in films produced anywhere in the world is uniform. “Winning an Oscar does not mean anything to me because I am more of a people’s man,” he says. “My fulfillment is derived from the average man on the road who leaves feeling satisfied after watching my film.” According to Shaan, every actor sets their own benchmark for success. For him, his position is somewhat similar to that of a doctor serving patients in Congo. “If someone offers him a well-paying job in the US, will he take it? Not really. Because the work he is doing in Congo is unique and cannot be replaced by the best of offers.”
With his wife Amina, who has been a constant source of support for Shaan throughout his career. PHOTO COURTESY: SHAAN
Rafay Mahmood heads the life and style desk at The Express Tribune. He tweets @Rafay_mahmood
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, October 5th, 2014.