By Omair Alavi
Superstar Shaan Shahid is back like never before – the Lollywood veteran has been promoting his upcoming film Arth in major cities of the country. The new Shaan or Shaan 2.0 (as you can term it) is appearing on TV shows, discussing the film as a director and actor, which proves that he is ready to move with the way things are being done in the current scenario. However, he refused to hold a premiere for his film, preferring to watch the flick with the general public rather than be praised by friends-in-arms.
‘Yes, this is the first time that I am part of such huge promotions’ Shaan says as we sit down for a tête-à-tête in his hotel room in Karachi. ‘It’s a new way of promoting a film before its release but I feel that it should have some boundaries so it shouldn’t look as if you are not confident of your own product. I also believe in watching the film with the audience because they give you an unbiased review and that’s why we are not doing any premieres. Ours is a growing industry and we should let it grow because if we don’t, then every aspect of the industry from the critics to actors will suffer. We should nurture the film even if it is described as a failure.’
Shaan’s Arth is the official remake of Mahesh Bhatt’s classic art film where Kulbushan Kharbanda’s character was involved with two women – wife played by Shabana Azmi and mistress by Smita Patel. Raj Kiran was the ‘man’ in the wife’s life who makes it a level playing field and Shaan changes the script’s perspective, making it from the point of the ‘other man’. Humaima Malick and Uzma Hassan play the female actresses – wife and mistress – while Mohib Mirza has been roped in to play the husband.
However, Shaan’s critics have a valid point as well – why is he remaking an Indian film when all his life he has been criticizing Indian films and actors who have gone to India? Couldn’t he have opted for one of his father Riaz Shahid’s films? ‘The scripts my father left behind were ‘direct’ films that fall in the column of political films; unfortunately, the state of politics in our country doesn’t allow me to go for those kinds of films.’ Shaan explains the reason why he chose not to go for one of his dad’s films. ‘When my father wrote and directed those films, the problem was not in Pakistan but in other parts of the world such as Kashmir, Jerusalem etc.; now the problem is in Pakistan and I doubt that anyone would have the patience to watch the truth on the screen. Furthermore, since the emergence of Social Media, everyone has an opinion and if you try to be a little patriotic, they start calling you a fundo.’
‘As for my stance, all I can say is that I have often been misunderstood – my problem isn’t with India but with the way our actors are treated in India. Their actors appear in our biscuit commercials but ours can’t cross the border for commercials or films. Five years back I criticized the one-sided love-affair and people didn’t like it but where are those who said I was too critical? The Indian government is more fundo than us and with the passage of time, I am being proved correct.’
‘Films should not be part of the politics; the intellectual elite of both the countries shouldn’t be part of this mayhem.’ Shaan says as he sits back, relaxes and continues the discussion. ‘How would you feel if the Pakistani flag is kept two inches lower than the Indian flag in an Indo-Pak Cricket match? That’s how I feel because the flag of my country is being kept two inches lower for no reason. Our actors aren’t welcome in India and even if they get an offer, they have to visit neutral venue like Dubai to record their song or act in a film. These issues need to be sorted out by people with a little bit of patience, political know-how and with an understanding of your own respect.’ Shaan adds, weighing his debate with examples that can be understood on both sides of the border.
‘Wouldn’t it have been better had filmmakers from India – giants in the region – opened academies in Pakistan and promoted their brand of filmmaking. Our industry isn’t as big as theirs but we could easily have provided them with cost-cutting solutions, what China does for Hollywood. The reason I made Arth was that it can be that film that brings both India and Pakistan closer to each other. You are taking your film to India rather than going there and working in India. This is the way to go forward as far as productions, your own acting abilities are concerned.’
Shaan Shahid last directed Zille Shah in 2009 and since then has been acting in selected films or observing the change from the sidelines. For someone who has been around for more than 25 years, he has not been as active as he should have been especially after the revival. ‘Making a film is an expensive experience especially for someone like me who is involved in it as an actor, director, and writer.’ The actor who began his career with Bulandi in 1990 explains. ‘I decided to come up with Arth two years back and didn’t go to any media house because I believe that such an act limits the scope of the film. Why a film should be promoted only on one channel when there are so many avenues out there. I also don’t understand why a similarly themed film would be releasing the same day when they could have easily chosen some other occasion.’
At that moment, Humaima Malick enters the room and lights it up with her presence; every head in the room turns around her and she acknowledges the attention with a wide smile. The actress who plays the superstar in the film credits Shaan for standing by her because she had doubts about the character as the brief was – play yourself. The Raja Natwarlal gal who gained fame from Bol was quite confident ahead of her third film’s release – Dekh Magar Pyaar Se flopped big time.
‘Arth is quite different from my other films’ Humaima says as she explains her character. ‘Shaan told me that this character was written for me so even when I had doubts he didn’t. It took us two years to make the film but sadly in this part of the world, it takes just one Friday to break a film. We should be a little lenient on giving verdicts otherwise there will be no film to criticize. Trust me, I was in two minds when Arth was offered to me because of Raja Natwarlal and Dekh Magar Pyaar Se but Shaan said that if I didn’t do it, he will not do it.’
The posters and trailers of Arth show a bold Humaima standing in cold weather as well as braving the London winter in a short skirt – how did she manage to stay calm in un-warm conditions? ‘I was born in Quetta so cold is nothing new for me.’ Humaima says disclosing her anti-cold origins. ‘From my first play Ishq Junoon Deewangi to Arth, I have shot most of my plays and films in the winters so that was nothing new. However, the sequence in which I come from underneath the water in a bathtub was something that was new to me. The scene was shot in Bari Studios where there is hardly any heating facility and I had to endure all that just to give an ‘international level’ shot, as per the director’s requirement. It was hard but what good is a film without hard work.’
Humaima’s dance moves have gone viral on the internet and she believes that the film will be liked by all, even if you have seen the original flick. ‘Although Shaan didn’t want me to watch the Mahesh Bhatt classic, I did go ahead and saw it before starting this film.’ Humaima explains why she went ahead and saw the original Arth. ‘Bhatt sahib is like family and I knew about his affair with Parveen Babi so it helped me in a way. People did compare my performance in Bol with that of Smita Patel but I don’t want any comparisons – I did the film the way I was directed to and falling in love with the script helped.’
The leading lady then goes on to explain the X-Files kind of environment on locations where they were made to shoot in a supposedly haunted castle. ‘No one believed me when I said that the Castle in Bristol looked haunted to me and that I saw a ghost on our very first day.’ The superstar says as she discloses the details of the paranormal activity. ‘It was only after a couple of days when the lamp in Shaan’s room was switched off and on that he realized that I might have been right. What else did you expect from a place next to a graveyard – or was it on the premises.’
When the first poster of Arth was released two years back, it had Humayun Saeed in the role of Umer; Mohib Mirza replaced the actor and gets another chance to revive his film career that was dealt a huge blow by Teri Meri Love Story. ‘I was offered the role more than 2 years back and since then I have been part of the film, conducting my own research and trying to conceive and portray an already established role in my own way. The director had his own vision and nuances set for the character, so I blended them in my own performance and delivered.’ Mohib says, feeling hopeful for his film career.
The actor was seen in a different avatar from his TV characters where he gets a chance to show off his muscles – literally among other things. The audience was surprised while many of them praised him for breaking the shackles and bringing a touch of elegance and masculinity in his character. ‘Of course, it makes one happy when the result is appreciated’ Mohib says while talking about his bold scenes in the trailer. ‘I believe the real feedback is yet to come since the trailer is cut in a teasing style without revealing much. Let’s see how the audiences receive it.’
Mohib may be one of the most talented actors in the country but he has not been doing much on TV and films and in this part of the world, out of sight means out of mind as well. ‘I want to do TV but not the kind of characters that are being written these days. If I am offered a positive male-oriented story I will certainly say yes but that’s not what is happening these days. As for my film projects, I am working in 2 films the names of which I will announce when the time comes.’
The director Shaan who was noticing his colleagues’ comments with a smile wraps up the session by disclosing details of his future projects. ‘After the release of Arth, I will move onto Zarrar which is in the final stages and I am supposed to hand it over to the producers in February end; it is going to be the first spy thriller of Pakistan and will be the most expensive Pakistani film ever as it has been shot in 5 different countries and has an entire gora cast and crew. We will be doing the post at Pinewood Studios and we are planning to release it on Eid ul Fitr with a different kind of marketing strategy.’ Shaan replies with a glint in his eyes.
‘It isn’t that I don’t want to remake Abba’s films; I so much want to be part of Zarqa, Tipu Sultan, and other costume films but such movies can only be possible with the government’s support. The men at the helm don’t need to invest but create a policy where people like me can harness or harvest our interest, our infrastructure and our money for the betterment of films in Pakistan.’ Shaan says as he concludes the session.