Earnest, passionate and still devastatingly good-looking, veteran Pakistani actor Shaan Shahid’s excitement about his latest film is infectious. Though the film has been in production since 2016, its digital promotions are finally commencing though a release date is still uncertain. Its arduous production and the various issues that the actor/writer/director faced have not dampened his enthusiasm for the project; if anything, Shaan has painstakingly worked on Zarrar, using the film as an opportunity to build the industry’s technical capabilities.
Speaking to Instep at his sprawling, minimalist home that also houses an editing room where the film is currently being edited, the actor explained that he wanted to work within the action-thriller genre but create a character-based film that portrayed real threats and the hidden heroes who dealt with them.
“In an action film, or any film for that matter, the character is very important. Coming out of Mission Impossible, you don’t remember the script but you remember the character. And establishing it is important because this isn’t a single film script, it’s six films and this is the first one. We wanted to move out of the regular action genre towards a spy thriller and bring to the fore the people who deal with the very real security threats to the country,” he elaborated.
He believes the script reflects the need of the hour, to voice our side of the story and talk about the very real threats that the country faces today. He admits that it features conspiracy theories but doesn’t believe it serves as propaganda or is necessarily an Army focused film for Shaan, it’s about the untold narrative and urge to make a slick Pakistani action flick.
The official trailer will be out soon and a sneak peek determined that the film definitely seems fast paced, heavy on the action and VFX that for once looked sharp and well executed, without being dialogue driven. Shaan explained why he chose to focus on showing, rather than telling the audience: “When I can verbally express I’m in pain once and then establish it by emoting rather than repeatedly saying the same thing over and over again, then why be needlessly wordy? When a character can convey the feeling and sentiments just through their body language and expression then why delve into long dialogues that are meant to drive home the same sensibility?”
His economy with words, restricted only to film scripts, definitely holds true with the trailer. Shaan mentions that Zarrar will cater to urban audiences who are used to blink and miss action. The script is mostly fast paced but slows down when developing his relationship with Kiran Malik, the female lead opposite his character because it required a change in pace to establish the character arcs. He adds that the script features organic character development. He told Malik to add her own vocabulary, her own way of emoting and a personal flair to the character. “You must own the character, make it yours. My script was the starting point; I’d go into a scene and let the actors improvise with the dialogues and their reactions because I wanted to create authentic, believable characters.”
Shaan also explained that the film took long to produce because technical capacities and skilled personnel required for a project of this scale and ambition were not present in Pakistan. He worked to develop a team not just for Zarrar, but for future projects and for the industry at large. The movie features a heavy dose of VFX, something that Pakistani cinema is yet to experience properly, all worked on locally.
He also shared snippets of songs from the film and spoke animatedly about working closely with the music producers and singers to create a unique sound. Director and music producer Yasir Jaswal worked on two of the tracks while the film features songs by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Aima Baig and folk legend, Abida Parveen. The sound is definitely catchy; Baig displays her range in an upbeat melody while Rahat brings his usual soul to his number.
Speaking to Shaan about the Pakistani film fraternity and where it’s lacking elicited a response that we wholeheartedly concur with. Accordingly to Pakistan’s equivalent of Tom Cruise (action star, undeniably charming, talented and dedicated to his craft albeit with some personal opinions that veer towards kooky) our industry is suffering from an identity crisis.
“We’re trying to pretend as if our previous cinema doesn’t exist. We’ve disassociated with it and all the experience it came with. It’s sad that directors like Syed Noor are shunned despite their years of experience and decades of contribution because they’re not hip but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re founts of knowledge that we’re overlooking.
“They’re film directors who worked to understand every nuance of the medium, think and live in it. We have a bunch of ad directors who create beautiful visuals but their films lack depth and character because they haven’t worked on those aspects in their career. The way forward for the industry is to bring these separate factions together, to harness the talent that our modern filmmakers possess and to learn from established names that might no longer be trendy but understand each intricacy of plot.”
If we continue to disassociate ourselves with our cinematic history, our identity and voice will remain muddled. The future must be inclusive and we’d love to see an industry that represents not only the new but the old as well.