Moammar Rana is making a comeback this Eid, that too as a freedom fighter in the patriotic offering, Azaadi. He’s coming back to screens after almost four years, when he felt that the typical Lollywood arena that he was part and parcel of had become too vulgar for his liking. "There was too much filth," he acknowledges, adding that he saw no point in doing films that he couldn’t watch with his daughters.
We met up to discuss his return to the completely new film industry that had now emerged. Things had certainly changed and he had strong opinions - some positive and others not so flattering - on the way they were evolving. He also explained why he had stepped away from certain films, as they were bordering on uncomfortable levels of vulgarity. Interestingly, Lollywood is still functional, he explained, and was operating in the most unorthodox of ways. While Azaadi is his big banner film with Sonya Hussyn, he has another film - Market - coming out on Eid, simultaneously and strangely, his face is on the poster of a third film called Paishi Gujjraan Di which he isn’t even cast in. We spoke about all this and more…
Instep: Can we call this your comeback film?
Moammar Rana: I left films four years ago. There was too much filth. I wasn’t at all okay with what I witnessed on screen. I have got daughters, so I really saw no point in doing films that I couldn’t enjoy with my own kids.
Instep: Which film made you feel that way?
MR: There was a film called Gunahgaar. It tackled the issue of child abuse and the story narrated to me was solid but it turned out to be complete nonsense.
Instep: Then you signed up for Azaadi?
MR: Yes, then I signed up for Azaadi. When I was offered the role, I was confused, as I’ve never done something like this before. Portraying a mujahid is very difficult; you have to get that feel. Though I’m a very patriotic person, I started watching videos on YouTube and here and there to get a feel of the character. Whatever India is doing in Kashmir, that slowly seeped into my personality and eventually I said yes to the role.
Instep: The film is obviously a formula film, just like your last patriotic film, Saya-e-Khuda-e-Zuljalal, which didn’t do too well. Do you feel there is a market for such films?
MR: Absolutely, there is. You know what India is up to and the world is watching that on television yet they are denying it, claiming everything’s okay. I read peoples’ comments on YouTube, under our trailer; they said they wanted peace and friendship and didn’t want such movies. But then India is also making movies like Phantom and Border, right? So when they can make them, why can’t we? There’s not a single cuss word or hate comment against India in the film. We’ve only shown what they are doing in Kashmir and everyone knows that well. Things are far from peaceful there."
Instep: Coming to Pakistani cinema, you’ve worked in classic Lollywood and now also in a new age film. What are the critical differences between the two?
MR: "Technology has made a massive difference I feel. Cameras, sound, and all your postproduction work. I’m very happy for that.
Instep: Isn’t the story telling technique also different?
MR: You know, there’s a difference between a drama and a film. You have to film 300 scenes for a drama and the entire process is mellow but in a film, it all needs to be swift since you have a 2 hour 15 minute timeframe to complete it and convey the story to the viewers. In a drama, you have a period of 6 months to entertain people.
Instep: Have you watched any Pakistani movies that have been released recently?
MR: I watched Na Maloom Afraad and I quite liked it. In fact, I really like the director who made it. He’s young and aspirational.
Instep: The cinema structure has changed from the standalone to the multiplex. Do you think the masses are watching these films?
MR: They won’t watch all these films. They watched Jawani Phir Nahi Ani and they really enjoyed the movie but they didn’t watch Cake because they were unable to relate to it. It relates to 5 per cent of our people, the burger class, whereas 95 per cent are masses. Let me give you an example. Masses, not the classes, make a hero. If you go watch a live cricket match, the VIP seats would be less in number compared to the 37,000 to 40,000 seats of people who are easily among a wider audience. And those are our masses.
Instep: Will the masses watch Azaadi?
MR: They’ll definitely watch Azaadi; I’m telling you because they’ve got their hero in it.
Instep: Do you ever see yourself doing a movie like Cake or Motorcyle Girl?
MR: "If I’m offered a film like Cake, why not? I’ll do it as one has to move with time. Take an example of Amitabh Bachchan - he’s a hero to the masses and he kept changing himself according to what the masses wanted. Salman Khan can be viewed in the same vein. Wanted was one of his movies, which wasn’t unboxed for five years, thinking who would watch it. That’s the same movie which made a 100 crore mark and since then, Salman Khan has never looked back.
Instep: What is there to love in Azaadi? Why should the audience watch it?
MR: It’s patriotic and has the hunger for freedom. Whatever is happening in Kashmir, I’m fighting that and I want to know who is with me in that battle. There are some fight sequences but not just that…it has a romantic angle too. For me, the biggest problem was that even if I was doing a romantic scene, I did it with a serious face, as I was so much into my character.
Instep: And how was Sonya as a co-star?
MR: She was really good. Initially, there was a problem as she’s from a TV background and has a completely different mindset, which was more towards parallel cinema. And I’m all for commercial cinema. In between, we had issues that we’d be shooting a scene and she’d say it’s getting too filmy so then I had to tell her that it is a film, not a drama. Others too on the set were not too comfortable with me at first. They would fear me, I felt. Gradually, I had to sit them down and tell them we have to work together. That’s how we gelled in. Even Sonya took a couple of days and then we were fine. She’s a good actor.
Instep: These days the conversation is all around gender and equality and sexual harassment in the workplace. Actresses of yesteryear suggest that the way they were treated is worse than anything you see or hear today. Is that true?
MR: No, I don’t think that’s true at all. I’ve always given them respect, as far as I’m concerned. Producers gave them respect too. If it was Meera, it had to be Meera jee, Saima, was always Saima begum or madam. I have done 327 or 328 films and I’ve never seen a producer or director treating anyone badly or disrespectfully so it’s utterly wrong for anyone to say so.
Instep: What are your plans after Azaadi? What more is there in the pipeline for you?
MR: I have signed two untitled movies. And I will be starting work on them after Eid. Other than that, my wife has planned a film and I plan on directing it…she will be the producer.