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“I refused to act in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag”: Jamal Shah

Veteran artist and painting virtuoso Jamal Shah talks to Instep about his upcoming directorial venture, his reason to give up roles in the international film industry and his faith in local talent

“I refused to act in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag”: Jamal Shah
Jamal Shah’s upcoming directorial venture, Badal – Revenge of the Worthless, is inspired from real-life incidents that took place during the Swat insurgency, in the recent past. The film also features veteran actors like Ayub Khoso and Firdous Jamal in pivotal roles.

Known for his impeccable skill as a painter and on screen versatility as an artist, it is no surprise that Jamal Shah has been dubbed ‘The next Omar Sharif’ by fans and admirers across the world. Ironically though, the actor, who has been part of many a TV series, and whose body of work transcends borders, including the likes of renowned British miniseries Traffik, will be making his big screen Pakistani debut no earlier than next year. Shah will be seen essaying the role of Mahira Khan’s father in the upcoming college drama Ho Mann Jahaan, due to release on January 1st. However, more than his cameo in HMJ, it is his directorial venture Badal – Revenge of the Worthless that has everyone in a flurry of anticipation for it will not only see him wearing the director’s hat but also take on the lead role. The film, which is slated for a release sometime early next year, pays homage to Swat’s rich culture. Instep met with the dynamic Jamal Shah to discuss his local, international career as well as his foray into Pakistani films:

Instep: How did you come up with the idea of Revenge of the Worthless?

Jamal Shah: As a Pakistani, who has a keen interest in current affairs, I wanted to make a film that had some cultural narrative and portrayed Pakistan’s image as a country with rich heritage. Revenge of the Worthless is inspired from real-life incidents that took place during the Swat insurgency of the recent past. We haven’t used the names of the characters on which the story is based but yes, it revolves around more or less the same situation that we faced a few years back.

Instep: Your film doesn’t seem to have any of the ‘superstars’ whose names guarantee big bucks at the box office?

JS: It would be incorrect to say that I didn’t make this film for monetary gains; everybody wants their film to do well. The reason why I didn’t use the so-called ‘superstars’ is because they don’t exist and even if they did, they wouldn’t fit in the characters. That said, we do have Firdous Jamal and Ayub Khoso playing the antagonists, Shamyl Khan as the leading man, Maira Khan as the leading lady while Najeebullah Anjum, Noor, Iftikhar Qaiser, Emel Karakose and I will be playing an important role. All the actors selected fit into their roles perfectly well and I am sure that the audience will agree with the selection as well. In fact, most of the actors cast as Taliban are students, of institutes like Hunerkada and NCA, and extremely believable too.

Instep: You could have used one big name to draw in the audience…

JS: Firdous Jamal is one of the finest actors whose talent hasn’t been tapped into yet. He will shock the audience with his gripping performance in ROTW and same can be said about Ayub Khoso who excels in the role of a fanatic Militant leader. Najeeb Ullah Anjum has been around for quite some time and has a substantial fan club; Iftikhar Qaiser of Ab Main Boloon Kay Na Boloon fame will make his film debut with this movie while actress Noor will make a comeback. The audience will also love Shamyl Khan and Maira Khan – the leading couple – who have given the best performance of their careers. Imran Tareen, Raheem, Tariq Jamal and Turkish actress Emyl Karakose along with many other fresh faces will really impress people.

Instep: Your faith in local technicians for sound, music, Director of Photography and action sequences must be commended since not many first time directors opt for them.

JS: Talent wise Pakistanis are as good as the rest of the world. When I decided to make a film, my first priority was using a local crew. Sound has been done under the supervision of Afzal Hussain from Sound Ghost. The major chunk of the film was shot under the direction of Aamir Rao, an upcoming DoP while Mehdi Raza and I composed the songs and background score. We have used a thumri by Ustad Zafar Abbas Khan in one of the songs whereas for the first time audiences will also get to listen to a Pushto rap, based on the lyrics by the great Ghani Khan, depicting the human side of the Taliban.100

Instep: Your film was supposed to release in May earlier this year but has been rescheduled for a January release 15. What is the reason behind the long delay?

JS: We wanted to release the film on 22nd May 2015 but due to issues with our electric systems the raid system collapsed and the project files got corrupted because of which a nearly-complete film had to be edited from scratch. Luckily, on second viewing, we managed to shorten the length of the movie as well; had it been released in May, it would have been more than 2 hours and 30 minutes but now it’s closer to 2 hours.

Instep: Don’t you think an experienced director would have done a better job while you could’ve just focused on the acting and writing bits?

JS: There are not many directors in Pakistan who could have handled my subject. Only Shoaib Mansoor’s name comes to mind, and that too, because he is a hardworking individual. But my film’s stance is very different from his kind of cinema. So I didn’t bother him to direct my film; instead I decided to take up the challenge myself and tried my best to stay close to the script and the characters I created.

Instep: Tell us something about your upcoming projects as an actor – Ho Mann Jahaan and Hijrat?

JS: I am looking forward to both these films because, in my opinion, they represent our way of life. In Ho Mann Jahaan, I am playing a complex cameo character of a father who likes music but doesn’t want his daughter to take up music and be independent. In Hijrat, I am the father of the protagonist who lives in Turkey and doesn’t want to return to Pakistan where his wife (Zeb Rehman) runs an NGO.

Instep: Why did you stop working in foreign films even though you were labeled ‘The next Omar Sharif’ back in the ’80s?

JS: It’s a long story (smiles). After I did Traffik for BBC in the late ’80s, I became a known face in the international market and that’s when the Hollywood film K2 was offered to me where I got to work with renowned actors including Matt Craven and Michael Biehn, who is famous for playing Kyle Reese in The Terminator. After these projects, the roles I was being offered were against my beliefs – some filmmakers offered me strong characters but they required me to perform graphic sexual scenes that would have damaged my reputation as well as my country’s. There were other offers of playing a Muslim terrorist that I did not like because for me true representation is important. Pakistani people and the Pakistani market are more relevant to me than the film industry of any country and maybe that’s the reason why I refused to play the role of President Ayub Khan in Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Bhaag Milkha Bhaag when I was approached by the casting director.

Instep: What is your vision as a filmmaker?

JS: I want people to visit cinemas and support movies that are based on things happening around us. In 2005, I wrote a film about a sleepwalker who ends up in Guantanamo Bay; that film had elements of comedy as well as action but in order to make such a film, one needs huge resources which I didn’t have at the time. After ROTW, I am planning to come out with a light-hearted film so that I generate the finances for my next venture and hopefully, if all goes well, we would like to encourage new filmmakers to use the Hunerkada Films’ platform to produce their own films.

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