Before discussing Syed Noor’s latest project titled Price of Honour, let’s take a brief look at two important documents safeguarding the rights of women:

According to Articles 25, 27 of the Constitution of Pakistan: ‘All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law’ and ‘There will be no discrimination on the basis of sex alone’.

Moreover, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’.

Movies are an all-powerful medium that provide escapism. They make us forget our troubles while providing respite from every-day issues. They play on human emotions and fire our imagination like nothing else while the director is the proverbial ‘captain of the ship’ who bears the responsibility of box office success or failure.

Syed Noor is a true Lollywood veteran and one of the finest our film industry has produced. The common thread running through most of his productions is the element of social reform. Case in point: Ghoonghat, Jeeva, Choorian and Hawaien. But one person is not enough to save an entire film industry from going under and even in times of adversity, Shahji has not thrown in the gloves and continues to take on challenging productions — this time a film based on women’s rights and issues.

While speaking to Images on Sunday, Noor reveals some interesting facts regarding the production of Price of Honour, “Being a compassionate soul and a Pakistani, it saddens me to see the pathetic manner in which women are generally treated in our country. My conscience was weighed down by the fact that my films entertain audiences but they never touch the issue of gender discrimination.”

Having realised this, he set about collecting data from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). “Basically, it’s my answer to the lobby that twists facts regarding women’s rights and Islam. The existing feudal system in Pakistan has its own brand of religious philosophy that it enforces on the fairer sex. The poor have no option but to accept it. In order to counter this ignorance and to bring about a healthy, positive change in the mindset of our people, education is the only option we have — and this is what Rakhshi’s character advocates vociferously in Price of Honour.”

The story of Shahji’s film, introducing newcomers Rakhshi and Asim as the main lead, revolves around a brave girl from an impoverished background who challenges the existing status quo with noble deeds, education and human rights awareness. She is threatened of dire consequences by the powerful landlord mafia but they cannot defeat her courage and determination. Ultimately, she is subjected to severe punishments and is publicly humiliated. Rakhshi’s character is a courageous woman who dares to defy the odds.

Under the existing circumstances, when making films is considered risky business, what led Syed Noor to make a non-commercial film such as PoH, which does not rely on the usual song and dance formula. “The aspect of commercialism in any film comes after its release,” says Noor. “If it does well, people throng cinema houses to watch it. I strongly believe quality does sell.” He adds that in order to attain quality, a decent budget is of vital importance.

About the delay in the film’s release, he says that nowadays it’s all about releasing a film at the appropriate time, “The old method has become obsolete. We now need to draw people’s attention through social media, advertisements, the internet, etc. The people who would earlier flock to Anjuman and Sultan Rahi’s films have been replaced by a much younger lot. “Pandra saal pehle hum chalaki se film chalatay thay. Now the viewership has evolved after watching foreign productions.”

Noor recalls that when Rakhshi first visited Shabab Studios she had expressed interest in being a part of his next big venture. But when he offered her the lead role in Price of Honour, she was apprehensive and said she had expected to play a romantic lead. However, she later accepted the offer. “I never hold auditions. I read faces and that tells me all I need to know,” says Shahji about holding auditions for new actors.

Justifying the huge budget for PoH when it has newcomers playing the main lead, no musical score or choreography, he adds, “Expenditures rise during post-production. A camera that could earlier be leased for Rs2,000 per shift now costs Rs70,000. Similarly, sound mixing used to be wound up in three shifts and now takes up to 20 shifts. A huge and entirely separate budget is now required for marketing and publicity through different mediums as well.

“I’m not threatened by the invasion of Indian cinema. My major concern is for the preservation of our cultural values which are under severe threat from foreign content,” says Syed Noor, explaining why he opposes Indian films being screened openly in cinemas across Pakistan. “Even some of our better films are not shown in Indian theatres. Why the one-way traffic?”

He blames the media for giving rise to the concept that Pakistanis are not as good film-makers as the Indians, “The propaganda has left a bad impression on Pakistani youth who have already been Indianised. Financiers should realise that if they spend Rs150 million on the import of Indian films then why not spend a fraction of that amount on the production of local films?

“I wonder how all this is done when it is still illegal according to the law. I admit that due to the release of Indian films in Pakistan, almost 46 cinemas are now equipped with the latest machinery and other state-of-the-art facilities. But on the flip side, the harm caused to the local film industry is immense! Lollwood’s decline has come full circle and now is the time to rise from the ashes.”

Shahji has a few suggestions regarding the uplift of Lollywood and he shares them here with us:

• New themes (multi-faceted stories)

• Film at original locations rather than set up outdated sets at studio floors

• Take risks with newcomers as viewers are fed up with watching the same old faces over and over again

• Establish an academy for young people interested in the field.

The film is expected to release towards the end of April or beginning of May. Soon after, other releases by Shahji such as Bhai Wanted, Oh, America!, Sooraj Kay Saath and First Love (shot in Canada) are also in the pipeline.

As we part, these verses ring loud and clear in my head. Somehow they seem as fitting to the plight of Rakshi’s character in the film as to the state of Lollywood:

The journey of my life begins from home ends at the grave

My life is spent like a corpse carried on the shoulders of husband and son

Bathed in religion attired in customs and buried in the grave of ignorance.

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