Filmmaking is never an easy task, and rarely do we understand the painstaking attention to detail that it demands.
Along with this, a strong sense of dedication and passion are among the things required of a film director.
I realised this when Lollywood film director Shahzad Rafiq (Ghoonghat, Nikah, Rukhsati, Salakhain, Mohabbatan Sachiyaan) invited me to join him on a visit to Hangu in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to gather first-hand information about student Aitzaz Hasan who sacrificed his life to save his school fellows. The director said that he feels an emotional connection to Aitzaz’s story and decided to make a film on the subject and to call it Salute.
These days, Shahzad spends most of his free time reading books and stays away from producing formula movies or plays. He recently discussed the possibility of making a drama serial based on Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the D’urbervilles, and the project is in the pipeline.
We will soon be able to witness the young and brave Shaheed Aitzaz Hasan’s selfless and heroic deed on cinema screens thanks to director Shahzad Rafiq
|The sense of devotion is all too obvious at Aitzaz's last resting place in Ibrahim Zai village graveyard|
Salute is based on the life and heroic deed of the young Shaheed Aitzaz Hasan, who sacrificed himself in order to prevent a suicide bomber from entering his school, thus saving the lives of the 400 students at Ibrahim Zai village in Hangu on January 05, 2014.
“The martydom of Aitzaz has opened a new chapter of bravery in our students’ history. He has infused courage in our teenagers to confront and challenge all such acts of cowardice by the enemies of Pakistan,” said Shahzad. He added that it is a filmmaker’s duty to bring this story of selflessness on to the big screen while doing away with formula films. “As a father, I feel the pain of Aitzaz’s parents and his fellow students, and I hope to fully address it through Salute.”
Shahzad Rafiq has postponed work on another project, Farar, themed on inter-faith harmony, now that the shooting schedule for Salute has been finalised for March.
I accompanied Shahzad Rafiq to Hangu where the KP government sent us under police escort to village Ibrahim Zai. Once there, Aitzaz’s older brother Mujtaba welcomed us and took to the spot close to the village high school where the suicide bomber blew himself up.
|The school bears witness to its student’s act of selflessness|
Later, Aitzaz’s cousin Shehzad gave us an eyewitness account of the events on that fateful day, “On Jan 5, 2014, I was on my way to school with a friend when an Uzbek-looking young man got off a passenger van and started to make his way to the school premises. On being asked, he told us that he is from Ibrahim Zai. It struck us as odd for we had never seen him before. He soon changed his statement and said he was from Kohat.”
“The martydom of Aitzaz has opened a new chapter of bravery in our students’ history. He has infused courage in our teenagers to confront and challenge all such acts of cowardice by the enemies of Pakistan. As a father, I feel the pain of Aitzaz’s parents and his fellow students, and I hope to fully address it through Salute.” — Shahzad Rafiq
The suicide bomber was wearing the same school uniform as the rest of them but only his cap was different. It was only when Aitzaz’s cousin stretched out his hand for a handshake and the fidai (suicide bomber) tried to hide the explosives he was carrying in his right hand did Shehzad and his friend realise who he really was and both the boys immediately began to run towards the school building.
“Aitzaz was right behind the suicide bomber and we told him to run away to save himself. Instead, he rushed towards the fidai who threw a stone at Aitzaz which missed him. Aitzaz chased and grappled with him, and it was then that the fidai blew himself up. The teachers and students rushed to the spot immediately afterwards.”
|Mujtaba points to the spot where the suicide bomber blew himself up|
The film production crew then met the Math teacher Habib Ali to get information about Aitzaz as a student. Master Habib said Aitzaz was an average student with a lot of patience and he never got mad at being called ‘Motu’ by his classfellows. “He would just smile instead,” he added.
Shahzad Rafiq scribbled down all the information he had managed to collect in his notepad and handed over some questions to Mujtaba for Aitzaz’s mother about his hobbies, habits, likes and dislikes. She said that he liked to have parathas for breakfast, was crazy about football and liked to watch martial arts films. Aitzaz was also a great fan of comedian Omer Sharif.
|The director seen here with the two eyewitnesses|
Mujtaba said that on hearing the blast, his mother became quite anxious. “We could not see the exact spot as our home is right in the middle of the village. But our mother could sense something was terribly wrong and shouted, “Lagta hai mera Aitzaz zakhmi ho gaya hai!”
Later, the team visited the ground where Aitzaz used to play. A tournament final was underway and more facts about Aitzaz were collected from his teammates.
After finishing our work at Ibrahim Zai village, a meeting was scheduled with an army intelligence officer who briefed us about the law and order situation in Hangu district. He disclosed many facts valuable for a sub-plot, about how children are trained for terrorist activities. The officer assured complete support for the film production crew while shooting in the Hangu area. There were security forces’ check posts located at a distance of every few yards and quite amazingly every check post had a story to tell about brave souls thwarting terrorist attacks!
Director Shahzad Rafiq plans to make Salute along international standards to project a better image of Lollywood and Pakistan. He doesn’t want to unveil the lead cast just yet but plans to sign on prominent actors. “Meera has been in constant touch but she doesn’t fit any character in the film so far,” he added.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, February 8th, 2015