Ashir Azeem’s much-anticipated return to showbiz is finally here. After creating one-of-its-kind action TV serial Dhuaan in the early ’90s for Pakistan Television’s Quetta centre, the real-life law enforcer is now back after more than two decades with Maalik.
The film released all over Pakistan on Friday and judging from the initial response, it looks like it’s got a good innings ahead. It is chock full of drama, emotions, spectacular action and above all the ability to stir patriotism in the heart of every red-blooded Pakistani by “taking ownership of your country.”
The plot thickens — There are many independent parallel themes in the film which can leave one confused if not watched with full concentration. While one story is in flashback mode (the wife dying), the rest occur in real time.
Ashir Azeem’s cinematic debut teaches us that we, in ourselves as Pakistanis, are the true masters of our fate
Maalik is the story of men who serve their country in times of war and peace. Ashir plays Major Asad, an SSG Commando and the story revolves around his extraordinary adventures. He carries the film on his shoulders with support from veteran actors Sajid Hasan who plays his father, Farhan Ally Agha (Major Haider) and his band of brothers who help him battle it out against terrorists.
Meanwhile, Ehteshamuddin plays Arastoo, a school teacher who holds his principles higher than anything else. His family is traumatised by a horrific incident that changes him forever — so much so that he even starts talking in classic one-liners.
The final track revolves around a corrupt CM (Hassan Niazi) who doesn’t care about anything much except staying in power. A failed assassination brings him and the SSG Commandos together, and this is where things get really interesting.
Dial P for patriotism — The film focuses on the duty of every Pakistani: be it working in the private sector or serving in the Armed Forces. Picking up from where he left off in Dhuaan, Maalik has Ashir Azeem standing for what is right and serving the people. Yes, other film-makers have played this card before but Ashir’s military background and training has been instrumental in the making of this film. As the producer, writer and director, his dedication and real-life experiences translate well on screen which is what matters most.
Action like you’ve never seen before — The movie features action sequences in the mould of Hollywood films: battle sequences where the SSG Commandos take on the forces of evil; aerial shots that were previously seen only in Bilal Lashari’s Waar and above all, an attention to detail. Together, it all helps to make the action scenes all the more believable.
You get to experience how a real tank fight feels like and there is also an immaculately shot hand-to-hand combat involving one of the agents (Tatmain ul Qulb) who executes it in style. The shot where a C-130 maneuvers in the air with a full moon in the background, or the sequence where they rescue one of the hostages from the kidnappers’ hideout is superbly executed.
Powerful performances — Ever since the revival of films in Pakistan, only a handful of films can boast of dialogues with any recall value. From the resounding “Main Pakistan ka shehri, Pakistan ka maalik hoon” to the threatening “Maalik mulazim ko dhamki nahin, notice deta hai”, the film has many iron-clad one-liners that will keep you engaged throughout its running time. Not since Shahzad Nawaz’s Chambaili has a film been in demand because of its strong dialogue.
Multiple tracks make for an interesting story — Maalik breaks free of the traditional form of storytelling and features multiple tracks in the plot: a corrupt CM who seeks the protection of SSG Commandos; an army officer who has lost someone close to him, an idealistic school master who suffers an incident that transforms him and an organisation that helps people in need. All these sequences are more closer to reality than one would think, and being realistic is what makes them so special.
There is hardly anyone in Pakistan who doesn’t know someone who has been kidnapped and held for ransom; at the receiving end of a corrupt politician and his goons; or those who have thought about leaving the country for a better life and secure future. Maalik embodies all these concerns and shows you the way to eradicate ills. In short, it makes the audience aware that in order to bring about change, one has to change him/herself first.
The director speaks — “I wanted to make a film in Pakistan that is 100 per cent Pakistani,” the writer-actor-director says when asked about input from across the border. “When we have the best facilities right here (in Pakistan), the best artists as well as technicians, there is no need to go abroad or even across the border. My film is completely Pakistani and so are the people who have worked in it. I am also proud of the fact that my film caters to all age groups — young to old — and everyone will leave the theatre with patriotism infused by the narrative.”
And then the soundtrack — Ashir has collaborated with Sahir Ali Bagga for Maalik. The music director not only lends his vocals to the theme but also comes up with memorable songs — be it Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s Nazaria and Mann Mora, and Masuma Anwar’s Naina Roye — each with strong recall value.
Masuma’s track grows on you and stands out as one of the best composed songs in recent memory and deserves multiple listenings. Breaking with tradition where Pakistani films have a love song; an item number and a sad filmi track, Maalik boasts situational songs with meaningful verse. Fitting a film with a patriotic theme, the soundtrack hits all the right notes, as does the background score which compliments the intense action sequences as well as dramatic scenes.
Winning hearts and minds — Veteran actor Farhan Ally Agha says that Maalik was the perfect platform to launch his film career. “I have been a fitness freak all my life so when the role of Ashir’s friend was offered to me (in Maalik), I immediately accepted it as it was a chance to repay my debt to my country. My father also served in the Air Force and I love my country more than I love myself. As Major Haider, I got to use real guns and be a part of action sequences that required top-level fitness, which was not much of a problem for me. I am part of one track in the overall story and that’s the one where most of the action takes place. It was a wonderful experience working in Maalik and I am sure people will love it too when they go and watch it in cinemas.”
Actor Ehteshamuddin is not new to powerful roles; he set the screen on fire with his fiery dialogue delivery in Chambaili and once again he gets the chance to play the man of principles. “In every country where lawlessness reigns, people wait for a messiah to rescue them; in Maalik I play such a character who doesn’t bow down to injustice and encourages people to follow the right path, irrespective of the results. Ashir moulded my character beautifully and I’m glad I got the chance to work alongside him in this film. He was very helpful as a director and since it was his script, he knew exactly what he wanted from his co-actors.”
For the love of Maalik’s Pakistan — As Disney’s Jungle Book and Shah Rukh Khan’s Fan hit theaters countrywide next week, Ashir Azeem’s fans flocking to cinema all through this week will only have the word of mouth to help make it a sure-hit at the box office in the days ahead. Meanwhile, things look good for this action-thriller … and why not? After all, it’s a film for all those who believe in Pakistan, and this one thing will forever keep us united.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, April 10th, 2016