These are bitter times for Shaan Shahid. Some time ago, before the release of his film Arth — The Destination, the actor/director was in high spirits. One saw him happily embroiled in promotional rounds, posing for umpteen selfies and particularly garrulous in interviews with the media. After the movie’s release, though, Shaan is seething. A number of reviews coinciding with the movie’s cinematic release have left him reeling, inevitably leading him to shout ‘bias’ via his personal online pages.
“I am hurt,” he admits. “I made this movie with a lot of love and I wanted to thank everyone who helped me with it and to take a bow. But people haven’t let me do this.” He continues, “I was unsure about this interview. Everything I say gets misinterpreted and it has just made me tired.”
On that bitter note, my post-Arth conversation with Shaan begins. He is careening his way down the Lahore-Islamabad motorway as he talks to me, returning home after a much-needed break. But as it turns out, the break hasn’t done much to calm the actor down who feels ‘wronged’ and ‘disillusioned’ but promises that he will stride on …
Shaan Shahid doesn’t beat about the bush. The superstar actor and director’s hardline views on the screening of Indian films in Pakistan and patriotism are well known. And when his recently released film Arth — The Destination received unfavourable reviews, he let loose against his critics with all his might. Icon tries to pick his brains on what motivates his anger
Let’s just start with the question that is on everyone’s mind. After the release of Arth — The Destination, you took to your Facebook page and blamed the negative reviews on a Karachi-Lahore bias. Do you really believe that such a bias exists?
It certainly does. People on the outside may not realise this but I am standing on the frontlines and I am a veteran who understands how the industry works. All the major networks are based in Karachi and actors who want to work in dramas have no option but to shift there in order to build their careers. Most major print and online publications are based in Karachi and for some reason the reviewers are simply less kind towards Lahore-based productions. A publicist once told them that if I did not sign their contract, I would never be able to get work in Karachi. There is a certain arrogance that prevails, putting down one city in favour of the other. Syed Noor’s Chain Aye Na was ripped to shreds, Faisal Bukhari’s efforts were dismissed and mine will always meet the same fate — a Verna or a Chalay Thay Saath will be given a lenient review. What’s even worse is that most of these reviews are paid for. Chupan Chupai just released and it actually announces ‘social media partners’ in its credits. Since when did a movie have social media partners? And if this is the case, then the movie’s reviews on the Internet are obviously just marketing tools rather than authentic critiques. That’s just wrong. It makes me sad because by crippling the industry in such a way, these reviewers are thwarting their own careers in the long run. If they keep bringing down their own films like this, eventually the film industry will not be able to survive. We are independent filmmakers and we invest our sweat, tears and money into a movie. We are trying to establish a platform over which an entire building could be constructed. But they won’t let this happen.
But there is a possibility that the reviewers did not like the movie?
I don’t have a problem with people not liking the movie. That is a matter of opinion, but I do expect them to write balanced reviews, to mention some positives along with the negatives. I felt that the reviews for Arth stemmed from absolute hatred rather than mere dislike. They were vindictive, calculated to bring the movie down in its very initial days. Why did they not mention my acting? Why did a review state that the movie was three hours long when it was actually two-and-a-half-hours long? They thought Humaima’s role was vulgar when they happily applaud item numbers in different movies. They nitpicked Arth with such hostility that I got the feeling that perhaps some of the reviewers hadn’t even seen the movie properly and had just made up their mind to burn it down to the ground.
There was the critique that the movie featured too much of you while other actors were sidelined. Don’t you agree?
The story required it. I have acted in 500 movies and I know how cinema works. A movie has to centre around a hero and Arth was based on two protagonists who made bad decisions in their lives at the onset. This separated them and, then, after suffering through travails, life brought them together again. All the other actors in the movie played side roles and they were allotted scenes accordingly. Mohib and Humaima’s roles were subsidiary and Uzma, in fact, had more scenes than me. I had worked so hard on Uzma’s character and I do feel that she shone in the movie when, in her earlier projects, she had often been sidelined. But this was barely appreciated.
I always believe in speaking the truth and I don’t mince my words. If I feel that someone is wrong, I will say it out loud. I truly did believe that apart from Atif Aslam, BOTB should have selected judges who were more qualified, people who had been part of the industry for years and were accomplished singers. And what’s the harm if, as a senior actor, I observe that Fawad Khan needs to improve upon his acting? I supported him during Khuda Ke Liye and even gave him the Lux Style Award that I had won for the movie because I felt that he should be encouraged. Nobody remembers that, of course.”
Do you think that reviews really matter? Arth — The Destination comes loaded with star power. Don’t you think people should come to see it regardless of what the initial reviews say?
Of course, reviews matter. Cinema has now moved into the age of multiplexes and the majority of cinema-goers are educated young people who rely on the internet frequently. They check out the review of a movie before paying 500 rupees or more for a cinema ticket. A bad review can really make a movie suffer in the initial days when it should be maximising profits.
If this hatred towards you really does exist, do you think that perhaps it takes root not from a city-based bias but from resentment towards you particularly? You have a tendency to criticise frequently via your Facebook page, pointing fingers at everything from Pepsi Battle Of The Bands to Fawad Khan and Fahad Mustafa. This could have turned certain people against you …
I always believe in speaking the truth and I don’t mince my words. If I feel that someone is wrong, I will say it out loud. I truly did believe that apart from Atif Aslam, Pepsi Battle Of The Bands should have selected judges who were more qualified, people who had been part of the industry for years and were accomplished singers. And what’s the harm if, as a senior actor, I observe that Fawad Khan needs to improve upon his acting? I supported him during Khuda Ke Liye and even gave him the Lux Style Award that I had won for the movie because I felt that he should be encouraged. Nobody remembers that, of course. As for Fahad Mustafa, I stand by the fact that he was wrong to say that he was the only hero to have made it big in Pakistan without having gone to Bollywood. How could he overlook his elders so easily, the many people who had toiled in order to build this industry? I don’t take such matters lightly and I feel that I have a right to take a stand against them.
But your criticism against Battle Of The Bands was disliked particularly because you hail from a cinematic background and not a musical background.
Regardless, I am someone on the inside and I know how the corporate entities play games, pumping [up] certain people and putting down real talent.
You have always spoken openly against the screening of Indian movies in Pakistani cinemas. But last year, when Indian movies were banned in Pakistan, even local productions suffered, failing to gain from the footfall generated by Bollywood. Do you still think that Indian movies should be banned in Pakistan?
Bollywood isn’t banned in Pakistan at the moment but local movies are still flopping. I really don’t think that the success of our ventures depends on Bollywood. And I have never insisted on the banning of Indian movies in our cinemas. I just think that this should be balanced out with some of our movies getting screened in India as well.
I chose to remake Arth because it could have paved the way for the screening of Pakistani movies in India. You could say that it was a shot in the dark in the hope of encouraging Indian investment in Pakistan.”
That seems like an unlikely proposition given that India churns out thousands of movies every year, has an established industry and doesn’t need to import in Pakistani ventures. Our industry, meanwhile, is still in its fledgling years and cinemas need Indian content in order to keep attracting crowds.
Yes, they may not need our movies but they can allow a few of our movies into their cinemas as a gesture of diplomatic goodwill. It’s not like we don’t have talent. Our actors have been appreciated there and our movies could have a good run in India if they are allowed there. That’s all I ask for, but it’s hardly going to happen. It riles me, then, when our media continues to bring its own people down while swooning over everything Indian, from something as inane as how Salman Khan celebrated Christmas to the pointless argument that Tiger Zinda Hai, an anti-Pakistan movie, should have had been allowed into our cinemas. Where is their patriotism?
Do you think, then, that it is people’s patriotic duty to laud local movies regardless of whether or not they like them? Why should people pay considerably expensive cinema tickets for substandard movies just in order to support Pakistani cinema’s revival?
They should do so because it will help strengthen the industry and improve Pakistan’s economy in the long run. If someone told me that my city would improve if I paid an additional tax, I would happily pay it. The same applies to local cinema. And they don’t need to laud movies that they don’t like but they don’t need to rip them apart either, especially when they are so lenient towards slipshod Indian ventures.
You have a negative stance towards India and yet, you took it upon yourself to obtain the rights of Arth, an Indian classic, and remake it. That seemed a bit confusing.
I chose to remake Arth because it could have paved the way for the screening of Pakistani movies in India. You could say that it was a shot in the dark in the hope of encouraging Indian investment in Pakistan. Making a movie in Pakistan is cheaper than making a movie in India but both countries share the same heritage and language. If they develop trust in our filmmakers, the opportunities could be endless. But if your own people bring you down, what kind of message does that send out to the world? Over the last 10 years, perhaps only one or two new people have been allowed to make a mark in local cinema. Everybody else has been shot down to the point that they have retreated.
Given your recent experience, are you now worried about the fate of Zarrar, your next directorial venture scheduled to release this year?
I am not worried about Zarrar. I will continue to follow my dreams and do what I want to do. I do plan to quiet down on social media because whatever I say gets misconstrued and I’d rather share my views with friends who understand me rather than people who have personal grudges. But this doesn’t mean that I am dejected. I choose to forgive all the people who have hurt me and continue on the right path. And I believe that over time, a parallel group of people who can see right from wrong will rise and lead Pakistani cinema onwards. The truth will win. I have faith in that.
Published in Dawn, ICON, January 14th, 2018