Chupan Chupai, your first film in several years, will be released in a few days. How does it feel?
Very nice, actually.
I am very excited about the release of Chupan Chupai. There are moments when my excitement is replaced by anxiety. And then there are times when I get nervous, but generally I am thrilled that the film will be released very soon.
Why the multitude of emotions?
I am excited about Chupan Chupai because I am starring in a film after a long time and because it is a very good film. The success of a film depends on a very large number of factors, most of which are out of my control, this is why I get a bit anxious. It is never possible to guarantee the success of a film, no matter how good it is. I get nervous because I am going to be judged as an actor and not just a good-looking guy in Chupan Chupai. I have, fortunately, had great success as an actor in a number of television plays since I last appeared in films. People have come to expect a lot from me as an actor. The raised expectations make me happy sometimes and nervous at other times.
Why do you think Chupan Chupai is a good film?
Chupan Chupai has a number of strengths but its greatest asset is its high entertainment value. Humour, action, romance, drama and suspense, Chupan Chupai has it all. I also feel that Neelam Muneer and I have terrific on-screen chemistry and look very good together. I am confident that filmgoers will like us as a couple in the film. Chupan Chupai also stars two of the finest actors of Pakistan, Talat Hussain and Sakina Samo. They are at the top of their game in the film. I am greatly impressed by their spectacular performances in Chupan Chupai. I think people are going to love seeing these two great actors. The film has great music, and the songs are cheerful, lilting and hummable. I expect several of the songs to become huge hits. I love the song Sadqa a great deal myself and listen to it all the time. A big strength of Chupan Chupai, in my opinion, is its look and feel. The film has been shot, edited and colour-graded very well. It looks like a proper feature film and not a television drama. That cannot be said about many Pakistani films.
What do you think of Pakistani cinema?
I think it is a fledgling industry with a bright future. Pakistani cinema will find its footing in a few years and become a major film producing nation, in a decade or so.
Why are you so sure of the bright future of the Pakistani film industry?
I am certain that the industry will do well in the future because it is on the right track. It is attracting the right kind of people – dedicated, talented, committed, passionate and educated. There is a lot of enthusiasm in the industry, which when channeled well, will result in great Pakistani cinema. The real problem that the industry faces is one of economics. It is a fundamental problem that needs to be studied and addressed both by the government and the industry; otherwise, we will produce a few good films every now and then but never become a productive, profitable industry.
What is the fundamental problem of economics that you mention?
We are a small country, with a very small population of filmgoers. The amount of money required to make world-class films is more than that can be recovered from box-office sales in Pakistan.
A Pakistani film costs about fifty million Pakistani rupees. The number is about seven billion for an Indian film. Yet, Pakistani films are almost always and exclusively compared to Indian films. That is patently unfair and wrong. We cannot afford to make the kind of investment India does in its films, at the present time. We have a little more than a 100 screens in all of Pakistan. India has more than 10,000 with 2.3 billion cinema tickets sold in India last year. That is more than twice the number of tickets sold in all of the United States. India can, therefore, afford to invest billions in films whereas Pakistan cannot.
What is the solution to the problem you describe?
The solution is both obvious and simple. We need to increase the viewership of Pakistani films. This can be done in many ways. We need to drastically increase the number of screens in Pakistan and build cinemas in cities and villages that do not have any. We also need to regulate the exhibition of Indian films in Pakistan. Unless an equal number of Pakistani films are shown in India, we need to tax Indian films that are exhibited in Pakistan. We also need to create a market for Pakistani films all over the world, particularly in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Australia and the Far East. Once potential revenues from the exhibition of Pakistani films become high, investors will become willing to invest the kind of money needed to make good, world-class films.
Economics aside, what do you think Pakistani films lack?
I think they often but not always, lack good stories. A good film cannot be made with a bad story. We have a few good writers but they are very thinly spread. Pakistani television and cinema needs a significantly larger number of talented writers to meet demand and maintain quality. A lot is said about the high quality of Pakistani television plays, especially the ones made in the 60s and 70s. Their high quality was a direct result of excellent writing. People like Ashfaq Ahmed, Bano Qudsia, Haseena Moeen, Fatima Surraiya, Enver Sajjad, Amjad Islam Amjad and Munoo Bhai wrote excellent stories with well-developed characters. They spent huge amounts of time with directors, producers and actors, discussing their scripts and making sure that the stories and characters were understood well by all those involved. In doing so, they raised the bar for directors, producers and actors and forced the latter to deliver to the very best of their abilities. The same needs to be done for Pakistani cinema and soon.
Three other films – Rangreza, Arth 2 and Parchi – will be released at about the same time as Chupan Chupai. Does the competition concern you?
That being said, I hope that the best film does the best at the box office. Of course, it would be nice if Chupan Chupai is deemed to be the best among the four films and brings in the most money. Concerns of competition aside, I am glad that our industry has become so prolific that four films are being released in a short period of two weeks. That says a lot about the health of the industry and that makes me very happy. I am a highly dedicated, professional actor who has devoted the better part of his adult life to show business. A healthy and productive industry directly benefits me; so, no matter which one of the four films succeeds, I will be happy. Individual success, while gratifying, is much less important than collective victory.
The four films have been promoted very aggressively by the producers and exhibitors. It has been quite a circus.
Circus! Yes, that is the correct word to describe the tremendous amount of furious promotional activities that have been going on.
Do you think that the promotional activities have been proper, effective and tasteful?
Although I do like the enthusiasm that is a part of the promotional activities. I like the energy and fervor. And I like how filmgoers are engaged in the activities.
What do you not like about the promotions?
I don’t like activities that lack class, dignity and style. I do not like that actors are expected to dance at all events. And I do not like that the campaigns tend to lack in relevancy, creativity and imagination.
Ally Adnan lives in Dallas and writes about culture, history and the arts. He tweets @allyadnan and can be reached at email@example.com