The veteran director talks about Bhai Wanted, the new age of cinema and why Shaan is still the country’s biggest star.
Syed Noor’s vital statistics are interesting. He’s been in the movie business for 44 years. Since 1998 he has directed and released around 30 films, half with Shaan as the main lead and only three without Saima. He is back in the director’s seat this year, recently signing up Shaan Shahid for Bhai Wanted, their first notable film together since the Punjabi film Sharika was released in 2012. Sharika didn’t make much of an impact on Pakistan’s evolving cinema dynamic but with Bhai Wanted, Syed Noor looks forward to bringing almost four decades of experience in filmmaking to directing a movie that adapts just as well to the new age of cinema.
We caught up with the Syed Noor to ask him why he has been on the backbench for so long?
“I believe one should only speak when he has something to say,” the soft-spoken director responded, when caught in a telephone conversation. “I have been making films for 44 years but it still took me some time to think of an appropriate comeback to this new cinema that has taken Pakistan by storm. Till now I have been pursuing my other passion – education in filmmaking. For eight years my mission has been to teach filmmaking and I have managed to make a difference in the NCA, BNU and Punjab University in Lahore. I wanted to direct Bhai Wanted with a team of young kids.”
You’ve been in talks with Shaan for several months, reportedly. Why Shaan and why did it take so long to convince him?
Syed Noor: “Shaan is inspiring; he is a complete actor and he is the biggest star in the country. This is incorrect that it took time to convince him; Shaan is an actor who brings a lot to a film and we have been busy discussing the film and the way it should be executed. Right from the get go there has never been any doubt that I would involve Shaan and he has blind faith in me. We sat down and improvised the film; he respects me and has faith in what I do. We go back a long way.”
You have made most of your films with Shaan and Saima. Will Saima also feature in Bhai Wanted and what do you say to rumours of a Sanam Saeed casting?
Syed Noor: “I took Shaan because he had a main role, a role that was worthy of his stature. I can’t take Saima because there isn’t a lead role big enough for her in the film. We’re looking at options these days and I’m looking at all the artists around. Sanam Saeed is a good artist but I don’t want to say anything until it is finalized.”
You’ve historically worked with mainstream cinema actresses for Punjabi or Urdu films. What do you think of TV actresses crossing over to cinema?
Syed Noor: “Actors are not Punjabi, Urdu or English. Actors have no boundaries. They are made and defined by the characters they portray and that character is actually a reflection of the director’s capability. Look at the big actors in the world; they have no boundaries and are only limited by the vision of the director. As a director it is my job to make actors. It makes no difference where they come from.”
What do you say to Pakistani artists working in India?
Syed Noor: “It’s a good change but we should not forget our origin. We shouldn’t forget who we are; we should not forget our identity. I appreciate the opportunities that young actors are getting these days but they should remember to honour their country. Our artistes should work all over the world but be ambassadors for Pakistan not themselves. A Pakistani actor should not suddenly become an Indian star. At the end of the day I will value Shaan over Shah Rukh Khan.”
Which new films have you seen and what do you think of the change in Pakistani cinema?
Syed Noor: I have seen almost all films; you watch and learn so much. What I’m missing desperately is the larger than life cinema; most films do not look like films. They are parallel cinema. Films are supposed to be dynamic and larger than life. What I am seeing is quite static, these films lack movement and cinematic depth. Just by having new cameras doesn’t make a difference. But new filmmakers will progress and get better. We’re on a learning curve. Na Maloom Afraad is much better but Dukhtar is more of a tele-drama. I can’t see cinema die. This film industry is my life.
People talk of the film industry shifting from Lahore to Karachi. Does it worry you?
Syed Noor: “This Karachi Lahore rift is terrible. These people are destroying cinema and nationalism. They should be snubbed.”