Lollywood gave us talented film directors such as Nazrul Islam, S. Suleman, Pervaiz Malik, Haider Chaudhary, Masood Pervaiz etc, but none has played such a long and successful innings as Syed Noor.
As a script writer Syed Noor aka Shahji penned scripts that initially earned him his good name, and then he stepped into film direction and wowed audiences with Ghoonghat, Majajan, Choorian, Daku Rani, Jeeva and more. However, the years are now starting to take a toll on his health, but his determination to create something worthwhile has not waned.
Currently, Shahji resides with his first wife Rukhsana Noor (Saima’s TV engagements keep her in Karachi) in a remote area of Lahore called Tricone Village surrounded by a peaceful and tranquil environment. It is also within easy reach of Shabab Studios where he mostly shoots his films and engages in office work. It is here, surrounded by familiar film paraphernalia, that he opens up and talks about the Pakistan film industry and his plans for the future.
“My greatest grievance is with Sharmeen; despite knowing that Price of Honour was lined up for release, she launched her documentary A Girl in the Water. I fully acknowledge her services and potential as a fellow film-maker, but she should have approached me before taking the initiative. She damaged my project.”
Is the film industry moving ahead or stagnating?
Frankly, considering all the damage caused during the past couple of years, I have little hope for its recovery. My guess was that it might take five to seven years for it to get back on its feet. It’s a miracle what has happened during these past two years. But don’t go measuring its success ratio just now as it’s the lowest in the world. I mean to say that a constant flow of film production is necessary for the success of any film industry and the proper cultivation of cinema.
Where did we go wrong?
Ten years ago, a young, energetic breed of professionals should have stepped in and taken over our film industry which unfortunately never happened. When the LSAs handed me the achievement award last year, I objected … that award put a full stop in my career ... a ‘no more room for you’. Should I sit at home now? I continued to accept challenges as they came along and shaped my ideas and destiny. I’m still sailing this ship. Unfortunately, my colleagues didn’t and were left behind.
Don’t you think that directors like Iqbal Kashmiri, Pervaiz Rana, Masood Butt etc can take on new challenges in film-making?
They belong to a different school of film-making. They are used to working on the outdated 35mm technology. When it converted to digital they got sidelined.
Secondly, the world of cinema has moved ahead with innovative ideas, angles, camera, lights etc. Since there is no academy or government patronage, the chances of studying film-making have always remained slim. But I say this with utmost sincerity that these directors have rendered great services to our film industry and can still persevere if they bring about an improvement within themselves.
"When the LSAs handed me the achievement award last year, I objected … that award put a full stop in my career ... a ‘no more room for you’. Should I sit at home now? I continued to accept challenges as they came along and shaped my ideas and destiny. I’m still sailing this ship. Unfortunately, my colleagues didn’t and were left behind."
Lahore-based Punjabi films have a mass appeal as compared to others. Comment.
It was once the case. But now the centre of film-making is back in Karachi, with a few shortcomings.
There have been some good films like Jawani Phir Nahi Ani. But I’m sorry to say that there are some movies that are not up to the mark, and declaring them as ‘feature’ films would be a mistake. Actually these are TV serials with songs. It’s shocking, really.
After the shifting of film-making to Karachi, shouldn’t we use the word Karawood instead of Lollywood. What do you say?
It’s all a fuss. There is only Hollywood, no Bollywood or Lollywood. It should only be called the Pakistan film industry and nothing else!
What do films mean to you?
In nutshell, the sole aim of films is to entertain. Film without entertainment is not a feature film but a documentary.
Under the present circumstances, you seem to be the only person who can revive Punjabi cinema after a glorious track record like Choorian, Majajan, Shareeka, Mehndi Walay Haath. What’s holding you back?
The time of Punjabi cinema is over. Waise bhi ab filmein Punjabi/Urdu mixup ho gaye hain. Many Urdu films now have two to three Punjabi songs.
Our owners hardly took any notice of the dingy, shabby cinema houses. They thought that despite sub-standard facilities films would continue to attract crowds. They also discouraged the exhibiting of Pakistani movies, preferring Indian content instead. Consequently, our film producers turned to other businesses.
I would like to credit Nadeem Mandviwala for the revival of films. Hats off to him.
"Some [recent] movies were not up to the mark, and declaring them as ‘feature’ films would be a mistake. Actually these are TV serials with songs. It’s shocking, really."
Can the situation be improved?
Sadly, the present government has no ministry of culture. Perhaps we are among the few countries which give the least importance to culture, despite India and Hollywood storming and capturing the world market, and focusing on the young generation.
I strongly believe that India is nothing without its film industry as it has vastly improved its image and economy through it. Our government does not keep this in mind. It should revive NAFDEC without further delay which could connect us to other worlds through culture.
Thirdly, Pakistani colleges and universities that teach film-making to students must have proper equipment like cameras, lights, set designing tools etc. Just mere theories won’t do.
Do you think Adnan Sami quit his Pakistani nationality due to his excessive Bollywood engagements?
Rubbish. At least Adnan Sami spoke the truth about him being an Indian. A number of Pakistani singers, artists work there but don’t care to work in our industry. What can you say about such hypocrisy?
Directors are often seen bragging about release dates, and the same seems to be the case when it comes to your film Price of Honour which was lined up for release in April 2015?
You’re right. I admit my fault. But the saying goes ‘Man proposes God disposes’. Issues like funds, publicity, cinema availability etc kept holding me back. But my greatest grievance is with Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy; despite knowing that my film Price of Honour was lined up for release, she launched her documentary A Girl in the Water — The Price of Forgiveness. It was as a real setback for me. I fully acknowledge her services and potential as a fellow film-maker, but she should have approached me before taking the initiative. She damaged my project.
"I made Shaan a supreme actor while low-calibre directors have damaged his reputation as an actor."
What other films do you have in the pipeline?
Bhai Wanted is almost complete but the biggest project of my life is on its way. I wrote a screenplay four years ago, keen to produce a different kind of message-oriented film. I was wondering whom to cast opposite Saima when I came across Dr. Amir Liaquat’s show and my heart said that I’d found the right man. I decided to convince him to sign my film. Initially, Amir Liaquat was reluctant to accept my offer but when I narrated the story to him, he agreed. He will be my next hero with Saima as the leading lady.
So when do you plan to start the film?
Soon. It all depends on Dr. Amir Liaquat’s availability.
Why has Saima switched to TV? Some argue that a film star should not work on the small screen as it undermines his/her stature?
I don’t agree. Saima has earned 10 times more popularity than films simply because TV has a much larger viewership.
Why was Saima absent at the premier shows of her own movie recently?
Uski marzi, main kya keh sakta hoon (It’s her decision, what can I say?).
Who is more accredited for a film’s success, actor or director?
Most certainly the director. I made Shaan a supreme actor while low-calibre directors have damaged his reputation as an actor.
Originally published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, April 10th, 2016