One could say it's not a good time to be Syed Noor.
His next film Chain Aye Na - a comeback of sorts for the veteran director - has drawn severe criticism in its promotional phase. So far his young cast - Shahroz Sabzwari, Sarish Khan and Adil Murad - have vehemently defended the project.
Now it's Syed Noor's turn.
Images speaks to Syed Noor about the poor reception Chain Aye Na received and the divisions in the Pakistani film industry.
Images: In the director's words, what is Chain Aye Na all about? What message did you want to give your audience?
Syed Noor: Look, a film isn't about messages. A film's purpose is to entertain; it's a larger than life medium. My films' backbone has always been its music. My films have run in cinemas for up to five years due to the strength of the soundtracks. Jeevan, Sargam, Ghoongat, Choorian — their music is all exemplary.
I've noticed that films these days are totally westernised. They are either following Hollywood or those Bollywood films that are out of touch with music. Today, we won't find songs like those in Pakeezah, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak or Dilwale Dulhania, that's why Bollywood films don't run for a long time anymore. Similarly, in Pakistan, the new filmmakers are not paying attention to music... or screenplay, for that matter.
So what I wanted to do with Chain Aye Na is to bring back the music that people have longed to hear.
Images: You feel that's what is missing from Pakistani cinema — music of the yesteryears?
SN: Some people said that Chain Aye Na is like 90's cinema. I proudly say that yes, this is 90's cinema, which is the real cinema. People will sit in the hall and enjoy the music — we have a mehndi song, romantic songs, the film is all based on romance.
In my film, nobody will be able to guess the end of the romance. It's a triangle love story. The love story will have no message, only entertainment. The songs will not be anthems, only entertainment. It's a totally family entertainment film.
"I don't care about how much business Chain Aye Na does. I've made this film and will continue to make more because I don't know how to do anything else," says Syed Noor.
There are no ganday [dirty] dialogues, no ghaleez baat [indecency] in my film. Because I have a self censor within me. Till date, no film of mine has been cut by the censor board. This film is also totally uncut. Because I have a self censor. I am the father of three daughters, and when I make films, I have to think about whether my film will embarrass me in front of my daughters or anyone's daughters because they're also like my own.
But in the end, entertainment is important. There shouldn't be any dryness, any dragging subject. Keeping all these things in mind, Chain Aye Na is a complete package.
Images: The interesting thing about Chain Aye Na's cast is that they all belong to filmi families. Shahroz is Bahroze Sabzwari's son, Sarish is Sabiha Khanum's granddaughter and Adil Murad is Waheed Murad's son. Was this casting deliberate?
SN: The other reason why I made Chain Aye Na was that our living legends have not been used, the people who belong to film. I've noticed that in India (because we're always comparing ourselves to India), their industry's strength is their legacy. Second-, third-, fourth-generation actors are leading the industry, which is not the case here. I want to introduce this as a trend.
In all my future films, I would like to work with the legacies. I don't care about how much business the film does. I've made this film and will continue to make more because I don't know how to do anything else [laughs].
Images: Why would anyone expect you to do something else...
SN: I was really hurt when I came [to Karachi] from Punjab... Punjab has always welcomed brothers and friends from Karachi with open arms. But when I came to Karachi, I faced a lot of intolerance.
I never thought that when my trailer releases, people will collectively talk about it in negative terms. Okay, so some people called it bad and they came forward, but what about those who stayed quiet about the trailer and didn't say anything at all? That was worse.
I saw that when a Karachi film's [Punjab Nahi Jaungi] trailer came out, everyone wished it well. For my film, no one even wished it good luck. It become obvious then that don't own my film, they don't own my 47-year life [as a filmmaker] when I own their lives as two- or three-year filmmakers.
The director says,"I have 47 years of service, wrote 300 screenplays, directed 55 films... after all this, this is how I am treated"
Images: Do you really feel that negative feedback to your trailer was due to the Lahore/Karachi divide alone?
SN: People used to tell me there's a divide and I would say no, it doesn't exist. But now I feel maybe they were right.
But the feedback I got was not due to Lahore/Karachi divide. If the initial feedback was genuine, then it would have been consistent.
Images: The criticism has tapered off, in your opinion?
SN: It's gone, vanished. Look at YouTube, there is not one comment in hundreds against me or my film. Because that's the audience. Those [critics] were planted people.
But I don't care. I'm happy that I now know who my friends are and aren't. People I considered my well-wishers, people I've always cared for and appreciated, I've never given them a negative comment and always defended them, I've been hurt by those very people. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings with my words, just expressing my opinion. This shouldn't have happened.
Images: You think there's hypocrisy in the industry...
SN: Industry? What industry?
Images: Our film industry?
SN: Our film industry was never like this. If Waheed Murad, Nadeem, Kamal, Muhammad Ali, Zeba, Deeba, Pervez Malik were hits from Karachi, they all went on to settle in the mother industry [Lahore].
So if the scenario has changed today... and the industry has revived in Karachi from where I always said it would, I didn't think they would bury the people who built the industry in the first place. I have 47 years of service, wrote 300 screenplays, directed 55 films... after all this, this is how I am treated... even my friends didn't text me 'Good luck', nobody said 'Don't worry about the feedback, they are false reports', it means they are seconding my critics. Still, have no complaints.
"The awaam considers me a real film man. I’ve been given the Sitara-e-Imtiaz. I’m satisfied," says the filmmaker.
This is my work, and Karachi is a great city of my homeland, and I will make movies here and in the Punjab and I will not back down.
Images: You said that you've also received positive feedback on the trailer. Surely, some of them were your friends?
SN: They were unknown people, those people who are film lovers. I don't know who they are. But I guess they know me. The awaam considers me a real film man. I've been given the Sitara-e-Imtiaz. I'm satisfied. My complaint is that where we should move together, there is no unity. Why are we dividing our strengths, our capabilities? I want to take the industry forward with my juniors because that's what I learned from my seniors.
Images: Clearly, you're setting an example with Chain Aye Na.....
SN: I wanted to cast both fresh and experienced talent. I saw that kids in Karachi are doing work on TV... But people have to understand that Pakistan has no film stars at present...
Images: That's quite a strong statement to make.
SN: ...a star who girls would wait to see on the big screen, a star who men who wait for.
Images: These days, Fawad Khan is quite popular... Mahira has quite a few fans...
SN: Yes, Fawad is one such example, but I don't consider any Pakistani actress a film star. But Fawad doesn't work in Pakistan.
Images: He has a few films in the pipeline...
SN: Fawad should try to serve Pakistan as much as he can. Because he has that charm, he can develop his presence as a filmstar. But still, there's yet to be a star like Shaan or Moammar Rana, Arbaaz Khan, Babar Ali – I'm talking about the juniors, there's no match for the seniors like Waheed Murad.
All of these so-called heroes are only TV heroes.
Images: Quite a few have made their film debuts. You think they haven't made an impact?
SN: A film star is one who brings in the audience in the first week of a film's release. Film tou baad may chalti hai. First you go to see the hero and heroine. I have more face value than the so-called hero, heroines of today.
So we have to create our superstars, when superstars are created, then the industry will run. Right now, we have none. At best, we have stars, TV stars.
Images: I'm very surprised by your statement. Perhaps no one has been able to match Waheed Murad's calibre, and you don't think Fawad has proven his mettle but there are lots of up and coming stars whose audiences from TV pour into cinemas to watch their film debuts. Like Sajal and Feroze...
SN: I don't know which film they starred in. How long did it run? Some weeks? Clearly, their audience didn't go to watch them.
Girls used to carry Waheed Murad's photo in their novels. If people would catch a glimpse of Rani on the street, there'd be a traffic jam.
Here, I see girls and boys roam the airport like they're nobodies. No one even wants to take a selfie with them. Charisma, presence... all that is missing.
Images: Another thing, you're keen on promoting 'the legacies of legends,' as you call it. But these days, there's a lot of talk about nepotism in Bollywood, some say there should be no favouritism based on which family you belong to. What's your take on this?
SN: The perception may have changed now, but earlier we used to see that it's a few families who are running Bollywood. There are exceptions like Shah Rukh and Aamir. But the thing is, generations of the Kapoor family, Roshan family, Chopra family are engaged in the business and I think it's very important.
Children should serve the industry of their fathers, be a role model. So people don't say that we've distanced our own children from film and invite others to join the line. If I say to a father that I want to cast your daughter in my film, he'll ask me to introduce my daughter to the industry first.
My daughter should come forward. I told my daughters that if they want to join films, they should. But they didn't have the temperament. One is a scientist in America, another is in education. My son Shahzil is studying but after that he'll join the industry.
Images: When you received the LSA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015, you said in an interview that you felt that you were being asked to retire. Is that really how you felt?
SN: That isn't what I said. I'm very proud of having achieved their award and Nadeem sahib said very kind words for me. But it's a common perception that such awards are a way to tell people that you've done what you wanted to do in life, now move to the side.
I want to challenge that perception. I am continuing my career as a student and a new director and writer who wishes to work in this new age of filmmaking. I want to move ahead, I don't want to stop.
Images: When do you think a director's career ends?
SN: When he dies.
Till this date, I don't understand why people say that 'So-and-so artist has gotten old. New people should come in.' After so many years of service, when the artist finally knows the work, has developed skills, has honed his mind, and you say to give him the boot. It's the same for directors, writers, music directors.
When a heroine hits 40, they say she can no longer be a heroine. Why not? Write roles for her, the most difficult roles you can imagine like Jane Fonda, Julia Roberts, Angelina Jolie. We've made skilled artistes like Anjuman and Barbra Sharif retire. I've made Saima do all sorts of roles, she caused a ruckus when she came on TV, there's not one artist who can compete with even one expression of hers.
Images: You had many films in the pipeline — Bhai Wanted, your project with Aamir Liaquat — what's the update on those?
SN: Bhai Wanted is complete. I had discussed a project with Aamir Liaquat but he is so busy that our schedules have not synchronised.
So I started Chain Aye Na instead. My film Price of Honour is also ready for release. It's one thing to make a film, but putting it up is another. What's the point of making a film when no one sees it? Have to place it right. I'll probably release Bhai Wanted in September. Price of Honour will be for festivals.
Images: Did you really think Sharmeen stole the idea for her documentary from Price of Honour?
SN: I didn't say that. Other people asked me. They knew Price of Honour was in post-production and asked me how is it that she made a film called Price of Forgiveness. Sharmeen should have thought of this. Her film wasn't even about honour killing, she used an incorrect slogan, it's about some other topic, I don't know. But I have no complaints from her. Besides, what she made was a documentary, not a film. Our journalists don't know the difference.
Images: And what about the Aaina sequel you were making with Shabnam and Nadeem?
SN: I'll start shooting it in September. I'm shooting in Canada.
Syed Noor's film Chain Aye Na is slated for release Aug 11.