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Spotlight: Shaan

Walking into Shaan's home, you're greeted by the unexpected. There's none of the machismo or narcissism one associates with the last superhero of Pakistani cinema. He may have played the thoroughbred, angry male in countless films but none of that is visible in the place he calls home. There are no large self-imposing portraits or framed film awards; you only see a couple of black and white images of his father and then more and more paintings, Van Gogh replicas to be exact. Stacks of books on art and architecture lie around his lounge and the only reference to his macho image are the horse bust sculptures, an equestrian love "that comes from being an Aitchisonian," he says.

hatting with him, one understands why he's so revered; Shaan connects with people. We meet late at night, when his weekly Sunday is over - his mother, brothers and entire family have left - and his wife Amina, wearing a casual tee shirt over a shalwar, is putting their daughter Bahisht to bed as a docile Labrador strolls around.

Even at this hour, Shaan makes it a point to step out and shake hands with my driver who just cannot get over the fact that he is meeting the Shaan. This real life scene makes the national heart throb look even more endearing.

We walk over the freshly dug up garden that he's been working on. His love for gardening goes beyond the fence; he switches on the lights in his daughter's bedroom to reveal an old peepul tree retained within. It's an intriguing picture, especially when associated with an actor better known for his porcupine stiff moustaches and batons. We finally settle down in his lounge and Shaan begins talking about his life today – the films, the ads, the videos and the secret to balancing the life he lives with the world that is Lollywood… You've finally finished shooting for Shoaib Mansoor's film Khuda Ke Liye. How was the experience?

Shaan: Shoaib saab does amazing work - he's very particular about what he does. But he's not a simple person to work with and neither am I. Our chemistry went haywire initially – he had problems with trusting me and I couldn't work without that trust. He told me he didn't want a regular Lollywood Shaan, so I asked him whether he would be able to bear the real me? Lollywood only demands my presence, that's it. I call the shots. But when you want me to 'act' and be my true self, don't expect me to shoot at 9 am. I don't function that early. If you want 'me' then you let me be 'me'. For me a film is about deadlines and I can define my character within a day. Shoaib saab is totally different. He's a great guy but I didn't want him to have any miscalculations about my professionalism. Why is the film taking so long in the making?

Shaan: The whole episode of Ali Zafar was traumatic. The film almost had to close as after two weeks shooting he said "meri ammi ne kaha hai ke film nahin karni." I mean, can he do that? Is it that simple? But when he didn't want to do it, we had to reshoot. He was playing my younger brother who is now being played by that musician guy – he's a really cool guy – ET, no…EP's vocalist. Jehanzeb…Zeeshan…I don't remember his name. (It's Fawad, Shaan!) How can you not remember your co-actor's name?

Shaan: Oh, I only had a few shots with him. But he was a good looking, cool guy. Then there was a huge mix up in my dates as well. Shoaib saab booked the dates with me and then changed them. Initially I couldn't fit it in my next slot but then I did. Everything added to the delays. How was the experience of working with Naseeruddin Shah and Iman?

Shaan: I didn't meet Naseer as I didn't have any scenes with him.
Most of my work was in Chicago. I worked with Iman a bit, but what can I say? Models think very highly of themselves. They need to understand that every different kind of work requires a different kind of expertise. They think that by being good models, they're good actresses. Look at what they're doing in dramas. So working with a musician and model wasn't that great?

Shaan: I'm saying that you just can't be an actor or a musician or a model. You have to aspire for more. I've never taken acting as the last thing I do. I have politics in my mind. I'm running Fifth Element (his marketing agency), I made two videos for Mobilink – one with Madame Noorjehan's song and the other with Mehdi Hassan for August 14. Sure, do more but at least know what you're doing. With a little training these guys can do much better. With directing, producing, making videos and even TV programs, you're also stepping into new territories.

Shaan: In 2006 and it's all about programming. There are 24 more channels coming out and no quality. We're making sitcoms and comedy plays. I've picked up about five professionals from the film industry. Channels are swarming with college students who need to focus. You cannot make foolish plays and think they're funny. They're not. Enough of the rubber bands and the NCA productions, Jutts, Butts, nuts and all that crap. We've already done Jutts and Butts in films – they need to come up with something better. They need to go through the grind. What has entertainment come to? We have a cross dresser on TV taking everyone for a ride. He's asked me to come many times but I refuse to go. I have some rules. I don't want to go and be haggled by some gay guy. Yet people are okay with him.

So I've utilized technicians from the film industry and given them my aesthetics. NCA boys come with an attitude: ghar sey saab ban ke aate hain. Their theses are sold in colleges; it's all fun and games for them. But we have a responsibility. We should not make foolish attempts. To make good programs these boys should come forth with their technical value. You mean to say that with technical expertise our films can compete with the world.

Shaan: We have private financers who cannot afford the budget to make a good film. But yes, it's only that. Nothing else. Are the storylines not pathetic?

Shaan: No, the technical expertise is the only thing lacking to make a complete circle. It's that one thing that has messed up the entire system. Majajan and Mujhe Chand Chahiye were right moment films. But I lost money on them because the elite never pay. I made more money off Moosa Khan. We have the stories. I've been trying to sell the story of Veronica Decides to Die from the day I read it but no one will touch it. I give them ideas they don't want to touch. We lack the technical finesse because we lack finances. We have the stories. You talk about social responsibility and good stories so what do you have to say about films like Moosa Khan?

Shaan: What about Moosa Khan? Look at their films. They are anti Pakistan and that makes them anti Islam. Sure, two wrongs don't make a right but if you throw a stone at my house, I'll throw one at yours. The magic of the anti-Hindu sentiment worked. If the film had aired during times of the India-Pakistan cricket tournaments or the peace process, it would have failed. But it was aired when anti-India sentiments were at a peak. What about Hindus living in Pakistan?

Shaan: What about Muslims living in India? What about Gujarat and Babri Mosque? So how can films be promoted?

Shaan: Cinemas should be made essential to every locality. A cinema in Gulberg should be as important as the water tank or the police station. Then import films. Get Hollywood, Chinese films, sub title them. Taj Mahal was brought in. How do you feel about that?

Shaan: We should not put up Indian films until we have grown enough to be at par with them. Indian films have progressed because of people like Raj Kapoor who used to take free films around to be screened. All Indians should thank him. But no one wants to listen in Pakistan. How can Pakistani films create a market for themselves now?

Shaan: When Pushto films recently opened up in Afghanistan and I told all these guys who make Pushto films to take their films for free and make a market for themselves. These idiots didn't listen. The embassies do nothing, absolutely nothing. Our governments make it impossible for the world to access our entertainment. After partition Jalandher TV was kept alive and it served as a great bridge. Now they've made it so difficult with the visas and NOCs. Reshma, Ghulam Ali, even Nusrat Fateh Ali, so many of our stars go and perform privately. The government does not support their profession. They don't allow them to have concerts and this is the only reason why you'll find a million people at a Lata concert but Nusrat performing at a private sitting. Indians are now dubbing their films in Pushto and sending them. We don't have policies. Around seven to eight Pushto films are made a month in Pakistan. They could have generated crores for the industry, but didn't. These people are clueless. So what you're saying is that contrary to common belief, cinema hasn't died in Pakistan?

Shaan: Cinema hasn't died. The faculty of getting to the cinema has died. If I can put up a home theatre system that gives me the same, perhaps even better experience, why will I go to the cinema? Good cinema, bad cinema, understand that everything works and everything sells. I still make money out of Lollywood. Why else would I stick around? I've done 30 films this year already. Lifebuoy sells. Lollywood is the Lifebuoy of cinema. Then why are cinemas closing down?

Shaan: Cinemas are closing because our production has come from 140 to 30 as there are no financiers. Cinema prices have gone up that's why production has gone down. Naghma cinema sold out to Chevrolet for 15 lakhs a month in rent. The attitude is wrong. Would we sell Minar-e-Pakistan if we got enough money?

Property prices are sky rocketing. Cinemas were built on 20 canal spaces and that land can mint money now. Since everyone wants to make a buck out of real estate and cinema owners are not putting their money in making films, they are shutting them down and selling off the land. Cinema owners should be involved in producing films. That's the business of retail. That's why Chenab Textiles is successfully running Chen One. The same rules apply to films. Cinemas were built over prime space. Cinemas built over land worth 30 lakhs suddenly became a crore per canal. Nobody said no to selling them off. There is no law. You cannot take over parks so why are people taking over cinemas? Look at what Seth Abid did. He took down Auriga Cinema and promised to build another cinema. It's been 30 years and it hasn't been done. These people are just not interested. What will they do with so much money? No one wants to do anything for the people.

I have advised the Pakistan Horticulture Society to take free films from me. Just give me one wall in every park and two security guards to make sure no one steals the speakers – run these films inclusive of ticket price. The big bang theory will not work. It'll happen gradually. It just requires money. They have managed to make high priced localities in Defense out of an area that was a katchi abadi. They can revive cinemas if they want to. But entertainment is so far down on their priority list. Don't you think it's justified, since the government is still struggling with core issues like drinking water and food?

Shaan: The common man has absolutely no form of entertainment. He used to have alcohol but even that was taken away from him. The elite is still drinking but for the common man, alcohol has been replaced by drugs and now heroin is the escape for him. First he would have a couple of drinks at night and be sober in the morning. Now, as an addict, he takes his entire family down with him. This is the sort of society we live in. You need to give that man who drives a rickshaw all day some sort of relaxation. How can it be justified to take one form of pleasure away from the common man?

This attitude is why cinema is suffering. If people didn't want to watch films I wouldn't be making money out of them. I want to bring entertainment to the masses and films are the only thing left that come from the top and go to the grass root bottom. There's too much depression, suppression. These films give them two hours of pleasure. They do. These people have no where to be entertained. We have pushed them to a point where they have nothing. Where should they go? We give them films. Now I cannot judge their choice. I can guide them but nothing more. Look at the literacy rate. This is what they enjoy.

At this point a member of his staff wheels in a trolley full of fried goodies, fruit, tea and more. This is Punjabi hospitality at its best: even at 11.30, after having a feast, it is normal to serve and eat as if there's no tomorrow. The servants hover around with hero worship in their eyes, until they are told they need not wait on us. The interview continues as Shaan digs into one potato cutlet after another… What do you enjoy? How do you balance between someone who is the face of Lollywood and someone who appears in high budget ads and appreciates Armani suits and Van Gogh paintings?

Shaan: Lollywood is just one thing that I do. I enjoy both films and ads but the force lies in the masses, not the Mobilink ad. I was taken for the ad because of who I am. They didn't have a choice. There is no one else. In films people appreciate me more, love me more, there's more respect. Their hands tremble when they approach me for an autograph. That's the power I enjoy. I am loved by the people. When I go to my friends' places, their servants, maids, maalis and entire staff of hired help showers me with adoration. I'm not paying them to do it. This is love. You've been criticized for the way you hosted the Lux Style Awards. What do you say about that?

Shaan: The script was crap. I told them so. I would have wanted a wittier script. You also danced on stage for the first time?

Shaan: Yes and it's not something I enjoyed. The dancing wasn't me. There have been rumours that you're planning to work on a film in India?

Shaan: I'm not working with any Indian or any other cross border producer unless my government comes up with an agreement. I want to be fully backed up and sponsored; not arriving in India like an orphan. It has to be done on a government level where we exchange information, sign MOUs, have workshops. I will not go alone to work alone. There has to be an exchange of information. I have four scripts lying with me; from Sudhir Mishra, Subhash Ghai and Mahesh Bhatt. I need neither the money nor more fame. Every Pakistani around the world knows me. How do you feel about Meera going to India?

Shaan: Meera's always been doing what she wants to do. As part of the industry it's shameful what she's done but she has come far. She is not a dumb person. All the jokes that you here about her are part of the image she wants to project. She's not a dumb bimbo. You're such a supporter of cinema then why have you never been part of the Kara Film Festival held every year?

Shaan: I've never been asked to. What do you have to say about the Council for Promotion of Sufism?

Shaan: Sufism is how Islam came to Pakistan and it is the true softer side of our religion where one preaches forgiveness as opposed to aag ke badle aag, so its promotion is really good. But again, it needs to be offered to the masses. We already know what Sufism is. The fanatics need to be exposed to it. People who monitor blast bombs and have rallies on Mall Rod. How does this council propose to do that? They've made CDs that'll be circulated amongst the elite. Arre baba, we know what Sufism is. If you want to promote it, promote it through films that go through to the masses. They need to be spreading the message of the simplicity. Sufism is not Abida Parveen or Nusrat Fateh Ali. You can't take it to them through songs; they'll not understand the poetry. They should call in professionals. Till then they're only playing games. They take a dhol walla to Royal Albert and call him saeen. They should do it properly. If you're going to London, take the best and invite the best from India. Most of the talent in India went from here; from Bismillah Khan to Shahrukh Khan. Does Khuda ke Liye have a Sufic storyline?

Shaan: No, it's heavily religious. It's about misunderstandings and displaced identities of Pakistanis in Pakistan and in the States. The film is about those people who belong nowhere. The film has no masala but a touch of romance and good songs. But it's half in English and not at all for the grass-root masses And when do you think the film will be released?

Shaan: Only God or Shoaib saab can answer that. But according to my calculations it should've been released by now.

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