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Spotlight: Syed Noor

Syed Noor has done it again. His Majajan became a nationwide success and helped local industry get rid of the Gujjar and badmash flicks that had been polluting the screen for some time. Undoubtedly the best film director in Pakistan, he believes that he enjoys a prolonged and successful inning because he has always been fond of experiments.

“After my maiden venture, Qasam, in 1994, I wanted to make a trendsetter Urdu film in an era when Punjabi films were at their peak. By using new artistes, I managed to churn out successes like Jeeva (Resham and Babar Ali’s debut) and Sargam (Zeba Bakhtiar and Adnan Sami’s debut) in an era where Sultan Rahi’s presence guaranteed box-office success. I am proud of my contribution, as the Urdu cinema benefited from these successful ventures.”

But the man behind countless hits isn’t happy with the kind of work being produced these days. “After a short revival, Urdu movies began to bomb at the box office as most Punjabi directors couldn’t handle the transformation. It was then, at the brink of the collapse of Punjabi cinema, that I decided to team up Moammar Rana and Saima for Choorian, which became a hit because of its music, story and acting. It led to the revival of Punjabi cinema, but the effort was wasted by directors who were unable to bag onto this success and made meaningless films.”

So why did he wait so long for Majajan? “I couldn’t digest that my good work was going down the drain, so I waited for the right time. Since Punjabi cinema was being polluted with vulgarity, illogical story lines and nudity, I announced a soft musical Punjabi film — Majajan — with 12 songs. The critics, as always, labelled it as a flop even before it was shot, since they debated that people can’t tolerate even four songs; how could they bear as many as 12. I was adamant and knew that this was exactly what people wanted to see and went ahead with it. Majajan broke many records and has yet again led to a revival of local cinema.”

Both Choorian and Majajan gave a tough time to their competitors from abroad. “When Choorian was released, it did more business in Pakistan than Titanic while Majajan wiped out its competition — Indian movies Taj Mahal and Mughal-i-Azam.” Speaking of Bollywood, is screening their movies in our cinemas beneficial to local industry? “I am totally against screening Indian films in our cinema and the trend of Pakistani actors going to India as a goodwill gesture.

They end up working in B-class films, taking roles they would never go for in Pakistan. There is a line of actors and actresses in India waiting for a chance in their own industry, so why would they use our performers who haven’t done anything credible in their own country? Only Moammar was truly a star since he had delivered landmark films in Pakistan. He deserved a longer, better role in India, which unfortunately he didn’t get and lost his place as the leading hero, even in Lollywood.

“For Meera and Sana, such a move was more of a shortcut to fame, which failed, resulting in an insult both to Lollywood and Pakistan. The kind of films Meera did there, what good have they achieved for her? No one in India watched those movies so how can they expect people in Pakistan to watch them?”

In the past 12 years, Syed Noor has headed the elite list of revolutionary directors in Pakistan, followed by Shaan and Javed Sheikh. “When I made an entry as a film director, my mentors, S. Sulaiman and Javed Fazil sahib were moving to TV; hence I had to work really hard to replace them. I entered the film industry in 1971 and it took me more than 20 years to realize that I was fit to become a director.

“It is time for us to impart skills and knowledge to newcomers who are sadly not coming along. The directors who migrated from TV couldn’t do well because film is a different medium and they should get to know it better. I am also quite hopeful that Javed Sheikh and Shaan would continue and deliver quality films. I am really fond of these two actors who have successfully ventured into films. But I haven’t been much impressed with their work so far and I expect more from both of them with Javed showing maturity in Yeh Dil Aapka Hua. As for Shaan, he takes direction half-heartedly and should get serious to become a great director.”

So will he turn to TV after the failure of Zakham, his maiden mini-TV serial based on revenge, featuring Izhar Qazi and Saleem Sheikh? “I am planning to make a comeback on TV both as a scriptwriter and a director, with not one but two plays. But the difference between my plays and others being shown these days is that it would feature local cast, would not be of 100 episodes and above all, would tackle meaningful subjects.”

Music always has played an integral part in Noor’s ventures. From Sargam where he introduced Adnan Sami Khan to M. Arshad’s Jeeva and Hawaein, Amjad Bobby’s Ghoonghat, Sangam, Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman and Deewane Tere Pyar Ke and Zulfiqar Ali’s Choorian, all his films have had thebest of songs and singers. “Going to India for playback singing at a time when they are asking our pop artistes to perform in their films is a very inappropriate step by our producers and directors. It shows lack of confidence on the part of both the industries.

India may have good playback singers but that doesn’t mean that we don’t. I used Adnan Sami, Arshad Mehmood, Waris Baig, Anwar Rafi, Shazia Manzoor and Ameer Ali because I had confidence in their abilities and that is why they were successful. We also don’t value our assets and that is why artistes like Adnan Sami, whom I introduced to films in Pakistan, move to India for greener pastures.”

Some of Noor’s meaningful films have suffered loss at the box-office but he doesn’t let such hindrances stop him from taking up subjects that no one talks about. “I have had my share of flops as no director in the world has always been successful. Although many of my films from which I expected a lot were not successful at the box office, they don’t make me regret the steps. Hum Aik Hain, based on the issue of sectarianism, couldn’t do well but I am content with that effort, since it brought to the forefront a problem that was never discussed before.”

Syed Noor is also planning to direct Heer Ranjha. “The film would have Majajan heroine Saima and either Shaan or Moammar playing the romantic lead and would bring to screen the romantic folk tale in a different manner. I am also planning Urdu films Jhoomar and Bhai which I am sure will play an integral part in the revival of our cinema.”

But his prized venture would be an international film Izzat Ki Qeemat in Urdu with English subtitles, which he plans to present at the Cannes Film Festival next year. The Price of Honour, as it would be titled, will be a production of Paragon Entertainment, which also produced Majajan. “The film, which would be Lollywood’s first attempt at parallel cinema, will deal with the subjects of honour killings in Pakistan and would focus on the Hudood Ordinance.

It would be for adults only and would be an experiment since it would have no songs and the run time would be 110 minutes. Producer Afzal M. Khan and I have penned the script together and we plan to make it big with an entirely new cast.”

So where does Syed Noor see the film industry after the success of Majajan? “I don’t see a change in the local film industry even after the success of Majajan because one film cannot make a difference. By making Majajan, I have played my part and it is now up to others to bank on its success and make meaningful films that would make us proud of our film industry.”

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