By Omair Alavi
Pakistan’s film industry has been doing well for the last couple of years but the resurgence has been due to love stories, comedies and a few films that cater to both the genres. Apart from Ismail Jilani’s Chambaili and Bilal Lashari’s Waar, a handful of years back, no film has dared to touch the heart of a patriotic Pakistani who loves his country but is unable to do something for it, rather than voting in the elections. Besides these two films, no director managed to touch the patriotic nerve of cinegoers who stayed away from theatres only to visit it once in a blue moon. That is going to change with Ashir Azeem’s Maalik, all set to release in theatres worldwide on April 8.
What Makes Maalik Different?
Maalik is about Pakistan; about the common people who nobody cares about, about the countless soldiers who have given their life defending their motherland and finally those politicians who use power as if it was their birth right. In the film, there are multiple plots that will keep the audience engaged unlike the one-dimensional narrative that our films have been churning out since ‘revival’. It is different in every aspect as the comedy here is subtle not slapstick, the action is close to reality than the dhishum dhishum one and the message is clear – take ownership of your country if you want to move ahead. Watching Maalik is guaranteed to make you feel better about your motherland and do something for its return, rather than expect it to gift you something for being one of the many sons of the soil.
Hard Hitting Dialogues
Ask any film enthusiast and they will say that having bombastic and powerful dialogues guarantee that the film will go on to become a hit. In Pakistan there was the great Riaz Shahid whereas in India, Salim Javed and Kader Khan had the power to mesmerize the audience with their script. Ashir Azeem also has that ability and for those who remember Dhuwan, it was the patriotic dialogues that appealed to the audience 20 years back. Even today that hasn’t changed and the way he has penned the dialogues shows that a lot of thought went into the creation of Maalik. When you hear Ehtesham Uddin announcing ‘Maalik mulazim ko dhamki nahi, notice deta hai’ you feel like standing up and hugging him because we, the people, are Pakistan’s Maalik and we must be the ones defining the duties of our leaders.
Then there is the Maalik oath for which every Pakistani can raise his or her right hand and repeat the words – ‘Main Pakistan ka shehri, Pakistan ka Maalik hoon, yeh zameen, yeh log meray hain’. The hard-hitting and patriotism-inducing words of this oath are likely to become a popular cry after the release of the film. They already have become popular on social media where people from all walks of life have posted/shared their oaths. The oath is not just words, it is a mindset changer since whoever reads it gets goosebumps, such is the power of the words. The audience waited a long time for Ashir’s return and his film has given them the chance to come to cinemas and watch their hero in action – be it through delivering dialogues or grenades.
Inspiring Crew, Inspiring Film
Ashir Azeem believes that he wouldn’t have been able to translate his vision on screen had the cast and crew not supported him in his quest. “I believe that the director is the captain of the ship and the more lenient he is with his colleagues, the better will be the results. The Director of Photography, Imran Ali excelled as did Sahir Ali Bagga with the compositions and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan with his vocals. All the actors who have worked in Maalik have done a good job and they fit the role like a glove. I must say that because of them, the burden on my shoulders as writer/director was quite less.”
Like his character of ASP Azher in Dhuwan, Ashir plays an SSG Commando in Maalik who has what it takes to win a battle. “I am glad that the team with which I worked in Maalik was thoroughly professional and easily the best in business. As a director I could have interfered with their work but I chose not to because with no interference, they managed to scale new heights.”
The Overdue Comeback
Who leaves showbiz after achieving success on their very first attempt? Ashir Azeem did that as he went into hibernation from showbiz soon after Dhuwan only to return 20 odd years later. “I never came into showbiz for the glory; I ventured into this field because I had a story to tell. Dhuwan was that story and it is valid even today; Maalik on the other hand takes it one step further because things have changed but not in a good way. Now we have two classes of people in the society–one that is the oppressor and the other is the oppressed. Maalik is targeted at those who have been subject to undue pressures for no fault of their own.”
Maalik targets the unjust elements in the society; while in one of the story the good guys rescue a kidnapped victim, in another they storm a villain’s hideout to complete a mission. There is blood, there are action sequences like never before and then there is the scene where the plane is shown maneuvering in front of a full moon, reminding you of Hollywood productions rather than the ones made across the border. There is also a plot in which Ashir’s real-life wife Bushra plays his better-half and the scenes between the couple give you a touch of reality.
The Dhuwan Connection
More than 20 years ago, drama serial Dhuwan aired and changed the concept of many with its nationalistic script, filming technique and above all, action sequences. Although the play was produced in Quetta, it was way ahead of its time since it dealt with narcotics, smugglers and computers – all that in 1993! It introduced Ashir Azeem to the audience as well as elongated the careers of Nabeel (Bulbulay fame), Nazli Nasr and Asal Din Khan. Twenty three years later, Ashir Azeem, the director, applies the same technique in selecting the cast members for Maalik and besides veterans Sajid Hasan, Farhan Ally Agha, Adnan Shah Tipu and Ehtasham Uddin, the cast comprises mostly newcomers to films. “I didn’t choose actors for my film, the characters chose the actors,” Ashir explains. “I could have easily gone for film stars but then they wouldn’t have looked the part and that is one of the many reasons I didn’t opt for regular faces.”
And then there are the action scenes – those who have watched Dhuwan remember the window-shattering stunt Ashir did himself to rescue a kidnapped victim. Two decades later, he writes that down in his script and let young guys execute it for the audience. “Dhuwan was an action series and believe me, the people at the helm of PTV didn’t want it to end.” The man behind the hit series discloses, “They wanted it to continue after a gap of few months as it was bringing in money and ratings at the same time. I had to end it literally because had I not done so, it would have continued and after a few months people would have wanted it to end. Nothing lasts forever especially if it makes a good impression at first and I wanted Dhuwan to stay in the memory of all those who loved it rather than succumb to the whims of PTV officials and make a mockery of my creation. Dhuwan started and ended at the perfect time and I hope that those who followed it will treat Maalik the same way; it’s not a sequel to it but painted in the same colours by the same painter. (Laughs)
What the Actors Had to Say
Veteran actor Sajid Hasan who plays Ashir Azeem’s father and an Army General in the film is all praise for the writer/director. “Ashir is an old friend and I have time for friends, always. Since acting is the only thing I can do, I supported Maalik by acting to the best of my abilities. Like his previous attempt Dhuwan, Maalik has all the ingredients of attracting audience. I am sure that the many fans of Ashir and Dhuwan would be waiting anxiously for this film.”
Actor/Director Ehtesham Uddin plays yet another powerful role in the film which he believes is close to his heart. “I play an idealistic schoolmaster in Maalik who is a man of principles; the character of Mohsin aka Arastoo is created very beautifully by Ashir and I am thankful to him for writing such beautiful dialogues. This schoolmaster is not like the teachers of today since he commands respect and believes in inspiring his students with his teachings and mannerism. My character also plays a dreamer who believes every person counts when it comes to the betterment of the country. People try to make him quit but he believes that once you are on the right path, you will emerge as the winner.”
When asked whether people would compare this role with that of Moosa in Chambaili, Ehtesham said that it was the dialogues that attracted him to both the films. “I am thankful to Shahzad Nawaz (Chambaili) and Ashir for giving me so powerful lines. Both the filmmakers were passionate about their work and that’s why I had a great time working in their movies. Yes, both characters had rebellious streak in them but Moosa isn’t Arastoo, they are quite different. They deliver what the audience wants them to say and I am glad both Shahzad and Ashir chose me for such roles.”
Farhan Ally Agha wants everyone who loves and associates with Pakistan to watch this film. “Maalik is about ownership of Pakistan and our responsibilities as a citizen of the nation. I play Major Haider in the film who is Ashir’s friend and the two have a history as batch-mates. We are shown to be idealistic law enforcement officials who believe in giving their best to the country but when they come in civil society, they realize that there is another war going on in the name of corruption and injustice. Unlike other films, Maalik deals with political and social issues which is a step forward for our industry. There are a lot of action sequences in the film and I would term it a complete entertainment package.”
Faizan Sheikh has made a name for himself in theatre but through Maalik, he will be making his film debut. “It was a great experience working on this project even though I am playing a smaller role. I got to learn a lot during the making of the film, since I am also a film student. The production was very prompt and made our life easier on set. It is every actor’s dream to work in a film and with Maalik it surely felt over the moon. I am excited to see the hype and good word of mouth for this project, people are looking forward to it and we surely wouldn’t disappoint our audience.”
The Final Notice
Maalik doesn’t threaten; Maalik gives notice… and that’s exactly what it has given to all the fans of Ashir Azeem out there. The film is all set to release on 8th April all over the world and is destined to do well since it has been made for Pakistan, by a patriotic Pakistani. The film got completed earlier this year but due to the World Cup T20 in India, its release was delayed by the producers. Its success might give courage to all those prospective film-makers out there who believe that without resources they can’t make a patriotic film. Maalik has been made from the heart and that’s what it takes to connect with the 20 million entertainment-deprived countrymen. Pakistan Zindabad!
Courtesy ISPR Hilal Magazine