Rising name has sights set on international footprint as his latest film comes out…
THAT the Pakistani film industry is in a state of positive firmament few would deny right now and there are some interesting east-west connections.
US-born Shaz (Shazli Hafeez) Khan is a rising star and sees himself (and there are a few others like him) as a ‘bridge’ between what is going on there and the West.
You can see Khan in the Pakistani air force blockbuster movie ‘Parwaaz Hai Junoon’(‘Soaring is a passion’/‘flying is a passion’) which enjoyed a glitzy London launch on Wednesday (August 22) ahead of its August 24 release. (See London launch story/review here).
Khan was not present but stars Hamza Ali Abbasi, Ahad Raza Mir and debutant, Hania Amir and top producer, Momina Duraid, were.
A sort of Pakistani ‘Top Gun’, Khan plays an air force pilot who is betrothed to Fiza (Kubra Khan) and his best buddy Hamza (Hamza Ali Abbasi) meets Sania (Hania Amir) and there are sparks…
Made with the assistance of the Pakistan Air Force, it’s been much praised for its action sequences and puts a young woman with an ambition to be a combat fighter pilot centre screen.
Khan is more than happy to be part of this wave of activity in Pakistani cinema, but has a wider and more international outlook in the long-term.
Raised in Islamabad and then Karachi between the age of four and 11, his family returned to California, following his primary schooling.
He then pursued his education in the US, majoring in finance and then working two years in a such a role for a bank in Washington DC.
He jacked it in, having been caught by the acting bug and participating in short films.
He enrolled at the prestigious Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University in New York.
In London, earlier this month, he spoke to www.asianculturevulture.com about his ambitions and how he sees the Pakistani film industry as someone who is both an outsider and insider now by virtue of his work.
This includes the critically acclaimed ‘Moor’ (2015), ‘Dobara Phir Se’ (2016) and the popular TV series, ‘Yaqeen Ka Safar’.
His current personal project is raising the final tranche of funds which will help him make a US-based film, titled ‘The Martial Artist’, which he has written himself.
While he is in demand in Pakistani cinema and TV, he told acv, he didn’t have qualms about taking on more work as an actor.
“It’s wherever there is a quality of work. I just want to happen to tell Pakistani American stories.
“In Hollywood, no one is going to tell those stories, you have to tell them yourself. That is the mission.”
There is not a huge amount of cinema about the Pakistani American experience, but both Kumail Nanjiani’s ‘The Big Sick’ and to a lesser degree,TV’s ‘The Night of’ with Riz Ahmed winning an Emmy for his role in that, have opened up a space for US filmmakers wanting to tell Pakistani American stories.
“Both Riz Ahmed and Kumail Nanjiani are breaking the mould for brown actors and fuelling the interest in Pakistani Americans,” pointed out Khan.
His own experience as an actor trying to break into the industry has shaped his thinking about his next step Stateside.
“What’s funny is that I look like the native of every country I go to and whatever cinema is playing in that country.
“It really worked against me when I was starting out, I couldn’t play desi (South Asian), because I didn’t look desi enough, I couldn’t play American because I didn’t look American enough, it was nothing to do with my talent or work.”
He rather stumbled into Pakistani cinema.
“I went to a random audition on a random trip to Pakistan. It was serendipitous – there was a part of me that always wanted to work in Pakistani cinema, without there ever being a cinema there.”
‘Moor’ was a critical success and premiered at the Busan International Film Festival and Pakistan entered the film in the foreign language category of the Oscars that year.
Khan has adapted his acting style and worked on his Urdu but said his foundation in the language was relatively strong.
“The aesthetics of storytelling is different, everything is a bit more heightened. I’ve been bringing my subtle act into my films, and people say you always look different in your films.”
While Pakistani cinema is in a healthy phase, Khan feels there are some areas that require work and improvement.
“I think that’s something Pakistan really needs to work on – focusing on the scripts and screenplays and get better at it. It will happen, but it requires people to work on that.”
As a screenwriter, he thinks getting more foreign writers into the Pakistani film industry from the diaspora in US or UK will help and that has been the experience of Indian films 10 years or so.
When he left his top finance job, his parents were none too pleased.
“They were devastated – it was very dramatic and they said – ‘what are you doing?’. My mother would avoid talking to my aunties about this, but now, she loves it and she came with me to an awards ceremony in Toronto and I am like the star of the community.”
* Parwaaz Hai Junoon is out now in the UK