Missing in ‘action!’: The silent star of Silent Waters
KARACHI: The critically acclaimed ‘Khamosh Pani’ was the journey of Saleem Khan that starts as a teenager who falls in love with a schoolgirl named Zubeida and ends as a religious extremist. The real life journey of Aamir Aali Malik, the actor who played Saleem, has not turned out to be any different: he ended up on the extreme end of success after a brief stint of fame.
With his torn clothes, long hair and skeletal appearance, you’d confuse him for any other drug addict who roams the streets of Karachi.
“I am the idiot you knew as Saleem from ‘Khamosh Paani’. Look at this,” he pulls out the film’s DVD from his jacket, pointing to his picture on its cover, “this is me.”
“Unfortunately, Saleem is dead. In fact, Aamir died with Saleem. Now you are talking to ‘Amar’, a being who lives at the mercy of this earth and the sky above.”
Partly drugged and partly melancholic, Malik recalls and explains how he ended up on the streets – literally. “What happened to Ghalib, Bhagat Singh, Chandra Shekhar Azad, Bhutto and Bugti is what will happen to me, people will only realise my importance once I die.”
Why does he compare himself to past masters like Ghalib when he hasn’t really done anything apart from one great film? “I couldn’t do anything big after my first film because I was born in Pakistan. This is such a discouraging place that even a person like Che Guevara wouldn’t survive.”
His train of thought is not very cohesive. He blames black magic and other ‘sinister tricks’ used by his contemporaries and family members for his current situation. But some of the very senior artists who don’t know of his whereabouts today remember him as a passionate but unprofessional actor with drug issues.
Nevertheless, Malik’s version of the story doesn’t end here. He mentions an Indian actress who made her big screen debut with him in Khamosh Pani and went on to become a prominent actor in Bollywood.
He finishes his cup of tea and sighs. “And after all this suffering, you want me to go back to acting? You, this world, especially this entertainment industry, have no respect for an artiste’s emotions”.
“Shilpa is Amar and Amar is Shilpa. No one is ever going to change that,” he talks of his love. “I know I was stupid to have fallen in love so early in my acting career, but then again, emotions have no boundaries. I will remain an artiste and she’ll continue to be a star,” he smirks.
Malik’s parents passed away in Quetta when he was six years old. But his passion for film brought him to Karachi and eventually made him part of a film that went on to win a number of Golden Leopard Awards.
Veteran actor Arshad Mehmood recalls, “I remember the young lad very well from the sets of Khamosh Pani and I think he had done a pretty good job in the film.” His interaction with Malik did not stop after the shooting of the film as he was a frequent visitor of Mehmood’s studio and also of his office at the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa). “I even advised him to join the academy, because all an actor at that age needs is a crash course in professionalism. But he didn’t show much interest, probably because he had achieved so much recognition so early in his career.”
But for someone like Malik, Khamosh Pani was just the beginning of a journey that had eventually led him to Aamir Khan’s Rang De Basanti. Senior filmmaker and producer Farooq Mengal confirms these claims and considers that trip to India a wasted opportunity for the now-missing actor.
“I was supposed to play Bhagat Singh in the film and Abhishek Bachan was supposed to play the Air Force pilot. But then Rakesh told me to be a consultant for the character of the Muslim boy played by Kunal Kapoor. I had to teach him the behaviour of and the way of life of a typical Muslim family in India. And for that, he used to give me pick and drop from my hotel in Andheri.”
Amar or Aamir continues to roam the streets of Karachi like any other homeless person. But he has one request: he wants another copy of Khamosh Pani. “Those street kids constantly harass me. They haggled me into ‘borrowing’ the DVD and only returned the case.”
He also wants a director who understands him – he has a script in mind.