“You’re just damaging your own industry.”
Having made her big screen debut with a memorable cameo in Asim Raza’s Ho Mann Jahan, actor Syra Shahroz took on her first major role in a motion picture with Umer Adil’s Chalay Thay Saath, which made its way to cinema last month. Essaying the role of Resham, she was joined by an eclectic cast in the film that included Canadian-Chinese actor, Kent S. Leung, Zhalay Sarhadi, Faris Khalid, Mansha Pasha and Osama Tahir.
Currently wrapping up her second major cinematic outing, the highly anticipated action-thriller, Project Ghazi (in which she is starring alongside Sheheryar Munawar and Humayun Saeed), Shahroz took out time from her busy schedule recently to discuss a number of matters including how negative reviews have affected the prospects of CTS…
Instep: Chalay Thay Saath is definitely a departure from the Bollywood influence. Why did you choose it as your debut film?
Syra Shahroz (SS): It actually wasn’t. But the producers made a conscious decision to not have any Bollywood influence in the film and even though our audience sort of craves the masala and the item numbers, I just felt it was just very different from what I had heard before in other scripts. It just clicked when Beenish (the producer) narrated the story to me.
Instep: Chalay Thay Saath has not been able to generate strong box office numbers nor did it win over film critics. Who do you blame?
SS: I feel the reviews were a little too harsh, but then this industry can be very unpredictable. Chalay Thay Saath was a feel-good film, close to our roots and the initial reviews were not even remotely positive. People had to rethink before going to cinemas, but I guess due to word-of-mouth, the turnout has had gradual progression. I was very disappointed. I look at my work through a very critical eye, I literally watched it to criticize myself and I agree, there were loopholes, but that doesn’t make it a bad film. We will never have a stable film industry if this is how we support our films. It left a very bad taste in my mouth, because we can’t let people think twice before making films, let alone make the audience unsure. You’re just damaging your own industry this way.
Instep: Chalay Thay Saath mostly had a debutant star cast. Do you believe in star value and cinematic pull?
SS: It does play a major role. Half of your audience is there because they’ve been pulled in by the actors they wish to see on the big screen. Having a powerful cast surely plays a vital role, but then Chalay Thay Saath required a fresh cast. The film’s team did approach a lot of established artists, I don’t deny that, but I do believe that that would’ve had a stigma attached to it. Even though the screen-time was distributed well amongst the characters, I know everyone wants to take their careers a certain way and some films fit into their graphs and some don’t. Everyone’s skeptical to some degree, which is completely fine.
Instep: With respect to Chalay Thay Saath, were you ever concerned about screen-space or execution?
SS: Screen-space is a concern for some, but not for me. I feel you need to pick a strong role, give it your best and you’ll probably stand out as a result. I knew it was an ensemble cast, but I also knew that the story revolves around Resham’s character and that is why I took it up. And even though, if I had lesser screen-time compared to any other character, I wouldn’t have minded that because I know it’s a very strong character.
My criteria of taking up any project has firstly been the content and secondly, the brains behind it. I enjoy collaborating with people who are ready to go out there with creativity and push their boundaries, and that is something I saw in Umer and Beenish. They had done their homework. They knew what they wanted, they knew their shot division, the locations and they were very well-prepared. In fact, Chalay Thay Saath has partly been inspired by true events and they’ve (the producers) derived the story from when they visited the northern region earlier on.
I’m not going to lie, I was a bit concerned looking at the films that we’ve been making in the recent past, but then I realized that this is just the teething period for our industry. We can’t fully blame our filmmakers because the audience now needs to decide what they wish to see. They’ve either seen Hollywood or Bollywood, and so we end up taking inspiration from our neighbors. We need to understand that Bollywood is a huge industry, but as similar, as our cultures are, they’re also poled apart. We’ve been brought up with different values and that is something we cannot deny.
Instep: Most films made in Pakistan in recent memory have been romantic-comedies including Chalay Thay Saath. Do you think filmmakers are playing it safe?
SS: There are a million ways of doing a rom-com. I don’t think filmmakers want to step into a serious genre right now. We are experimenting with bringing in a bit of this and a bit of that in our movies but unfortunately, most of it isn’t really clicking. We need to start highlighting our own people and culture, and with Chalay Thay Saath we’ve created a world that actually exists. But even then, if you’re playing it safe or trying out something different, you’re bashed for it. So if playing it safe manages to entertain the people, I think it’s acceptable for the time being.
Instep: In Project Ghazi, you play a scientist called Zara. Tell us about her?
SS: The exciting part about this particular role is that it is all about women empowerment and showing their stronger side. Zara is not just another character in the film; she has a journey of her own and is discovering and constantly searching for answers. I loved how despite being a superhero film, Project Ghazi is not all about the men and the woman is not just there as eye-candy. It offers substance and has a vital part in taking the story (and by extension the movie) forward.
Instep: Project Ghazi is being touted as Pakistan’s first superhero film. Considering the fact that the industry is not technically sound just yet, did you have hesitations related to execution?
SS: For a film like Project Ghazi, one needs to fully trust the director because there haven’t been any films made like that. I have my concerns as an actor, I improvise and I need the director to make me believe why I need to do a certain scene a certain way. Nadir Khan (the director) has shot Project Ghazi very differently; he keeps changing your emotions and tests your range as a performer. He knows what he wants, I might not see it initially but when he explains it to me, we are always on the same page.