THE impressive progress of Pakistani cinema is perfectly illustrated by the fact that three
high-profile movies are releasing this week.

The most ambitious and unique of the three Eid-ul-Adha films is high-flying action drama
Parwaaz Hai Junoon, which revolves around fearless fighter pilots and features eye-catching airplane sequences not seen in a Pakistani movie before.

A-list star Hamza Ali Abbasi plays the lead role in the multi-layered aerial drama, which also includes a message of female empowerment.

The talented actor is confident the Pakistani answer to Top Gun will add to the recent
momentum generated by the cinematic industry in his country.

Eastern Eye caught up with Hamza to talk about Parwaaz Hai Junoon, films, his future
hopes for Pakistan and more…

You have been at the forefront of campaigning for Pakistani cinema. You must be happy how it’s doing?

Yes, that is absolutely true! The past five years have been phenomenal as far as Pakistani cinema is concerned. From having one film a year or one every two years to now, Mashallah, having 10 or 12 good films coming out every year, it is a very positive sign for the future.

Yes, of course I am extremely proud and happy. Hopefully in 20, 30, 40 years, there will be a new generation making loads of great films in Pakistan and remember people like me as pioneers of the industry.

Why do you think that there has been such a resurgence?

I think the resurgence was there because of a realisation that if we are to take ourselves to the world, then the only effective way is through cinema. We have always had a great TV drama serial industry in Pakistan, so if we can do that why can’t we do cinema?

There were those initial guerrilla filmmakers who took the task on themselves and felt we need to come back to the glory days as far as cinema is concerned like in the 60s, 70s and 80s. There was a feeling of: ‘Why can’t we do it?’. That thought-process led to this re-emergence of Pakistani cinema. India is known throughout the world because of Bollywood, so why can’t we do the same? Instead of through news media like CNN or Fox, we want to take ourselves to the world through positive cinema.

You are picky about the projects you do. What did you like about Parwaaz Hai Junoon?

Yes, I am picky because I prefer it if there is substance in the projects I do. This film is part of that thought-process as it represents the actual image of Pakistan. It tells the world about our sacrifice as far as the war on terror is concerned.

This film shows you that the Pakistani air force has the highest number of female combat fighters in the world. It shows the world Pakistani soldiers are more than just machines who are meant to die in the battlefield. We show the human side of our soldiers. There is a lot more to this film than just being a bit of entertainment, and that is why I’m proud to be part of it.

Tell us about your character…

He is obviously an air force pilot. I can’t say a lot but one thing I will tell you is this pilot isn’t the righteous superman that military films show their protagonists as. He has secrets and moments of weakness. He falls in love, has a family, has a girlfriend he wants to marry, so the character is very human.

Did you get to fly in the planes?

Well I am almost a private pilot myself and am currently training. That is a hobby and passion. I have a few hours left until I get my licence.

What was the biggest challenge you faced with this film?

I think the biggest challenge was the mannerisms because I realised air force pilots have their own culture, walk and way of speaking. How they walk is different because of the G-suits they wear. Learning that mannerism and culture was a challenge I didn’t foresee.

I thought of an air force pilot as another person, but it turned out they are a whole different breed of people with their own sub-culture that has a lot of depth. I spent a lot of time with the pilots to get a hang of that.

You touched on it earlier, but there also seems to be a strong female empowerment message in Parwaaz Hai Junoon?

Yes, Asjad, that is what we are trying to tell the world. We are often portrayed as a society where women are always abused or oppressed. The reality is quite the opposite. Good and bad things happen in all cultures, societies and countries. So I am not denying there are bad things that happen in Pakistan, but that isn’t all that is happening.

As I said, our Pakistani air force has one of the highest number of female combat fighter pilots in the world. This film shows you the journey of one of those female pilots and tells the world we are an extremely progressive society. We are doing things that most of the so-called civilised countries are not doing.

We have women chief justices, channel owners, directors, governors, politicians and everything else. Part of the narrative we want to get to the world is what you see on a few documentaries or Fox news is not true, look at this.

What are your future hopes for Pakistani cinema?

The number of films being made has been increasing in the past five years, and gradually the budgets are increasing. When budgets increase, you can take risks and do new things.

I am absolutely sure, Alhamdulillah, in the future Pakistani films will go global and these are the first baby steps towards that. You will see more ambitious projects coming out of Pakistan, Inshallah.

Do you have a dream role?

(Laughs) Sure, I would love to play a superhero one day. I think I am already doing a dream role with my next project, which is a reboot of Maula Jatt. I am very excited about that.

You are very patriotic; what are your hopes for Pakistan now Imran Khan has become leader?

I feel like I am a person who has a responsibility towards my society, country and people who have given me so much. Having said that, with Imran Khan coming to power, that is a huge milestone for my country which has been dominated by political dynasties, so Pakistan for the first time has managed to break that status quo and dominance by political families.

Now we finally have a person in charge who is known to be financially clean. He has already achieved a lot for Pakistan including winning the cricket world cup, the Shaukat
Khanum cancer hospital and more. Only time will tell what changes Imran Khan will
bring. I think Pakistan has a great five years ahead of it.

You always speak your mind and aren’t afraid of controversy; where does that fighting spirit come?

My fighting spirit comes from my faith. My faith says that respect, death or any good or harm that will come to me will come from my lord, my creator; so when you firmly believe
in that then you shed all of your fears. The closer I got to my faith, the braver I got.
(Laughs) You might call me stupid, but I call myself brave. My faith has a lot to do with it.

Your film Jawani Phir Nahi Ani was a record-breaking hit. Now the sequel, which you are not in, is releasing on the same day as Parwaaz Hai Junoon. How do you feel about that?

(Smiles) We are all friends and brothers. Humayun (Saeed) is like a brother to me and he has a great film by the way. We were together in a lot of events in New York and Toronto, so there is a sense of friendly rivalry. We are looking forward to how that turns out.

The reason why I didn’t return for the sequel is because it was a once in a while thing. I’m
not into doing a dancy, peachy creamy role. I don’t think that suits me.

But you helped turn the film into a hit?

It was a great experience, but it’s not what I normally do. I am not fond of those genres. But we are both very supportive of each other. It’s friendly competition. I hope it stays that way.

Today, what inspires you?

I take inspiration from a lot of things. What inspires me is the country I am from. I’ve learned to celebrate the fact we are an extremely resilient bunch of people.

What do you mean?

Look at Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and many others; we have faced more challenges than those countries, including a very dirty war for the past 15 years and came out victorious from it. That needs a lot of resilience and I have grown to cherish that.

Back around 2009/2010 there were three bomb blasts in Islamabad, but the very next day
people were back in the market and in schools. We all remember what happened in Peshawar when more than 130 kids were brutally murdered in broad daylight, but literally a week after parents sent their kids back to that same school with the feel that: ‘No, we will not let them win’.

So when you see things like that happening in your country, you realise I belong to an extremely special group of people that are called Pakistan. They really inspire me
and I am proud to be part of that.

  • Parwaaz Hai Junoon is in cinemas now.