The case of Zarrar; a debrief with producer Adnan Ahmed Butt

“Zarrar.” Pakistan is not a nation unfamiliar with this name. With our main battle tank named that, as well as the force at the foremost front in our domestic war against terrorism; the ‘Zarrar Company’ of Special services group (SSG), the name carries for us a lot of pride.

But this is hardly a platform where military affairs make any sense. What does make sense here is films, and the name, Zarrar, has just made its entry into that arena. A spy-thriller from the superstar Shaan Shahid film brand, Zarrar is one of the pillars Pakistan film industry expects to stand on in the approaching year.

While it’s a film long and anxiously awaited, the material above is more or less all we have known about the film so far. Like all good spies, Zarrar has been working in silence. But we have our needs to satisfy as well, and so we thought of spying a little on the film itself.

And as all good spies need strong contacts. Ours became Adnan Ahmed Butt. The producer and actor of the film; playing the lead antagonist of the story, and a man thoroughly passionate about films and filmmaking in Pakistan.

The debrief started from where it should have. The name, Zarrar, what is it? It cannot possibly be the battle tank, or is it?

Zarrar is a resistance to all those who want to alienate Pakistan. Zarrar is the intelligence of Pakistanis, a guarantee of our very existence. Tanks are only used in the conventional warfare, but Zarrar is fighting a proxy war around the clock. Zarrar (Name) is definitively influenced from the life of ferocious warrior DHIRRAR in Khalid Waleed’s Army.

So, Zarrar is the intelligence service of Pakistan in the story. Hmm, I wonder if Pakistan is soon going to have its own iconic spy character, a local James Bond maybe?

Sure,” Adnan replies to my query, but is quick to show me the depths of the idea. “It is our take on the challenges we are facing. It is depicting efforts, selfless approach and belief of our security agencies that are mostly not applauded or recognised for their success. It is certainly an attempt to create our own version of super operative but comparison with well-developed corporate industries would be little harsh. However, it is a step in that direction. It is also an unusual take on romance which is driven through a fear and finding truth. I feel it would prove to be a concrete step for cinematic film making in Pakistan, which I feel, is missing somehow,” he says.

While he says, and I agree, that it is unfair to draw comparisons with developed filmmaking industries. But my curiosity forces me to draw the comparison one last time. I have watched three different brands of spy films, medalled with films like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Good Shepherd is the first kind; slow, dark and laden with the real spy work. The classic James Bond films, or the Kingsman series stand in the exactly opposite camp; shiny toys, less spy work and much glamour. The third, and recently popularity gaining kind has films like the entire Bourne series, The Departed, and even the recent Bond films to good extent, fast paced, high octane action, and a pretty balanced amount of spy work as well. Where does Zarrar fall in?

Zarrar will be fast paced story telling with lot happening around. However, I feel it will develop its own bracket keeping in mind the dynamics of our cinema. Therefore, I refer back to my comment above that it is not fair to categorise it with the likes you have mentioned. Some of them are my personal favourites though.”

Fair enough, fair enough. While comparison with developed markets would be quite unfair, I wonder if the ‘Zarrar-camp’ fully understands the local one, because Pakistan has had spy-thrillers in past, O21 being the latest of that genre, but despite the fact that Shaan was powering the film in lead, it didn’t do well on box-office. Is the camp confident repeating the formula?

Well, I wouldn’t call that a lead but rather a cameo. Look, everyone is putting their efforts in the limited resources available and despite chronic challenges. We must give all filmmakers pat on the back for their brave efforts, particularly the independent filmmakers who don’t have big corporates on their back. I have been blessed to be working with a great leader and visionary individual as Mr Awais Rauf (Exective Producer and CEO, Jehan Films), who has been tremendous support in moving forward towards a common objective. We were aware that ZARRAR would be biggest budgeted film in its true spirit due to the nature of its plot. Therefore, we had to assemble right technical team with right equipment in fulfilling director’s cinematic vision.

I came up with the story idea based on the realities we are surrounded with. It is widely said that if you want to know about any society, you go through their art, which will narrate the challenges of that social group. Pakistan is going through a constant war for almost 16 years, which it has got nothing to do with and suffering on all fronts. Therefore, the story is not far fetched and very much what we are going through. Shaan Bhai has written and screen played it with absolutely mastery.

Besides being the producer, Adnan plays a multi-layered, notorious terrorist in the film, and while we were discussing about his role and involvement in the project, he revealed to me that originally he had come to Pakistan ‘with the intention of only producing a film and developing a mechanism for consistent filmmaking,’ and it was only at the later stages that Ejaz Shahid, Shaan’s brother and Line Producer in Zarrar, floated the idea of casting him.

I will be honest, early on when I came to know about the film, I thought he was one of those ‘camera loving producers,’ trying to register himself with self-casting in a big film. But Adnan was too nice and quick to raze that impression.

Zarrar BTS: Adnan can be seen in his terrorist getup. Source: Zarrar Facebook Page

Self-casting! No way. I have lived most of my adult life in a culture with Conflict of Interest at its core. I couldn’t have done it with my own product, knowing that someone out there can give more mileage. Therefore, It was not a straightforward decision. I remember when Shaan Bhai came back from his shoot in Bangkok and told me that he is ‘thinking of casting me in the character I am playing, but I have to go through an audition like everyone else.’ Although, he encouraged me but then went through absolutely notorious auditioning and workshop regime before finally making his mind up of casting me. My decision certainly has its pressures but then you can only give your 100% and expect good results.”

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I actually understand Shaan’s choice of making him the negative lead now, because I mean, look at him, he is a beast with all that heavy built of his. Now my only concern is that he lives up to the requirements of the character in terms of acting, and I share my worry with him asking him about the sort of preparations he had to go through to feel the soul of the role.

I had to go through a very disciplined fitness regime to achieve certain physical goals given by the director and now most importantly maintaining it. Apart from that, I went through two weeks of brutal workshops with Shaan Bhai on various methods applied in adaption of characters. I had to grow long hair and beard to match the physical sketch of my character. Director has a clear vision of how he sees every character in ZARRAR. He is very particular about little things, which makes a big difference when you are playing your character.

I try to work out how might the equation work, but fail, so I ask him what is it like Shaan being his director and him being his producer, who is whose boss on sets?

I am so excited and blessed working with an academia of arts. He is an institution in himself and creative masterpiece. Obviously, he is the Boss and captain of the ship. I am there to ensure he gets everything in navigating through smooth sail.

I am glad to have learned a huge deal in our relationship. Being an actor, you can’t ask for more than learning from the best in business. He will throw you in a deep ditch but show you the way that you can get out, ensuring that you learn from every step you take to get out of the ditch. Quiet smart!

Interesting, I must say. What also interesting was to see them both in the pictures at the prestigious Pinewood Studio in London. Films like Wonder Woman, James Bons series, The Monuments Men all stand at it credits. So what exactly are they trying to achieve there that they couldn’t in terms of post-production in Pakistan?

I feel that we have great resources when it comes to TVC’s or TV serials but not yet as equipped with the art of cinema, particularly when it comes to Action Genre. Understandably, we lost all the old experienced lot with transformation into digital phase but gradually, I am sure we will get there. Insha Allah! Keeping that in mind, I decided to find a platform, which can be used for our postproduction without any compromises.”

Now this pumps me up even more about the film, making me want to know all the more about it. But I, unfortunately, would have to wait for the film to come out for that, which it does somewhere next year. But Adnan is an interesting soul with solid vision for Pakistan film industry, he, however, doesn’t plan much his future.

A wise man once said, “Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now,” he quotes me, and adds that he doesn’t believe in ‘controlling the change, but living it.’

What makes him excited about acting, however, is that “it is an opportunity and medium to live many lives and connect with millions of living characters out there. You can wear them and live through their lenses. Therefore, I would not like to limit myself and be free to wonder around in the world of dreams.”

With that we come to the conclusion of our debrief. Hope you received all the intel you ever wanted on Zarrar. This is all from ‘Camp-Galaxy,’ over!

Just your average writer/editor based in Karachi, who has the OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) to use commas (Oxford Commas, especially), and edit the heck out of editable pieces. Also, love movies, TV shows more than the movies, and books over everything else. If you find editorial mistakes or have any other feedback over the content of the website, I would appreciate if you email me at: