“I made my own mark as one of the best villains in Pakistan,” Shamoon

Shamoon Abbasi Interview

Shamoon Abbasi has made a steady rise to becoming one of the most distinctive and dependable villains of Pakistani Cinema. The 45 years old actor has time and again proved that he can bring something magical and inexplicable with his varied performances.

His next offering, Gumm (action/drama) releases tomorrow and so we, at Galaxy Lollywood, sat with the actor and talked at length about his upcoming projects, the ruling unprofessionalism in the industry, advertisement in films, and a lot more.

Here are Shamoon’s honest and candid answers to all that:

With three films on your platter this year, Gumm, Durj, and Chaudhary, would you say 2019 is your year?

Yes! I have an interesting line up of films in 2019; they aren’t very experimental neither are run of a mill (romcom) kind of stuff. Well, there aren’t just three films; I have five films this year. Apart from Durj, Gumm, and Chaudhary, there is one untitled film which is yet to be announced. It is based on the Pakistan – Bangladesh war of 1971.

Besides, we have already started shooting for another project which I can’t reveal much about, but I promise that the content and cast of the film is powerful. I have faith in all my films, but I am expecting a lot from Durj as I have gone extra miles for it.

What is your opinion on Lollywood today? Much has changed from the days of “Bhai Log.” There’s a lot of experimentation taking place. What are the changes that strike you as significant?

With the passage of time, much has changed in the industry, the best part is that now we have a proper infrastructure to produce and distribute films. The sad part is that filmmakers are more inclined towards advertisers to support their film. At times filmmakers are being dictated by such entities that restrict the creative aspects of filmmaking.

In a country like Pakistan, we have so many stories to be told, we can’t allow such advertisers to sell ice cream and cold drinks in the middle of nowhere. It’s a big relief to see young filmmakers heading towards Lollywood with great passion and dedication. They are bringing real stories to the table which is a positive sign for the industry.

How do you choose your films? Is there any formula to it?

I come across a lot of scripts every day, but every script doesn’t excite me. Our filmmakers are still stuck in adding commercial factor in order to pull crowds to the theatres. Why do we underestimate our audience to show them content other than the masala – commercial flicks? I want to change this perspective in Pakistan. Our audience over the time has matured and one can’t afford to fool them in the digital age.

Anything which is engaging becomes commercial. Films like Terminator, Avengers, Transformers Gladiator, and Rambo; despite having loads of action, emotion, and destruction, somehow engage the audiences which becomes their commercial aspect. As filmmakers, we need to learn such features. We have to come up with content that is significantly meaningful and keeps the viewers engaged with the core narrative. Personally, I like to research about my characters in order to make it more realistic, irrespective of the number of scenes I get to perform.

Tell us in detail about your character in Gumm?

I was shooting for a drama serial in Murree when Ammar and Kanza came to meet me through a reference. They gave me the narration to which I had the objection that the film was similar to a Hollywood film (I can’t mention the name though) laughs. I don’t associate myself to projects which are copied from any other industry. However, these young filmmakers managed to convince me to do the part. They ensured that it might have some similarities but it won’t be the same.

As an actor, it is always about my character for me. I am significantly true to whatever I am doing making sure that it looks real. I play the antagonist in Gumm, I can’t reveal much as it releases on the 11th of January 2019. I have shared screen space with Sami Khan for the first time, he is a hard working guy. I hope Gumm leaves a mark in Pakistan upon its release. The film has already won several accolades at various film festivals. It’s the first major release of the year, and so I hope it sets the bar high and sets the pace for other films to come.

My audience loves me a lot despite the fact that I always portray negative roles. I am the only actor in Pakistan of this decade representing the negative side of society. I portray the antagonist with different shades every time. By the grace of God, I have made my own mark as one of the best villains in Pakistan.

What is it about the film that attracted you? The film is shot at the beautiful forests in Islamabad. Any incident you can recall from the making of it?

One of the main highlights of Gumm is that it’s been shot entirely in the jungles of Islamabad, where two people are lost, there’s a conflict going on along with top notch intense sequences shot in heavy rainfall.

All such substance attracted me to be a part of Gumm. I am an outdoor actor, who loves to work in the deserts, mountains, and oceans, enjoying every bit of the hardships while performing. Unlike those flamboyant actors who are surrounded by girls all the time (that might be the motivating factor for them) but definitely not for me.

You have a special role in the upcoming biopic on Late SSP Chaudhry Aslam. Tell us something about that in detail.

The Late SSP Chaudhry Aslam was an icon, a daring cop who went after the Taliban in Pakistan. He risked his life many times by doing numerous raids, being shot at his own house etc. This reality kind of stayed with me and I decided to be a part of the film. I am playing an important character, but it’s not the title role. Since it’s a biopic, people would be more attracted towards it. It wouldn’t just be covering the life of Chaudhry Aslam but will offer a high dose of other relevant information as well.

Director Azeem Sajjad has done many projects related to ISPR in the past, so I was very confident about the fact that he knows how to execute a film which has forces in it. He has the intelligence of keeping the subject in its place. You need to respect the director’s point of view and perspective and once you come on the same page, the chances of making a good product increase. We have a nice ensemble cast on board; I hope it turns out really well.

How has been the response to Durj’s trailer by your colleagues and the industry at large?

Honestly, the response on the trailer was more than we expected. Internationally, Durj has made a lot of waves as I wasn’t expecting Indians and foreigners to be receiving it so well. I was surprised to see the video reactions at our YouTube page (Shaam films Entertainment). Thankfully, we have managed to captivate the audiences globally; indeed it’s a moment to feel proud of.

My entire team has worked so hard in order to materialize Durj. We have the BTS videos of the making which will surface online once we get a release date. As of now, the film has been sent to Cannes film festival, Berlin film festival, and Los Angeles for distribution opportunities. We are planning for a grand international release i.e. UK, UAE, Australia, Saudia Arabia, China and Norway. We are also expecting some more interesting moves once we are done with the distribution side.

Why did a subject like Cannibalism interest you? What if you really encountered a Cannibal?

Cannibalism exists all around the world. There are many cases in Pakistan which grabbed headlines, there were cases which all of a sudden vanished and went in the dark after a point. The idea of cannibalism triggered my mind as I saw the news of two brothers in Punjab digging graves and eating up fresh bodies. Later on, they were caught by the police and put behind bars. Unfortunately, there was no offence to cannibalism found in the constitution that resultantly made them release. I did a lot of research on cannibalism and the data turned out into a fine script.

We have kept the cannibalism part on a lighter note. The film doesn’t entirely revolve around it; we have three tracks which unanimously connect into one. I am proud to bring such a dark film to the table with a taste of entertainment; I aim to entertain people rather than scaring them in theatres. It’s not about blood, bones, or gruesome shots, it’s about emotions which will unveil the reality about such people i.e. what do they think, how do they operate and how do they survive etc.

Is Durj based on real-life events?

Yes, Durj is based on true events. It’s not a biopic on that particular person, but the story represents the events which took place in the last ten years.

Was it intentional to act, direct, and write the film yourself?

I have directed, written, and acted simultaneously for television and received awards for it. This confidence helped me to lead from the front. It wasn’t easy to transform my body, maintaining the bald look and beard for two years. I was aware of the fact that no other actor would be able to invest himself for so long in a character.

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#DURJ a snapshot #

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I would especially mention Sherry Shah’s efforts as it is very difficult for a woman to shave her head. Furthermore, she gave up many other projects which had big financial offerings. We traveled to locations every alternate day, shooting in the mountains and deserts. Sherry and I thought beyond all such factors and invested ourselves fully and delivered what was required from us to the fullest. I can bet no other actress would have pulled off this role with utmost dedication.

How did you prepare for your role? Has it challenged you as an actor?

My character in Durj has so far been the most challenging role I have portrayed. I had to be in certain attire because of which I left out on some meaty projects. As the character was so intense, I had to disconnect with my social life. But that’s the best part of going into the skin of the character; you want to be surrounded by that environment all the time keeping it that way, imagining how that person would have survived. I believe whatever you do, do it with full conviction otherwise don’t do it. I am someone who likes to dedicate myself to my passion.

How was the experience of shooting the film at actual locations?  Did the cast and crew support you within the entire process?

There were many people from the crew who ran away in the middle of the film as the process was so difficult. We had to drive for five hours one side (ten hours altogether) to shoot two to three scenes a day. Besides that, there wasn’t any luxury, no vanity, not everyone was able to deal with such a situation as people like to be in their comfort zones. Therefore, many people disappeared in the middle of the film including actors. We were ditched by more than four to five actors which I will talk about once the film is out. It was very upsetting for us that we faced huge losses due to their unprofessional attitude. The good part was the people who stayed with us till the end, I have a huge amount of respect for them.

Around sixty percent of the locations in Durj haven’t been explored and captured by any filmmaker yet. We didn’t go to superhighway or a nearby village, we actually traveled towards the caves and the real places where the characters and the story will gel in and make sense. I am confident about the fact that the landscape of DURJ will be another surprise for the audience.

How Dodi Khan did from Amsterdam came onboard as a producer?

Dodi Khan is an old friend, more like a brother to me. We were working on another project which got shelved due to its extensive budget. Therefore, we started working on Durj. He always wanted to make a film and so we opted for a partnership.

How important is it to be commercially successful?

In the era, where Netflix and Amazon are easily accessible to our cell phones, why should people be heading towards cinema?  They pay for what they want to see having nothing to do with big budget, huge sets, or a big star cast.

The recent debacle of Khans’ films (Race 3, Thugs of Hindustan, and Zero) and the success of Andhadhun, (a small budget film but high at content) being the biggest film of 2018 in Bollywood, is a big evidence of that. It’s high time that we should eliminate the term “Commercialization” and try to find a place in the heart of the audiences’ by engaging them with meaningful cinema.

Other than these films what are you looking forward in 2019?

Shaam films Entertainment has been registered and we have started producing films. The big surprise is “Gidh” which was shelved due to some unprofessional actors. I am planning to revamp the film and will announce the new shooting schedule soon.