Gunjal is an upcoming Pakistani film starring Ahmed Ali Akbar, Resham, Amna Ilyas and Ahmad Ali Butt. It’s a true crime story about child labour and social activist Iqbal Masih. This is a fairly new genre for the Pakistani film industry and is one of the few films that aren’t releasing on Eid.
Galaxy Lollywood had the privilege of getting to have an exclusive interview with Shoaib Sultan, the writer and director of the film. This is Sultan’s feature film debut, having directed short films in the past. We asked him questions regarding the challenges while making this film, casting decisions and the commercial aspects of the film.
Gunjal releases across Pakistan this month, till then, here is all we got to know about the film from Shoaib Sultan.
What Drew Him To This Topic?
Sultan expressed his passion for telling a story based on a social issue such as child labour saying, “I did theatre for a long period and I always relate and associate myself with such social issues.” Sultan added that child labour is still a relevant issue and one that needs to be addressed.
He also expressed his enthusiasm for wanting to share Iqbal Masih’s story on the big screen rather than their original idea of making another short film.
“[Iqbal] was actually the hero of Pakistan who is not celebrated in that way. He has to be celebrated…when we think about child labour, Iqbal Masih is the face of that issue.”
When asked if he was inspired by any other films, Shoaib said no, adding, “I created my own world…this story is very deeply rooted to our land…it’s not a borrowed narrative, it’s very Pakistani, it’s not inspired from Bollywood or Hollywood or any other foreign industry.”
Challenges During The Making
The film is a true crime investigative thriller set during the 90s, which was bound to bring certain challenges with it. When asked about said challenges, Shoaib had this to say:
“It was very challenging because it is set in the 90s. To recreate the 90s era was a task. Secondly, as it was based on true events, so we [had] to recreate those things. So, there is a lot of research involved.”
He further added, “Then obviously, as I said that setting up the 90s era with the costumes, locations, get-ups… even in post, the sound has to be intriguing and has to have the modern flavour at the same time … along with the colour grading. The way we colour graded it, it had to be in a way that it projected the 90s essence.”
He also elaborated that this being his feature film debut was a challenge as well, speaking on the balancing act of the arthouse and commercial approach.
“We are telling a true story, so we were very careful that people should not find it preachy. So we packaged it with the crime drama thriller with a lot of plot twists and turns … I tried to merge the art house cinema with commercial … so I cast the faces, which are celebrated, which are commercial.”
Working With Ahmed Ali Akbar
When asked about Ahmed’s casting in the lead role, Sultan said he had always envisioned Akbar in the role during the early stages of production “Even Parizaad was not on air at that point.” He had nothing but glowing praise for the actor and his work ethic.
Ahmed plays investigative journalist and crime reporter Shahbaz Bhatti who works for a newspaper. Sultan also gave insight into Ahmed’s method approach to acting adding, “Even on the sets while he’s not even shooting, he’s always in his role”
Rest Of The Ensemble
The film has 15 primary characters but the big names we all know are played by Resham, Amna Ilyas and Ahmad Ali Butt.
When asked about what it was like getting to work with Resham, the director had wonderful insight into her process and character. Resham plays the role of Sarwat, a strong-headed woman who runs the newspaper where Akbar’s Shahbaz Bhatti works.
“He is very opinionated in so many ways so I wanted someone who has a very dominating and, at the same time, a charming personality and charisma. I think this was the combination which I saw in Resham.”
He also added that audiences can look forward to seeing her in a role different from anything we’ve seen her in before adding, “The best part about Resham is that she wants to learn, which is great. She’s reinventing herself all the time. And in this film, you will see a new face of Resham.”
This is her second collaboration with the director, having with him previously on the short film Long Distance.
Amna Ilyas plays Meher, a social activist. When asked for more information about the character, Sultan didn’t have a lot to say to avoid spoilers. Nonetheless, we did get some insight into her character.
“Meher is a very difficult role in so many ways. It has a lot of baggage. That’s the only character in the film who has that association with Iqbal Masih. She mentored him. She has a very soft heart towards children, and she worked for this cause, for the children who are suffering in the bonded child labour thing … her whole journey is to find justice [for Iqbal]”
We then asked him about the interesting choice of casting Ahmad Ali Butt outside his usual comedic roles. He seemed amused by this question and gave us his reasons for this “experimental” casting choice adding, “When this character of Salman Habib was created, the very first person who came into my mind was Ahmad Ali Butt. Everyone in my team was against me to cast him. They were saying ‘oh, he has this persona, he has this energy and his perception,’ but I wanted to challenge him.”
He further added that Butt isn’t an underrated actor but an underutilized one and is exceptionally talented.
We cannot wait to see Resham, Ilyas and Butt shine in these new dynamic avatars.
Non-Eid Release Date
When asked why Gunjal is not being released on Eid like most other films, Sultan had a simple answer. He said, “I strongly believe that if you have a good film, it will work whether it’s a festive season or not. Secondly, we felt that the film was ready, and it has to be released”
He also added that all films should have their own space saying, “We don’t need to wait for such festivals because somehow in our industry all films are stuck up or planned for Eid and then there’s a lot of unnecessary competition and we are eating each other’s business. So we should give a space. We are only making like ten to twelve films per year. So it is very unfortunate that everyone wants to release their film on Eid days.”
We couldn’t agree more.
Gunjal releases in cinemas across Pakistan on 15th December 2023. Stay tuned to Galaxy Lollywood for more coverage regarding the film.