Youngsters in Pakistan dream of becoming actors more than they dream of directing a film; Azfar Jafri wanted to be the one who would tell a story and one by one, he made films that not only did well at the box office but played their part at the revival of cinema in the country. His first film Siyaah introduced Ahmed Ali Akbar and Hareem Farooq to films, his second flick Janaan took Armeena Rana Khan, Bilal Ashraf and Ali Rehman Khan to new heights while his third movie Parchi helped the cinema industry survive from back to back flops. Not only did he do a Voice Over in Allahyar and The Legend of Markhor but also was its animation director. So, with Sherdil, he once again changes gear and brings something new and that’s why The News Tribe got hold of him and asked him about his past, his present and his future. Excerpts:
The News Tribe: Horror, Romantic Comedy, Action Comedy and now Sherdil, why do you juggle genres around when others stick to one formula especially at the start of their careers?
Azfar Jafri: It’s a conscious decision from my side; from the very first film, I wanted to be able to tell the story and even though I was in no mood to make a horror film, it was the story that gripped me. Once I got to tell the story, my way, the rest was all secondary because to communicate with the audience is the real art in my view, genre selection is just a wrapping over the present. With multiple films I was able to polish the basics of storytelling such as how to tap the market, what will make the audience laugh etc. and that’s what helped me in Sherdil.
TNT: Before Parwaaz Hai Junoon, there was no Air Force film for 50 years, yet within 50 weeks Sherdil is releasing. Don’t you think too much of PAF could have been avoided?
AJ: First of all, it was not my decision as I was offered Sherdil after Parchi; the producers can better answer it. I got involved in the project after Parchi and even after that had many sessions with writer/producer Nomaan Khan regarding the script before we began the shoot. It was a fruitful discussion that helped us finalize the script as my input regarding the film’s commercial aspect were incorporated intelligently by the writer/producer. My argument was that even though it’s an Air Force film laced with brilliant dogfight sequences, there has to be a personal angle when the characters are on the ground as the film had to go on, even then!
TNT: Why did you pick an Air Force film when you already had Heer Maan Ja on your plater; was it because of some relative who served in the PAF?
AJ:I picked Sherdil because of the story as I had never heard such a thing not seen especially in cinema. As for relatives, I do have a few ones in the Armed Forces but none is that close that I would choose the film for them. I did it as a film director who was hired by the producer professionally and who was helped by the best technicians in the world.
TNT: And did you get the cast you wanted for the film?
AJ: Well, some of the cast members such as Mikaal Zulfiqar was on board before I was hired; I was sold on Armeena Khan because we had worked before in Janaan and had a good working relationship. Hassan Niazi and Ibrahim Alavi were selected after my approval and although I had not worked with Mikaal before, he was such an easy person to work with that we ended up becoming friends. He is one of those actors who push the bar high and make you do better; no other actor would have agreed for a sortie but he did and whenever I see those shots I become emotional. During the briefing ahead of the mission, he interrupted Air Force guys and said that before flying he would like to know what ‘his director’ has to say and that was a ‘hug moment’ for sure.
TNT: You started your career as a VFX artist and through Sherdil got to work with Scott Newman as well as experienced cinematographer Riki Butland who has been behind Star Trek – Beyond and Furious 7. How was that experience?
AJ: It was something that helped me a lot because we used to communicate through storyboards which were only possible because of previous international experience with foreign advertisers. Also, my animation background with Allahyar and The Legend of Markhor helped me understand what they wanted me to understand. Scott and Riki both were impressive and gave me confidence that helped me a great deal. Due to budget constraints and security issues, there were a few scenes that were vetoed by PAF, but what we could do, we did and you will be spellbound for sure when you will see the dogfights and the PAF scenes in the film. The rest of the film was done with the help of VFX which was always my strong point and with the help of the best in the world, I ended up learning things I didn’t know.
TNT: How much will the release timing help Sherdil, considering that the incident you have shown in the film actually happened a few days back?
AJ: It was just a coincidence that the incident we shot for the film took place in reality, and that was unfortunate as the film depicts Pakistan as it is – a peace-loving country.
TNT: There is another film in cinemas on the same day as your film is releasing – Laal Kabootar – followed by Project Ghazi a week later. Don’t you think your film would have done well had it been released as a solo film?
AJ: I am not an expert when it comes to number game but all I can say is that we are going through an evolution phase right now. We are not making as many films as we should and trust me, the day we cross that number, things will get better for sure. With no Indian film or Captain Marvel in cinemas, we will have to look for different platforms to pull audience towards the cinemas and help them generate football by going against the tide.
TNT: Usually, films revolving around the armed forces don’t do well at the box office and we have quite a number of examples in that regard including Saya e Khuday e Zuljalal, and Yalghaar. Why did you opt for the PAF film, that too soon after Parwaaz Hai Junoon?
AJ: Yes I was sceptical when I was approached by Nomaan Khan; at first, I put so many questions and he answered all of them to my satisfaction, which was good as he was a first time producer but had answers to everything. The first pull was the story which had me hooked, and then there were many moments during the filming that made my belief stronger.
TNT: How many times did you watch Top Gun after taking over as Sherdil director?
AJ: Not even once, in fact, I didn’t need to watch Top Gun as I have watched it so many times growing up that I remember everything about it.
TNT: Tell us something about your other release of the year Heer Maan Ja?
AJ: With IRK Films, it’s a family thing as I help out Imran Raza Kazmi with his vision, and he lets me do whatever I want. We have done three films together Siyaah, Janaan, and Parchi so far and this will be my first film as a director out of IRK. Heer Maan Ja later this year will be our fourth film together and I am sure the audience will like it as well.