By Sonya Rehman
In Dubai this month to attend the HUM TV Awards, Pakistani actor and heartthrob, Hamza Ali Abbasi, cut a sharp and handsome figure. Dressed in jeans and a plain white T-shirt, Abbasi was all debonair vibes and charm.
This year, the actor’s schedule is choc-a-block full with film production commitments. For one, Abbasi will be making his directorial debut with his high-end independent flick, Kambakht, to be released in about two months. “I want [the movie] to encourage independent Pakistani filmmakers…I want them to know that you don’t need a huge budget to make a film.”
Also in the pipeline is a re-make of the 1979 Pakistani cult classic, Maula Jutt, in addition to a tele-film based around the gruesome Peshawar attack that took place last year in December, in Pakistan. “It’s very close to my heart,” Abbasi says, speaking about the tele-film, “The military has been kind enough to commission the tele-film and it’s a labour of love. I really want people to understand the issue in Pakistan – it’s not going to be a typical tele-film.”
Unlike a majority of Pakistani stars who primarily use their social media accounts to announce their latest projects, Abbasi has availed social media to not only connect with his fans, but to also voice his views regarding pertinent socio-political issues plaguing the country. Infact, ever since Abbasi joined Imran Khan’s party, PTI, the young actor has garnered an even bigger fan following.
“With fame comes responsibility,” Abbasi says, “When you’re famous people look up to you. I’ve been very socially active since my school days and I think I’ve been doing and saying these things for years – now I think I just have a bigger audience. Every person in Pakistan should be political because we’re in a country that’s going through a transition. Politics affects each and every aspect of our lives. If good, educated Pakistanis refuse to be politically active and fill the vacuum (which is being filled by the scum of Pakistan), then we’ll keep suffering.”
Abbasi has all the makings of a young leader for the country’s youth: he’s handsome, talented, has the gift of the gab, is opinionated, and, above all, is incredibly patriotic. However, as of late, Abbasi found himself in hot water online, when he publicly announced (via his Facebook page) that he was stepping down from his post as PTI’s Culture Secretary due to a soon-to-be-released Pakistani film, Jawani Phir Nahi Ani, that he acted in.
“Look, I’ve given a lot of my years to the Pakistani film industry,” Abbasi says, “I believed in it when nobody else did. I and the team gave Waar four years of our lives, this was at a time when people said that the Pakistani film industry has no future. I’m very attached to the film industry; I said it four years ago, that someday we’re going to make films that the whole world will want to watch. But the Pakistani film industry is not representing the country, it represents something which we’re not, not part of our culture. Giving into the whims of commercialism, people are making things which are not us. Unfortunately, I was a part of this in [Jawani Phir Nahi Ani] which was mainly due to my commitment to and friendship with Humayun Saeed, who is like a brother to me.”
For Abbasi, it was important to step down from his Culture Secretary post since he didn’t feel he was practising what he was preaching, i.e., to encourage the local film industry to stay true to its identity and to not ape Bollywood.
“I didn’t agree with it,” Abbasi says, speaking about the movie, “I think its execution could have been more Pakistani. You have to be very self-critical – if I can’t practise what I preach then I don’t have the moral authority to be the Culture Secretary of Pakistan’s biggest political party, and hence, I thought I should resign.”
Given that the actor has been critical in the past about Pakistani films becoming too Bollywoodized, Abbasi states that it’s imperative for the local film industry to form its own identity. “Item numbers are not Pakistani. Let’s admit it. We have different cultural values, morals and ethics compared to India. India has a brilliant culture but it’s their culture. We should not copy the culture of another country.”
In Pakistan, art and culture is witnessing a mass revival – from theatre, to literary events, regular fashion shows, and the new wave of independent, alternative Pakistani cinema that has really taken off, it seems as if the arts in Pakistan is setting a strong foundation in the country for decades to come. “There has been an awakening in the Pakistani artist community, contrary to what the world says, Pakistan has been a dynamic country for the past decade, art itself has actually been flourishing in Pakistan – it’s going in a brilliant direction vis-à-vis art.”