‘Umro Ayyar’ and the challenges of making Pakistan’s ‘most expensive’ film


Eidul Azha’s most anticipated release, Umro Ayyar – A New Beginning, marks Pakistan’s bold foray into the SciFi genre. In conversation with FHM Pakistan, stars Usman Mukhtar and Faran Tahir revealed intriguing details about what is being hailed as “Pakistan’s most expensive film to date.” Tahir, playing the main antagonist, expressed pride in the project, calling it “a new beginning in Pakistan’s industry, of a new genre. The excitement and the layers of this new beginning and what we’re trying to do go beyond the title of the film.”

Mukhtar, who stars as the legendary thief and warrior Umro Ayyar, emphasised that Pakistani audiences should support local SciFi productions just as they do Bollywood’s. “You watch these kinds of films from our neighbouring country, so you should definitely watch this one especially since it’s derived from your own literature,” he urged. Tahir agreed, adding, “We’re always complaining that our industry doesn’t expand. Now we’re taking that step, which in my opinion is a very brave step, and is very risky.

The importance of the work being derived from literature wasn’t lost on the cast members as Tahir, known for his multiple roles in popular Hollywood productions, commented on the fact that there is a gap between the younger generation and Pakistani literature. The Pakistani-American actor noted, “It’s extremely vital to make content for our younger generation. Umro Ayyar and others are stories that have been a part of our culture for 600 years, but we’re not celebrating them. What we’ve done with this film is, we’ve taken this classic story and modernised it. Hopefully this will start a new trend.”

For those who haven’t seen the trailer, Mukhtar describes the film as “Pakistan’s first superhero film.” Creating such a film posed unique challenges, especially in a country without established VFX studios. Tahir elaborated, “We don’t have VFX studios in Pakistan. We had to bring in stunt directors from Europe who had worked on series like Game of Thrones. Wherever we saw a gap, we brought in talent from abroad. But whatever was possible to do in the country, we did. For example, we didn’t get the VFX done from abroad; our production company built an entire studio, which is now a fully functioning VFX studio in Islamabad. These are the challenges we faced and then resolved one by one.”  Tahir also mentioned that the stunts you will see in the film were performed by cast themselves.

As an actor taking on this new first-of-it’s-kind project, Mukhtar admitted his initial concern about the film’s visuals. “My first question was about the VFX and if it would look like a joke, because it’s a big problem here,” he said. However, he was reassured by director Azfar Jafri’s confidence. “When he said it wouldn’t look like a joke, I was convinced because Azfar’s background is in VFX. I went into the studio in the beginning when the first few shots were being made, and I came home so excited. If you took the VFX shot that I had seen in the studio and replaced it with a Marvel film, you wouldn’t know the difference,” the actor enthused.

The Hum Kahan Ke Sachay Thay actor also shared a humorous anecdote about his casting. “When Azfar called me and he said the words Umro Ayyar, I did not ask which role I was playing, I just said done. I didn’t know what role he was offering me. I just said I’m on board.” He was pleasantly surprised to learn that Tahir was part of the project. “Azfar plays a lot of pranks on me. When I saw the role of the main antagonist, my first question was: who will pull this off? Azfar said Faran Tahir, and I genuinely thought this was one of his jokes.”

The conversation then turned to accessibility, with Mukhtar advocating for more affordable cinema experiences. “If we want to expand cinema we will have to start single screen cinemas instead of multiplexes. In these single screens you will have to charge 300 to 400 rupees per ticket so that the masses can go and watch films. Masses make or break films anywhere in the world. Masses in this country don’t have the opportunity to watch these movies because they can’t afford a 1000 rupees ticket for the cinema,” said the Anaa actor.

The pair also discussed the constant Bollywood comparisons while talking about if local audiences will accept and embrace a project of this calibre, whilst Bollywood audiences have already been doing it for years, to which Tahir made a poignant statement: “I give them all the appreciation they deserve, but I don’t want to make comparisons with our neighbouring country anymore. We have to create our own voice. We’re living in the shadow of our neighbouring country. We need to bask in our own sunlight.” The Iron Man actor then posed a crucial question, “Why are we always comparing ourselves to this one country?”

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