Shaaan Shahid is renowned Pakistani actor and an  avid cricket lover. Picture Courtesy: Official Facebook page of Shaan Shahid
Shaaan Shahid is renowned Pakistani actor and an avid cricket lover. Picture Courtesy: Official Facebook page of Shaan Shahid

Known for his forthright views and his patriotism, the 44 year old actor/model/director/writer Shaan Shahid, has around 500 films to his credit, including a few box office hits such as O21 and Waar. One of the most popular faces of Lollywood, Shaan also has a keen interest in cricket and in an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, he spoke on a variety of subjects including the significance of the tour of Pakistan by Zimbabwe, the importance of sports and entertainment for the welfare of the nation, his own interest in cricket and his upcoming film projects.

PakPassion.net (PP): As a fan of cricket, you must be overjoyed at the return of international cricket in Pakistan?

Shaan Shahid (SS): I am delighted but a little angry as well at the same time. My happiness is obviously due to the fact that the years of isolation are about to end which is great news for cricket followers in Pakistan and also for genuine fans of the game. The series is an important step ahead for us and a declaration to the world that this is not a ‘terrorist’ state but a country of fun loving and peaceful people. The matches will not only showcase the best aspects of this nation but also put into the limelight, the talent available in this country. READ: How much the cricket world has changed since Pakistan last staged an international game

However, I am also seething with anger at the external powers who have created conditions in Pakistan that have resulted in the continuation of our isolation. We all know who these people are and what their agenda is. This is well documented and has been discussed openly in the media.

PP: How important is a sport like cricket to the people of Pakistan?

SS: Cricket or for that matter any other form of entertainment, is crucial for the well being of any nation. A person may study or work all day, but he needs to relax a bit, otherwise he looks jaded. The same applies to a nation. If there is no avenue for entertainment, then the nation as a whole becomes despondent and this is exactly what the Pakistani nation needs to do now, which is to relax a bit. I expect our government to expend some of its resources towards providing entertainment to its people, whether it’s in the form of sport or even via films. The fact is that entertainment or leisure activities have now become a privilege for a few and our masses are unable to get this basic necessity. This is where cricket plays an important role as it provides entertainment for the rich and the poor, without discrimination. READ: International cricket resumes in Pakistan: A plea to fans

PP: What message do you have for the visiting Zimbabwe team and what do you see as the future of international cricket in Pakistan?

SS: The only words I have for our visitors are words of praise. They have come to our aid at a very difficult time. This is a time when even our so called “Muslim” friends have deserted us and will not tour Pakistan. I am also hopeful that Sri Lanka, who Pakistan helped in their time of difficulty will also step forward and visit our country. This festival of cricket should not come to an abrupt end with the departure of the Zimbabwe team but it should continue with the arrival of other teams. This is where the PCB and the Government of Pakistan have a huge role to play. READ: Pakistan may have to maintain war-footing for future tournaments

The other thing I would like to stress is that these so called neutral venues which we have created for ourselves in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah should be shut down. This is not Sharjah’s cricket team, this team needs to play on its own patch. It needs to play on its home ground.

In my view, the PCB has only created these venues so that they can earn money. However, the negative message it sends out to the world about Pakistan’s inability to host teams due to security issues is incalculable. Until we stop playing in these venues, cricket will remain out of reach for the ordinary public in Pakistan. I know that there is talk of a series between India and Pakistan and I would urge those in power in Pakistan to exercise all their influence to convince India to play in Pakistan. READ: “ICC does have a bias against Pakistan”

PP: How are the PCB doing in terms of guarding the welfare of Pakistan cricket? Where are they failing?

SS: An institution like the PCB which has so much power needs another supervising body to ensure that there are no abuses and misuses of power. A think tank of sorts is needed to keep the PCB on the right track. A prime example of why PCB needs oversight was demonstrated when a helicopter landed on a cricket field recently! Instead of playing outside the country, the PCB should be guided to give up those venues and concentrate on cricket in Pakistan. India also has many security threats yet they have been able to organize the IPL and PCB can also follow suit. For that matter, tell me which country in the world does not have a security threat?

PP: The ICC refused to send their officials for this series, does that bother you?

SS: This is a very serious matter and the PCB should have addressed this matter head-on. Look, we are a fully paid up member of the ICC, we are a sovereign nation of almost 185 million people and our voice needs to be heard. If India can exert its pressure on the world’s cricket body, then Pakistan should also be able to make an impression. Unfortunately in a country where the government is more interested in staying in power and where the opposition’s sole purpose is to remove the government from power then we will never be heard by the likes of the ICC.

PP: What role can the Government of Pakistan play in making sure that international teams will continue to visit Pakistan after Zimbabwe?

SS: For a start, I would make a humble request to the Prime Minister of Pakistan and the Chief of Army Staff to attend all the matches. Only if they attend these games and show the world that there is nothing to fear will the world take notice. Imran Khan who is in the opposition should also make an effort to come and watch these games in the stadium. For the first time in years, we have an event which is meant to please the ordinary people of this country so the politicians need to make this a special occasion for the masses as well. I am sure security won’t be an issue as that is being looked after well!

PP: We know Shaan the actor, but Shaan the cricket enthusiast? Tell us a bit more about your interest in the game.

SS: There was a time in Pakistan where it was said that every mother wanted her son to become an Imran Khan! In my family, I suppose I was the one who was most interested in the game. I have many friends who are good cricketers and even I play in a veteran’s team.

Whilst I enjoy playing cricket and know a lot about it in Pakistan, I have also become painfully aware of the wasted talent that exists in Pakistan. Our local and domestic cricket is being eaten up from within by political influences. This is the same disease which has destroyed some of our best institutions and this is the reason for destruction of our cricket at the grassroots.

PP: Politics and nepotism maybe a reason for some of the problems in our cricket, but is that the only issue?

SS: There is another problem that is endemic in our politicians and also seems to have surfaced within our cricketers as well. They just don’t know when to walk away! They just do not have the courage to give up their place to another deserving player. They will hold on to their position forever instead of allowing newer and fresher talent to emerge and take their place. We always like to benchmark ourselves against better teams like Australia in terms of constitutions and so on, but why don’t we also copy the other good bits as in the way their senior players make way for the younger ones? To tell you the truth, a lot of our current players should be playing in the veteran’s team that I play for!

The fact is that all the talent that has come to the fore for Pakistan in the past seems to have come out of the blue as opposed to through a well-established system. In that sense, the PCB and the NCA have failed to produce any outstanding talent in the past few years. If a thirty-four year old Mohammad Sami is the sum total of all your efforts at cultivating fresh talent in the country, then the PCB is well advised to leave the team as is until someone is unable to play due to old age or injury!

PP: Pakistan also has one of the most well-known fast bowers as their Head Coach so surely that must result in some improvement?

SS: Yes we have a great coach but we lost to Bangladesh. What more can I say? He should have offered his resignation after such a humiliating loss. That’s probably because he feels that he is not accountable to anyone for his own performance as Head Coach of Pakistan. There is no court or enquiry where he can be asked for reasons for Pakistan’s failure and also punished accordingly. Just like the captain of the Titanic, he should have gone down with his sinking ship!

PP: How would you propose we should look at discovering and nurturing new cricketing talent in Pakistan?

SS: Let’s be honest. There are people who are able to succeed in life purely due to academic superiority. Then there are those who do well, based on physical skills such as sports. Wasim Akram would have done hopelessly if he had been forced to do an M.A. in Economics! So, the government needs to understand that not all kids need to be educated. Some will do best in sports as well. They need to encourage and promote a U.S. style high school culture which recognizes sportsmen and helps them concentrate on sports whilst being in school. We will need to change and revamp our system to bring it in line with modern thinking in these areas. There are some excellent young players like Babar Azam and Sami Aslam who need to be encouraged but above all, we need to break down this system which destroys young careers.

PP: Mohammad Amir is a player who brings out mixed emotions due to his tainted past. How do you feel about his eventual return to international cricket?

SS: Every hero has a past behind them. That doesn’t preclude them from becoming a hero. Mohammad Amir is such a hero and if he failed in a test in his life, we shouldn’t mark him as a failure for life. We should learn to be gracious and give a person a second chance. When the Almighty is allowing him a second chance by providing him the skills and opportunities to make a comeback, then who are we to stand in the way? Mohammad Amir’s inclusion in our cricket setup is crucial. His return should serve as a reminder to all that redemption is possible if there is positive intent.

PP: Have you ever watched a cricket game live in a stadium?

SS: To be honest, I have never been to a game in a stadium. The reason is simply that we as familiar faces get a lot of attention and instead of relaxing, we become the spectacle and we end up entertaining, rather than being entertained. I’d rather watch from the comfort of my home although I am sure people do enjoy watching the game live at the stadiums.

Having said that, I will be making my utmost effort to attend the Zimbabwe games as this is too important an occasion to miss. This is more than a match or series. We are breaking away from the perception that this country is not safe and I for one want to be there when the world sees that this is not true.

PP: Whilst we may want to celebrate the return of international cricket, there seems to be a lot of emphasis on security issues by the media.

SS: This is my problem here. Instead of showing how happy people of Lahore are about this visit and to focus on the carnival atmosphere in the city, the media is busy showing pictures of policemen and security arrangements. This is such a negative way to approach this occasion and I am totally disgusted about this. I request all who can do so, to portray a positive image of Pakistan as we have had enough of this negativity.

PP: Moving away from Cricket and into your career in films, can you tell us what you are working on at the moment?

SS: I am involved in a film called “Yalgar” which should be out shortly. The producer and director are the same people who were involved in “Waar”. Another project I am working on is with Avenue films and this should be out by 2016. I am also working on a Pakistani remake of Mahesh Bhatt’s movie “Arth” and of course, I am also involved in commercial advertisements as well. However, I will add that having reached my forties, I have decided to fix my work life balance and spend more time with my family which is a wonderful thing and a great privilege.

PP: Have you considered working in Hollywood or perhaps even Bollywood?

SS: As far as Hollywood is concerned, I have not been offered a role so far. With Bollywood, the fact is that they have an abundance of their own heroes and the only time they offer a role to a Pakistani is when they want a Pakistani character in the film. I am also not one of those who cannot see the border between the two countries and is happy to queue up all day to try and beg for a visa to visit India! For me, Pakistan is where I have gained fame and it’s a country which has my roots and that is the country I wish to serve.

PP: The Pakistan film and entertainment industry comes under a lot of criticism but where are the exact areas of improvement?

SS: To start with, the link between Karachi and Lahore is very important. Unfortunately there is an intellectual and artwise divide between these two great cities. We need to create harmony between these two centers of excellence. We have a situation where we have 372 new TV dramas made a year out of which 370 are made in Karachi and two are made in Lahore! We need to plug this type of difference and rise above regionalism. This is an important aspect apart from that we have the talent and the skills so there is really nothing to worry about.

(Amir Husain is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net. The above article is reproduced with permission from pakpassion.net)