While Waar’s commercial success in 2013 breathed a new life into Pakistan’s forever reviving-yet-straggling film industry, the reality is that the business of films is still nowhere near the point where we can call it a full-fledged industry. With only a few Pakistani films being released every year, cinemas are still heavily dependent on showing movies from Hollywood and Bollywood.
I had first heard of Operation O21 (abbreviated to 021 and previously titled The Extortionist) last year, when I saw its trailer first came out. Then, like most projects in Pakistan, there was no fresh news about the film and I forgot about it until recently.
The film has been produced by Zeba Bakhtiar, Azaan Sami Khan and Jami Mahmood. It’s has been directed by Jami and written by the trio of Jami, Joe Towne and Summer Nicks. It has a star-studded cast which includes the likes of Shaan Shahid, Aaminah Sheikh, Ayub Khoso, Hameed Sheikh, Tatmain-ul-Qulb, Ayaz Samoo, Gohar Rasheed, Bilal Ashraf, Wendy Haines, Joe Towne, James Hallet, Abdullah Ghaznavi, Shamoon Abbasi and Daniyal Raheal.
The film focuses on a man from war-torn Afghanistan who wants to save his country from another few decades of corporate warfare. To his aid comes Kashif Siddiqui, his Pakistani ally, and they work on executing a plan that endangers their lives and those close to them. And they’re running out of time!
“The film O21 started off as a cold and serious spy thriller,” informs Jami. After Waar’s release, however, “We started thinking on a parallel thought process, and decided to rewrite the film. In the end, 60pc of the film has been reshot. It is now a smart action film on corporate espionage with Afghanistan and Pakistan in the backdrop.” He likens it to movies like Syriana that are “true to their origins.”
According to Azaan, the idea started with Summer Nicks “and just grew.” Summer, however, had to leave Pakistan due to visa issues and that’s when Jami had to take on the role of the director as well. “Summer is still extremely involved and will be in Pakistan for the premiere,” reassures Azaan.
Shooting for O21 started in the first quarter of 2013 and was completed in the first quarter of 2014, over a course of 61 days, divided into three phases. The film has been shot in parts of Balochistan, Karachi, Lahore and the Afghan border.
“I remember the extreme cold while we were shooting in Balochistan and Lahore,” reminisces Shaan. “Shooting in the small and remote areas of Karachi was fun, because I got to meet some of the most amazing people during that time.”
“We were shooting at this dingy internet café in Saddar. Shaan found a corner and went off to sleep while the scene was being prepared,” Azaan added.
According to Jami, while Shaan is the star of the film, it is the performances by Ayub Khoso, Joe Towne and Wendy Haines that the audiences will be bowled over by. The latter two are credited with having performed numerous small but prominent roles in both Hollywood and American television.
How is O21 different from Waar?
“The echoes of Waar’s success haven’t died,” exclaims Shaan. However, coming to O21, he adds, “It’s a new genre for Pakistani filmmaking. While Waar was a visual action film, O21 is a brainy, thinking movie. It falls under the genre of experimental cinema and will appeal to a multi-ethnic audience.”
Although Shaan is extremely confident that audiences will love O21, he added that it is the responsibility of every Pakistani to support the film industry by watching the movie since “our films are telling our story!”
The film uses multilingual dialogues, incorporating Urdu, English, Pashto and Darri. The soundtrack is by Mexican artiste Alfonso González Aguilar. It is slated for a release on Independence Day with the producers hoping to release it in various international markets.
The film focuses on a man from war-torn Afghanistan who wants to save his country from another few decades of corporate warfare. To his aid comes Kashif Siddiqui, his Pakistani ally, and they work on executing a plan that endangers their lives and those close to them