Moammar Rana needs no introduction – he has been entertaining us on the big screen for over two decades now. He is back in the news as he brings his fans a cinematic treat called Azaadi that released on Eid and is still running in theatres as of now. Read on as I discuss with him working in the 90s, shooting for his comeback of sorts, how he has grown as an actor and what the future might hold for him. Excerpts:

How have things been with you professionally ever since you first started back in the 1990s?

I entered the industry in 1996 with the film Kudiyon Ko Dale Dana it was a smashing hit. Then in 1997, it was Deewane Tere Pyar Ke which was a blockbuster and after that were days of the rise and fall of (our film) industry. Choorian was a miracle, tou us ke baad unhon ne mere haath main kalashnikov pakra di. They would give me a gun and scenes where I am killing at least 20 people simultaneously.

So are you saying you were troubled by type casting then?

No, [but] they should have learned when these films were made; about what we need to do so the film industry could grow. But movies kept getting flopped and there were very long breaks between two releases. This [cinematic] revival we are witnessing basically started in 2002 with Yeh Dil Aap Ka Huwa. It was a big budget, well-made movie. If things worked in the same direction, we could have been on top today. The graph kept going up and down but I didn’t said ‘no’ [to films]. I love my industry so I kept working.

Were you always optimistic that this time would come?

Yes, [and] I said that long ago. I was the first one to refuse Punjabi films. I didn’t work for four years, then I came to Karachi and started working on my own film but then stopped in between for Syed Noor’s film and did a couple of serials too. But I didn’t enjoy doing serials. It (being on the big screen) holds a different charm and few people even said to me ‘Big screen is your thing, you should stay there’.

So what made you say ‘yes’ for a role after a long time?

It’s the first time somebody offered me such a role, and I wanted to do something for Kashmir. When I heard that Kashmir [issue] is involved in it and I am to play a mujahid, I said ‘yes, I’ll do it’. I was so into the role that when I’d return home from shooting, my family would say, ‘you are not Moammar Rana, you are Azaad’ and my daughter would say, ‘Abhi ek ghanta papa ke paas nahi jana’. I used to watch cartoons to come out of that role.

Did you prepare specially for anything or practice for the fighting sequences?

No! I’ve always been into fitness but I started exercising a bit more for the role. I had to make it look like I was very focused, so I had to practice not to smile, speak in a hard tone and keep my eyes looking dead. The gun I held weighed 45KG. I had to carry it because I love doing my own action sequences. This isn’t a film for me, it’s a journey. We have gone through a lot, in terms of shooting for scenes in far-off places where there were no bathrooms or sometimes, no food. You just had to survive, so I really felt like I have become a soldier.

Any part of the film that was particularly hard to shoot?

Sonya and I were shooting for a scene and I was wearing a vest. Sonya says ‘I won’t let you die Azaad”. You can see me shivering in the shot, it is actually natural shivering because it was so cold and the wind was blowing 80km per hour. It’s raining and the temperature is -1 and we had to complete the scene in two hours.

Any memorable incident from set?

I think things were more difficult for me because there was a sequence in the film when a helicopter comes to attack and I have to hold Sonya’s hand and run while holding a gun in the other hand. I am just running up and down the hill. Then there comes a time when she says she can’t run anymore, so then I had to pick her up and run [laughs] But I enjoyed all of it. If you don’t enjoy your work, you can’t do it.

What advantages do you think actors have today which you didn’t have back in the day?

We used to work back then with an Arri IIC camera which had a 400-foot material. It used make a ‘grrrrr’ sound when working. Producer ka haath yahan hota tha (keeps hand on his chest). The camera would use material of about Rs. 22,000 just for a scene and a half. Jab us waqt retake hota tha tou producer kehta tha ‘Agli film main nahi lengay isey!’ [laughs] Now, you have better equipment, more financing, a card system in which retake is no problem. It has become very easy today. Our school is completely different.

Any disadvantages that come to mind?

Disadvantages are for people who don’t like working hard. If you are passionate then you have only advantages.

What is the mark of a good actor for you?

A person who knows what the director needs from him, and they adapt spontaneously. To some extent the actor has to surrender himself to the director. You have to add your input to his.

What are the factors you attribute your success to?

First of all, Allah, of course. Then my parents, my family and my fans. If Syed Noor makes one hit film, he also makes a flop [but] it’s the fans our success is based upon. The day they will stop watching our movies, we will be finished.

What do you look for in a character now before saying ‘yes’ to it?

Intensity. Whatever the role is, it should be intense. No more singing around the trees.

What is the most important thing that you have learnt so far, professionally and personally?

Never say ‘no’ to anything, try everything. Don’t think that there is [only] a specific thing that you can shine in and you should not do everything. I want to be an all-rounder, always.

Who has been your most favourite actor to work with so far?

Nadeem Baig sahib; I just love working with him. We have done a lot of films together as father and son. The best thing about him is that he is so down to earth. He is a legend.

What’s on your bucket list?

I want to direct films now and want to introduce new people to the industry.

What kind of film do you want to make and who would you cast?

I think, first I’ll go for a romantic film and I would like to cast Saba Qamar [in it].