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25 Years of Aamir Khan’s Sarfarosh: Director John Matthew Matthan Spent Seven Years Researching the Project

Aamir Khan considers his 1999 hit, “Sarfarosh,” as one of his finest works. Portraying the role of the resilient cop Ajay Singh Rathod, Khan left a lasting impact on the box office by performing his own stunts in this gripping drama centered around cross-border terrorism. In the film, Naseeruddin Shah portrayed a Ghazal singer who also happened to be a closeted terrorist, providing Khan’s character with a worthy adversary. Despite their on-screen chemistry, the two actors reportedly didn’t get along during the shooting and never collaborated again. Director John Matthew Matthan dedicated seven years to researching the project before helming this ambitious film. “Sarfarosh” was the first Hindi film to openly name the ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence agency) as the top terrorist organization operating in India.
However, the aggressive tone of “Sarfarosh” on celluloid didn’t sit well with the Pakistani population in Great Britain, leading to protests among certain sections of Asian viewers who deemed the film as anti-Pakistan. Consequently, when Aamir Khan held staged concerts in Britain and the US after the release of “Sarfarosh,” some segments of the Pakistani audience chose to abstain. While “Sarfarosh” made a powerful impact, what followed became a tragic illustration of how the star system continues to control our cinema. After waiting for five years for Aamir Khan to approve his second script, John Matthew Matthan eventually directed “Shikhar” with Shahid Kapoor, followed by an incomplete project starring Himesh Reshammiya. Since then, Matthan’s career has remained stagnant. The whereabouts of the “Sarfarosh” director remain unknown.
In a past interview, John Matthan revealed, “I designed another film with Aamir Khan in the lead. I worked on it for two years. It revolved around a chief minister’s son who migrates to America. The film aimed to showcase America’s power through its technical knowledge while appreciating the value of our own culture without belittling it. However, after the events of 9/11, the subject became nullified. I spent nearly two months in front of the TV, wondering if world politics would change. Eventually, I scrapped the project and started on ‘Shikhar’.”Unfortunately, “Shikhar” received scathing reviews. Reflecting on the criticism, Matthan remarked, “Critics even suggested that the film should be shown to your enemies. I couldn’t comprehend the vicious remarks. I hope more people will watch it this time without the burden of scathing reviews clouding their judgment.

Ziya Khan


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