PESHAWAR: When Mashood Alam moved to the United States in 2014 to pursue professional parkour training, he never expected that just five years down the line, he would play a leading role in a Hollywood film.
But clips of the 29-year-old free runner from Karak in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province caught the eye of Turkish-American film editor and trailer creator Ahmad Atalay who cast Alam in The Cure to play a man who tries to save the world from a deadly virus. The film is set for release in 2020 and has also been submitted at a number of film festivals around the world, including Cannes and Sundance.
In an interview to Arab News at his house in Peshawar, Alam said he felt proud to have gotten the opportunity to present a positive image of Pakistan to people around the world, particularly the United States.
“It makes me feel proud when people in the US tell me they never knew Pakistanis can be so nice. In fact, some asked me how and when should they visit Pakistan,” the shy, six-feet-four-inches tall sportsman-turned-actor said. “I tell them my nation is the most loving one.”
“I am proud of being a Muslim and a Pakistani and can’t thank Allah the Almighty enough for showering fame and blessings on me.”
The Cure, a 37-minute-long action film, is Atalay’s first attempt at production and direction. In the past, he has been involved in several major Hollywood projects, including doing editing work and making the trailers for blockbusters Mission Impossible Fallout and Transformers.
Alam said he credited his parkour, taekwondo and freerunning skills with bagging him the lead role in The Cure.
Freerun, or parkour as it is also known, is fast growing into a recognized and respected international sport-cum-art able to attract big-brand sponsorship, blockbuster movie appearances and pop megastars like Madonna.
Parkour involves running, climbing and jumping acrobatically around buildings and over terrain, Freerun has the same core principles, but its practitioners place greater emphasis on individual expression, creative flow, and artistic merit.
“A Turkish friend introduced me to Ahmet after watching my stunt gigs,” Alam said.
He said he had moved to the United States to get a sponsorship for professional parkour training after being approached by a freerunning academy called Tempest.
“There I had a chance of getting valuable tips from professionals like Parkour world champion Jason Paul, another known athlete DK, and Spiderman movie’s stuntman William Spencer,” Alam said.
He said he developed an interest in freerunning after watching the Discovery Channel program Jump Training in 2003. In 2005, when Internet speeds started to improve in Pakistan, Alam began to watch videos of athletes on YouTube regularly.
“I would practice with my younger brother and a friend at forgotten, under-construction buildings,” he said. “The security guards would often hush us away from there as they thought we might hurt ourselves.”
Asfandyar Alam, a gemstone dealer, and Alam’s elder brother said the family always knew Mashood would make a name for himself in freerunning.
“This Hollywood fame has come out of nowhere,” he said. “We are proud of him for bringing a good name to Pakistan.”
Recalling Alam’s years of training, his brother said: “There was literally no door, no window in our house that he didn’t break while training. Our mother would always worry for him as he once broke his foot, has injured his arms and back many times and even got 15 stitches for a head injury. It was his passion; he wouldn’t stop practicing despite regular scolding by mom.”
Mashood’s Taekwondo instructor, Naveed Habibi, a 5th den black belt master and official team coach of the Pakistan International Taekwondo Federation, said Alam was “one of my best and most talented students.”
“The spark I saw in him has today become a fire, making him shine in Hollywood. His style is genuine and with his abilities, he will one day stand with the likes of sportsmen-actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone,” Habibi said.
Alam is already a household name in Peshawar, where he said strangers greeted him regularly, offered free meals and made requests for selfies.
“I wish to do something big for them in return,” the actor said. “My biggest aim is to promote parkour in Pakistan. I wish to establish a modern training facility in Pakistan to promote the sport.”
In the future, the freerunner also hopes to work with well-reputed Pakistani film producers: “However, I will always prefer roles that portray the goodness of Pakistanis and Muslims.”
When asked if he had plans to get married, the Hollywood-newbie blushed and said: “I haven’t thought of that yet. There’s no one in my life and I have many goals to achieve before giving this serious thought.”