Udaari is most definitely one of the only, if not only, socially responsible dramas currently airing on television. It is multi-tiered, drawing attention to class differences, social taboos and most importantly, pedophilia. While most plays cash on the weeping-willow-woman syndrome, Udaari is brave enough to present its women strong willed and independent. And while almost all its characters are portrayed to perfection it is Ahsan Khan’s role as the green eyed devious pedophile that resonates as brilliant.
His presence onscreen makes you cringe; despite being bright eyed and good looking, he sends shivers down your spine when he saunters in. Ahsan Khan has effectively redefined the way we perceive and imagine villains. Imtiaz is not your usually unpleasant and predictably repulsive villain; he’s a pedophile and the kind that usually goes undetected in society. Khan has done a fantastic job in portraying Imtiaz and he’s taken his persona, from a man who steps in to take a widow and her young daughter under his protective wing, to a sexual predator whose bloodshot eyes and body language are blood curdling.
He rapes an eight-year-old girl, his stepdaughter.
“I don’t think such an evil character has ever been written for television,” Khan shared in a tete a tete about his character. “We are used to seeing such characters in films but seldom on television.” Was he at all apprehensive when agreeing to portray such a vile man?
“I did initially wonder whether it would hit my career negatively,” he replied truthfully. “Our public can get very judgemental. I read the scenes and they did worry me because the character was such an awful person. But I agreed and now I’m really proud I did this.”
Ahsan went on to elaborate why it was so important to expose a man like Imtiaz to the world. First of all, there was a sense of responsibility to educate people about the social evil of pedophilia.
“TV has tremendous outreach and I think this is the best way to educate people,” he said. “It’s not like the government is going to do anything. The play is very brazen but let me explain. My daughter is 8 and she’s not interested in dramas but I make her watch certain scenes to create awareness. I want her to know about good touch and bad touch. My housemaid came to me with this issue she was facing at her home – when I was contemplating the script – and I thought we needed to educate the masses. Yes, people have complained that it is too bold but if people are okay watching ‘Sheila ki Jawani’ and people are okay taking their children to watch vulgar films then why is this a problem? This is basic awareness. I have 3 kids and I know how much they pick up from television. This is a bold topic, yes, but people must know about it.”
He lightheartedly shared how his fan base of older fans – “the aunties” – expressed their disappointment. They always thought of him as a sweet, charming actor but this character had completely changed his impression.
Secondly, he elaborated how important it was for him to diversify as an actor.
“Actors are stereotyped in Pakistan so easily,” he said. “They are made to look the same and act the same and they do the same thing for years. Look at Hollywood and look at their actors – they are seen in so many variations and that’s what an actor should be. There should be surprise or shock factor in his roles. My image on TV is of being a mainstream chocolate hero, a lovey dovey guy; it’s always a romantic hero. But I try to experiment. I played a slightly psycho character in Niyat. I played a rapist in Paani Jaisa Pyar. In Iman I played a chichora, cheap guy. So I try and do different character but rarely do such scripts come along. This character was hardcore, so much so that when I first read the script I was like, ‘hey no!’ But Momina and Ehtasham convinced me. They didn’t want to typify the character by casting someone who plays a villain. And I agreed. I also think we need normal, grey characters because on TV you’re either very, very good or dreadful.”
The Ahsan Khan we see in Udaari is the polar opposite of how we perceive him in real life. And he makes huge effort to keep his image clean and positive; he was seen at an iftaar dastarkhwan organized by Rizq, a group of Lahore-based, LUMS students who have been hosting iftars for the underprivileged. “To be honest I wasn’t very active but when I started doing charity work it gave me so much satisfaction that I eased into it. It has become a passion now. I feel I have to do more. When I sit and eat with these people I feel at home. I love it. I have become restless to do more.” His choice of hosting the Ramazan transmission on PTV World has also been very safe. He’s vocal about his dislike of game shows that make a mockery of guests and religion.
Coming back to entertainment, we’ve also seen Ahsan perform at every award ceremony in the country so dance is obviously something he enjoys tremendously. He jokes about how he would have loved to dance on the big screen though his next film has no dance numbers.
“I’ve enjoyed working in Chuppan Chupai, a comedy of errors,” he reveals about his upcoming film. “It’s a Karachi centric film like and unlike Na Maloom Afraad. The cast includes several veterans like Talat Husain, Jawed Sheikh, Sakina Samoon, me and then there are three new boys from Napa. Neelam Munir has been cast in the film and this may be a breakthrough for her.”
“The other film I’ve signed up for,” he shares, “is a rom-com, being made abroad and I’ll be leaving for Canada next month.”
- The first version of this story was published in Instep: http://www.thenews.com.pk/magazine/instep-today/128068-I-dont-think-such-an-evil-character-has-ever-been-written-for-television