Love him or hate him, Asher Hussain has made it impossible to ignore Fawad Afzal Khan.
(Published in Dawn Images on Sunday, January 1 2012)
It’s impossible to sit across Fawad Khan and not think of Asher Hussain. Or is it the other way around? Humsafar – the hit TV drama playing on Hum TV these days – has all of Pakistan hooked on to Khirad and Asher’s tragic love story and as we sit face to face in Lahore’s Mrs Field’s Cafe it’s difficult to separate the man from the character he plays.
The same gait and guarded gaze. The same intensity and ego. Fawad Khan has eyes that can go from guarded to piercing in the blink of a moment. He just as easily switches from rock star to romantic hero to anti-hero. Equipped with the good looks expected from any Mills & Boon protagonist, Fawad has Asher Hussain’s killer smile as well as the same dark streak of a man whose passion can drive him to hating his wife with a vengeance.
“But I’m a happily married man!” he protests with a laugh when posed with the question of how a modern day man can behave so primitive.
“I’ve read how people are responding to my character,” he continues, now frowning with the distaste that we’ve become so accustomed to seeing in Humsafar, “but the 21st century man is still very primitive. He has rage, jealousy and he feels possessive. Men have egos and what you see in Humsafar happens in real life, as much as we’d like to deny it. Men are naturally barbarians and that will remain forever. The passion, the love and the lust is intensifying with time.”
How much of Asher is he actually like, one wonders?
“I don’t have a dysfunctional family for starters,” he jokes. “I’m married to the only woman I’ve loved and I’m happy. As far as Asher is concerned, I do throw in elements of my own character to make him real but beyond that I can’t relate to him because I’m not like that. I’m a hopeless romantic but I believe every man should be given the benefit of doubt, which is not an Asher Hussain trait.”
There’s the man defending his character with collected calmness. But then Fawad Khan is a very cool man. He’s a cool man on his way to becoming this generation’s hottest superstar. I wouldn’t hesitate in calling him a heartthrob, given the way young girls keep walking up to him for a photograph.
“Jee, sure,” he replies to all of them, speaking politely like someone who knows he has the wow factor but isn’t sure why.
And that’s just it. Fawad Khan is a star that just doesn’t know it yet. He struggles with the nonchalant, rebellious rock star attitude he’s nurtured with EP all these years. He’s used to lukewarm stardom that came with music and rocketed briefly with Khuda Kay Liye, Shoaib Mansoor’s hit film that brought Fawad’s career to the forefront in 2007. He admits he didn’t cash in on that limelight.
“I was inexperienced and didn’t know what to do while others used KKL’s success to their advantage,” he recollects. “I didn’t attend the premieres or do the morning shows because I was confused whether this was a phase or whether it was something I wanted to do permanently.”
KKL came and left, taking its success with it and leaving behind a very confused artist. A year later EP disbanded and then reunited in 2010, its inconsistency pushing Fawad to take television a bit more seriously. The actor that had debuted on the comical Jutt & Bond then stepped into full time drama serials, most prominently with Satrangi. Despite completing many projects ever since, it’s needless to say that he made his great breakthrough just recently with Humsafar. And now there’s no turning back.
“I’m attempting a lot of things and making up for lost time,” he says. “I’ve been blowing wherever the wind has taken me but I’m finally learning to ride the wave now.”
Sure enough this musician, vocalist, actor and commercial model is doing it all. When you talk to him you sense the clarity gradually seeping into his vision. Television is his true calling, he’s a natural in Humsafar, and he finally speaks about TV’s development with a sense of ownership.
“The industry is in its formative years and has a long way to go,” he states. “Our dramas used to be very mature but I don’t know if they are anymore. Channels are basically thinking in numbers and a serial goes on for 18 to 20 episodes without much planning to it. And dramas here are story driven and plot driven whereas they need to be more character driven, I feel. I think that would make them more real.
“That’s why Humsafar is such a big hit,” he continues. “I have great respect for the aesthetics of Hum TV. They are educated people and that reflects in their work. Humsafar initially read like a regular saas-bahu saga but when I was told that Mahira (Khan) and Naveen (Waqar) were in it with Atiqa Odho and Hina Bayat I felt it would be interesting. The nexus was interesting and we were allowed liberties with the script.”
Humsafar, an adaptation of Farhat Ishtiaq’s Urdu novel, was a 600-page script when it was handed out to the cast. But the production team including Momina Duraid and director Sarmad Khoosat allowed them to modify it up to “60 per cent”. The only thing they couldn’t, or didn’t want to change was the inhibition on displaying intimacy. While watching Humsafar one senses an acute dearth of intimacy between Asher and Khirad, especially when they are falling in love.
“There is censorship,” he agrees, “but the thing is that I don’t know how comfortable my wife, for example, would be with onscreen intimacy. It would be a culture shock for many people. Having said that I feel intimacy is something as silly as walking into the bathroom when your wife’s in there and having a conversation with her. It doesn’t always have to be about hugs and kisses. One step at a time.”
This ‘one step at a time’ journey for Fawad started with Entity Paradigm, the rock band he formed with Ahmed Ali Butt in 2002. Almost a decade later, it’s impossible to ascertain whether it exists or is extinct.
“EP is another complicated marriage,” Fawad smiles as he offers explanation. “Times haves changed so much since we disbanded. It’s not easy to make money off music anymore. We are five members who have other priorities now. I still write music and perform every now and then but I’m not sure whether people would still be interested in an album.”
“In order to be a musician in Pakistan you have to be a revolutionary or a writer from the days of the Russian Revolution when you were doing it for nothing. For most revolutionaries in Pakistan music is a luxury.”
It’s a luxury he cannot afford. Fawad feels Atif Aslam and Ali Zafar are the two exceptions: musicians who have worked incredibly hard for what they have achieved. He’s just happy to have had the luxury of time to make a choice.
With Humsafar that choice is finally made.
Fawad Khan has found his niche and now has all the trappings of a star. He arrives for the interview fifteen minutes late, dressed in track pants, coming straight from the gym. Cigarette in hand and continuing in chain, he asks for both hot coffee and ice cold water, fulfilling the ‘coffee, caffeine, nicotine’ trilogy that comes with stardom.
He’s a star who reportedly drove a young girl to attempted suicide as a way of showing her affection. Also a star that wants to change the game and give people something to talk about other than cricket and politics.
“TV needs to be the medium for progress not degeneration,” Fawad concludes. “There needs to be more programming for children. Plays need to become more responsible. Television has the power to push for change. We need to push it in that direction.”
Questions you’ve always wanted to ask Fawad…
How uncomfortable were you at the Lux Style Awards in 2008 when Shaan was having a standoff with Iman?
“Uncomfortable? Oh not all! To be very honest I was enjoying it immensely. I loved that the focus was off me. I was standing idle on stage and suddenly they started off. I have immense respect for both celebrities but we’re not playing at that level to be able to throw such star tantrums.”
Did you enjoy performing with Saien Zahoor that year?
“I was bullied into it and I’d rather not even discuss it. I was told that Shaan had backed out at the eleventh hour and I was bullied into doing the performance in his place. The song was choreographed for two hours and then we were on stage. I have two left feet and was very uncomfortable.”
With Veena Malik in mind, do you think actors are ambassadors when they cross borders and should be held accountable for inappropriate behaviour?
“Actors should be perceived as ambassadors but every person acts according to his sense of judgment. If someone wants to be a homosexual, a bisexual or strip in front of a camera then it’s his or her choice. I don’t have an opinion on others’ choices. We focus too much on others. We’re a small country with over 16 sects of the same religion. People are fighting all over the country and we need to take a lesson from that and stop interfering. I’d rather have an opinion on someone’s behaviour if they were hurting others.”
Is that your moral mantra?
Morality is a very big debate. For me, morality has every thing to do with principles of being a good human being. That’s what morality is. Do not murder, do not cheat and do not lie.
Musicians are very politically inclined these days. Can we expect to see you performing at a rally too?
I’m not into politics at all. My support is there for anyone who is bringing the change. That said campaigns don’t hold any importance. We need to wait and let a person come into power and implement change before campaigning for him. We put too much responsibility on leaders without taking any responsibility for our own actions.”
Are you looking for mass recognition or elite endorsement?
I feel popularity amongst a select few across every walk is good but if you become a mass hysteria then it’s wonderful. I have no preferences. I feel my popularity is very balanced right now. Popularity is something that I fear. I’d rather keep my feet on the ground. I’m not a cat and it’s not in my genetics to land on my feet. I think I’ll be ready to go higher in a year or two.”