The doorbell rings at 9:00 sharp. On the dot. And I’m thrown a bit off balance, not expecting a young superstar to be so disciplined. It’s not exactly a characteristic associated with young superstars; they tend to take life and time in their stride. But there’s something different about Feroze Khan, someone I wouldn’t hesitate to call the breakthrough artist of 2016. His debut film, Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hai, may have joined the ranks of films that tanked this year, but he didn’t go down with it. He stayed afloat; lighting small sparks in the atmosphere we now know as the new era of cinema.
“Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hai gave me what I needed,” Feroze reminisced his debut film and the appreciation it gathered for him, brushing away any lingering shadows of regret or remorse. “The attention I got was fabulous; there was tremendous love and appreciation. The film may have gotten mixed reviews but I didn’t get a single adverse reaction and that’s what mattered.”
It mattered enough to take him from debut actor to breakthrough artist; it put him on A-list guest lists; he began getting approached for TV serials, films, endorsements, fashion shoots and much more. Turning down more or less everything, Feroze signed up with a talent agency in India and was scheduled to fly out two days before the Uri unrest happened, resulting in an unfortunate plummet in the relationship between both countries. All collaborations between Bollywood and Pakistani artistes were arrested in the process.
“I had been holding out for this project I had agreed to,” he said, adding with a laugh at his luck, “Obviously, I don’t think they were up for it anymore.”
Fortunately, Feroze’s good luck charm – television – came calling and he signed up for a serial, which will air in the first quarter of 2017. Aik Pal, he elaborated, put him in the lead with Ayesha Khan and though he couldn’t give away the story, it would be an emotional role. He hoped to pick up on the popularity he had garnered with Gul e Rana last year. It was Gul e Rana, after all, which put Feroze and Sajal Aly on the map.
Gul e Rana may have thrust Feroze and Sajal into the limelight – their personal relationship lending just as much fodder to fans as the drama did – but there was more to Feroze Khan than Adeel. Who was Feroze Khan, honestly?
Well, for starters he is Humaima Malick’s younger brother, and a self-confessed “family oriented, emotional freak.” His family, he said, ran in his veins and he had seen his parents struggle to get him and his siblings to where they are today.
“If I’m an emotional actor then it’s because I’ve seen so much emotion growing up,” he explained. “I’ve seen days when my father drove a taxi and the landlord would come and kick at our door for rent. I’ve seen my mother take the bus and once, when she was hit by a vehicle, I remember the feeling of helplessness when I stood in the hospital with my elder brother, not knowing whether she was alive. My mother is a very simple woman, but we’re so close that to see her like that was as if someone had wrenched my heart out. I have seen my sister getting divorced and know what it’s like to come home to find everyone crying, wailing. I managed to leave, looking for a future in London, but I have been alone in London, living in solitude at tube stations.”
“So if anyone says I have a long way to go, I just say that I have come a long way. In my eyes my sister is a superstar – just look what she has achieved despite the odds – and I feel like I have achieved so much. I also know that this popularity and fame is very transient. I want to invest in something more solid.”
This takes us from Feroze, the emotive and self-confident star to Feroze, the businessman. One film and several drama serials old, the newcomer already feels that he is ready to invest in his own production house. He needs to have full control over the next film he acts in, he says.
“I had a lot of questions during the production of Zindagi,” he remembered. “But I was too young, too new and I thought it was better to stay quiet and just observe.”
“After ZKHH I was offered nine films in Pakistan that I said no to. Why? Because I had just gone through a process and I knew what it takes to really do a film. If I have the passion for it, and I have the money for it as well, then I’d rather make it myself. If now I do a film I want to do it on my own because see, I feel producers literally fear actors.”
“I’m going to be completely open about what I’ve experienced,” he continued. “I have seen literally the deepest layers of producers, what they go through, how they do it, how they fake it. Producers have to fight through a lot of things to put up a film. Everyone wants to do the business right and there’s so much money involved that it leads to insecurities. I want to be able to welcome newcomers. So if you make a smart film, I would say in Pakistan if you make a film for 7 crore, it can work really well. You can earn also, if you do a straight business. So my plan is to make it myself.”
Films, he added, wasn’t his only avenue for business – though he was setting up his own production house as he planned to make a “kick-ass film” – he was already investing in property. To secure his future, he felt, he had to invest in more than his acting career.
For now, however, it is his acting that has earned him heartthrob status, verified by the 350,000 fans he has on Instagram. All he does is post pictures of himself, I notice, and that’s apparently all people want to see and comment on.
“They just want to see me; they don’t respond if I post pictures of something else,” he explained the dynamic of the bizarre world of Instagram. “They want to know what I’m doing in life, whether I’m working, training or whatever.”
“Instagram is purely for fans,” Feroze continued. “I don’t need to sit and talk about helping the poor or getting a widow married. I’ll help who I want to help on my personal time. I think that’s how a person should help others and I never want to do a public stunt regarding this. I don’t want to collect clothes and build a wall to hang those clothes in front of people. It doesn’t work for me like that.”
Instagram also became e space for his fans to discuss his relationship with Sajal Aly, his co-actor in Gul e Rana and Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hai. They were together for the longest time, sparking rumours of the two even getting engaged.
“Sajal, to be honest with you, holds a very special place in my life. Like a very special place,” Feroze explained, visibly turning on his hero look. “I would literally do anything to be there for her but I’m just a good friend. That’s how I look at her. I want her to be happy and successful.”
“But I think we’ve worked together for so long that we needed space,” he continued, suggesting that there was something deeper that just didn’t work out. “Playing characters like Adeel and Rana wasn’t an easy job! It was a roller coaster and right after that we got into ZKHH and in ZKHH again, we were in constant conflict. I was a beginner and my character was demanding; it was not easy. At the end of it I think we just needed some fresh air, we both just needed some kind of break. So yeah we’re still friends, we’re great friends, I love her.”
And Feroze Khan’s fans love him. He’s choosy about his work, which makes him ever more desirable. He relates to his fans, as he says he’s struggled his way through his early years. He once weighed 140 kgs (though it’s hard to believe) so he knows what it’s like to struggle through school, college and for female attention; he has gotten his heart broken. Once living in Gulshan, he’s worked the bus routes and knows Gul Coach better than anyone else. Feroze has lived both sides of the picture, which is why he understands the picture so well and exactly why he appeals to fans on both sides of the fence.
“You can say I got lucky,” he concludes, leaning forward in the sofa he’s been nestled in for the last hour. “But come on. You decide for yourself where you’re going. This was my destiny.”