The Golden Boy of Pakistani TV
By Saba Ahmed
It’s just so easy to talk to Ahsan Khan. He has an ease about him that makes everything seem alright: our firstÂ conversation feels like I’ve been reunited with an old friend. This is his charm â€” his positivity, his ability and his kindness â€” a bit ofÂ which resides in every TV-viewing Pakistani household
Congrats on your win at the HUM awards this year for Mausam! How does it feel to have won? Do you feel that the networks have favorites?
There are loads of actors around me who move in a network of people they happen to be working with. There are always lobbies and everyone has their favorites. But I’ve been working with everyone and everywhere. I try to choose projects where I’m working with people who are great at what they do, but beyond that, I have not fixed myself to a certain production house; I don’t feel good doing that. I want variety in my life, not only for my characters but also for the team that I work with. At PTV last year I did Heer Ranjha which was a very desi play. I immensely enjoy working with HUM TV. They are the network that has most adequately showcased my skills and acting ability. They have always given me very different types of characters like in Daastan, Paani Jaisa Pyaar and some others. I guess it’s natural to end up having favorites!
Do you think awards help an actor’s career?
If any actor says that awards don’t help, they’re being not-so-honest because everyone in the industry wants acknowledgment of some kind. There’s hardly a plethora of awards â€” there’s HUM, LUX and PTV. Of these three awards, if an actor wins any one, it feels good. This year, I also won a LUX award but that was for a producer award. I had produced for the first time so you can only imagine my surprise. In fact, it’s convinced me to take on more production work. So at the end of the day, everyone can use the acknowledgment.
â€œWhen I began my career, I had trouble saying two lines in front of the cameraâ€
There are much fewer comedies on Pakistani television now and the quality has also weakened for the comedies that are there. Why do you think this is?
I agree. Sadly, it’s not the audiences, it’s the channels. They no longer consider comedy a serious business. That is why, nowadays, comedy shows are mainly limited to some rubbish sitcoms which are aired at 7 pm. They’re just filling the slots, these shows, they’re not considered a great thing to watch or to be featured next to. I did Taakay Ki Aayegi Baraat on Geo and I still feel that that kind of script, the kind of class displayed by the actors involved and the way the channel showed it, it turned out great. Sitcom producers get paid less and are hence less motivated to do good work. The serious drama usually gets higher ratings than a comedy. It’s the unfortunate truth. When something becomes a hit, people relentlessly follow the same formula for success.
You have the most extensive Lollywood and television screen experience of any Pakistani actor your age. For each, tell us about how you feel they have progressed and what is still standing in the way of progress for them?
The old Lollywood is almost gone and, now, since the past two years, we’ve had a revival of a new kind of cinema. When you look back at Lollywood, the people were hardworking, they were great technicians, and great actors too. But still they were not exposed, creatively, in the way filmmakers now are. Most of those in Lollywood were coming straight from their villages and making films for themselves. I’ve always called it a regional film industry â€”Â people making films for their specific regional villages mainly. In the middle there, Lollywood had zero international presence. Choorian, for example, was a big hit, but at the end of the day, it was mainly targeted towards and watched by a small, specific, regional audience. That era is gone. Now we have an extremely educated, professional class of people making films with an international sheen, certainly in terms of production values.
One impediment here is that audiences are nitpicky and critical. When the industry is new and raw, there is a learning curve and audiences should ideally allow for that in terms of their reception and criticism of new works. When I began my career, I had trouble saying two lines in front of the camera! But with the passage of time, I’ve seen a huge change in my career, in my skills. and in my acting ability and it’s similar for the industry.
For the drama industry, one thing that scares me is that many good directors and actors want to concentrate only on films. The result will be that the quality of our dramas could drop. We should not forget that we are known for our dramas. For all the actors who have become big stars: I’m not popular today because of Lollywood but because of the drama industry. If Fawad Khan, Mahira Khan, Saba Qamar are stars today, it’s because of the drama industry. We owe something to it and cannot neglect it.
â€œWhen something becomes a hit, people relentlessly follow the same formula for successâ€
Since the heyday of Dhoop Kinare and Tanhaayan, do you think scripts have gotten weaker or stronger?
I don’t think that scripts have gotten weaker, I always say this. The difference now is that you now have twenty different channels instead of one and to fill them all, you need lots of dramas. So like any other field and in other part of the world, there is A, B and C category work. In the Pakistani drama industry, there are also all types of people. We have great writers like Umera Ahmad, Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar, Zafar Mairaj, Faiza Iftikhar, Zanjabeel Asim Shah and Noor-ul-Huda Shah. There are many more. They write so well and if alongside them, you choose a good director and a good cast, the drama can become excellent. Our dramas which have become international hits and our TV actors have now become mega stars just by virtue of these spectacular dramas. I am very happy with this industry and I will not say that good work is not being done.
How is your ideal day off spent?
I have three kids, Mashallah. That’s my ideal day off, I just laze around, and I literally lay like a log and let my kids climb all over me. That’s the best and most blessed feeling. I work hard and travel so much that I hardly feel like being on the move again so I just enjoy talking with them, coloring, watching a movie, maybe going out for a small drive, for ice cream.
As a Lahori, personally and professionally, what are the pros and cons of living in Karachi?
This question sounds so odd to me because it instantly brings up that Lahori Karachi rivalry! I have never in my career or in my life felt this difference and have never even felt that people from either city treat me differently. I love both cities and I also love living in Karachi. My friends from Karachi can’t believe that after having lived in Lahore I can actually enjoy living in Karachi. I’m generally a very flexible guy and always live for the present.
Career wise, I have grown in Karachi as an actor more, obviously because all the work is being done here. Noman Ijaz, Fawad Khan, Me, Mikaal, Saba Qamar, Ayesha Khan and many others have all come from Lahore.
â€œIf Fawad Khan, Mahira Khan, Saba Qamar are stars today, it’s because of the drama industryâ€
Who’s one director whom you’d love to work with?
Vishal Bhardwaj is someone whose work I have always admired. Haider, Omkara and Maqbool are incredible works of art.Â Having acted in Shakespearean plays during my childhood and then in school, Shakespeare has also been one of my favorite writers.
I’m a big fan of Irani cinema and one director whose work I really admire is Majid Majidi. Another is Asghar Farhadi who won me over with A Separation. I always encourage Pakistani audiences to explore Irani cinema as it features phenomena closer to home while still maintaining a subtler style of expression than our own.
What is your greatest weakness?
Good food! I’m a real foodie and I love living in Karachi and visiting Lahore so that I get the best of both worlds!
What is your greatest extravagance?
Clothes, shoes and shopping! I know, it’s a “woman’s” response to the question, but when I represent our industry, I always like to put my best foot forward. I also love gadgets: the latest speakers, phones, you name it.
Favorite Pakistani actress?
Barbara Sharif, she’s still so very cute! I love her for how much poise and dignity she spent the last years of her career. She’s terrifically multi-talented, she always did great comedy. And did I mention that she’s still gorgeous?!
Pakistani actor you most admire?
Noman Ijaz and Shaan. Enough said!
Photography | AB Lakhani
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