Interview by Ally Adnan

Known both for his immense talent and for his looks, Faisal Qureshi is one of Pakistan’s most well-known, versatile and popular actors. Faisal has maintained his status as an A-Lister amongst actors for almost a quarter of a century and appears all set for greater success, fame and renown in coming years. In an exclusive interview for GT, Faisal Qureshi talks to Ally Adnan about himself, his career as an actor and show business in Pakistan.

You have been in the field of acting for more than thirty years. How has the world of show business in Pakistan changed during this period?

The industry has undergone a tremendous change during this period. In the early years, there was very little competition. Pakistan Television Corporation was funded by the state and was the only network around. People in the industry, therefore, did not have to worry about the commerce of show business and were able to devote all of their energies to art. They could undertake daring projects without having to worry about their commercial viability. They also knew that viewers had no choices other than the ones that were broadcast on their network.

Things have changed. The industry has grown tremendously since those times. We have had greater exposure. Much better equipment than was ever available to us is now at our disposal. And we have a lot of competition now. More than a hundred channels and production houses compete with each other in Pakistan today. Viewers have dozens of choices at any given moment. They are no longer bound to watching a single television channel. On the international level, Pakistani programs compete with those from the United Kingdom, India, Turkey, the United States and several other countries. As a result, producers, directors, writers and even actors have to pay attention to both the quality and the commercial viability of programs. Daring projects come with risks.

Has the focus on the commercial aspects of show business taken away from the quality and content of programming?

No, fortunately, it has not. If I were to sum it up in one sentence, I would say that we used to focus almost exclusively on art in the past and now we focus on both art and commerce. There are those who will disagree with me but I firmly believe that our television plays are as good as, and occasionally better than, those that were produced in the first thirty years of Pakistani television. They can also hold their own against those produced in India, Turkey and several other countries. Our plays are enormously popular in India where we have channels dedicated exclusively to Pakistani serials. Bollywood films have never been as popular in Pakistan as our plays have been in India. We may be making money but are not doing so at the expense of art.

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I have always paid a lot of attention to people around me and studied their actions, emotions, speech and mannerisms

Traditionally, a career in show business has not been considered respectable in Pakistan. Indeed, it used to be more of a hobby and not aserious vocation for a number of people in the field. Has that changed?

That was the case a long time ago. Things have changed greatly. We have a number of highly educated, extremely talented and highly experienced people in the industry, many of whom have studied film and television in some of the most prestigious international schools and universities. Scions of respectable and well-known families are actively involved in show business. It can no longer be a hobby. Acting is now a demanding, competitive and serious profession; 1) because, there is money in the field and, 2) because there is a lot of competition. Any actor who appears on television today competes with hundreds of others. Only the best can survive. In Pakistan, a career in show business is respectable, financially viable and rewarding in Pakistan today. The days when one could get into acting just because of good looks and social standing are mostly over. Today, it is necessary for people to have real talent and a serious desire to make acting their career in order to succeed in show business.

That probably makes it very difficult for newcomers to enter the industry.

Yes, very difficult. It is not easy to enter the field these days. It seems that everyone wants to get in. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people audition for acting roles on a daily basis in Pakistan. Patience, persistence and perseverance are needed to succeed in addition, of course, to talent and good looks. This is actually a good thing because the competitive atmosphere eliminates those who are not serious about show business and are trying acting just for fun.

Does the competitive environment, along with the allure of show business make newcomers susceptible to emotional, sexual and financial abuse?

Yes, it does. The problem has exacerbated in Pakistan during the last decade because there is more money and glamour in the field than there ever was in the past. A lot of people want to get in and at any cost.The problem, however, is not unique to Pakistan. It may be a little worse in our country but it exists all over the world.

Other countries, however, have laws, acts and regulations to address issues of abuse. We do not. We also do not have unions to protect the interests of actors and prevent their exploitation. Do we not need an actors’ union in Pakistan?

We most certainly do and we are working on it. Atiqa Odho is leading the charge. Faysal Rehman, Sania Saeed, Nauman Ejaz and I, along with a few others, are involved. It may take a little while but we will eventually have an actors’ union in our country.

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Good looks have become a pre-requisite for becoming an actor. In the long run, though, much else is required

Are Pakistani actors paid residuals and royalties for re-runs? 

No. It is something that will happen eventually but I do not think that now is the time to address the issue. The business case for making residual payments is not solid at this point. It is easy to blame the channels for being greedy and not paying actors when programs are re-televised: that is unfair. The cost of producing good programs is very high in Pakistan and the returns are often rather slim. So, there is not enough money in the pot to pay residuals. Once we start exporting our programs on a large scale, the revenue of channels will increase and it will become both fair and necessary to set up a mechanism to pay actors residuals for re-runs. We are not at that stage today.

You said that talent and several other factors are necessary for success in show business. Good looks, however, seem to be necessary, and often sufficient for people to become actors in Pakistan. Why?

That is certainly the case. The primary demographic that television caters to in Pakistan likes good looking young men and women. The industry is bound to pay attention to the demographic. As a result, good looks have become a pre-requisite for becoming an actor. In the long run though, much else is needed. I do not think entering show business on the basis of good looks is a very serious problem. At the end of the day, we sell dreams to people. There is no real harm in making those dreams pretty and glamorous.

Do you think that it is socially responsible to always show good looking people, wearing designer clothes, living in palatial homes and driving luxury cars, in our plays?

It is not if it is done excessively and exclusively.

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In your case, was it looks or talent that helped you become a successful actor?

I don’t think it was looks. I have worked very hard to bank on my histrionic talents during my career as an actor and on nothing else. I have played some decidedly unglamorous roles on television. There have been many roles – many, many roles – where my characters have been far from good-looking. I have often worked without make up to look the part. Actors are judged on the basis of talent and not on looks. I had made a conscious choice, a long time ago, to become a highly skilled and well respected actor. It has never been my desire to become a superstar. My desire is to have my name in the list of capable and competent Pakistani actors.

Who do you think are Pakistan’s capable and competent actors?

Talat Hussain, Muhammad Qavi, Firdaus Jamal and Abid Ali are certainly very capable and hugely talented. Ali Ejaz and Khayam Sarhadi are excellent. I don’t think any of them have ever worried about anything other than the demands of the characters they play. Appearance, clothes, homes and cars have only been used when there has been a need.

Do you like any of the younger actors?

Yes, there are some who are good and quite a few who show promise. I think that Fahad Mustafa is a very good actor. He has immense talent and is likely to emerge as a major actor in television as well as film.

How did you learn to act?

It was by watching the performances of good actors. My mother is a well-known actor. I, therefore, had the opportunity of meeting and spending time with a lot of great actors and directors as a young man. I also spent a lot of time on sets as a child. I used to watch directors like Nusrat Thakur and Yawar Hayat direct actors. I paid attention to actors while they prepared for their roles, had discussion with directors and co-stars, and memorised their lines. Early on in my life, I realized that the power of observation was an essential trait in actors. I have always paid a lot of attention to people around me and studied their actions, emotions, speech and mannerisms. This has helped me a great deal as an actor.

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My mother is a well- known actor. I had the opportunity of meeting and spending time with a lot of directors and actors as a young man

There was no formal education in acting?

Not really but some of the senior actors coached me for long hours. Ali Ejaz helped me prepare for the role of Boota in Toba Tek Singh. We discussed my role with him at great length. There were scenes that he enacted for me to make sure that I knew how to deliver some key lines correctly. He was a great teacher as were many others. I think that my education in acting, albeit informal, was great.

Did you also learn from any international actors?

I respect a lot of international actors but have not learnt acting by observing any of them. It is not possible to learn from them. If we are depicting Pakistani society in our plays and films, then our references need to be Pakistani as well. Actors fail when they use foreign references while playing indigenous characters.

The world of show business is not known for its sense of morality as much as it is for beauty, glamour and splendor? Does this make life difficult for married actors?

It would seem that way but it does not. Today, acting is demanding, arduous and grueling. The atmosphere on the set is far from being conducive to romance. Actors are too busy memorising lines, getting make-up done, managing schedules, and understanding their roles to be le to think about romance. They also see each other without make-up and, trust me, a lot of us are not as attractive as we seem on-screen.

Ally Adnan lives in Dallas andwrites about culture, history and the arts.
He tweets @allyadnan and can be reached at allyadnan@outlook.com.

Photographs: Yaseen Lakhani

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