One of Pakistan’s top models, Omer Shahzad made a thunderous entry in the world of television with a powerful performance in Adhoori Aurat. In a little over two years, he has turned in solid performances in a number of serials: Anaya Tumhari Hui, Bahu Begum, Choti Choti Khushiyan, Main Baraye Farokht, Mere Apne, and Mere Humraahi and is one of the country’s busiest actors today. A thorough gentleman, Omer is known in the industry not just for his acting talent and good looks, but also for his professionalism, kind-heartedness and discipline. Currently working in several television serials, he also recently started shooting for his first feature film. In an exclusive interview for GT, Omer talks to Ally Adnan about modeling, acting, friendship, the glamour of show business, and a lot else

You are one of Pakistan’s top models and a very successful actor today. That must make it very easy to pick up girls.

That, actually, was never a problem, to begin with.

So, what have you gained from being a celebrity?

A lot. I have gained recognition, respect and admiration; I make a good living; I am treated very well in hotels, at airports, in restaurants and a lot of other places, I get to dress up well. Moreover, I have the love, blessings and prayers of my fans, which is invaluable.

Has fame and fortune come with a loss of privacy?

No, not really. I know that a lot of celebrities complain about the loss of privacy but I actually enjoy being in the public eye. I thrive on love, recognition and appreciation. I do not mind when someone approaches me to have a selfie taken with me; in fact, I like it. I am happy when someone asks for an autograph. I respond to fan mail diligently. These are little things that I am happy to do to make my fans happy. These people are responsible for my fame, success and stardom. I owe it to them.

Omer Shahzad - Photograph by Ammar Sharif - 04

How have you managed to always steer clear of gossip and rumor?

There are two reasons. One, I am in the public eye and, consequently, very careful of my conduct and behavior. I make sure that I behave well and try not to do things that would feed the rumor mill. Two, I value privacy. I am very friendly with the press and with my fans and enjoy spending time with them. However, I never talk about my private life because that opens the door for the invasion of my privacy. I think that limits the potential for gossip.

Why do you think people gossip about celebrities?

I think the main reason is human nature. A lot of people envy celebrities and just want to bring down whoever they feel is riding high. Plain and simple schadenfreude. The rumor mill starts churning as soon as a star hits a high level of fame and adulation. Envy, jealousy, failure and resentment seem to encourage people to gossip about successful people.

Ally Adnan & Omer Shahzad - Photograph by Ammar Sharif - 02

A lot of people envy celebrities and just want to bring down whoever they feel is riding high. Plain and simple schadenfreude. The rumor mill starts churning as soon as a star hits a high level of fame and adulation. Envy, jealousy, failure and resentment seem to encourage people to gossip about successful people

A lot of models move to acting after a few years of modeling. You seem to be have done the same. Why?

A career in modelling is typically short-lived. Moving on to acting allows models a chance to continue being in the public eye and enjoy the benefits of a career that has longvity. Furthermore, it gives them an opportunity to prove that there is more to them than just good looks. Acting skills, at least in Pakistan, are valued above modeling ability.

Is that why you started to acting?

My case is different. I had always wanted to be an actor but the only opportunities that I got in the beginning were for modelling. As a result, I started modelling but I always had my eye on acting. Once I became a well-known model, and was recognized all over the country, I was inundated with offers to act.

Omer Shahzad - Photograph by Ammar Sharif - 17

Do you enjoy modeling?

Yes, I do. I love the energy, excitement and exhilaration of walking the ramp. I like wearing good, fashionable clothes. I enjoy the attention and the instantaneous feedback. Modelling is a lot of fun.

What qualities and attributes do you think are needed to become a good model?

In order to be a good model, one needs to have good looks, sharp features, a fit physique and some ability to act. You also have to look unique and distinctive. Height is important, especially for ramp work. Having a stage presence and being photogenic is vital. One also needs to know how to pose, walk and hold himself. He must be able to convey emotion. Modelling is a tedious job and requires a lot of hard work. It is, therefore, necessary to be committed and have a lot of patience and the right attitude.

Omer Shahzad - Photograph by Ammar Sharif - 03

How Do modelling and acting differ?

Modelling and acting are totally different.

Models think outwards and work to seduce the camera. Actors, on the other hand, think inwards and try to create a moment. Good looks are essential for modelling, whereas histrionic abilities are necessary for acting. Models need to be self-assured, confident and perfectly poised. Actors must be willing to give their own self up to become the character they are playing. A lack of ego, a bit of humility and a little vulnerability is required for acting. Actors also have to learn lines. They need to have an understanding of the big picture, the whole story. It is a totally different ball game.

I have to admit that I have never had close friends in my life. I have yet to experience a close friendship. It has always been elusive to me. I would like to experience a true friendship, at least once

Does it help to be both an actor and a model?

Models certainly benefit from having acting skills, but being a competent model does not help much in acting.

How did you learn to act?

I had been interested in acting long before I became a professional actor. I used to watch a lot of films and studied the performances of many great actors very carefully. I also took a few classes and attended a couple of acting workshops.

Is the world of television very different from that of modelling?

The world of fashion modelling is very competitive and, for the lack of a better word, cold. Assignments tend to be short and fragmented. This makes it difficult to forge good professional relationships. A fierce competition exists between top models. Television is warm, accommodating and friendly. The whole production team works together as a family – usually a happy one – and members tend to help each other. Senior actors are kind and warm. They are a veritable source of instruction, education and learning, not to mention inspiration. Senior models, on the other hand loathe teaching the tricks of the trade to newcomers.

Omer Shahzad - Photograph by Ammar Sharif - 02

Did you plan to work in cinema?

Yes, working in feature films has long been a dream for me. I have just signed up to play the male lead in director Iqbal Kashmiri’s next film. I play the role of a bank robber who, after a successful robbery, runs off to Thailand with the loot and with the girl he loves, leaving his partner alone to face the music. It is a fast-paced action thriller, different from earlier Pakistani films.

A lot of Pakistani actors regard working in Bollywood as a big achievement. Do you have a burning desire to work in Indian films?

I have a burning desire to work in good films in which I have meaty roles. These can be Pakistani, Indian, American, etc.

Unlike a lot of young actors, you are known for being punctual, polite, disciplined and respectful. Do you not want to be treated like a big star?

I never want to be arrogant, haughty and conceited. I want respect instead of super-star treatment. The easiest way to get respect is to give it in equal measure. I dislike people who misbehave, are tardy, throw tantrums and make life difficult for others. I never want to be one of them.

What exercise regimen do you follow to stay fit?

Physical fitness is very important to me. I have a well-prepared diet plan that I follow religiously. I almost never overeat and stay away from unhealthy foods. I am committed to a one hour daily rigorous workout.

What do you do to maintain your looks?

I drink lots of water. I do not drink alcohol and stay away from greasy foods. I always wear sunblock, when out in the sun, and I get plenty of sleep. That’s about it.

The world of show business is known for the emotional, financial and sexual abuse of newcomers. What do you think of this dark side of show business?

The dark side that you mention certainly exists. I also agree that we have a lot of abuse of newcomers in the world of show business. I disagree with people who say that one must succumb to abuse to succeed in show business. Newcomers, who are confident of their abilities and not in a rush to become stars, do not have to submit to exploitation and abuse. They succeed on the basis of talent, attitude and hard work.

Is the world of show business as glamorous as it appears to be?

It is certainly glamorous, but is not very genuine, in my opinion. A lot that is glamorous, glitzy and dazzling is also illusory and fake.

Are friendships important to you?

I have to admit that I have never had close friends in my life. I have yet to experience a close friendship. It has always been elusive to me. I would like to experience a true friendship, at least once.

What projects are you working on currently?

I have just started shooting for my first feature film, which is being directed by Iqbal Kashmiri. Three of my serials: Begunaah, Saas Bahu, Kaanch Ke Rishtay, are airing currently. I just wrapped up work in the serial Noor Jehan, airing December. I play the role of an inflexible, principled and uncompromising young man, Zaheer, in Noor Jehan. Having lost his parents in his childhood, he feels responsible for the lives and welfare of his two elder sisters and is determined to never to fall in love. His orderly life is turned upside down when he meets and falls in love with a young girl named Noor Jehan. It is an interesting role. I am also working in Khawab Sab Dhool Huay and Kyun Mili Saza, currently under production.

Photographs | Ammar Sharif

Ally Adnan lives in Dallas and writes about culture, history and the arts. He tweets @allyadnan and can be reached [email protected].

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