One of Pakistan’s most successful male models, Usman Butt has been graced fashions shows, print advertisements and television commercials for more than four years and will soon debut as an actor in the upcoming television serial, Dilaara. The handsome young man tells Ally Adnan why he is more than just a pretty face 

Your first television serial, Bol Entertainment’’s Dilaara, will be on air soon. Are you excited?

I’m excited and truthfully also a little anxious.

Why are you anxious?

Dilaara marks my debut as an actor. I have seen success as a model and hope to find it as an actor as well but sometimes worry that viewers may not like me on television. I have seen rushes of the play and am satisfied with my work. But it still feels just like waiting for the results of an exam that I think I’ve done well in, hence, the anxiety.

What’s Dilaara about?

Dilaara deals with the subject of loveless marriages. A large number of marriages in our country are the result of coercion, deception and blackmail, both emotional and physical, and not of love. Dilaara tells the story of one such marriage and its devastating consequences.

Do you feel that Dilaara will be a hit amongst television viewers? 

Yes, I absolutely do. The topic of Dilaara is important and relevant. Forced marriages, though common in Pakistan, have rarely been explored on television as a subject in a serial. Bee Gul’s phenomenal script delves into the subject with great intelligence and sensitivity. The serial tells a poignant and social relevant story. I believe that Dilaara will strike a chord with audiences and become a huge hit. The serial has many strengths.

What are these strengths of Dilaara?

Dilaara tells a very good story and tells it well. The characters are rich, real and nuanced.  Khalid Ahmed has directed the serial with great skill and elicited some truly remarkable performances from the actors. Abid Ali and Kinza Razak are brilliant in the serial. I believe I have done well as an actor too. The production design is good. It has been shot well and the score is excellent. A lot of good poetry has been used judiciously in the serial.  Dilaara will be one for the ages, in my opinion.

Tell us about the character you play.

I play the role of a kind and sensitive young man named Shuja who finds himself drawn into a forbidden relationship and has to make a choice between following his heart and behaving in an honourable manner. His decision is not an easy one; it is made difficult by the social, cultural and religion norms of Pakistani society, his own sense of right and wrong, and the thinly-veiled mendacity that pervades the world he lives in.

How did you land the role of Shuja?

Khalid Ahmed auditioned me for the role.

You started your career in show business with modeling. Was it difficult to make the transition to acting?

Yes, it was. Acting and modeling are vastly different. I had to work hard to learn acting and get comfortable in front of the television camera. Three people: Actor/director Khalid Ahmed, and writers Bee Gul and Faseeh Bari Khan, gave me invaluable advice, guidance and encouragement during the process. They are my mentors in the world of show business.

How are modeling and acting different?

The business of modeling is very different from that of acting. The duration of projects, payment structures, industry economics, and career management – virtually everything – is different in the two fields.

The primary requirement for a model is good looks whereas that for an actor is histrionic ability. A model’s thought process, while performing, is generally outward. He opens himself up for the camera. An actor’s thinking is inward. He largely ignores the camera. A model conducts himself with confidence and assurance whereas an actor needs to have both humility and vulnerability. A model has to play a part for a short period of time and does not need to immerse himself in the character that he plays. An actor, on the other hand, has to play a character for extended periods of time, learn lines, and have an understanding of the whole story.

Does it help to have both acting and modeling skills?

Yes, my acting ability helps me a great deal in modeling, especially when I work in commercials. As an actor, I benefit from the confidence, sense of style and poise that I have cultivated in my years of modeling.

Which do you like more, acting or modeling?

Acting, without a doubt.

Why?

Modeling is mostly about having good looks. If one has the right genes, a sense of style and no fondness for food, little else is required to do well as a model. I believe there is more to me than my good looks. I have acting talent. I am hardworking, disciplined and driven. I understand cinema and television. And I have a natural flair for acting. I cannot be content with just modeling.

Additionally, I am more comfortable in the world of acting. Modeling is intensely competitive. People in the fashion business tend to be unfriendly and cold. I guess the short duration of modeling gigs does not allow one to forge meaningful relationships and friendships. I find people in television to be warm and friendly. They work together as a family and offer each other a lot of support, help and guidance. I like the congenial and friendly atmosphere of the world of television.

Do you plan to give up modeling if and when your acting career takes off?

No, as much as I prefer acting, I could never give up modeling. Frankly, it’s very lucrative, relatively easy and a lot of fun. I love the energy, excitement and exhilaration of walking the ramp. I relish wearing good, fashionable clothes. I enjoy seeing myself on billboards, in publications and on television. And I like the perks – gifts of clothes, luxury travel, and many others – that come with modeling.

What do you like to do when not working?

I am a fitness freak and believe in eating well and staying fit. I spend a lot of my time in the gym. Not only does working out keep me healthy, happy and energetic, but essentially in my line of work, it also helps me manage my weight and keep fit. I cannot imagine a day in my life when I would not spend a few hours in the gym.

I enjoy travelling alone as it clears my head; I process my thoughts and find peace. I like places that are off the beaten path and tend to avoid tourist destinations. I love the sights and sounds of new places and foreign lands.  Adventure and discovery are exhilarating, educational and enjoyable.

In a recent interview, you spoke very candidly about the prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse in the world of show business. Did you experience any backlash because of your comments?

No, not really. A couple of people who had hit on me, in the past, called and asked me if I was going to name them as predators in future interviews.

Are you going to name and shame them?

No, I am not. The people that I mentioned had backed off when I refused. They never offered to help me in exchange for favours received and did not threaten to hurt my career after I refused. They have not propositioned me since and have remained nice and friendly towards me. They had a right to ask me as did I to say no; we exercised our rights as adults and moved on. No harm was done. I don’t think it would be right to out and publicly shame them. They don’t deserve it.

Now that the shooting of Dilaara is complete, are you looking at other acting projects?

I want to take a month long break before taking on a new acting project. Working in Dilaara was great fun but it wore me out nonetheless. I need to spend time with my family, rest, relax, and recoup my energy before I resume work.

Have you been offered any acting work recently?

Yes, I received an offer to work in a soap from a major television channel a few weeks ago but turned it down because I am not sure that I want to do soaps. I find the quality and content of regular television serials to be generally higher than that of soaps. I’m also in the early stages of a discussion about working in a film about the fashion industry. It has a promising story and script. And, I just received a call about working as the lead in a telefilm that will be made in Islamabad. I believe that I will get more – and better – offers once Dilaara starts airing. I put my heart and soul into the serial and hope that it will open many doors for me.  Fingers crossed.

Photographs by Mohsin Khawar

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

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