Tell us about your roots in the arts. Where did your earliest influence in performing come from and did you always know you wanted to become an actor?
Iâ€™ve always had a keen interest in the arts. I have a double major in finance and art, with a minor in psychology. My concentration was sculpting with clay and metal as a medium. However, as far as performing or acting is concerned, itâ€™s something I never envisioned myself doing. I think it was just a way of pursuing my late sisterâ€™s dream. She was a director and was intent on getting involved with films. I started working behind the camera and did a few commercials, which were followed by offers to act. One thing led to another and the rest is history. Youâ€™re a trained visual effects director from Franklin & Marshall College.
Pakistanâ€™s favourite heartthrob returns on a magazine cover after two years to spill the beans on his highly anticipated project, Superstar, and his life off camera. Dive into our pages to read Bilalâ€™s exclusive chat with Mehek Raza Rizvi
Do you find yourself being finical about how your scenes are executed?
Not really. I donâ€™t believe in interfering in someone elseâ€™s creative process. The best results are produced when everyone is trusted to do their job right. The director and his team know best. I will only ever give my input if Iâ€™m asked for feedback or advice. As far as finding an outlet to unleash my creativity is concerned, Iâ€™ll do it with my own production, which Iâ€™ll be able to speak more about soon.
The strong impression you made with Janaan in 2016 was preceded by a cameo in 021 that didnâ€™t get you the same kind of attention. How did you stay steadfast in an industry that was still growing?
021 was a project I did without putting in too much thought. I wasnâ€™t trying to achieve anything specific with that cameo. Janaan, on the other hand, came my way while I was already working on Yalghaar and had started taking my career as an actor more seriously. It offered me a great story, script and team to work with, despite being a small production.Â I credit its success to good intent. The whole team of Janaan poured out their hearts and souls into delivering the best they had and I guess thatâ€™s what eventually makes a film truly special. However, the movie business is tricky. You can never be sure of what does well at the box office eventually. You just have to give your best shot and pray everything goes well.
As far as performing or acting is concerned, itâ€™s something I never envisioned myself doing. I think it was just a way of pursuing my late sisterâ€™s dream
From 021 to Momina Duraidâ€™s Superstar, how has Bilal Ashraf evolved over the course of five movies?
Superstar promises its audience a complete package. People will see sides of me as a performer that they havenâ€™t before. Theyâ€™ve seen me do action and other serious roles, but this is the first time Iâ€™m dancing in a movie. Itâ€™s also the first time Iâ€™m playing a complete romantic.
Preparing for Superstar has been a phenomenal journey, primarily because Mahira Khan and I were sent for theatrical training in London. Iâ€™ve learnt some great new techniques, but applying them to the script proved to be challenging. We work in an environment where using foreign techniques means they need to be altered to suit the script so thereâ€™s extra effort required. I feel that helped me grow a lot as an actor. Everyoneâ€™s excited to see you and Mahira sharing screen space. Tell us more about the film.
I wish I could reveal more about the film, but at this point I can only assure you that everyone involvedâ€”from the spot boys to the actorsâ€”is giving their hundred percent. Weâ€™re working relentlessly to make this an unforgettable movie and hopefully people will be able to see that.
Once on a flight to London, a girl created a scene because she wanted to sit next to me but the seat was occupied by an eldery man who refused to move
We hear youâ€™ve been working really hard at the gym recently. Why is fitness important to you?
Fitness should be important to everyone. A healthy lifestyle is crucial to a fulfilling life. Having said that, Iâ€™m working extra hard at the gym because itâ€™s a requirement for my role in Superstar. I felt having a fitter form would add more layers to the character Iâ€™m playing. I was already training before the movie was offered to me, but tweaked my fitness plan further after everything was finalised with Momina. Itâ€™s all part of the phenomenal journey of Superstar I mentioned earlier.
â€œItâ€™s a widespread notion that being vulnerable is a feminine traitâ€”I think that mindset needs to be alteredâ€
How taxing is it to be a public figure in the world of social media? Do you ever feel the pressure?
The pressures of social media are manageable. Itâ€™s really in your control as to how much of your life you want to put out on Instagram or Twitter, or how seriously you take trolling. Itâ€™s true that negative comments can be overwhelming sometimes, but I accept it as part of being a public figure. Social media is a great tool to communicate with your audience, but at the end of the day itâ€™s really just your body of work that matters. Thatâ€™s what I try to focus on.
Preparing for Superstar has been a phenomenal journey, primarily because Mahira Khan and I were sent for theatrical training in London
Weâ€™re living in the age of change. As an individual of influence, how important do you think is it to reconstruct the cultural ideal of manliness into a more progressive model? What are the necessary steps to be taken?
Itâ€™s a widespread notion that being vulnerable is a feminine trait, I think that mindset needs to be altered. Men can demonstrate their feelings, they can cry, and it wonâ€™t make them any less of a man. The cultural ideal of manliness is definitely flawed, it doesnâ€™t allow one to be human.
Youâ€™ve hardly ever spoken about your personal life. Tell us about your family and childhood.
I do try keeping my personal life away from the public eye, because I feel thatâ€™s my space of sanity. My personal life is extremely different from my professional life, although sometimes they do cross over into each other.
At home, Iâ€™m mostly found chilling with family and close friends, or indulging in sports. I grew up in Karachi, but spent a lot of my childhood years in London. I donâ€™t remember being a studious child at all, in fact I was always getting into trouble for skipping classes to play sports.
Is marriage on the cards?
Of course. Iâ€™m a firm believer in the institution of marriage. I think itâ€™s a natural way of life and everyone wants to settle down with the right person, so do I.
â€œMy personal life is extremely different from my professional life, although sometimes they do cross over into each otherâ€
Itâ€™s a widespread notion that being vulnerable is a feminine traitâ€”I think that mindset needs to be altered
SHORT & SWEET
Worst thing about being in the limelight?
Your life is not yours at times.
Attention from the girls: love it or shy away?
Everyone likes attention, but sometimes I donâ€™t know how to react and tend to get shy.
Craziest fan story?
Once on a flight to London, a girl created a scene because she wanted to sit next to me but the seat was occupied by an eldery man who refused to move.
What are the first things you notice about the opposite gender?
Hair and eyes
Who according to you are the best looking actors in the country?
I think Mikaal Zulfiqar is a good looking man.
Gohar Rasheed. Itâ€™s always fun when heâ€™s around.
An actor you consider competition?
Not being diplomatic, but no one. I only consider myself competition.
â€œMy personal life is extremely different from my professional life, although sometimes they do cross over into each otherâ€
Favourite project so far?
Janaan and Superstar
These days it has to be food, since Iâ€™m on a perpetual diet. Chocolate, a good burger or steak.
Phool Khil Jayien from Rangreza, sung by Abida Parveen & Asrar Shah
Describe your personal style.
Casual and relaxed
Biggest pet peeves?
Greeting people at your convenience.
A habit of yours that annoys your family?
Currently, my obsession with eating clean. Separate meals need to be prepared for me.
Do you have pets?
Yes, a wild cat that just decided to claim territory in my house.
Share your resolution for 2019.
The power list of trailblazers who have championedÂ Â gallant causes and raised standards of success in their respective fields
Managing Director, Careem Pakistan and Saudi Arabia; Co-founder and Chairperson, Salt Arts
Managing Director of Careem Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, Junaid Iqbal is also the co-founder and Chairperson of Salt Arts- Pakistanâ€™s leading Arts Management and Production agency, with an overriding focus on creating experiential live music events. An economist by training, Junaid is lauded as a growth and turnaround specialist with a diverse professional portfolio. From an energy futures trader in the US, launching and hosting groundbreaking television shows and leading privatisation deals to the tune of $1.6 billion as CEO of Elixir Securitiesâ€”he has done it all.Â Junaid spends his free time listening to music, reading and spending time in the mountains.Â Text: Areesha Chaudhry
Jibran is a human rights activist who fearlessly works for the protection of minorities in Pakistan. He is a trustee at Elaj Trust and founded the NGO, Never Forget Pakistan.Â Â His work got him featured in Foreign Policy Magazine amongst the three Pakistanis making considerable effort against sectarian violence. In January 2015, he played a key role in organising a new movement to reclaim Pakistan from violent extremism.Â Text: Hassan Tahir Latif
After graduating from the Aga Khan University, Dr. Mohsin Ali Mustafa went on to pursue a career in public health and co-founded Clinic5, an affordable health delivery service in Pakistan. Despite being a strong proponent of the scale of impact his field offers, he believes healthcare within our country requires a radical shift. With Clinic5, he aims to work towards that very dream and hopes of a Pakistan where basic medical treatment is readily available to all.Â Â Dr. Mustafa is a 2015 Asia 21 Young Leader at the Asia Society and a regional fellow at the Acumen Fellowship for social entrepreneurs. In 2018 he joined the Harvard School of Public Health as a Bernard Lown Scholar. He is also a Weidenfeld-Hoffmann & Skoll Scholar at the University of Oxfordâ€™s SaÃ¯d Business School.Â Â Mohsin balances the love for his work with his passion for the outdoors and reading books.Â Text: Mehek Raza Rizvi
Ishaq Kothawala gave up his monotonous day job, realising he wanted more from life than just working day in and out to help build someone elseâ€™s empire. Chasing his dream of doing something meaningful and of scalable impact, he put all his bets on Bykea, an all-in-one app for transportation, delivery and payment services. The young entrepreneur is a huge advocate of the convenience technology offers and hopes to use it to add value to peopleâ€™s lives. Text: Sana Zehra
The trio behind The Videographers (TVG) quit their respective jobs in the same year to start working on an idea they had in college. After five years of building and working on TVG, they now have offices in Lahore, Karachi and Dubai with a team of over 50 people, making them the largest video production house in the country. They credit their successful partnership to their complementing personalities. Zohaib is a vigorous planner and go-getter, Kabeer is more composed and rational and Zain is introspective and extremely artistic; each partner brings something distinctive to the table. With growing demands on digital video content, TVG has since expanded its services to include a content creation agency by the name of Viral Media and TED, which is a full circle event concierge planning, and design service. Furthermore, TVG also plans to launch a content creation studio in 2020 where YouTubers can shoot live videos using the TVG platform.Â Text: Areesha Chaudhry
Moin Khan is a graduate of San Francisco State University. Upon graduating he started working for a Bay Area startup company ‘SecretBuilders’ but soon quit to pursue his passion for adventure and riding bikes. He spent June through December 2011 travelling from San Francisco, California to Lahore, Pakistan on his Honda CBR F4i sports bike, for which he became viral on social media. Since then Moin has used his popularity to encourage tourism across Pakistan under the name of ‘A Different Agenda.’ His upcoming project includes Pakistan’s first ever motorcycle racing event to be held in Punjab within the next couple of months.Â Text: Hassan Tahir Latif
Shayan Zaeem Khan, an avid gamer, co-founded Caramel Tech Studios in 2011. The Lahore-based company is a premier game development house that has worked on blockbuster games like Blades of Battle and RPG.
He also co-founded Fizz Inc in 2015, raising over $1 million in seed capital. Fizz helps to break down language barriers in the gaming community and connects over two billion gamers across the globe. Text: Hassan Tahir Latif
In August 2018, Saif Noon became the first Pakistani to have finished the worldâ€™s longest and toughest horse race at just ninteen years of age. The Mongol Derby is a thousand kilometre horse race through the Mongolian Steppe. This race is meant to be similar to the horse messenger system created by the Mongolian ruler, Genghis Khan. The horses used for the race were semi wild, while the terrain included deserts, steppes, fields, mountains, hills and even rivers.Â Saif has been riding since he was seven and has helped raise funds for charities through the sport. He is currently pursuing his undergraduate degree at The Royal Agricultural University in England.Â Text: Areesha Chaudhry
Shahnawaz Zali is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Qatar campus. Shahnawaz was nominated for a Student Academy Award in 2016 for his documentary on suicide bombers, 100 Stepsâ€”Sou Qadam. He’s gone on to win several other accolades at international events including the Miami Independent Film Festival and the Accolade Global Film Festival. He also made the Forbes Asia 30 under 30 list in 2017.Â Text: Sana Zehra
Sarmad Ahmad has seen the issue of mental health first hand. Members of his family suffered and recovered from various issues and he saw much stigma and miscommunication surrounding mental well-being. This is what inspired him to start an online counseling site. Saaya Health offers online counselling with trained professional counselors. Saaya also teamed up with organizations to help improve emotional health by simple tech solutions. Change according to Sarmad is a slow process. By focusing on core strength Saaya is helping make therapy and counselling commonplace.Â Text: Sana Zehra
Tell us about yourself.
I find it challenging to define myself in a few linesâ€”there is so much more to me than just words. I was born in Fairfax, Virginia where I had the opportunity to observe diverse cultures. After high school, I moved to Pakistan and enrolled atÂ SZABIST, graduating as a gold medalist in Psychology. Iâ€™m an avid fan of horror and thoroughly enjoy acting and modelling.
Meet Haider Rifaat, an emerging model, web talk show host, and upcoming actor. The twenty-three-year old go-getter who is ready to embrace Pakistan’s thriving movie industry speaks to Hannan R. Hussain about his aspirations
Describe yourself in three words
Compassionate, loving and dedicated.
You created a web talk show titled The Haider Rifaat Show. How did this journey commence?
I learned the art of video making from my brother Moosa, when I was eleven. I started my YouTube channel in 2010 and uploaded fan made trailers of movies, television shows and rendered a couple voice-overs. Eventually, I decided to produce my own content, but had no knowledge of a tripod. Instead, I used creative means (like making use of a table) to record videos.
As I grew older and ventured into print journalism, I realised that it would be a great idea to have my own talk show on YouTube. If I think about accomplishing something professionally, I try my best to bring it to life. The Haider Rifaat Show was exactly that. My basic training in video editing came in handy as I created a web talk show that encompassed celebrity interviews, politics, entertainment, fashion and global news.
From script writing, editing, production, camera work and hosting, you seem to handle every element of the show on your own. What is the key to unlocking this balance?
I seek perfection in everything I do and leave no room for error. Yes, multitasking can drain you, but it is worth it.
When you are passionate about something, nothing is challenging. The key is determination, confidence and vigour. These qualities have enabled me to give the best to my work, be it acting or hosting. There is a stark difference between setting a goal and achieving it. I endeavour to achieve, and not procrastinate.
It takes time to rise to the forefront in theatre. What motivated you to hang on to your passion for acting?
Patience. I have done quite a few stage plays but they never constrained me acting wise. I was fortunate to have had screen experience well before my theatre days. Some may transition from theatre to screen but my case was different. I learned the techniques and methods to play with the camera at a tender age.
I feel failure has taught me a lot as well. Rejection motivated me to work harder and see things for what they were. One opportunity led to another, and things started transpiring on their own. I owe a lot to my supportive family, especially my mother, and God for all that I have accomplished so far.
Tell us more about your upcoming movie 24 Hours.
24 Hours is my feature film debut. The movie centers on human trafficking and I play a helpless victim in my supporting role. My character is powerful and important to the storyline. People will be able to relate to my character, especially the victims of trafficking violence. Iâ€™m certain that this project is going to be a turning point in my acting career and Iâ€™m thankful to the director, Sharf ul Murtaza Zaidi, for having faith in me.
Apart from 24 Hours, which other projects are in the pipeline?
I just wrapped up a drama serial titled Kiran for PTV Home that will premiere soon. It is about ambitious transgender individuals. Iâ€™m also writing my first book.
How do you prepare for a performance?
I just visualise myself in a situation and become that character. It is an inherent trait but I have to keep working on it. I try to keep my performances as natural as possible to evoke an equally realistic response from the audience.
If there was one role you could play in the future, what would it be and why?
I find a negative character very appealing. There is more margin for acting and an element of mystery. The compelling presence of an antagonist adds more depth to a story and makes it interesting.
How has the experience of interviewing some of Pakistanâ€™s biggest public figures been like?
Itâ€™s been a game changer. I never thought I would get to interview renowned celebrities, journalists, anchors and politicians at such a young age. My experience has been fun and riveting because you get to share common ground with different people. Celebrities have their individual struggles that make them unique.
Describe a weekend in the company of Haider Rifaat.
Iâ€™m outgoing, so I spend most of my weekends exploring new places. I enjoy a good walk, exercising, shopping and watching mystery television shows and movies with family.
Who is your source of strength?
My mother. She is an extraordinary woman and a force to reckon with. She has a solution for everything and has been by my side in the darkest of hours. Sheâ€™s been through very tough times herself, yet is always positive and determined to make everyone around her happy. I can share absolutely anything with her. She is my lifeline.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Conquering the entertainment industry.
For all young people endeavouring to juggle their various passions, what advice do you have?
You canâ€™t depend on anyone else but yourself. I created my own talk show from scratch to be in front of the camera. My willpower allowed that idea to blossom sooner than expected.
Itâ€™s also important to learn from your past mistakes, improve and grow. Donâ€™t follow the crowd. Itâ€™s important to stand out in whatever you do.
When six-pack abs aren’t enough
â€˜Body Positivityâ€™â€”two words that have gained a lot of traction in our vernacular of late and have encouraged countless women across the world to have a healthier outlook towards their own bodies. Even within our own society, the body positivity and self love movement has taken root and continues to challenge traditional norms of physical beauty. In fact, several corporations and design houses that cater to females have become strong proponents of the philosophy, executing campaigns in support of body positivity and self love. Although the impact of this movement is widespread and continues to grow due to the influence of social media, it rarely touches upon another demographic: males.
While women endeavour to support each other against body shaming, it seems as if men continue to drown out voices that speak up on their behalf. In my opinion, this behaviour can be relegated to the heteronormative behaviour expected of men. The largely patriarchal social structures of South Asia continue to propound ideals that are now being dubbed â€œtoxic masculinity.â€ A quick look at social media debates on this topic demonstrates this clearly: men are quick to judge others for calling out toxic masculine behaviour and deride its implications. Such toxicity does not only lend itself to the behaviour of men, but also to their physical appearance. Just as women have been expected to fit a certain mould to be desirable, so have men. Where women are told to be nothing short of Miloâ€™s Venus, men are expected to be the spitting image of a Greek god. Having struggled with my own body, and being the occasional target of a jab, I decided to look into this further.
I have always been shorter than those around me and for a large part of my life I was underweight. Only recently, after active effort, have I reached what is considered to be the â€œnormalâ€ BMI for someone of my stature and age. However, while I was lucky enough to develop confidence to combat any body shaming I faced, I realise now that many others canâ€™t or havenâ€™t.
â€œMost importantly,Â we need to give space for men to express their insecurities. A shift from our heteronormative expectations of men that are debilitating for mental health, can be the startâ€
Delving into the debate on body disorders I quickly found out that Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is more serious than I previously thought. It has been classified as a mental illness by many global psychiatric professionals and organisations. However, this perception rarely transfers over to our daily lives. Even though BDD is on the extreme end, modern day gym culture and the constant bombardment of an Adonis-like male physique through advertisements and media portrayals of â€œperfect menâ€ continue to put many men on the risk spectrum. According to one American study, the percentage of men that are unhappy with their bodies has tripled in the past twenty-five yearsâ€”a drastic increase indeed1.
Donâ€™t get me wrong, Iâ€™m not saying that fitness is unimportant or should be neglected. I myself felt like a whole new person once I began working out and was able to experience firsthand the positive effects that exercise can have on the mind, body and self-esteem. But as with anything, an unhealthy obsession has negative consequences. To understand this better I reached out to body activist Musa Hayat, who is currently based in London and is a strong proponent of having a healthy relationship with oneâ€™s body.
Musa echoed my sentiments regarding the reason behind why South Asian men in particular might be unwilling to discuss body positivity. According to him, the alpha-male mindset that is so embedded in our society, discourages men from openly addressing their insecurities and hence gives way to dissatisfaction. This in turn can lead to a range of mental health issues from anxiety to BDD.
What fascinated me the most during my research was how those we deem to have the â€œperfectâ€ body are also victim to this phenomenon. Reading up on the blogs and Instagram captions of several international fitness models, I observed something peculiar: men with the much sought after physique were equally dissatisfied with their appearance. This was troubling for me; while I struggle to maintain a normal BMI, those with chiseled abs and â€œSuperman bicepsâ€ – the Holy Grail of fitness if you may – want more. Having six-pack abs isnâ€™t enough for them; they continue to want lower body-fat percentages and more defined physiques. This is not altogether a foreign concept in Pakistan either. To get further insight into this I spoke to Sameer Malik, a fitness trainer and the entrepreneur behind Iron Box in Lahore.
Speaking to him, I found out that most men aim for a muscular, bulky body that resembles that of fitness models, athletes or movie stars. Regarding why those with the â€œperfectâ€ body continue to be dissatisfied, he suggested itâ€™s because of the general need of humans to want more. Once again, it is about perception. If one wants to challenge their body to improve for health reasons, Iâ€™m all for it. But those who have an unhealthy obsession, where the goal of their life is to achieve unattainable, unsustainable body-fat percentages or cuts, thatâ€™s where the problem comes in.Â Sameer further admitted that there are negatives when people buy into the online myth of constantly having a perfect body, but also stated that social media has made fitness a lot more accessible to people.
In conclusion, having spoken to body activists, trainers and friends, it boils down to what I assumed was the problem all along. Men in our society are conditioned to bottle their feelings, to always be better than the man next to them and to increase their manliness constantly. When it comes to the physical, this takes form in the never-ending quest of a perfect body. This constant dissatisfaction, spurred on by social media, can for many create an unhealthy obsession. Fitness is important, but using it negatively, like anything else, is dangerous. We need to focus on fitness from a health perspective and understand that not all bodies are the same.
Most importantly, we need to give space for men to express their insecurities. A shift from our heteronormative expectations of men that are debilitating for mental health, can be the start.
Notes: Â 1.Â Pope HG, Phillips KA, Olivardia R.Â The Adonis complex: the secret crisis of male body obsession.Â New York: Free Press; 2000.