Well-educated, sophisticated and good looking, Aijazz Aslam has been a successful actor and model for more than a quarter of a century. Aijazz started modeling in 1989 and got his big break, two years later, with a commercial for shaving cream. In 1993, he made his television debut with the serial Kashkol and has worked in dozens more in the years that have followed. In an exclusive interview for GT, Aijazz Aslam talks to Ally Adnan about his friendship with actor Faysal Qureshi, the state of show business in Pakistan, the abuse of newcomers in the field, the importance of professionalism, and his fears for Pakistanâ€™s television industry
You started as a model and moved into acting. A lot of actors have followed the same path. Is acting the next step for models in Pakistan?
No, it is not. The trend of models moving into acting is dying nowadays. In the past, people used to find it easier to enter the field of modeling compared to acting. A good face, a well-built body, and some friends in the industry, used to be all that was needed to become a model. Therefore, a lot of aspiring actors started out as models with the hope of eventually making it to acting. Things have changed now.
How have they changed?
Modeling in Pakistan has evolved as an industry. It is no longer a hobby, or a stepping stone, but a proper vocation. Models need a lot more than good looks these days. They require: a dynamic presence, charisma, good posture, an understanding of oneâ€™s strengths and weaknesses, strong runway walk, individual style, professionalism, proper training, etc. People who succeed as models today are also hard working, talented, focused and professional. Gone are the days when just about anybody could become a model and flirt with the profession of acting. Show business has come of age in Pakistan. Models need to plan a career in modeling and actors need to focus on acting.
Is a career in show business viable and respectable today?
Yes, absolutely. In the early days, actors used to find it easy to become famous. A few that were talented, or lucky, or both, would also gain respect, but none became rich working in this field. Today, actors make good money and are able to find fame, fortune and respect simultaneously. This is new in Pakistan and not everyone is able to handle it with dignity, maturity and class.
Why do you say that?
There are a number of actors, mostly new ones that are trying to exploit the boom of the industry for short-term, personal benefit. Popular actors have far too many opportunities available to them. The ones that are smart, respectful and professional are enjoying the good times as well but are not letting success get to their heads. Others are under the impression that their popularity is permanent and that they will always be able to get away with holding producers and directors hostage. They make unreasonable, sometimes obscene demands of producers, sponsors and production houses. Since there is a dearth of good actors in the industry today, their demands, albeit ridiculous, are often met with acquiescence and acceptance. This will not last. The industry will eventually find better and more professional actors, good conduct will become necessary, and greed would be considered an undesirable characteristic in actors.
The young actors, who misbehave today, will soon get their comeuppance.Â I believe in professionalism and value the attributes of decency, dignity and propriety. People who have these attributes and are committed to their profession will prevail in the long run.
You are now producing television plays. Is production a difficult business?
Terribly, but it does not need to be. A lack of professionalism, commitment and discipline on the part of some actors makes it a very difficult business; otherwise, production would be rewarding and a lot of fun.
Why do you think some actors act irresponsibly?
There are several reasons for their misbehavior.
One, they have let success in a few projects go to their heads and have become arrogant.
Two, they do not understand the business well enough to know that their irresponsible behavior affects a lot of other people negatively and results in huge losses for producers.
Three, they believe that successful actors must always conduct themselves with arrogance, haughtiness and pride. They think that showing up on time and being disciplined will lower their stature as stars.
Four, they believe that the situation where we have more opportunities than actors is permanent. As a result, they believe that they can get away with anything. They will, of course, eventually come to their senses but, until that happens, they will hurt the industry. The unprofessionalism of a few stars has a very corrosive effect on the entire team working on a project. It should never be tolerated or allowed.
You have been in show business for almost twenty five years and been successful throughout your career. You, however, have never had the roaring success that actors like Fawad Khan have seen. Why?
The roaring success that you refer to is a very recent phenomenon. Traditionally, Pakistani actors have been content with getting appreciated for the histrionic ability, gaining popularity, and not much else. I have starred in a large number of extremely successful television plays and continue to get good roles. I like to play my age and stay away from making poor choices based on vanity. My desire was always to be an actor and not necessarily a star. I enjoy the perks of being a celebrity but true satisfaction comes from acting well.
Show business is known for the sexual, financial and emotional abuse of newcomers. How does one avoid the abuse?
One must always remember that people who ask for financial and sexual favors are invariably fraudsters and never give anyone the opportunities they talk about. One must also be confident in their own abilities. If he is lacking in any one area, he should work on improving his craft instead of giving in to abuse. A lot of newcomers feel that allowing abuse will get them on the fast track to success. This is patently false. No good director or producer will hire a person who lacks talent and ability no matter how many people he has slept with and how many palms he has greased.
How do you hire actors for your own productions?
The channels dictate casting for major roles. They provide us with names of actors they wish to have in the serials we produce and we try to cast them. Casting for other roles is up to us. My company does not have the proper set-up for auditions. I, therefore, rely on casting through talent and casting agencies.
There is more money and less risk in television compared to films. Yet everyone in Pakistan seems to be focused on making and working in films. Why?
Cinema has always had more glamour and allure than television. It is considered to be a step up from television. The appeal of films is immense. The sheer size of the screen is fascinating. People are automatically drawn to cinema. A lot of people who have made a name for themselves in television, are moving to films because they consider it to be the next logical step in their career progression.
There is a hidden danger here. A lot of talented people from television are moving to cinema. Veterans of the television industry are seen to be looking down at television these days.They declare their preference for doing films unabashedly. This is a dangerous trend because the television industry will die if all talented people move to films. Historically, Pakistan has been known more for its television plays than for its films. We cannot and should not let the popularity of cinema hurt our well established and well regarded television industry.
The intensely competitive world of show business is not known for friendships, Yet you have had a strong and enduring friendship with fellow actor Faysal Qureshi.
Yes, I have. Our friendship has lasted primarily because both of us are very secure individuals. We do not feel threatened by each other, or by anyone else, for that matter. There is enough work for all of us. Faysal and I have both had very successful runs as actors and continue to be popular and in great demand. There is no reason for us to compete with each other. When one of us performs well, or bags a prestigious project, or wins an award, the other is happy. Jealousy never comes into play.
Â I have other good friends in the industry as well. Humayun Saeed is a very dear friend as are several others.