Starring in and as Baba Jani and gearing up for his first feature film post cinema revival, Faysal Quraishi shares how the industry has evolved over the years, what an actor’s job actually is and to what extent social media presence matters.
The quintessential ‘hero’ who became a household name and won many hearts amidst TV-watching audience(s) in the last two decades, Faysal Quraishi has re-established himself as a TV giant in recent years.
Having essayed numerous diverse characters on the small screen in plays like Main Abdul Qadir Hoon, Qaid-e-Tanhai, Meri Zaat Zarra-e-Benishan, Umm-e-Kulsoom, Bashar Momin, Rang Laaga, Zakham and the recently concluded Khalish, he has emerged as a more mature actor in the last couple of years with remarkable performances in productions like Bashar Momin, Rang Laaga and Khalish.
Amidst hosting a popular morning show and gracing the small screen with an incredible range of characters, the actor recently announced his first feature film post Pakistani cinema revival. Set to be directed by Sohail Javed, the upcoming big screen project is a love story that will star Quraishi, who is also the co-producer, as the protagonist and is expected to release next year. There is nothing more the actor could share about the film at this point. However, he informed that it’s a character-driven film.
“I am not sure what everybody expects of me but I know that my hard core fans want to see me playing a ‘character’ and not merely entertain them,” he told Instep in an exclusive interview on the set of Baba Jani. “They take me very seriously (laughs). So, while working on the script, we have tried to come up with something unique.”
His fans may see him as a ‘star’ but, in person Quraishi is down-to-earth, unpretentious and quite accessible – unlike many others who belong to the same profession. While interviewing him, it became apparent that he is genuinely warm and friendly as we settled for a conversation over a cup of tea.
Similar to his onscreen persona, he doesn’t shy away from speaking his mind on a variety of issues and is quite open about what he truly feels.
“It’s very easy to make a film work; there is a fixed formula,” he began. “But when everyone starts following the same trend, it becomes redundant. Our industry shouldn’t rely on just one kind of film[s] such as comedies, love stories, etc.”
Currently playing the titular role in new drama serial Baba Jani, Quraishi is effortless in his dialogue delivery and his performance leaves a lasting impression on viewers. It is a treat to watch him onscreen.
Baba Jani features the actor as a simple and virtuous middle-aged man called Asfand, who prioritizes others over himself and chooses to fulfill his responsibilities before settling down. In doing so, he loses the love of his life and is also exposed to the true colours of the women in his life who pretend to be his well wishers but are actually making a fool out of him.
Five episodes in, the play has generated great response so far and it’s no surprise why; Baba Jani is intriguing, relatable and above all, unpredictable. Penned by Faiza Iftikhar, the script and characterization is very strong with each actor bringing in their unique dimension to the story. As Quraishi puts it, “Whether it is a film or a TV play, the script and content has to be very strong.”
If we look back at some of the plays Quraishi has starred in, particularly off-late such as Rang Laaga, Waada and Khalish, they were more inclined towards the male character in the plot. More than giving prominence to the men as opposed to women who are generally at the heart of most TV plays, it’s about accepting the fact that men too have their struggles and stories to tell.
“You can’t avoid the man in the house,” Quraishi stated, explaining the need to highlight more male-centric stories on TV. “The role of a father is as important in a family as that of a mother. Therefore, it is unfair to unnecessarily present male characters in a negative light. I recently watched a Pakistani film. I won’t take the name but it featured men either as villains or someone who has nothing substantial to do in life. We can’t generalize people on the basis of their gender; there has to be balance between male and female characters, both of whom have their strengths and weaknesses.”
“My characters don’t fall on either side of the scale, they are grey (Bashar Momin, Khalish),” he added. “It’s partly luck, partly my choice to only take on roles that are layered. With my projects, I always try to break away from run-of-the-mill plots dominating our TV screens and it is a positive sign that viewers are learning to accept and appreciate unusual scripts.”
Speaking of plays that tackle social issues, Faysal Quraishi is starring in one that will go on air next week (October 10). Titled Haiwaan, the upcoming project features Savera Nadeem, Sanam Chaudhry and Iffat Omar in important roles aside from Quraishi.
Reflecting on the plot, the actor revealed that it is not a story of rape or abuse but a tangled tale of a man (essayed by Quraishi), who commits a mistake at some point in life. “This drives the entire play as he feels guilty and attempts to hide it from others, and ends up in a mess,” the actor explained. “It is very difficult to shoot for this play, even though we haven’t shown anything explicit.”
Being a morning show host and a key component of Pakistan’s entertainment industry for decades, Quraishi isn’t unaware of the importance given to ratings and how much they govern content. There is a common criticism on morning shows that they promote ideas that are superficial and also instill a sense of inferiority among viewers. Though Quraishi’s show has its high and low points, the good thing is that he doesn’t follow a similar trend. He makes sure to speak on subjects that are relevant to present times and may help shape the minds of viewers in a positive way.
When asked how much creative control he has over content, he responded, “In the beginning, we tried everything on our show, to be honest. We even merged with another show and arranged a wedding on the set but we didn’t get a good response on that. With time, I realized that people want to be entertained and educated on a lighter note. If they are exposed to good thoughts and some fun early in the morning, it is likely to have a positive effect on them. I have certain limitations at times but mostly I am able to carry the show the way I like and the credit also goes to my team as we all are on the same page.”
Moving on, we spoke about the increasing importance of social media, particularly in the last couple of years. When Quraishi stepped into the entertainment industry two decades back, there was no concept of online presence and updating fans about one’s whereabouts. Also, an actor’s worth was determined through his craft and the amount of work they did instead of their social media following.
Sharing his sentiments on the subject, Quraishi said, “I feel this makes fans happy. Earlier, around seven to eight years back, I used to arrange meet and greet sessions with fans but now, you can simply go ‘live’ whenever, wherever you are. This allows fans to ask what they feel like and we get a chance to interact with them. It is no longer true that a ‘star’ should be away from the sight of fans. Now we have got separate sets of YouTube stars, Instagram stars, Snapchat stars, TV stars, film stars, and so on.”
However, the ace actor is against the idea of casting actors in film/TV projects on the basis of their popularity as opposed to their talent. “There can be multiple reasons why someone has a strong following on social media but that doesn’t tell you just how good of an actor they are. Unfortunately, it’s the other way round if we look at our industry but I would restrain from speaking about it.”
Nonetheless, Quraishi is very encouraging when it comes to promoting new artists in the field, unlike some of his contemporaries. As the interview proceeded, I asked his views on the subject of sexual misconduct and harassment that has become a pressing issue these days, particularly in the world of showbiz.
“The good part about our industry is that our women are very strong; they know how to handle things when they find themselves in such a situation,” he asserted. “Unfortunately, those who are harassed, it’s because they don’t speak up and continue to suffer. Women today have a powerful medium; if they choose to speak up, they get support from other women. If we speak of percentage, I think 10 per cent of women operating in the industry are harassed.”
When asked to comment on the Ali Zafar-Meesha Shafi controversy, he responded, “If she [Meesha] is taking such a huge step, let the truth come out instead of pointing fingers at her.”
On a parting note, Quraishi also spoke about his association with DGR – Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride – that is working to raise funds and awareness for men’s health, specifically prostate cancer and men’s mental health.
“It’s a reality across the world and has been for some time but it was brought to Pakistan by Faisal Malik around three to four years back,” the Bashar Momin actor informed. “It comprises a lot of people, not just the ones who ride Harleys but also those who have vintage bikes, Vespas, etc. DGR takes place annually. They release a documentary of sorts every year but there was no representation from Pakistan until now. Fortunately, this year we are a part of it; almost 400 riders from Karachi, 150-200 from Lahore and 70-80 from Islamabad took the ride this time around.”