“Girls, look what’s coming your way. The talented, the gorgeous Bilal Ashraf ready to steal your hearts,” tweeted Reham Khan by way of introducing the leading man for her upcoming cinematic venture, Janaan. Mrs. Imran Khan might be the demure, dupatta-clad bahu of the nation now, but that hasn’t stopped her from admiring all things beautiful, even if they come in the form of a strapping hunk of a man with chiseled looks and a dimpled smile.
Bilal Ashraf has only a small film role to his credit to date (a forgettable cameo in the equally forgettable O21), yet producers are showering him with scripts and offers every day. Ask him why that’s the case, when his acting chops haven’t been put to the test, and he laughs good-naturedly. “Believe me, that is a question I keep asking myself all the time! It actually makes me really nervous because I have yet to prove myself.”
The good-looking actor will soon have ample opportunity to do just that, with as many as four films lined up for release in the next two years. There’s Yalghaar, the highly anticipated war drama that pits the upcoming star against bigwigs such as Shaan and Humayun Saeed, Reham Khan’s Janaan, a comedy by the name of Jhol and Waar 2. The hedge fund consultant-turned-visual effects artist-turned-actor gives Instep a lowdown on what’s keeping him busy these days:
Janaan is a film that revolves around KPK and its culture and regional language. You don’t speak Pashto since you’re not a Pathan; how did you land the role?
I was in London when I got the call from Imran Kazmi, the director of the project, and I went in to audition. Reham Khan was there too and I guess they both saw something in me that fit the character, despite the fact that I don’t speak the language. They needed someone tall and macho.
What’s it like working with Reham Khan?
She’s a very positive person and that’s what I respect the most about her. She believes in a better Pakistan. It’s really easy to criticize and question her decision to make a film. But people need to really broaden their horizons. Why are they dismissive about films? The medium is not frivolous; the world over, films are an important way to spread your message. And the message that Reham Khan is trying to send out is really important.
She’s always accessible and helms an extremely efficient team. She’s sat down with me and discussed every part of the production, from the costumes to the dialogue delivery.
What drew you to the project?
I like films that challenge me. For Janaan, I had to learn to speak Pashto and look comfortable lip-syncing to songs in the language as well. Osman Khan Butt, who’s the writer, helped immensely and we went through intensive workshops and readings sessions. Janaan, I feel, is a film that is very important because it is sending out a message that the world needs to hear.
Bilal remains mum on what the message is (“You’ll have to watch the film to find out,” he says like the consummate actor). However, his Janaan co-star Armeena Rana Khan was slightly more forthcoming while speaking to Instep a little while ago. “The film will present that part of the world in a never-seen-before light i.e. sans guns and terrorism. It’s a romantic comedy that plays on local stereotypes. The audience will be in fits,” she told us excitedly.
He does admit that Janaan will give the audience a chance to see him in a different light than the bulked up Captain Bilal who’ll be storming our screens early next year in Yalghaar. “I beefed up for Yalghaar and had to lose the weight when I started shooting Janaan. The latter is a project that will take me through the various stages of acting; it’s a family drama so there are a lot of emotions involved. There’s dancing also and romance. Luckily, Armeena, who also plays my love interest in Yalghaar, and I share a great chemistry.”
We hear you’re a great dancer…
I love to dance! After I returned from college in the US, my friends and I started to do these crazy routines. Somehow the videos ended up on YouTube and we became known as the Masala Boys. There’s a certain section of people in Karachi who know me from then. Even Zeba Bakhtiar recognized me from my dancing days when I first went to audition for O21!
Your next release is Yalghaar, where you share screen space with Shaan who obviously gets top billing. Do you feel sidelined by the bigger stars in the movie?
I’m getting to learn from the best… it’s an honour. Shaan has been my biggest support in the industry. Every time I get a new project, I call him up and discuss it with him. He breaks it down for me, guides me and then gives me tips. He’s been like a brother to me. Yalghaar is my first love, and nothing can take away from that. I’m not just acting in it but also doing the film’s visual effects.
I’m shooting for Jhol, which is going to be a crazy rollercoaster of a film; an in-your-face comedy. Ali Azmat, Urwa Hocane, Babra Sharif and Mustafa Qureishi are part of it. Then there’s Waar 2, which is NOT going to be another war film. It’s a very slick, intelligent action film and will be shot in Prague, Cuba and Russia.