Fawad Khan goes down in history as Pakistan’s first actor to win a coveted Filmfare Award in India.Instep was lucky enough to catch Pakistan’s biggest star a day after the ceremony, in Mumbai, for an exclusive chat…
Fawad Khan’s popularity in India is not a myth.
One had been hearing about ‘the Fawad Khan hype’ across the border but it wasn’t until he stepped onto the Filmfare red carpet that one experienced the extent of his popularity. Women unleashed themselves upon him for a ‘selfie’, holding out smart phones and iPads to capture the star in the same frame as them. When his name was announced as winner of the Best Debut category for 2015, there was thunderous applause and you could have mistaken him for being a third generation Bollywood kid as opposed to a visiting actor – albeit a Khan – from Pakistan. His strongest contender, Jackie Shroff’s handsome son Tiger, left as soon as he lost to Fawad.
And Fawad didn’t behave like a newcomer either. Arriving fashionable later than many others, he was escorted straight to a front row seat next to some of the biggest names at the event. He may have confessed to “knocking knees and nerves” when his name was announced but his look was suave and his delivery was smooth, starting from the acceptance speech to the session of countless interviews that followed right after. As a Pakistani, he did us proud.
We caught up with Fawad a day after the Filmfares, still in Mumbai, as he was recovering from the ostensible exhaustion of what was, undoubtedly, a life-changing experience. He had already gone through three film narrations that day but barefoot in the comfort of his suite, he wore a relieved smile. Far away from the prying eyes of the paparazzi, his usually well-groomed hair was casually tousled with the slightest shadow of a relaxed Sunday stubble. Fawad was very pleased at his achievement but at the same time measured in his expression and careful to not let his victory get to his head.
There you were, amongst some of the biggest names in Indian cinema, that too with a coveted award in your hand. How big of a star do you feel today, a day later?
Fawad Khan: How big of a star? I just feel very fortunate, that’s all. I feel blessed. I was there, yes, I was amongst them, having been invited. Having being nominated in itself was a big honour and obviously winning was a cherry on top. But I was just as nervous as I am at any award ceremony back home. My knees are always knocking. The Filmfare Awards is a 60-year tradition and some of the greatest names have graced that stage. Standing there makes you speechless. It makes you feel kind of small. I’m obviously very proud of everything but it was very humbling.
Did you feel like an outsider at somebody else’s show?
FK: To be honest, it’s very sweet and very kind of them to have nominated me and rewarded me for my hard work but I’d have to say that it’s a token of love of my people. It’s not just my victory but I feel it’s the victory of the people I represent. In times like these it makes all the difference; it brings back some semblance of happiness. It gives people a cause for some celebration.
Take us through your day, up to the time when you arrived at the awards. Who put your wardrobe together, for instance?
FK: I have a wonderful stylist called Abhilasha, who along with Rhea (Kapoor) and Raghavendra (Rathore), were responsible for putting my outfits together for the film. Abhilasha did a lot of my outfits during the promotion. We have a great equation and she understands my sensibilities. She’s the one who decided what I’d wear. I do fret about the way I dress and I do tend to go into the nitty gritties and details. I admit that I do take a little more time than most people. I’m sure stars find dressing up effortless but I admit I have to put a lot of effort into it.
I was a bit stirred when I got there. I couldn’t figure out what was going on…you obviously get a little star struck. Although I was invited to sit at that (front row) seat, I didn’t sit in anyone else’s seat contrary to what people (with reference to Badar Khalil’s accusations) back home might think. I was in the front row with Vineet Jain (MD, Times of India Group), Jaya Bachchan and all these wonderful people like Kajol, Shahid Kapur and Madhuri sitting there. I had been advised to prepare a speech, which I hadn’t, because it feels braggish and pretentious to prepare a speech for something that could go either way. So I hadn’t prepared anything except for a string of words that just came out of my mouth. It was a bit of a jumble. I was truly overwhelmed and I was trembling inside.
Winning is a tremendous responsibility. Even if it were more of an everyday thing I would face stage fright. But here I was, after Nazia Hasan and Salma Agha, and I felt a tremendous weight on my shoulders. I always feel I am representing my people, wherever I am and no matter what capacity I’m in. It’s no cakewalk.
You are Pakistan’s biggest star today; what level of responsibility does that come with?
FK: I think the responsibility of a star is just as much as any citizen. He or she may have more influence but it’s the collective influence of the people today that will make a difference in the lives of tens and millions of people living in the country, our country or any country in the world. And honestly, a lot of people enjoy and look up to your work and words but it’s individual effort that gets us to where we are and when that individual effort realizes itself collectively and when responsibility is shared is when we achieve goals.
Having said that, I am trying to make a difference in whatever capacity I can. I’ve been associated with a lot of charities – and I’m not saying charity is the only form of work – but if you’re the face of some cause then that’s where you have maximum opportunity to make a difference in some way or the other. So I have been associated with multiple organizations in the past four years and that’s how I offer my way of being responsible. I try to obey the law as much as I can. Even if I do not respect a certain system for being corrupt I will still follow the rules. We can say that the government is corrupt and the people don’t pay taxes but to change that you’ve got to be paying taxes yourself. I try to obey all the principles of being a responsible citizen.
Coming to India and seeing the pace of development compared to our pace of regression depresses most Pakistanis. As an actor working in both countries how does that make you feel? Do you think about it at all?
FK: Obviously, any person would think about it, especially a citizen of Pakistan. When I come here and I see a certain progressiveness I do feel that India has been blessed with a huge population. The sheer number of people here is massive. Yes, had there been no development these people would have become a burden but the people have come together and pushed it forward.
I do think we also have that tremendous ability, considering our size and the area we occupy. We’ve also faced a lot of diversity. Having said that we should not compare ourselves; we need to set our own benchmarks of how to move ahead. We have to set our own goals and strive towards them. Once we get into competition, it gives people a lot of room to complain about the ‘here’ and ‘there’ and we shouldn’t go there. It’s our responsibility to wake up and be morally correct.
I strongly believe that religion is not the only source that dictates morals. There may be religious people whose morals are completely screwed up and lesser religious individuals may seem like sinners in the eyes of the average zealot. And that’s the confusion that we need to get out of today. If we play it clean then there’s no stopping us. Where there is smoke there is fire and we have lots of fire. We have wildfire. Having said that I still appreciate the resilience of the people; we are still able to prove ourselves despite everything. And that should count for something and should motivate us to do a hundred times more.
All eyes are on you and the film you sign up next. Will you put rumours to rest and reveal what it’ll be?
FK: Nothing has been penned till now. This industry has been very warm and kind and generous and has welcomed me with open arms and I have had the fortune to meet people and discuss work and opportunities. I’ve had numerous conversations with top personalities here and they have offered things but I haven’t penned anything yet. Everything requires a protocol and these things take time. Rumours can come from even a simple conversation I have with someone. There are a lot of things in talks but nothing concrete yet. I like to take baby steps.
Baby steps are fine but when do we see you dancing around the Ushu Forest?
FK: Ooh, that’s one of my resolutions (laughs)! I’m definitely joining a dance camp, maybe just for physical fitness but those are things on my agenda. But yeah, I’m pretty much game for anything as long as the content stimulates me. Only if it stimulates me will I be in good form to convey the role more convincingly.
Are you training to dance though because there’s hardly an actor in Bollywood who can’t dance?
FK: That’s true, that’s so true. Even back home…I think I’m the only one in this tremendous pool of talent back home who cannot dance to save his life! But I’ll catch up. I think that if I’ve managed to make it this far then I’ll also manage to go further. Hopefully.
Does it scare you?
FK: Yes it does. I think if there’s any fear I have, to be very honest, it’s of people. They are my biggest supporters but sadly I fear people. I fear people in general. If someone was to ask me what’s my worst fear I’d say humans.
It doesn’t seem that way if we were to judge your comfort level with people by the number of selfies you have taken…you’re now officially Pakistan’s ‘selfie star’.
FK: I have Sonam to blame for that. It was one of those promotional tools during the campaign of the film. That’s one thing I can be angry at them for (laughs). But what a support system they have been for me. The whole office is like one big family, working in tandem.
And how does your actual family feel about your stardom and popularity?
FK: Well, there’s my better half sitting there… (points to his wife, Sadaf, who’s joining us over a cup of Masala tea); she’d be able to tell you better but I do think we’re doing alright. I do believe ghar ki murghi daal barabar hoti hai and Lahore for me does become that pot in which I’m the ghar ki murghi. I’m comfortable.
Sadaf, he gets so much female attention. Do you ever wonder, sitting in Lahore, what is Fawad up to in Mumbai? Did that very steamy shoot with Sonam (for Filmfare magazine), for instance, worry you?
Sadaf Fawad: The Filmfare shoot happened in front of my eyes, and I guess the more you’re exposed to these things the more you become comfortable with them. You know that one minute the person is posing and the next they are only worried about how they are individually looking in the picture. She runs to her makeup and he runs to his makeup and there is no connect. Of course, if I just saw the pictures and wasn’t on the set then I’d wonder and maybe worry. I’d be imagining things but now I know what happens. It was two hours, 12 dresses and very mechanical.
Of course I had initial acceptance issues but it’s okay now…
And the kiss. What about the kiss?
FK: Oh, there was no kiss (Fawad laughs). It was a peck on the cheek. I do think I respect the sensibilities of my audience.
Your audience is as much in India and the world as it is in Pakistan.
FK: Understandable. But the thing is, as an actor there will be roles that you play and they are portrayals of actual human beings. No one can deny the fact that, and no one can put a taboo on me to say that, loved ones in Pakistan do kiss each other. It would be incorrect and unfair and extremely immature of anyone to say otherwise. But the fact is that there’s not too much acceptance of it onscreen. Bringing a kiss onscreen is still a bit of a taboo. You’ve allowed the most vulgar of rain dances as a form of entertainment but not something as harmless as a kiss. We allow the opinions of people to influence us. Most of the ‘critics’ are people posting things on the internet anonymously and you can’t take them all seriously.
Sadaf and I stepped out for a shawerma last month and the servers recognized me and asked for autographs. They were interested in what I was doing next, who I’d be working with….that’s my core audience and they want to see me do more work and succeed.
Coming back to the kiss, I think it’s something we have not arrived at yet. I don’t know when we’ll be able to but if you look at television there are a lot of (former) taboos being discussed. In fact it’s becoming a bit of a habit, which is also becoming bothersome because then we get repetitive content. You see a serial in which one sister is mooching off the other sister’s husband. You’re portraying that even though you may not be showing it but twenty years ago you may not have been able to even suggest that on TV. I think it was Samina Peerzada’s Karb, which was an amazing serial and broke boundaries.
Is television on the cards for you?
FK: No. Not at the moment.
Is music on the cards for you?
FK: I don’t know.
Hasn’t Bollywood asked you to sing?
FK: A lot of times, yeah. But I’m not really a singer. I’ve been out of the game for too long and at the risk of disappointing fans, I’d say that I didn’t pursue singing with the same dedication with which I pursued the art of making music. For the longest time I felt I could be a really great producer, composer or song-writer. So I never took singing forward. I had been doing a lot of rock and metal, which still are my favourite genres, there’s no doubt about it. But then I lost touch of things. Right now anything is on the cards. As an actor I want to explore my potential and then decide what I suck at.
And where will you be watching the Pakistan-India match?
FK: Oh God, that’s a really big one. I’ll be home cheering for Pakistan. I was a cricket maniac up till 1996 when Pakistan lost to India in Bangalore. It was the kind of defeat that disheartened me. I cried so much that my father asked me to leave the room to save myself the heartbreak. I was so young and that kind of defined me for the next few years. Till I turned 20 I was a rebel without a cause and everything was about winning. Then I tempered down and my temper cooled down. But with that I lost my taste for cricket.
An India-Pakistan match has an almost religious feel. My best wishes for my cricket team and I’ll say what I’ve said before: winning or losing comes with the game but support should be consistent. Disappointment is understandable but don’t take it to an inhuman level. Don’t let your team down in your support. It’s kind of like how we treat cops in Pakistan, We should be making superhero films with cops, like a super cop. That’s something I’d love to do. If you support something then look for the potential for excellence. I salute the hockey team; they’re still in the game. But look at how many things have fallen apart because they’re not supported. So whether Pakistan wins or loses, hey I’m with the team.”