A sunlit alcove in the basement is testament to Humayun Saeed’s starry status, where myriad awards stand side-by-side. An impressive array of Lux Style Awards take up an entire shelf while clusters of ARY and Hum Awards begrudgingly rub shoulders.
Quite a few of these accolades are very recent, lauding Humayun’s considerable achievements from last year: the love-struck sulky hero of the film Bin Roye and actor-producer to the mega-comic-hit movie Jawani Phir Nahi Ani (JPNA).
There’s a good chance that more awards are on the way. Humayun’s drama productions have been raking high ratings and his ongoing acting role in TV drama Dillagi has reasserted his status as crush-fodder.
TV gets its hero back
“Dillagi does have its fans,” Humayun concedes. “Viewership ratings are great and it’s getting a lot of attention on social media.”
Quite a bit of this attention, of course, is of the ‘female’ variety. This is nothing new for Humayun. He’s showbiz’s longstanding Lothario, linked very often with his leading heroines — rumours that he shrugs away with a laugh, proclaiming a commitment to his wife. He’s also always had a strong female fan following, although their numbers certainly have fluctuated in recent years.
“I had been very busy with production and Dillagi is the first drama that I have acted in the past four years,” he explains. “It’s the kind of role that I enjoy doing, subtle and romantic and it’s brought my fan following back in full force.”
He suits the role very well, looking fitter, more chiseled than ever. Is this a victory flush gained by box office success or is it simply by the virtue of cosmetic procedures? “I am yet to get any done,” he professes. “I have just been watching my weight and eating healthy, and it helps. I am not against artificial procedures but I am scared by some of the results I have seen on people. A slight overdose contorts their faces into strange expressions. I am worried that the same might happen to me.”
For these informal declarations and more, I meet Humayun Saeed. We sit in his elongated lounge, with its masculine wood-and-leather interior, collection of DVDs and a large projector screen taking center stage. This, incidentally, is the room where a lot of his work gets done. He’s relaxed right now, though, over tea and a perpetual stream of cigarettes — work ended a few hours ago at six in the morning. “Nadeem Baig, scriptwriter Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar and I were up working on my upcoming romantic-comedy movie, Mein Punjab Nahi Jaongi, opposite Iman Ali. At the office we’re too busy with managerial issues while the creative work tends to get done at night in this room.”
This room is also a frequent venue for after-parties, the ‘it’ place thronged by stars and starlets following every high-fangled awards show and movie premiere. “My wife is spectacular at managing everything and after events, often friends come and bring their own friends,” he smiles. It’s an inevitable way of life for him for while the world at large may be combating rivalries, Humayun Saeed is somehow friends with everybody.
Awards and being Momina Duraid
“I’ve just been around for very long,” mulls Humayun. “I’ve worked with absolutely everybody and generally get along with people. In fact, I am the one who’s usually settling disputes. Two heroines who may not be able to stand each other will agree to pose for images as a favour to me.”
It is this affability that allows him not to take offence when his friend Ahmed Butt gives him a cheeky ‘Wife-time Achievement’ award on live TV, for the actor who is most accompanied by his wife. He also miraculously sidles past channel rivalries; delivering hit dramas for all and sundry, playing leading man for Hum Films, ruling the box office for ARY Films, taking to the catwalk at Bridal Couture Week and winning awards here, there and everywhere.
His JPNA, in fact, just raked in a whopping 18 awards at the ARY Film Awards. It prompted Karachi Se Lahore director Wajahat Rauf to make a thinly-veiled jibe at channel partisanship, commenting that Humayun was emulating a Momina Duraid, who often walks away with a large chunk of the awards given out by Hum TV, a channel owned by her family.
“JPNA was an ARY movie but I don’t think there was any bias at the awards,” says Humayun. “The jury consisted of industry professionals and, as I told Wajahat, there was no other movie that deserved to win in all those categories.”
What are his views on the supposed bias within the Hum Awards, largely criticised for bestowing laurels upon their own in-house productions? “I don’t think there is anything wrong with that,” he says. “It’s an incomparable feeling to hold an award and it certainly generates recognition for an actor. The Hum Awards boost morale for their team which is great.”
Incidentally, at the Hum Awards this year, Humayun was given three trophies in a row: Best Male Actor for Bin Roye and JPNA, and Best Producer for JPNA. His career may be dotted by awards galore and yet, Humayun still got teary-eyed when on Hum’s stage. “I actually suddenly remembered something that my deceased mother had told me, ‘Mein marr bhi jaongi toh meri dua tumhare saath hogi’ (Even after I die, my prayer will always be with you). It made me emotional. I quickly turned away and regained my composure.”
How heroes cry
This, essentially, is how Humayun cries both in real and reel life. “I duck my head down and place my face in my hands and I do the same while I’m acting. Then, I’ll raise my head and let a single tear trickle down. Men do cry but they don’t have to overdo it, even on the screen,” he smirks.
His considerable knowledge of on-screen crying isn’t surprising, given his repertoire of sentimentally over-laden acting roles. In contrast, his latest role in the ongoing drama Dillagi is quite refreshing. His character is in love with a shrewish, vindictive Mehwish Hayat but despite constantly suffering, he refuses to turn on the waterworks! “He’s a strong character and it just wouldn’t do if he began bawling out loud. Instead, there is this controlled air of melancholy about him,” he describes.
The role works well but has it been accepted readily by the TV-watching masses, who are more accustomed to the evil husband inflicting torture upon a suffering do-gooder wife? “Perhaps they would have liked it better had it been that way,” he laughs. “It is being appreciated although I think audiences have taken their time in accepting Mehwish’s very strong female role. It’s a drama that has barely any crying, which makes it very different.”
Notwithstanding Dillagi, the dramatic productions under Humayun’s Six Sigma Plus banner are usually hits that follow formulaic patterns — tortured wife, evil in-laws, philandering husband, the works. Is it necessary to place such great focus on the afflicted, depressed women?
“We make a lot of dramas and we place great importance upon the story,” he explains. “It is never a priority to show women crying, but inevitably a lot of stories are like that.
“And there’s no denying that such dramas are hits. This, sadly, is the life that a lot of women in Pakistan live. They see the same happening to a woman on TV and they enjoy empathising with her. Eventually, there’s also a happy ending which makes them feel optimistic about their own lives. It’s a sad truth.”
One such tearjerker coming our way very soon is the dramatic version of Bin Roye. “There is so much crying in it and it’s very well-crafted. People are going to love it!” he laughs.
I remember Humayun making a very similar prediction to me last year, when his JPNA was just about to release. Does he have an uncanny ability to assess audience reaction? “I think I do,” he professes. “I am very awami and I am obsessed with cinema. Usually whatever I like, everyone else likes too.”
Is he able to make the same evaluations about the younger actors that he works with? “I see promise in quite a few of them although it is important that they achieve star status before they put on airs and graces,” he says.
“As a producer, I have seen how some actors suddenly hike up prices after a single hit drama. They begin coming late and making unfair demands. They need to be more professional. Also, it is necessary that when they are acting in Urdu, they stop thinking in English. Mahira Khan has improved a lot in that context.”
And has he considered working in Bollywood? He replies matter-of-factly, “I am just not interested. I have so much work here as an actor and producer, I really don’t have the time.”
With JPNA breaking box office records with an approximately Rs500 million revenue, it makes sense. Awami to the core, Humayun’s awam quite evidently loves him in return.
Originally published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, May 29th, 2016