The director turned actor opens up about Dil Banjaara, celebrity culture, what inspires him... and yep, his love life
Here are a few fun facts about Adnan Malik: I learnt that he thinks socks are "cumbersome", Mahira Khan is his go-to person for advice, Aurat Raaj is one of his favourite movies (he's a Rangeela fan!) and he admits that he only modelled to get affirmation for his looks (even though he just got honoured as the best male model of 2016 by Sunday Times), among other things.
Everyone is inquisitive about what he's up to, which makes him, a private person in general even more cautious regarding his social media existence. To be fair, he admits he's an overthinker by nature.
But he's not a closed book. Far from it.
After a brief hiatus, he's obviously ready to return to the spotlight; two years since he stepped out from behind the camera and in front of it in Sadqay Tumharay, he's back on our television screens with Dil Banjaara, formerly titled Gypsy.
And that's exactly what he is, a gypsy; he's spent his nearly 12-year career dipping his toes in every aspect of story-telling, from directing, producing to recently acting, never quite settling down, swan-diving off the generic pop culture grid.
I was surprised to see him stroll into the quaint little cafe where we were meeting for breakfast in a casual steel blue tee and some neon Nike kicks. I've gotten so used to seeing pictures of dressed to the nines in his well-tailored blazers and Italian shoes. His face is a lot friendlier, smiley-er in person.
You can tell he pays attention to his appearance, even when I've probably dragged him out of bed way too early for this tell-all. He orders a cappuccino as soon as he sits down and is visibly excited about his new show Dil Banjaara, which he's starring in alongside Sanam Saeed and Mira Sethi.
"I feel like my character Sikander is basically me, five years ago," he says reminiscing. "He's an aspiring photographer which is something that I was even before I studied film, thanks to my dad, who gave me my first camera when I was 12."
"Sikki is adventurous, loves to travel; the idea is that he's got a gypsy heart, he loves moving. He's got a quirky facade but on the inside, he's still someone who's struggling. He's an orphan and he's moved in with his aunt, who's Mira's mother so they've essentially grown up together. I meet Sanam on this photography trip that I go on, and she's a completely parallel character from a different world."
You can tell he's the sort of actor who really wants to step inside the skin of his characters, so it doesn't surprise me when he adds that he went out and "bought the cologne Aqua di Gio because that's what I used to wear 7-8 years ago" to get back to his younger self or that for his character research, he turned to some of his favourite coming of age movies, like Garden State, The Graduate and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani.
Or the fact that he tells me a back story for his character that's not really part of the script.
"You use photography to immortalise things. Because he lost his parents at an early age, he preserves things through pictures. He's more into analog film than digital, which I think is interesting because there's more romance to that."
"Film itself is a chemical reaction because there's an actual film piece, the light hits it and then it gets exposed so it's a real action you're watching whereas digital is just pixels."
12 episodes in, what kind of feedback has he received?
"It's being appreciated by a younger demographic. It's a mainstream story and too filmy for some but overall, postive feedback. It's been a real learning experience for me because I now know that in the future, I only want to work with directors who have a clear vision of what they want."
"I feel the final output has not been handled as intelligently as it could have been, needed greater leadership qualities. Still, it's got great music, has been shot beautifully and has some excellent performances," he adds.
His career trajectory is an intriguing one; how did a guy who went off to college to study economics like a "good Pakistani boy" end up majoring in film-making then foray into acting? His eagerness to inhabit what it means, or what he thinks means, to fully be an artist is evident.
"People ask me why I want to be a jack of all trades and I think it's part of the same process, it's story-telling at the end of the day. I love direction, it comes naturally to me, I'm organised and confident in my craft but I felt like I was always weak on the acting front. It's challenging to put yourself out there and get into someone else's shoes and create this whole other life. I couldn't choose if I had to; they're both part of the same holistic art," he explained when I quizzed him about what he preferred.
But can he separate the two?
"Absolutely. I have to let go and let the director do his thing because it gets really annoying otherwise and then no one would hire me," he laughs.
In a sea of people lapping up the attention that is part and parcel of being part of the film fraternity, Adnan has a different take on handling fame.
I ask him about if he had it easy, having a famous sibling or whether his training at Vassar College in the arts is what propelled him forward.
"One thing is to be an actor, another thing is to want to be a star. If you want to be a star then yeah, being good-looking and being in the right place at the right time would work out for you but if you want to be an actor and be respected for your skill then I think some kind of training is important. I did theatre in college and took some courses and those definitely did help. I wish I could go to NAPA to hone my acting chops; they're doing a great job providing a platform for fresh, new talent to enter the fold."
Does it irk him when/if people treat him like a celeb and not an actor by his distinction?
"Well, often when I go out and people come up to me and they're like "Sir, selfie!" and sometimes, I'm just like why? Who am I? And sometimes they don't even know, they just say aap tv pe atay hai."
"Then there are people who come up to me and you can see it in their eyes, they're shy about it and they'll come and mention a specific scene from Sadqay that they liked or how much their dadi loved it and there's an energy transference there; Sadqay was really popular with the nanis and dadis," he chuckles.
"But like other times, people just come and bully you for a selfie and it irks me because if you don't know my work or my craft and you want a picture just to show your friends, that's okay too but it's not why I do what I do."
I must have been feeling extra courageous that day; I hate asking personal questions and even after he spoke at length about "unnecessary celebrity coverage," I blurted out: "So are you single?"
He graciously answers honestly, or so we'd like to believe, that he wasn't up until recently.
Obviously, instead of saying something nice or polite, I continue, "Is marriage on the cards any time soon?" I swear it's like word vomit.
"I think marriage is a construct, people think it will solve all your problems but I think you have to solve all of your own problems and then get into a contract like that. I'm not saying I don't want to, I just think you have to work on yourself first."
"My belief system is that you've got to solve your own issues; I think most contemporary relationships break up because both parties bring their own baggage into the mix and while it works out for a bit, it eventually leads to resentment and it just becomes a terrible situation. Marriage is a friendship so you want to have good companionship especially if you want to raise kids."
"This happily after stuff is sold by Hollywood, our dramas and well, our aunties. But I'm getting ready in my head, maybe in a couple of years," he reveals.
One look at his Instagram account will tell you that he's been bit by the wanderlust bug; his eyes light up when he talks about shooting bits and pieces of the show in Nepal.
"The writer, Faiza Iftikhar went to Nepal and based many scenes off her own experience, they're extremely well-written. I loved the mountain culture, the people there are gentle, there's no urban angst. I think I truly understood what shanti means for the first time on this trip."
He muses, "We're a country on a treadmill you know? We live in this constant rat race, we've come so far from what we're truly supposed to be. I really, really hope PIA restarts it's flights to Nepal; instead of 3.5 hours, it took me 12 hours to get there, through Dubai. Imagine the carbon footprint! But no seriously, more people really need to visit. Pakistanis need to treat their PTSD."
The carbon footprint comment threw me off; of the many societal issues people in the film fraternity talk about, the environment isn't always first place. It makes sense when he later talks about the preservation of the environment being a social cause he holds dear to his heart.
"We have an incredible country and it kills me that we have no value for our forests, we don't have clean drinking water for a big chunk of the population, we use plastic bags. It's just something I care about; not everyone has to be prime minister but we should all do our part."
Two dramas in, he's already worked with some of the biggest female powerhouses in the game and rubbed shoulders with most others, thanks to his directing gigs.
"Mahira and I have great chemistry and I think that's something you can't fake; it's either there or it's not. Working with her again would be great."
I ask who he wants to work with next and spoken like a true filmmaker, he starts off with listing directors instead of actors.
"I'd love to work with Sarmad; l feel like we have a lot in common. And Jami, my god, he's just like this guru that I really respect. Other than that, I'd really want to collaborate with Mehreen Jabbar or Nabeel Qureshi."
"Other than that, I really want to see an ensemble cast project come together, like do an Ocean's Eleven with the boys; I love the romance genre but that coupled with action is something I really enjoy. So like get Hamza, Osman, Fawad and Humayun together and do that. With Humayun, I want to do a remake of Ram Lakhan, I think that'll make for great entertainment. Or share screen space with Saba Qamar, she's an excellent actress."
These days, Malik is thinking a lot about what's next for him. The logical next step would be to move towards cinema and he's far too smart not to know that.
"I think acting in television in Pakistan can be chaotic because you're trying to do so much in limited means. That being said, I really relish what I do. I want to make a film soon so I've been working on a few ideas. I know the kind of films I like and the kind of work I want to do, so I think that time will come naturally."
And here's one for men who care about fashion: a capsule collection designed by him under the Sapphire banner is also some thing he's considering.