Fahad Mustafa is on a roll.
He hosts a top-rated TV game show where the general public excitedly shouts out his name, he goes to malls and gets mobbed and his cinematic forays have been heavy duty box office hits. He also runs a production house, Big Bang Entertainment, helming multiple drama serials for different television networks. He clambers onto cars, enthusiastically does push-ups on live TV, makes flamboyant wardrobe choices and shrugs away critique easily.
“I understand what people want to see,” he tells me. “I am not disdainful towards them. Rather, I become one with them and they appreciate this. I am the only actor in Pakistan to have reached this level of popularity without having had to prove my mettle by going to India. If there were only a few more actors like myself, we wouldn’t even need to bother with Bollywood.”
Fahad says all this as if he is stating facts – and he kind of is.
I meet up with him right after his madcap Ramazan schedule has subsided where he was hosting a live show every evening for 30 days at a stretch. With the game show now slotted to twice a week, he is free to work on his productions before he launches into promotions for his upcoming movie Na Maloom Afraad 2, releasing on Eid-ul-Azha.
We sit in his office, a quirky space with black and white images of cinema icons on the walls and a sign that declares, “Remember why you started.” Fahad wears a light cotton pullover and torn jeans which leads me to observe, based on his previous TV appearances, that he seems to have a fondness for distressed denim. “Yes, it reflects the way I am myself,” he quips.
And so we begin.
Fahad Mustafa (FM): Cherry is a tailoring brand that I have been going to my whole life. I am probably one of the few TV personalities who believes in paying for my wardrobe and I do so happily because I enjoy devising my wardrobe with Cherry. They just understand what I want. I don’t believe in throwing about names of designer labels just to prove to the world that I am a star. What’s the difference between Cherry and our so-called designers? They all have tailors sitting in their workshops and if they all create well-finished clothes then there’s really no difference.
FM: Yes. If I look good, the credit goes to me and if I am a walking disaster it’s my own fault. I was hosting a live show for 30 days and blunders are bound to occur. I still think that I was less of a disaster than certain others.
FM: It’s a chilled studio so the layers are not a problem. Also, I am thin – if I want to wear fitted clothes, why shouldn’t I?
FM: The people who were playing the games didn’t mind so why should the rest of the world? It’s a game show and everything is in good fun. I am probably the only male host who interacts very easily with women in the audience. They hug me, shake hands with me, even high-five me. They trust me, I respect them and we all have a great time together. You should see the excitement on the set during a show – it’s like an India-Pakistan match!
FM: It’s easy to criticise. I’d rather entertain than deliver solemn lectures. If Anwar Maqsood is so perturbed by diminishing standards why doesn’t he train others to be like him? I prefer to give messages while laughing along with people rather than by sermonising.
FM: I love Aamir bhai and whatever he does in his show, I still watch it. When I used to host a morning show for the Hum Network three years ago, Aamir bhai would come as a guest to my show on receiving a single call from me. I am a bit hesitant when it comes to discussing religious topics and so I would ask him to chalk out a list of questions for me. I would ask them as is and he would reply. I comment about him frequently on my game show but it is all in good humor and Aamir bhai knows this.
FM: I am like that – why shouldn’t I enjoy playing such roles? They have worked for me so far and besides, I also acted in Mah-e-Meer which was completely different.
FM: I think every actor dreams of being part of a movie like Mah-e-Meer. I am Sindhi-speaking and yet I managed to play Meer to an audience that consisted of intellectuals who dissect everything to bits and pleased them to a large extent. It got me critical acclaim and as an actor, that means a lot to me. Of course, I would never produce a movie like Mah-e-Meer and if I ever do, I would keep it restricted to festivals because it certainly didn’t have any mass appeal. The Mah-e-Meer premiere was the only time I reached an event two hours late. I kept circling the cinema wondering if I should go or not.
FM: Nabeel will cast me in his fourth movie too. It’s because he has seen that if he works hard, I will work just as hard with him. We have done some very expensive shoots together and we have also sat together on roadsides and had discussions.
I don’t believe that I am a great actor but I am very hard-working. I enjoy my work. I also don’t see any point in putting on airs and graces just to prove to my co-workers that I am a huge star. Attitude problems, I believe, are the main reason why many of our actors aren’t able to succeed.
FM: Yes. There have been so many times when I have visited my productions and the actors working there ask out loud, “Who is he?”
Why do they have to be so petty? I am well-known in my country and besides, I am the one who signs their cheques. Why do they have to feign these pretenses in order to emphasise that they are stars?
There are also so many actors who have huge egos on the basis of their social media followings. Certain makeup artists and salons encourage them to behave like divas and they get lost in a bubble that disconnects them completely from the audience that they have to cater to. They will say that they want to be ‘exclusive’. Why do they want to be exclusive? So that nobody hears them or sees them? Why do they feel so superior towards the masses? They are the ones that have to accept them as stars in order for them to be successful.
FM: I think Shaan Bhai’s theory gets negated immediately because despite being seen in a very mass-centric live show, my movies are still hits. TV can be run by network heads and their particular favorites may be preferred there but cinema’s the one medium where an actor becomes successful on the basis of his popularity with the masses.
FM: I wouldn’t work in India unless I got offered a project that was truly interesting. It’s certainly not my ambition to become a Bollywood star. A long time ago, Humayun Saeed said something to me that I have always remembered: India can be a bonus but it can never be a perpetual career path for a Pakistani actor.
I recently worked with Indian director Pradeep Sarkar for a commercial and even though he was very amiable towards me, we eventually ended up discussing India and Pakistan. It’s just something that we can’t avoid and I refuse to believe that any local actor who goes to India to work doesn’t get to hear comments about Pakistan. They have to curb their personalities there and why should they have to?
Additionally, our actors tend to return from India with surreal expectations from the local industry. We don’t have the budgets for the vanity vans and fringe benefits that are now part of Bollywood. Actors need to understand this before they start throwing tantrums.
Look at Javed Sheikh. He is one of the finest actors in our country and he’s working in productions from all over the world and yet, he gives respect to whoever he works with. We need to understand that eventually, we have to pave our careers in Pakistan. Why work against each other when it could be easier to just work with each other?
FM: There was a time when I rode a motorbike and I travelled in buses and I haven’t forgotten it.
Right now, I think I am just going through a lucky run in my career. All my life, I have made some very bad decisions. I was supposed to be a pharmacist and I dropped out in third year. And I believe that one day, this phase in my career will also end. My game show gets very high ratings in Ramazan but I never ask my bosses at the ARY Network what the numbers are. I just brace myself for the day when the ratings won’t be as high, when I’ll be fading out. This is what keeps me grounded.
Besides, what’s the charm in having a bloated ego? I enjoy my work and I want others to enjoy it with me. The staff in my production company includes young people who are talented and are willing to work hard to get somewhere. And I never dictate them like I am their boss. We just work together.
FM: I like producing. My father was a producer back in the STN days and so I understand the nitty-gritties. Of course, as an actor, there is always the fear that one day you will not get offered any work. In such a scenario, I’d rather create my own content. Credit for my success as a producer also largely goes to the ARY Network. They have always promoted my work fairly and equally with that of others.
FM: Currently, my productions are airing on ARY Network and Urdu1. Should the need arise, I will work with the others too but I am satisfied with the direction that I have taken with my career. For three years, my CEO at ARY, Jerjees Seja, and I have been working together and we still get along. We laugh together and worked together every day during Ramazan. That’s a rare equation.
Besides, I have learnt that it is better to work with the people who want to work with you rather than run after those who don’t really care. For three years, prior to coming on board with ARY, I hosted a morning show for the Hum Network and I think I got completely drained physically and mentally at the time. Perhaps they didn’t see the potential in me but I felt that I just couldn’t match up to their particular favourite group of actors.
When you work with someone who believes in you, your work improves, you look better, feel better. My career immediately mushroomed after joining ARY. It’s just better to work with people who are truly interested in working with you.