Haroon Shahid appears as you’ve never seen him before.
Singing lead vocals in a band called Symt, Haroon often featured in Coke Studio and in musical performances of the kind. Pakistani screens recently witnessed Haroon singing and romancing Mahira Khan in the upcoming Shoaib Mansoor film, Verna.
In the trailer, we see Haroon as Mahira’s husband and their story doesn’t seem to be all romance and flowers, as seen in the film’s first song 'Sambhal Sambhal Ke'.
We caught up with him to get a better grasp of what his character would be like in Verna, getting in character and working alongside Mahira Khan whose last film, Raees landed in Bollywood’s 100 crore club for 2017.
Images: Verna is set to release soon. Just a little less than a month to go. Feelings?
Haroon Shahid: It’s exciting. I’m really nervous. I’m wondering how people will respond. And since I’m an integral part of the film, I’m wondering a lot about the film as well, how they’ll respond to it, what they will think about it. There’s a lot of pressure too, we started the promotions a little bit late.
Images: What happened, why did the promotions get delayed?
HS: I wish I could answer that or if I could have an answer to that.
All this is very new to me, it’s my first film and I am still unsure of many things and how they work and I’m trying to understand it all. I’m just seeing how other films are made and I am only observing that films that are releasing in December are already being promoted, some films have a three month head start. So I don’t know how this works, really.
Images: Tell us about your character. We know that he sings, is hurt, physically and emotionally, but what else can you tell us that will help us understand the film better?
HS: Before Verna, people who were following me were used to seeing me in a certain kind of avatar, in a certain kind of image, like let’s say in Coke Studio. I wasn’t in any character, I was myself. But the same people who saw me in Verna are telling me, “Hey that doesn’t look like you?” That’s the best thing that I’ve gotten so far. And it would probably offend a lot of people, that people don’t see you in the you. But to me, it’s a compliment.
That’s my character and that’s something I’ve learnt from Shoaib Mansoor. He taught me that if someone appears like you, and if I can tell you are acting, then you’re not acting. Then you’re doing a bad job. That’s the real fun part or the real fun experience of playing a character for me. People say all kinds of interesting things when they see me play the role.
Images: But in the film, you are a singer, which you are in real life. Does that become a part of the character as well?
HS: The singing is very much a part of that character. The music and the singing gives an image of the character that he’s progressive and exposed to a modern lifestyle. But when it comes to certain things, this character is regressive and medieval. The musical element in the film that you see in my character is one of the many colors of the story I tell.
Images:You said Mahira is very comfortable to work with - but what was your energy level with her? She recently romanced Shah Rukh Khan onscreen. That must have been tough shoes to fill?
HS: For me, Shah Rukh Khan was never a big star as much as say Junaid Jamshed. Growing up, I saw Shah Rukh Khan films too and there was Vital Signs too – and if someone had asked me back then, who do you admire more, Shah Rukh Khan or Junaid Jamshed, I’d say this immediately: Vital Signs is a bigger inspiration for me.
With Mahira, I wasn’t starstruck as such but I needed confidence and Mahira helped me immensely with it. With Shoaib Masnoor, I have known him for over seven or eight years now – and he has always very helpful and he always guided me. That’s what both Mahira and Shoaib Mansoor have done for me. They’ve been been instrumental in how I have performed in the film.
Images: From the trailer you have a super angsty angle. You also hit the female protagonist once. How'd you feel about that?
HS: Again, I am so glad people are hating me for that. It’s the purpose, you see? There’s a response to what I’ve done – what my character has done. It’s one of the most powerful scenes we’ve done in the film.
Mahira said to me, when we were doing this scene, “Listen. People would try to empathize with you or love you – but this is the time when you need to make them hate you.”
Images: But when we saw the first song, we thought you would be a couple in love, and you have those typical good looks that slate you as a hero.
HS: Shoaib Mansoor instilled this in me: your looks aren’t going to make you a hit or a flop. It’s about how you act. He taught me that people may ‘look’ at you for a minute or two but after that they would require something more, something that has to do with your performance and who you are as an actor.
Images: What’s the one thing you would want your audience to think or keep in view while watching the film? Is there a message you’d like the audience to anchor to?
HS: Power di game. It’s all about power di game. It’s all about the games that people play for power, in power.
When you are watching this you will see the power di game on macro and on micro levels, it’s always going to be about power. A lot of people say it’s about rape, but it’s not. It’s way beyond that. You might freak out when you watch it, you might ask, “Hey why, what is this that they showed!” And that’s what I’m excited about.
Images: Shoaib Mansoor is reportedly to have said he doesn't cast stars he makes stars. Do you feel like that now? Like a star? Have you started to feel like one yet?
HS: There’s a third line to that quote and it’s that, ‘Shoaib Mansoor doesn’t treat anyone like a star. His script, his work is his star. That’s what he means by it. And I love him for that.
Images: How did you land this role, did you lobby for it?
HS: You cannot lobby to get a role in a work done by Shoaib Mansoor. If he wants you, he’ll get you. If he doesn’t want you, no one can make him get you. And I’ve never done the lobbying bit, I’m not that kind. Not even for music. For Shoaib Mansoor, it’s about him giving me this opportunity. He had initially contacted me for Bol, for Atif’s role. But that was a small role compared to what I’ve just done now.
Images: Is this a career trajectory change? Will we see you only in films or will maybe back to the singing ground some day?
HS: I had never thought of becoming an actor. I had refused Bol, seven years ago. I’ve expanded my repertoire now in another territory and it’s great that I’ve done such a mega project.
Working with Shoaib Mansoor gave me the leverage I need to figure out what I want to do, what my way will be. A lot of people don’t have that choice, they end up doing a lot of smaller or not-so-great projects just to go ahead in the field. But I’ve already had that opportunity to get ahead and take my pick in terms of future projects.
For me the field is open and I’ve not shut any door. Time will tell.
Images: So the power di game is in your favor right now.
HS: Let’s hope so. Shoaib Mansoor Sab used to say to me, “Haroon beta, sabr ka phal meetha hota hai!”