Ahad Raza Mir gazes at the golden trophies before him.
It has merely been a year since his acting career in Pakistan has taken off. But it has been a successful year and the glinting statuettes are testament to this. A leading role in the hit drama Yaqeen Ka Safar, a smaller part in another popular drama —Sammi — and recently, a significant character in the box office hit film Parwaaz Hai Junoon (PHJ) … all in one year. Ahad has burst forth as the country’s newest blue-eyed hero.
“I find it hard to believe that I have won these awards — the Lux Style Award, the Hum Awards,” he admits. “For the longest time, while I trained as an actor in Canada, I dreamt of winning such trophies. And now, here they are, right in front of me. I looked at them for a while but then I asked my mother to put them away somewhere. I didn’t want them to go to my head, to make me stop working hard.”
It could have all gone to his head quite easily. His father, Asif Raza Mir, was also Pakistan’s heart-throb through the 1980s and is now a well-established producer in addition to still being in demand as a maturer actor. Being the subject of adulation is in Ahad’s genes almost as much as acting is. But he’s quick to dispel the notion that he was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth.
“I may have won all this within the span of a year but I worked hard during this year,” he says. “When I go on stage to accept an award I am smiling but, actually, I really just want to cry. Acting is all that I have ever wanted to do ever since I was young. It’s a passion for me. I want to tell stories, and I want to tell them well.”
This is something that Ahad asserts often. He may have risen to stardom in an exceptionally short time, he may now have to grumpily bother with his hair every time he leaves home, and he may resist the urge to go to a chai ka dhaba (roadside tea stall) because he knows that he’ll end up getting mobbed by fans. But he’s really just here to act.
“All other things are subsidiary,” he says, “the need to constantly post on social media, to roam the country on promotions, to sit through pre-release PR exercises and attend morning shows. I feel that a lot of times, we forget that.”
He states this as if it is a matter of fact. We are sitting in his office, far from the bustling crowds of fans, and Ahad talks easily, less like a star and much more like a 25-year-old who has so many plans. “Every time I take on a role, I want it to be different,” he says, “and not the kind of different that’s just a slight tweak to a generic character. I want to tackle roles that feel different, sound different, taste different!”
His eyes light up but then he switches gears smoothly to comment sagely on his experiences thus far. Some of these are good but he’s also had his share of rude awakenings — snide comments from senior actors and diva-like behaviour from co-stars. “It just makes me want to work harder, to prove my worth to the people who dislike me,” he shrugs.
For the young, by the young
“I think that as actors we need to make room for others,” he observes. “I have worked hard and it really upsets me when seniors whom I have looked up to all my life criticise me saying that I should be winning awards for ‘emerging talent’ rather than those for ‘best actor’. An individual’s talent or worth cannot simply be judged by the amount of time he or she has invested in the industry.
“And you never know, the second drama I do as the main lead may just flop. I may just end up being a one-hit wonder. Other people may win next time. I’ll be happy for them.”
I comment on his utter lack of ego, something that is rare in an industry where even the newest starlets are not averse to throwing tantrums.
“I think that it’s because of my father,” Ahad mulls. “I live with a legend, one of the best actors in Pakistan and he’s always been very grounded. That’s how I want to be. I remember when Yaqeen Ka Safar was really taking off and there was a moment when I was really happy. I remember being invited to Kinnaird College, Lahore, as a guest speaker at the time and when my car entered the gate, there was screaming all around me. Even the teachers had cancelled classes in order to attend my talk. I had never known till then that star power like that even existed in Pakistan and it was at this point that my father sensed overconfidence in me. He stopped me right there and asked me if I remembered why I was doing this. It brought me down to earth immediately.
"People often tell me that I need to act cooler. Stylists will say that I shouldn’t smile so much in images and not be easily approachable.”
“There are people around me who often tell me that I need to act more cool. Stylists will say that I shouldn’t smile so much in images and not be easily approachable,” he laughs. “But why shouldn’t I be happy to meet my fans? At the Hum Awards in Canada and at the Houston premiere of PHJ, the crowds were going crazy. All this makes me happy and I want to enjoy it. At the end of the day, we’re all just people.”
Acting, as I discover, is only one side to Ahad. It’s no secret that he’s made a singing debut in this year’s Coke Studio. “I enjoy trying new things and it was amazing singing with a live band,” he says.
He is also very involved in film and drama production and post-production, steering the wheels from within his father’s company, Hollywood Scene. He gives me a tour of the building, guiding me through a maze of sound-proof walls, editing rooms, state-of-the-art dubbing studio, rooms dedicated to salvaging old movies and counters lined with complex equipment that fine tunes dramas and films, adding in subtle, fine details that make them more visually appealing.
Images from the Chitral Valley are frozen on one editing screen with technicians working on them. “This is Kalasha,” he tells me proudly about the upcoming movie for which he is the executive producer. “It’s so beautifully shot. I really think that it may appeal to audiences because no movie has covered Chitral in detail so far.”
What made him veer towards production? “My father actually told me about Kalasha and asked me if I wanted to be its executive producer. I had already seen bits of it so I knew that it had potential. What really sealed the deal for me was the fact that the director-producer is a young man who is only 21. I felt that I keep talking about how we need to support young and upcoming talent, and that I need to do something more about it.”
I point out to him that young filmmakers have lately been blundering with very mediocre work. “And how will they improve?” he asks. “Didn’t the current lot of big filmmakers initially make bad movies before they progressed to making better ones? We need to give the younger lot the time and space to improve rather than dismiss their work altogether.
“And simultaneously, people working in these fields need to realise that there’s more to their worth than how many followers and likes they get on social media.”
Social media cribs
This is not the first time in our conversation that Ahad has denounced social media — it’s a crib that he voices repetitively.
“Sometimes I feel like just deleting my Instagram account but I don’t, because it allows me to connect with my fans,” he says. “That’s maybe the only good thing about social media. I don’t understand this obsession that people have to over-share every tiny detail of their lives. Entire settings and characters in a movie or drama get revealed just because the stars can’t resist snapping selfies and floating them out into the world.
“And then there’s this need to post an image when you’re traveling Business Class. Why would actors even want to boast about these flights that are very obviously paid for by the sponsors with whom they are working? I have seen actors getting hired on the basis of their social media followers and it just doesn’t make sense to me. Sometimes a lot of these followers are even fake!” he points out.
"Sometimes I feel like just deleting my Instagram account!"
I probe him about who they are but he tactfully refuses to comment. Changing tack, he adds, “Also, what’s wrong with asking an actor to audition for a role to see if he or she suits the character? I personally love auditioning. I prepare for the character and really plan things out.”
Apparently, Ahad has quite a studious streak when it comes to preparing for roles. “I learn the entire script by heart,” he says. “And I like delving into the many layers that form the character that I am playing, such as the psyche, the emotions. This is why I now make it a rule to only work in one project at a time. I want to give my all to every character that I play.”
Rumour has it that he’s one of the most expensive young actors at present. “Perhaps I am,” he nods, “but that’s because when I take on a project, I fully involve myself in it. The people who hire me are the ones who recognise the effort that I put in.”
Favourites with Hum
Incidentally, the people who have hired him thus far more or less hail from a single network: Hum TV. He’s commonly labeled as a ‘Hum favourite’, with caustic insiders commenting on how Momina Duraid, the network’s creative head, tends to set aside the meaty roles — and the subsequent awards — for him.
“Yes, Momina Duraid offers me very good scripts and doesn’t take me lightly,” agrees Ahad. “But perhaps it’s because she sees potential in me. In fact, she gave me my first break in dramas back in 2009. I’m, of course, open to working with other networks but the fact remains that Momina is singularly successful at producing good dramas with good scripts. Why would I not want to take on a character that allows me to explore new avenues as an actor? I appreciate the fact that she has faith in me and I have faith in her, too.”
Moving away from the Hum association, Ahad also frequently flits into gossip columns for his supposed relationship with co-star and good friend Sajal Aly. Is there any truth to the rumours? Like a pro, he sidesteps the question smoothly.
“Everyone seems to think that there’s truth to it,” he shrugs. “The fact is that Sajal is an exceptional actress, the best we have. I enjoy working with her and I hate the fact that people think that it’s their right to ask us about our personal lives. She’s a woman and has a right to her privacy. I went promoting PHJ and that’s all anyone asked me. I sit for interviews and that’s all they want to know.”
I mention that this may be because he continues to work with Sajal — first, in Yaqeen Ka Safar and now, in the upcoming drama Aangan. “I realise this. I like trying out new things. After Yaqeen, I was adamant that I would enact characters that were completely different from the doctor that I played in that drama. I was similarly very sure that I wanted to break away from the Ahad-Sajal on-screen pairing. But who else would I be able to work with who knows her craft so exceptionally well? I don’t know.”
Does this mean that there are more Ahad-Sajal projects in the works? “You never know. There are talks of different projects. Sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t. It has to be something that excites me, something different,” he reiterates.
So far, he’s been lucky at finding his particular type of ‘different.’ But that’s what Ahad obviously is: different. More real, less diva; more thinker, less exhibitionist; more actor, less star.
Originally published in Dawn, ICON, October 21st, 2018