Bilal Abbas Khan has slowly, but surely built a strong niche for himself. To him, it’s the era of the actor and not the star, and he plans on making the most of it.
I’d first spoken to Khan prior to the release of his debut movie, Rafay Rashdi’s Thora Jee Le (2017). And though the film didn’t perform as per expectations, the industry had a new, beaming, zealous and somewhat timid face.
He tells me he’s always been very fixated at honing his skills above anything, which is why he looks up to Nauman Ijaz, whom Bilal collaborated with on his second drama serial, Dumpukht (2016).
Not much has changed in how he views himself, apart from the fact that he now is a rising star. Having made his presence felt with phenomenal performances in O Rangreza, Balaa and the recently-concluded Cheekh, Images caught up with Bilal over a telephonic conversation from the sets of his next play talking acting, future endeavors and more.
“I was not convinced at all,” Khan revealed of his first reaction to being offered the polarised, yet successful drama serial, Cheekh alongside Saba Qamar, Ajjaz Aslam and Emmad Irfani.
“When Badar Mehmood (director) came to me with this script, I was surprised they’d approached me for the antagonist’s part, but I think he could see that potential in me,” he added of how the assignment materialised.
“It was a leap of faith. Of course, I was concerned as to how people would react to it, but I’m really glad the audiences were able to understand the character for what he was and not confuse my off-screen self with him.”
Playing a psychopath murderer, Wajih, it was truly a complex character to take on, one that would not only hamper his reputation, but would easily be an unorthodox decision to take for a young, emerging, leading man. Yet that’s what seemingly excites him about his profession, and one can only wonder what the process of getting into the skin of an incredibly uni-dimensional, ‘bad guy’ role(s) would be like.
“I think I just wanted to work with situations and keep it natural. I don’t think my face gives off an evil vibe whatsoever and I’ve mostly done boy-next-door characters as well, so what I did to make it believable was that to try in contributing to Wajih’s humor — make it dark and I don’t know if it comes across that way, but there was a bit of satire in how I approached him,” he disclosed of attempting at humanising his disposition.
“I was surrounded by great actors as well, so that helps in action-reaction while filming.
“I watch a lot of Netflix shows and what I’ve noticed is that such flawed, layered characters are portrayed in a very real light. We see people like Wajih around us in society,” Khan pointed out. “And in all honesty, I don’t overthink. I go with the flow. I trust my instinct; I don’t have references, I just take my director’s briefs very seriously and rehearse a lot on-set with my co-actors, and amidst all of that, I don’t realize it, but ‘it’ happens.”
Though he does understand social responsibility that comes with commercial and critical acclaim, much of the criticism that’s come his way is for his choice of projects at large. Balaa (2018) and Cheekh both had problematic female characters, of either being purely negative or losing everything to get justice, respectively.
“It is important that there’s proper characterisation, but then again, I think like an actor,” he maintains. “If I’m doing plays like Balaa or Cheekh, it’s only because I feel these are risky, challenging characters to take up that anybody would hesitate choosing."
"But one must also take into consideration that I’ve done an O Rangreza too, where I was the submissive and Sajal’s character was this very dominant, feisty girl. For me, I just want to enjoy what I do and that’s how I see my career, I want to challenge myself with the characters I play, breaking stereotypes in my own way.”
He does, however; agree that for the ratings rat race, television scripts do tend to go a little overboard in operating at extremes that eventually result in stereotyping.
And thus, he’s ventured outside of his comfort zone even further and recently only completed filming for Mehreen Jabbar’s web-series, Ek Jhooti Love Story, penned by Umera Ahmed and alongside Madeeha Imam. The light comedy is a commentary on finding love in a digitalised world.
“Even purely in terms of performance, it’s very different and I think all of that comes from the content, you feel more freedom [because of the lack of censorship, channel demands etc]; there’s creative liberty to say whatever you want to,” Khan commented of the new wave.
“So the entire experience is very different, it’s very liberating actually. Very rarely is one satisfied with one’s own project and with this, I can say I know it’s taken a good direction. TV is very restricted; the screenplay itself doesn’t allow you to talk about a certain issue in-depth.”
Essentially helmed as a cross-border series, there is yet to be an official announcement on the part of the makers as to what platform shall put it out and when. Until then, Bilal’s begun shooting for his next serial opposite the powerhouse of talent, Yumna Zaidi, following the story of “two odd people.”
Speaking of what makes him select his projects; having worked across several mediums of performing arts now, Bilal considers the script key.
“I think it all comes down to the script, the core and soul of the story. In our dramas, we do operate on extremes, we do go overboard with commercialism, or go too off-beat, so I think my selection is only determined by how different it is from my last play,” he remarked of career decisions.
“I don’t want to repeat my characters, stories, even scenarios. I want to be in completely new settings with whatever I take up. I’m very proud of Balaa and Cheekh both, but they were very intense, and so now, I’m shooting for a very light-hearted, cute romance.”
Bilal’s also established quite the following for himself on social media that majorly comprises of female fanfare. Saba Qamar speaks highly of the budding actor, whilst Mahira Khan in a recent interview said she deems Bilal amongst the most gifted actors from the current crop of talent.
Nonetheless, it seems as if Khan’s distant, if not completely oblivious to the clamor that surrounds him.
“It does get very overwhelming,” he is quick to agree, continuing with, “Being recognised for your work is the best feeling in the world, but I do struggle at how I should react to it. At times, I get incredibly awkward. But then again, I want everyone to know that I’m incredibly grateful for all the love."
"Secondly, I don’t really take it very seriously in all honestly. I know that it [fame] doesn’t last, it’s there and I acknowledge it and enjoy it, but I cannot let it get to my head.”
What’s also noteworthy is that Bilal doesn’t make many public appearances; he rarely takes part in brand endorsements or campaigns, whilst also not becoming a prey to any particular lobby or group from within the fraternity.
He’s worked for all major private channels in the country thus far, that are presented by an array of production houses. To him, his work is his craft alone.
“I’ve always been a very private person. I have a very limited friends’ circle, people I knew from before I became an actor and I hang-out with them only,” he revealed of clearly drawing that line.
“For me, going to the set is my job and that’s how I’ve always treated it. My job is between calling action and cut, once I’m done, I just want to go home and chill with my real people, my family. I don’t find any reason to talk about my personal life on social media, I want to keep that for myself; it’s for me.”
He also shared how interactive platforms online such as Twitter and Instagram have allowed negative opinions and non-constructive criticism to be harnessed that tampers with one’s mental peace. “I think it’s important to be sorted and stable at all times … mentally,” he exclaims on a parting note.