“Life is definitely different. It’s changed forever,” says Ahad Raza Mir.
It’s midnight in Karachi and Mir, who is still on set, is feeling a little pensive. We’re catching up between takes. It’s been nearly two years since our last interview and his life has done a 180-degree change since we last spoke.
Back then, drama serial Yakeen ka Safar had just taken the country by storm and Mir had won over audiences in a major way.
Despite being the new kid on the block, the following year, he would go onto sweep the awards season for his role as Dr. Asfandyar. He would also star in his first feature film (Parwaz Hai Junoon) and in one of 2018’s most anticipated dramas, Aangan.
Currently, he’s shooting for an unnamed production as well as a Haseeb Hassan-directed web series all while overseeing a post-production facility with his dad, the veteran actor Asif Raza Mir. He’s also gearing up for the October release of one of this year’s most anticipated dramas, Ehd-e-Wafa.
Although life has become wholly unusual for the 25-year-old, he remains relatively the same. In fact, I spend much of our interview trying to wrap my head around how a young star can be so innately grounded, so full of self-assuredness, and just so normal.
Since he’s stayed the same down-to-earth guy he was before this whole fame thing, the spotlight still does not seem to come easily for Mir.
When I ask him how it feels to be greeted by crowds of screaming fans both inside and outside Pakistan, he laughs self-consciously, turning the question back on me with an awkward, “It’s so weird, right?”
It’s when we get to talking about work, that Mir is at his most animated and unguarded.
“To me, work is both a business and art. But, unfortunately, too often the focus is on the promotion and social media part when, really, it’s the work that will set you apart,” he tells me.
When it comes to his work, Mir is full of the most unconventional ideas.
For instance, for every character he plays, he’ll create a Spotify playlist of seven songs that he’ll listen to nonstop while filming for that role.
And once he’s done with that character, on his last day onset, he describes feeling an incredible sadness because he essentially kills off the person that he’s so carefully created.
And while Mir is not a big Netflix guy (he feels like streaming services are taking away the pleasure of going to the cinema -- something which he still loves to do), he watches tons of films in his downtime both for relaxation and for inspiration.
Lately, he tells me, he’s been watching a lot of LGBTQ films, like Moonlight and Call Me By Your Name, because they cover big, bold and taboo topics, which is something he thinks the Pakistani industry is also trying to do.
He’ll frequently show his director something that has personally inspired him from films because he finds it easier to communicate by showing rather than telling.
And when it comes to character-building, he treats the process like he’s a detective digging deep into someone’s life, their psyche.
“You have to give this hero real human problems. It can’t be a basic thing like ‘oh, he has a rift with his mother’. It’s about adding [layers] and intricacies. Like, if you go back and watch Yakeen Ka Safar, everytime Asfi hears his [deceased brother] Danyaal’s name, I would make sure his head would bow down."
"That was him [reliving] and feeling all those things [in connection to Danyaal’s death],” he explains, adding, “It’s not necessarily for the audience. It’s for you as an actor because when you’re clear about the character you’ve created and you [are shooting] episode 24, it’s easier.”
Mir tells me that, overall, he’s feeling hopeful that the Pakistani industry is finally breaking free of the typically limited, one-dimensional concept of who or what a hero is. He’s particularly pleased that men are finally seeing themselves properly portrayed on-screen.
“The idea of the hero is changing and needs to change. Not fast enough but it’s enough to be noticeable. Take Imran Ashraf’s role as Bhola. He was the lead actor but not a conventional hero,” he points out.
"The role I’m doing right now, without giving too much away, this role isn’t a typical hero either. He’s a troubled guy. Not right in the head. We’re asking the question: what does severe childhood trauma do to a person?”
I push back: but what about the seemingly patriotic, pro-Pakistani, nationalistic bender he’s been on? From Parwaz Hai Junoon in which he plays an air force officer to Angaan in which he portrays a poet-politician to Ehd-e-Wafa in which he’ll be portraying an army cadet, does he feel he’s been gravitating too much towards a certain character genre?
He’s quick to respond in his usual measured and emotionally intelligent way.
“That’s a great question. I’m glad you asked. As a nation, we can be broken. We divide ourselves, we make subsections like ‘you’re this, I’m that’ but when it comes to patriotism, that’s when [Pakistanis] become united,” he explains.
For Mir, it’s this unity, this ability to find a commonality in all the chaos that draws him towards these seemingly patriotic roles. Plus, it helps that he finds it incredibly fun and complex to play the part of someone who puts their life on the line daily, he explains.
That’s not to say that frequently playing a patriotic Pakistani on TV, and permanently relocating from Canada to Pakistan for work, hasn’t affected him personally.
“It’s weird. I feel more Pakistani now than I ever have. No matter where I go now -- even if I’m going back to Canada -- I’m seen as someone repping Pakistan. This is the good part of the whole fame thing.”
Suddenly, we’re talking politics. With Canadian federal elections currently ongoing and the Kashmir-Pakistan-India conflict at its peak point, I wonder if he feels that actors have a duty to be politically woke.
“Any conflict in the world is bad, it’s wrong. [As an artist], I feel it’s my job to represent my country and to change negative concepts of Pakistan in people’s minds. I put value on showing people Pakistan by doing something like Hamlet,” Mir says.
At the moment, Mir is waiting for multiple projects to release. Next September, he will return to the stage in Canada for round two of Hamlet, this time in Toronto. Because music is one of his true loves, it’s something that’s never far from his mind.
With me, he sort of half laughs slash half shrugs off the over-the-top reaction to his and Momina Mustehsan’s Coke Studio rendition of 'Ko Ko Korina'. But you can tell he’s mulling over if and when to make the next move with his music career.
Before our interview, I post to my Instagram that I’ll be speaking with Ahad Raza Mir. Immediately, I get several DMs from my Canadian friends. One person tells me how when she went to see Hamlet in Calgary with a foot injury, Mir himself helped find her a comfortable seat upfront.
She found herself sitting right next to the stage, behind his parents. Another person talks to me about how she left her newborn with her father-in-law and drove hours alone to see Hamlet. She’s into Shakespeare and live theater now, she says.
Hell, even people who work in the industry with Mir are quick to share a story with me about how polite he is, how nice he is (yet ever so reserved) and how hard he works.
Whatever you may think of Mir’s previous or upcoming projects, you likely recognize that he’s fantastic at his job. In front of the camera, he’s dedicated and confident. Behind the scenes, he’s meticulously professional. And while there is certainly luck in his success story, mostly there is a serious work ethic.
Indeed, as we wrap up the interview, I feel that Mir is on the verge of yet another big moment in his career. But for now, he is simply and viscerally present in the moment, devoid of regret and grateful for everything and everyone.