Actor Ahsan Khan didn’t know that he could be a popular talk show host – until he actually became one and his guests started revealing their secrets to him.
His show, Bol Nights with Ahsan Khan, has been airing for six odd months and every now and then, clips float out of his candid, very interesting conversations with a varied range of celebrities.
Sitting across Ahsan, actress Nausheen Shah has talked about her struggles with depression. Zhalay Sarhadi quipped about her fully-clothed item song which had won Hamza Ali Abbasi’s approval, Naveen Waqar has confessed to the pressures faced by a divorced woman and Mohib Mirza has revealed that he has separated from Aamina Sheikh.
In more recent episodes, Bilal Maqsood and Faisal Kapadia of Strings have shared regaling anecdotes; among them, a story of how Bilal threw his jacket out to the audience during a performance and ended up marrying the girl that caught it.
And riding the crest of the highly successful drama Meray Paas Tum Ho, actor Humayun Saeed sat with Ahsan and revealed the nitty gritties that lead to him starring as the drama’s male lead.
“I like to sit with my guests and just have a natural, easygoing conversation,” says Ahsan. “I ask questions that aren’t typical, on topics that genuinely interest me and I think, they also end up interesting viewers. And I don’t resort to sensationalism. I won’t probe too much about something if I feel that it is a sensitive topic.”
The show certainly is devoid some of the cringing gimmickry that is an unfortunate part of many other talk shows. TV viewership in the morning, particularly, is littered with dances, makeup contests and misogynistic, unmonitored conversations.
Doesn't rely on the tried and tested antics
Only recently, actor Faysal Quraishi’s morning show got famous because he started subjecting his guests to tricky rapid fire contests. Sadaf Kanwal ended up critiquing fellow actress Mansha Pasha, who proceeded to retaliate via social media.
More notoriously, veteran actor Firdous Jamal chose to call Mahira Khan a ‘non-actress’ and his comments mushroomed into a massive, never-ending controversy.
Simultaneously, the host, Faysal Quraishi, was criticised for having planned out such a controversial segment at all and it was pointed out that the talk show was very obviously relying on sensationalism to gain popularity.
How else would the more contentious clips, sized down to an easily uploadable one-minute duration, be so easily available to major social media accounts?
Bol Nights with Ahsan Khan, refrains from plummeting to such lows. There may be the occasional dance – because any local awards show aficionado will tell you that Ahsan loves to dance and besides, who wouldn’t want to dance with Mahira Khan?
Overall, though, the show is relying on interesting content rather than dhol, dhamaka and all that jazz. But there’s more to the story than just great content.
There is obviously some very clever marketing at play.
Savvy marketing makes all the difference
“Ahsan is a friend and the channel that he works for – and he - are marketing his talk show very well,” observes Nausheen Shah.
“I had talked about battling depression many times before in the past but my comments really got noticed through my interview with Ahsan. Those particular clips from his show somehow went viral on social media. That’s clever.”
“But while I was very comfortable talking to Ahsan, I’d like to say that I generally believe in being vocal about mental health, in any interview. A lot of people have reached out to me and told me that hearing me talk openly on TV about my struggle has given them strength.”
Nausheen continues, “There are other things that I am not vocal about. I don’t like talking about my private life, my family and my friends. It’s why I would be hesitant about being interviewed by Samina Peerzada. The first thing she’ll ask me is whether I have climbed a tree in my childhood!”
Similarly, Zhalay Sarhadi says that she’s always believed in being honest in her interviews. “I would never throw shade on anyone but at the same time, I don’t mind talking openly about my own struggles and opinions.”
Naveen Waqar, on the other hand, is not someone who gives a lot of interviews. She observes, “Of course, Ahsan is someone I know and have worked with so the comfort level was there. My experience on the show was very pleasant. Ahsan is a friend. He is very witty so it was fun for me.”
Naveen adds, referring to her discussion on the show on her life post-divorce, “(The way I answer) also depends on the line of questioning – how intelligently it is done.”
And one has to give credit that Ahsan Khan knows how to ask the right questions.
He says, “I make sure that none of my questions are below the belt. If I feel that my guest is uncomfortable, I change tacks. With Mohib Mirza, for instance, I didn’t grill him about why his marriage didn’t work. I knew that it was a sensitive topic and treated it as such.”
There is more, though. The confessions and revelations that often unfold in recent talk shows, including Bol Nights with Ahsan Khan, reveal a change in the celebrity mindset.
Celebrities get ‘real’
“People are generally speaking out more easily now,” observes Nausheen Shah. “They are discussing tricky topics and voicing their opinions, through social media and also in talk show interviews.”
Naveen adds, “Honestly, the more I am growing as a person, the more I am opening up.”
“It’s true that stars have generally become more vocal. They speak out more easily on behalf of social causes that they believe in. Topics that were once considered taboo – sexual exploitation, harassment – are now discussed openly, not only on my show but overall."
"Celebrities also want to share their own experiences. I think some of them do this in order to inspire others and help them gain strength.”
“Today’s stars are also usually from educated backgrounds and they know how to speak well. They are popular not just for the work that they do but also for their personas. Show business is no longer restricted to selling glamour. It is also focused on telling true stories."
"A lot of the topics discussed on my show are very serious and people may think that they will be too dry to generate ratings. But, to the contrary, I think audiences are now appreciating celebrities who step outside their bubble and speak on realities.”
Ahsan has proven to be quite adept at uncovering some of these realities. Is marketing one of the reasons why people are noticing his show? Certainly.
But if the content wasn’t great, audiences would have shrugged it off just as quickly. If Ahsan wasn’t a glib, likeable host, his guests wouldn’t have been open to discussions quite so amiably.
“I want to invite our icons to my show – cricketers, politicians, TV and film veterans. I have so many plans,” says Ahsan.
If he does manage to do so, the interviews with cricketers and politicians could really lead to big revelations. The ratings would just go sky-high!