“Are you tired of always playing the good guy?” It’s one of the first questions that I ask Affan Waheed and he grins and rolls his eyes, as he replies, “Oh, I am so tired.”
But I suspect that Affan knows that he just fits the good guy mould too well. He’s got the classic good looks and an easy smile and, somehow, it’s just easier to imagine him as the conscientious hero than as the Machiavellian villain.
In a career that now spans a decade and boasts roles in a whopping 40 dramas, Affan has barely ever played a negative character. Sift through his repertoire of work and you’ll come across plenty of long-suffering do-gooder heroes, men who stick to their values while life throws a startling number of obstacles their way, who endure tears and pain while the women in the house embroil themselves in some good ol’ fashioned politics — the quintessential drama hero.
“I am a bit bored of playing the good guy,” he muses, “especially since, with all due modesty, I think that I have the potential to do more. It’s okay, though. Almost all the roles that I get offered are positive ones and I can’t just sit about waiting for a completely different script to come along. It’s important to keep working in order to earn, stay relevant, be included and to feel that you are enough. Then again, you can never be truly sure if you’re enough,” he says introspectively.
For almost 10 years, actor Affan Waheed has only ever played positive roles in TV dramas. Is it because he is stereotyped by drama producers or because he consciously rejects villainous roles? Does he not get bored? And why has he never been associated with any kind of scandal?
There’s a lot more philosophising all through my meeting with Affan and his observations are usually accompanied with a wry smile, a self-deprecating joke, a witty rejoinder. Affan has masses of fans — they call themselves ‘Affanians’ — and he’s got a very busy work schedule and, yet, his ego is yet to bloat out of proportion. In fact, he’s more likely to point out a project of his that he doesn’t like or a blunder that he’s made, laughing over it.
It makes him such fun to talk to. When I ask him whether he thinks dramas offer better acting opportunities to women rather than men, he replies, “If you think more crying means a better role, then sure! Of course, I get to cry too.” He then proceeds to tell me his trick for making it look like he’s crying on screen — it’s a pretty whacky one, which is why I can’t repeat it here.
In another instance, I ask Affan where he wants to see himself in five years and he deadpans, “I just want to be happy … really happy.” Laughing, he then continues on a more serious vein, “I want to be doing less work but more quality work. I have worked in a lot of dramas and I am happy with the work that I have done. Still, when I retire, I want to leave behind roles that have given me complete job satisfaction.”
Some of those roles have already come his way. To tell the truth, I should have interviewed Affan many years earlier and I regret that I didn’t. Perhaps one of the reasons behind our interview’s delay is that Affan belongs to a rare breed of actors who often opts to stay out of the limelight, revelling in his success privately, without indulging in brash braggadocio.
“I am not an exhibitionist by nature,” he says time and again throughout our interview, adding that he only ended up as an actor “accidentally” and recalling his days in NCA when painting would be his raison d’etre.
Accidentally or not, you’re a very good actor, I tell him. “That means a lot,” he smiles. “You know, I used to be humble about it and deny it but now I don’t want to anymore. I have done some good work.”
And he wants even better work to come his way. We plunge right into a conversation on his acting career, his highs and lows and plenty of philosophising…
How much do awards mean to him, I ask. He ponders for a bit. “I did win an award recently from ARY Digital and I am honoured they felt that I deserved it,” he starts. “Generally, though, I am happy when I get nominated but, when I don’t, it doesn’t make me unhappy.”
It’s an answer that I have heard often. Affan adds: “Initially, I really used to feel bad about nominations. Then I realised that my work is so strenuous and I really couldn’t waste my energy on things like these. There are still moments when I slip but, generally, I just try to detach myself, and it really helps.
“When my drama Do Bol became a big hit, I started fretting that every project of mine should be just as successful. That’s when I realised the need to work on myself. My career curve couldn’t stay the same all the time and it was important that I acknowledged that. I couldn’t get angry about every role that didn’t come my way or industry politics.
“Sometimes I hear about another actor getting selected for a role that was being offered to me and, while it may make me angry, I refuse to feel sorry for myself. It’s tricky, but I feel this need to not obsess over work too much in order to keep my mental peace.
“I am quoting Abida Parveen in Coke Studio’s 'Tu Jhoom' here — what’s meant for you will come to you. And if I didn’t get it, then it wasn’t meant for me in the first place.”
That’s a very healthy way of thinking, I observe. “I try. I am not this pious, perfect person,” he says. “I do have my weak phases. I slip up every day. Sometimes, I am in a rush to get more work, push myself harder and be more successful. But when you’re in a hurry to get to something, you can make the wrong decisions and fall flat on your face. Besides, success isn’t linear. It isn’t limited to your bank account or having a house. It can be derived from having honed your craft and from finding peace and happiness within yourself.” More philosophising.
Despite his very zen approach towards life, does Affan ever feel intimidated by the slew of young heroes entering the industry, many of them vying for the same romantic roles that are enacted by him?
“I would have perhaps found it daunting if I had had no work. But right now, my own hands are full and I don’t really need to look around at anyone else.”
He certainly is fully occupied. Last year particularly, multiple dramas featuring Affan streamed out on TV constantly. Does he tend to take on more than one project at a time, switching between characters and storylines?
“Shooting for most of these dramas started right after the coronavirus lockdown ended and I had been home for so long that I just took on as much work as I could. It was tough work and I don’t know how I managed to do it, but I did and I am proud of it. I hadn’t known that I could work that hard! I was constantly ping-ponging between Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad and different sets.”
Like most TV drama actors, Affan spends a considerable amount of time working in Karachi. His home ground, however, remains Lahore. Has he considered shifting to Karachi as have many other actors? “No,” he says. “They say that loneliness is a human invention but I don’t think that it is. I wouldn’t want to live alone in an apartment in Karachi. I’d much rather live out of a suitcase for weeks, even months!”
I am friendly with Feroze,” he says. “The Best Actor award was the last category and everyone was just waiting to leave and Feroze, on his way up to the stage, asked me to go with him. I told him that it was his award, but he insisted and everyone was looking at us, so I went. It was a little awkward, but fun and there wasn’t really any point to it. Basically, he’s just a sweet boy.”
Which dramas of his does he like the best? “I loved Shehnai,” he says quickly, referring to the feel-good family drama which aired last year. “I hadn’t worked on a script like that before and I appreciate how the producer, Abdullah Seja, always comes up with unique characters for me.
“And while people may say that Do Bol’s story was run-of-the-mill, it offered a lot of scope for me in terms of acting. I liked how the character had slight negative shades in the beginning. Then, in Beydardi I played an AIDS patient and in Neelam Kinaray I had a moustache and we shot it in the Neelam Valley. Also, Pardes last year was very well-received.”
And which co-star of his do audiences like to see him with the most? “Hira Mani and I are, of course, a very popular pair. Other than her, I think people really liked seeing me opposite Ramsha Khan and then, Dur-e-Fishan Saleem.”
Affan, incidentally, seems to be quite the good guy off-screen as well — his co-stars tend to gush about him and he’s never had a scandal or even a romance associated with him. His love life, he tells me, is non-existent at the moment and, besides, he likes to keep it “well-hidden”. His co-stars also say that he is inclined towards religion.
“Yes I am but it’s really not something I talk about, because religion is just between an individual and God,” he says.
So there won’t be any pictures or videos of him floated out on social media where he will be praying? “No!” he laughs. “To each their own. If some people feel that they can inspire others to pray by showing that they are praying, then that’s their call. I think it’s not important to tell people about religion in words or pictures. You can put the message across through your morals and kindness.”
It’s admirable that he refuses to play the ‘religion card’ when so many others do but Affan is also, generally, not very active on social media. He posts images sporadically, with captions that he very obviously has written himself, and only rarely collaborates with brands.
“I am not very Insta-savvy. After this interview, I will be,” he vouches. Really, Affan? “Probably not,” he reconsiders, “I have phases when I want to be more visible on social media, but then they pass. Even in the case of brands reaching out to me for collaborations, a lot of times I just don’t feel like it,” he shrugs.
I point out that promotions on Instagram generate considerable revenue for many actors. Are you very rich, Affan? He finds my point-blank question funny. “I am rich at heart,” he quips. Very well, or perhaps you’re not greedy, I suggest. “Yes, but I am greedy for good scripts.”
Does he not get along with some of his co-actors? He is extremely punctual — perhaps he doesn’t like certain actresses with a tendency for arriving on sets several hours late? Without naming names, both Affan and I know who they are.
“Tardiness is my pet peeve,” he finally admits, “but I have realised that I can’t do anything about it. Every co-star is different — some are quiet, some are loud and happy, I just adjust myself accordingly.”
So he’s never walked off a set in a huff because some members of the cast were late? “Not like that, no. But I have packed my bags once the shooting’s scheduled time was over and things hadn’t started off. I was there on time, so I can’t be expected to stay on.”
He continues: “So many dramas are being produced now and it’s become this huge business. I just wish that things would become more efficient in terms of punctuality and everything could be shot peacefully, in detail. Still, we do get to do good work and some people are very professional.”
Does he have friends in the industry and does networking help boost an actor’s career? “I have heard that networking helps, but I can’t do it. I’d rather build friendships that are real. I have a few friends only, both inside and outside the industry, but they are all people that I can be myself with completely.”
I ask him if actor Feroze Khan is his friend. At a recent awards ceremony held in Dubai, when Feroze won the award for Best Actor, he took Affan, who had also been nominated for the category, with him on stage. When Affan was asked to say something, he just said, ‘Congratulations, Feroze.’ Wasn’t it awkward?
“I am friendly with Feroze,” he says. “The Best Actor award was the last category and everyone was just waiting to leave and Feroze, on his way up to the stage, asked me to go with him. I told him that it was his award, but he insisted and everyone was looking at us, so I went. It was a little awkward, but fun and there wasn’t really any point to it. Basically, he’s just a sweet boy.”
That’s very well put, Affan, I tell him and he grins back. Ten years into his career, Affan Waheed knows what to say and what not to say on the record.
Next Stop: Cinema
His TV career may be hurtling ahead full-throttle but, recently, Affan also decided to dabble with cinema. His debut movie pairs him with Amna Ilyas and is titled Mastani. A lot of TV actors have lately been hesitant to dabble with local cinema, where films flop often. What prompted him to take the plunge?
“When I got the script, it lay around with me for a week and I didn’t read it. I was basking in the glory of Do Bol at the time and felt that a movie would just jeopardise my drama career. Our movies are not bad, but they do have a long way to go.
“Then, the movie’s team called me and asked me to read the script at least. I was travelling to Karachi at the time and I started reading the script during the flight and I couldn’t put it down. There was romance, drama, suspense, tragedy. It read just like a story should for the cinema.”
Is there a bit of dancing too? I recall Affan doing a little jig in the promos for his drama Shehnai. “I flatly refused to dance!” he reveals. “I have two left feet and I can’t dance to save my life. Eventually, we worked out a way to shoot the song. Amna’s a great dancer, and she’s dancing while I am this guy who is just moving a bit because he doesn’t know how to dance.” He laughs.
“I don’t know how the final version will look, on screen, but the story was great,” he adds. Mastani’s dubbing is scheduled to take place this summer. “I think there is still some time before it releases,” says Affan.
I am looking forward to it. In an industry smothered by sobby, patriarchal dramas, Affan Waheed has bid his time and proven his mettle. It’s time that he takes on the cinema screen as well as diversify in interesting new directions on TV, play with his craft and bring about some more work that will, in his own words, give him “job satisfaction”.
Originally published in Dawn, February 6, 2022