Pakistani audiences are calling Farhan Saeed TV’s most romantic hero. It’s a declaration that I see frequently on social media, made by the plethora of online accounts created by Farhan’s fans. The comment is usually accompanied by heart emojis and short clips from Farhan’s dramas — visuals of him half-smiling, besotted by Urwa Hocane in Udaari or Iqra Aziz in Suno Chanda or, most recently, Hania Aamir in Mere Humsafar.
Farhan, it seems, has a flair for all things sappy and sentimental.
This observation turns out to be a great way to start my interview with him, breaking the ice promptly. So you’re TV’s most romantic hero, I ask him. Farhan smiles. “I wouldn’t mind people thinking so. Perhaps some actors prefer to be cool about such things and shrug off the compliments. But to my mind, it’s like a dream come true! What could make me happier?”
What’s the secret to his success in romancing his leading ladies so well? One would assume that he’s very romantic in real life too. “I am not that expressive in real life,” Farhan tells me. “Perhaps that’s the reason why when I come in front of the camera, I let my emotions out so easily. There’s no formula, though. I think that what’s most important is that the female lead should have great energy and the environment on set is not toxic. All the female leads that I have acted with — Urwa Hocane, Iqra Aziz, Sohai Ali Abro and Hania Aamir, for instance — are generally good people. When everyone is getting along, I find it easier to connect with my character and perform better.”
Farhan Saeed is living his dream, receiving love and admiration from an ever-increasing fan base and exclusively working on projects he believes in. What is Farhan’s secret? And what’s next for Pakistani television’s king of romance?
He continues, “I also think that the TV audience takes a liking to certain characters and gets involved in their stories. People have so many problems in their homes and they want to see happy endings on TV. I tend to play a part in achieving that happy ending.”
One such drama of Farhan’s is currently inching towards its happy ending, albeit slowly and painfully. Mere Humsafar, airing on ARY Digital, is a 40-odd episode long emotional rollercoaster peppered with plenty of pain, tears, slapping about and — here’s where Farhan comes in — romance. The drama is a huge hit with every episode hauling in high TRPs as well as YouTube views, and there are entire fan pages dedicated solely to the romance between Hamza and Hala, the characters played by Farhan and Hania, respectively.
The story is an emotionally debilitating but romantic one. What does Farhan think is the reason behind its colossal success? “I think a lot of our dramas are dominated by pain and tears, and there is no saviour. Mere Humsafar may have its sad moments but people also have hope that Hala will be saved by Hamza. In fact, the drama was initially so tragic that when the story moved towards happier scenes, the audience enjoyed it even more,” Farhan analyses. “Honestly, I hadn’t expected this drama to be such a success. If we could crack the code to what makes a project work, we’d end up doing similar projects all the time!”
“Also, usually in our scripts the story ends with the hero and heroine getting married. If it continues after that, a second couple is brought in because the writer feels that the married couple no longer has anything interesting to offer. In Mere Humsafar, the romance only begins after the two leads get married. That’s what makes it different.”
A teaser of the drama showed a glimpse of Farhan raising his hand to slap Hania. The episode that followed the next week did not have this scene. Did Farhan deliberately have the scene eliminated? “Yes,” he admits. “I don’t want to take any credit away from the drama’s writer but there was a lot in the original script that was problematic. When I was first offered Hamza’s role I refused and the director, Qasim Ali Mureed, asked me why. I explained my stance to him and he agreed that certain changes needed to be made. Qasim and I have altered a lot of parts in the script. If we hadn’t, the story would have had been a really typical one. My character has returned home after studying in Australia. He is forward-thinking and sensible. We couldn’t let him become just like any other toxic hero.
“Then again, even the way Hania gets slapped and tortured by Saba Hamid is wrong. A man hitting a woman is just as problematic as a woman hitting a woman. As actors we have to be very discerning when we read a script. A villain may have violent tendencies and be shown to hit others. It will only validate how evil he or she is. The main leads, however, can’t be shown to be so vicious.”
One aggressive villain who comes to my mind is Pir Shahzeb, also played by Farhan, in another drama that is currently on-air, Badshah Begum. “Yes, he’s violent,” Farhan agrees. “I have almost always acted in family dramas which is why I enjoyed acting in Badshah Begum even more. I realised that I could also play characters like Shahzeb.”
Badshah Begum, incidentally, sticks out as one of the few projects that Farhan has worked in recently which hasn’t been directed by Qasim Ali Mureed. The two first started working together in Farhan’s debut film, Tich Button — which is yet to release — proceeded on to the drama Prem Gali, a few music videos and then, paired up yet again for Mere Humsafar.
Why Qasim? “Qasim and I have great chemistry. If you understand cricket speak, sometimes two players open a match and achieve singles and doubles. Once they hit a century though, every hit ends up being a middle. That’s the kind of partnership Qasim and I have. Qasim was the reason that I even got cast in Suno Chanda. Director Aehsun Talish and I did not know each other and Qasim was the one who connected us.”
“Qasim and I meet every week. If we’re not shooting together, we’re sitting in my lounge, discussing work.”
I comment to Farhan that such partnerships are rare. “I hope you and Qasim don’t end up fighting!” I warn him jokingly.
“No,” he says, “I don’t fight with anyone.”
The personal journey
Does that mean that he has many friends in the industry? “I get along with everyone,” he professes, “but one can’t have friendships in the industry. Everyone is running in a race. You may not create obstacles for others but you’ll still be focused on your own trajectory, hoping to win. Even maintaining friendships outside the industry can be difficult. A lot of my friends are bankers, computer engineers. They hang out together on Fridays and Saturdays while I’m working then.
“There was a time when I tried to improve my routine. I would wake up at eight in the morning and be in bed by 11pm. Then, one night I had to perform in a concert and I had to go on stage after midnight. I was perpetually yawning backstage and my voice was breaking! Every job has its requirements and I guess this job requires us to work odd hours and even weekends sometimes.”
I hedge towards tricky territory: there have been rumours that he has separated from his wife, Urwa Hocane. Are they true? “No, we are alright,” he says.
I persist: the two have not been seen together in public for a while now. “Urwa and I have decided that we will not make our life very public,” Farhan explains. “The masses just have so much to say about everything and some of their comments can be hurtful. We just want to keep some parts of our lives to ourselves.”
This is all very well — except that Farhan and Urwa have always been a very social media-savvy couple. Their wedding was an absolute Instagram affair, with videos of the nikah, Mehndi dances and wedding ceremony all being filmed by the guests, and floated out on the internet in videos that went immediately viral. Sometime later, on their first anniversary, the two had posted a steamy photo shoot on their respective Instagrams. Even before they got married, when Farhan proposed to Urwa at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the images had quickly made it to their social media portals. What brought about this change of heart?
“We all evolve as humans and even social media has evolved,” Farhan points out. “The hate that I see on the internet makes me panicky. There are people who are willing to go to any lengths to get famous. At one time, there were one or two people who would try to gain mileage by making controversial statements. Now there are millions of them!
“Look at it this way: if tomorrow I post a music video of mine, it will get a thousand likes and hundreds of re-shares. But if I slapped a fellow celebrity, that particular video will get millions and billions of likes! It’s uncontrollable.”
So he doesn’t like social media, I ask the obvious question. “Social media is where I read what fans think of my performance and I enjoy that. But yes, I hate certain aspects of it,” he says. “I don’t feel the need to put up pictures of myself even when I’m home. It’s all so fake anyway. There’s a meme that has often made me laugh where a man takes a selfie with the caption ‘Going out to party on Saturday night!’, wearing shorts under his shirt. He isn’t going anywhere but he wants the world to think that he is. I mean at home, my hair is messed up and I’m wearing shorts. No one posts a picture like that.”
“There’s the financial aspect of social media where you put up posts related to brands. It would be stupid not to cash in on that. And yes, if I am properly dressed and at a drama shoot, I will post a selfie because I want my audience to know what project I am working on. If I am performing in a concert, I will put up pictures. That’s work.”
The musical side to life
This brings us to the musical side to his life. Does his passion for music often get ignored because of his acting commitments? “It gets ignored all the time! I plan to create more new songs. Even now, more than half of my year is dedicated to concerts. I’m singing all my old songs in them.”
Having started his career as a singer, had he ever thought that acting would form such a big part of his life one day? “I never even thought that I would become a professional singer,” he confesses. “I was just performing in my college and then, I became part of a band and things just took off. After a while, I acted in my first drama. I just went with the flow at the time. Now, though, I know what I am doing and I enjoy it. I want to keep doing better and better every time.”
He continues, “For me, singing and acting complement each other. When I’m on set, I miss being on stage. When I have performed in five, six concerts, I start missing being in front of the camera.”
What are his plans for his musical career at this point? “I want to release some new songs. And I have concerts lined up.”
Has his singing career gotten waylaid because acting pays more? “To the contrary, singing pays a lot more than acting!”
I’m surprised — could it be that he doesn’t charge too much for his acting gigs? “However much I charge as an actor, it could not equal the amount earned by singing!” he insists.
He won an award for Best Song at the Lux Style Awards (LSAs) back in 2015. Does it irritate him, though, that the ceremony has ignored his acting career so far? In 2019, for instance, the drama in which he played the male lead, Suno Chanda, was nominated in several categories. Actor Iqra won two awards for her performance in the drama. Farhan didn’t even get acknowledged with a nomination.
“That was strange but I haven’t really thought about it for a while,” he says. “I don’t allow myself to have too many expectations. Still, I guess maybe the awards had some other issue with me since the drama got acknowledged in so many other categories. I got four awards in a single night for the same drama at the Hum Awards. I hadn’t expected that either but it made me extremely happy.” He adds, “These comments that I get every night on social media and my fans’ love — those are awards even before the awards!”
The long delayed movie debut
We move on to talk about his long delayed movie debut in wife Urwa’s maiden production venture along with ARY Films, Tich Button. The movie was all set for an Eid release when the coronavirus pandemic broke loose. Why hasn’t a release date been announced, now that cinemas are open? “We will release it sometime this year,” Farhan confirms. “Perhaps a few months after Eidul Azha. The movie’s ready and we just want to release it at a time when it’s a solo Pakistani release. Jub aayein gay akele aayein gay [When we come, we’ll come alone].”
Earlier, the movie’s team had touted Tich Button to be an ideal Eid release. Did the overwhelming crowd of local releases on both Eids this year make them change their minds? “Yes, all the baggage collection during the coronavirus pandemic released all at once,” he jokes, continuing, “It doesn’t make sense to release so many Pakistani movies simultaneously. I think that at any one time there should be a maximum of three releases in the cinema, both local and international movies combined. Eid has its plus points. People are in a festive mood and they have greater buying power. Still, I hope that if a movie is good, people will come and see it regardless of when it gets released.”
Tich Button, according to the actor, is packed with all the arsenal required for a super-hit. “Pakistan will be proud of Tich Button,” he prophecies. “It’s an all-out family entertainer with humour, romance, action and some amazing music. Everyone has worked extremely hard on the movie.”
Is he planning to become Pakistani cinema’s most romantic hero too, I tease. “I wish,” Farhan grins.
Originally published in Dawn, ICON, June 26th, 2022