When the Pakistani television drama Zindagi Gulzar Hai was aired on Indian channel Zindagi, young Indian girls were so enamoured of Fawad Khan’s character, Zaroon Junaid, that re-runs of the show began shortly after it was over. Now, Khan, who lives in Lahore, is preparing for the release of his first Bollywood film, Khoobsurat, a romantic comedy produced by UTV and Anil Kapoor’s film company in which Khan stars opposite Soman Kapoor.
Khan, 32, is one among several Pakistani actors looking to work in Bollywood – Ali Zafar, Humaima Malick and Veena Malik are some of the others. So, has Bollywood become to Pakistani actors what Silicon Valley is to Indian IT engineers? Khan insists it has not. “Obviously, it’s a big industry. Its magnitude cannot be ignored,” says Khan. “But, I would like to work in many different countries. I don’t want to stop at Bollywood. It’s a major pit-stop, definitely, and, given a chance I would love to come back.” Wherever he works, Khan says, his identity will always be that of a Pakistani actor. “What I am today is because of my [Pakistani] audience and their warmth. I will carry my identity as a Pakistani actor wherever I go. But, as artists, I feel like we should be open to the idea of being global citizens. We should let go of labels such as Hindu, Muslim and Jew.”
In the early 2000s, Khan achieved some recognition for his roles in the Pakistani sitcom Jutt and Bond and as the lead singer of rock band Entity Paradigm. But, it was in 2007 that he gained widespread acclaim for his first film role, in Khuda Kay Liye, a film that also starred Naseeruddin Shah. It was the highest grossing movie in Pakistan that year and also became popular in India. Khan, who was equally focussed on music and acting before Khuda Kay Liye, says he did the film on a whim. “Urdu Cinema was going through a low phase. Also, I was not doing anything at that point of time. So, I decided to give it a shot.” Since then, he has appeared in three successful television shows and will now be seen as a “dark and mysterious” Rajput prince in Khoobsurat. “My character doesn’t talk much, but always has a plan in mind. The movie’s designer, Raghavendra Rathore, who is a real prince, became a subject of study when I met him.”
Imran Abbas Naqvi
Imran Abbas Naqvi is tired of being asked about his status as a Pakistani working in India. “That’s the first question being thrown at me. I think people should get over it. I feel very comfortable here. People speak the same language,” he says. Naqvi, who is from Lahore, has finished shooting for two Bollywood movies: Vikram Bhatt’s Creature3D, which hits Indian and Pakistani theatres this month, and Jaanisaar, the comeback film of Muzaffar Ali, of Umrao Jaan fame.
Like Fawad Khan, Naqvi, now 31, shot to fame on the back of his success in television. He landed his first film role in 2013, in the Pakistani movie Anjuman. “There’s a revival in Pakistani cinema, with movies such as Khuda Kay Liye and Ramchand Pakistani doing well,” he says. “A lot of the major contributions to Pakistani films are coming from television actors and directors.”
Creature 3D has Bipasha Basu in the female lead and is being touted as India’s first ‘creature film’, a genre explored by Hollywood in movies such as Godzilla and Anaconda. “This genre has not been touched before [by Bollywood],” says Naqvi. “Moreover, it’s a complete package, with good music, a respected director and a big production house [T-Series] backing it. My role has many layers to it, right from action to emotion.”
Naqvi says Jaanisaar, a period film set in the Lucknow of 1877, is a visual delight. “Every frame was like a painting. After the shoot, [Muzaffar] Ali saab expressed that he was happy that he chose me for the lead role,” he says, blushing.
If things had worked out slightly differently, Naqvi would have entered Bollywood much earlier. He signed a three-film contract with director Rajkumar Santoshi, but the project never took off. Then, he was supposed to be a part of 2013’s surprise hit, Aashiqui 2. “I missed it because I was on a contract with another production house. It was a well-made movie.”
Naqvi says Indian and Pakistani cinema have always shared a bond. “Even when Indian movies were banned in Pakistan, one could get access to them on DVDs. We could recognise everyone in the Bollywood families. Now, you even have Indian actors such as Naseeruddin Shah and Kirron Kher working in the Pakistan film industry.”