KARACHI: Those who turned up at T2F on Sunday to listen to actor Faran Tahir despite the Pakistan-India cricket match were able to get some valuable insights into the life of a non-white Hollywood actor in an event titled ‘Starships, Villains and Jinns’ and moderated by showbiz personality Adnan Malik.
Faran Tahir lives in the United States and has appeared in major films such as Iron Man (2008) and Star Trek (2009) and in some famous TV shows such as NYPD Blue, Supernatural and Grey’s Anatomy.
Narrating his Hollywood journey, the actor said it had been a struggle between his mind and his heart. Though he had been pursuing a degree in business and economics at Berkley, his heart wanted him to get into the performing arts. He had begun taking a theatre course after which an adviser had asked him what was it exactly that he wanted to do in life. Tahir then changed his major to development studies, which was to do with the changes that occurred in developing countries with reference to theatre.
Talking about his family (which has some known showbiz names), Tahir said that they had had their concerns about how he would deal with success and failure. They had been worried that there would be problems if he did not have a buffer. “The family’s support was emotional not verbal,” he remarked.
As to what drew him to acting — a question that was thrown at him repetitively — Tahir said it was exciting to be in someone else’s shoes and connect with people that he would not know otherwise. According to him, acting was no science and there was no set formula for achieving your goals. When he had started out, Tahir had tried hard to create a niche for himself in a society where he did not have the luxury of networking. But, he had realised that even when he failed miserably he had to try hard.
He shared with the audience a story about once when he had been playing an Asian character the director had remarked that he was not being South Asian enough. To this Tahir had replied that he had not yet evolved to that part.
Talking about the post-9/11 scenario, Tahir said that actors now received different roles, and writers and directors had become receptive to conversation. He said that when he was doing the superhero project he had found out that there were allusions to Islam in the script. He had talked with the creative team and convinced them that if they were discussing terrorism, there was no need to inject religion into the script since terrorism was essentially about power and control and was ‘a different beast’.
The writers and director saw his point. “If you do not bring up the issue, it will not be discussed. You have to be smart enough to engage people in conversation – even if you lose the battle,” he said. “They should know that there’s nothing uniform or monolithic about us.”
With reference to his own acting, he pointed out that while performing he strove to be the way he was and bring history into his character.
After the talk, the moderator threw a few ‘rapid fire’ questions at Tahir. The one character that Tahir wanted to do was the part that Naveen Andrews (of a Sikh) played in the film The English Patient. The one actress that he would like to work with was Meryl Streep and the director whose work he found ‘different’ was Jonathan Demme. On the question of what traits should an actor have, Tahir unequivocally said: “He should have no ego.” The one thing about Pakistan he would like to change was intolerance. His biggest achievements were his children.
The ‘rapid fire’ series was followed by questions from the audience. Reacting to one quizzical statement, Tahir said that to create a bridge during any performance the personal life of an actor became nonexistent. He said that he was also working in a local project, a drama series called Samjhota Express, and there were no restrictions on where he worked as long as it was good content he was presented with. He argued that Pakistani showbiz industry was undergoing a transformation but it had to find a separate, distinct identity if it were to survive. Referring to Turkish soaps he said they might be good but: “There’s a value in dealing with homegrown issues which will cut through the glamour.”
Faran Tahir’s forthcoming Hollywood projects are The Tomb, Elysium (with Jodie Foster) and Jinn.