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Tony Rasheed: Filmi and so lovin’ it!

Updated July 27, 2014


“I’m versatile. I can do five things at a time and do them well,” says Tony Navaid Rasheed. Most of the fans swarming around him at airports and restaurants know him as the saucy film critic of Malai Mar Kay, a segment dedicated to Pakistani cinema in The Nadia Khan Show. “It was the most exciting turning point in my life. I was stunned at the popularity of my segment, as people began to recognise me from Dubai to Kharian (Punjab).”

For someone who has been a Pakistani film buff since childhood, the recognition was well-deserved. “Since the age of five I maintained a notebook, jotting down all the films I went to see. I scribbled down the name, cast and other details. I grew up reading film magazines like Eastern Film, Dhanak, Musawir, Mumtaz, Palak and Nigar, so I have a lot of background on film people.”

Tony was recently on a short visit to Karachi for an appearance in Yasir Jaswal’s under-production film, Jalebi. “I have a small but very interesting role in it.”

So is the Pakistani film industry making a long-awaited comeback? “People talk about the revival of cinema but this is not the way it happens,” he responded, “The industry is going nowhere!” What about the new wave films like Lamha, Zinda Bhaag and Chambaili? “No one even remembers the names after a few days,” he said, “Revival of cinema happens with mainstream commercial films. Bollywood produces films on a variety of subjects alongside the Karan Johar-type films which are the essence of the Indian film industry. Unfortunately our film industry is still at a very elementary stage.”

From a film journalist to photographer to TV celebrity and film actor Tony Navaid Rasheed takes multitasking to another level

Tony believes that people are sincere to their project but not the industry. “When money rotates in the industry, different film departments are recharged, only then will cinema revive as a whole,” he added, “We don’t have serious film-makers; they still take films as a joke. Studios have become warehouses while films are shot at locations. There are no set designers, no facilities for artists’ rooms, no make-up experts. People don’t know the difference between film make-up and fashion make-up. If all of the music is being made in India, how will our playback singers and musicians survive? When they don’t work, how will they improve? They might give bad music in three films but at least they will do better in the next. At the moment there are no extras, no choreographers; even the dances are so lack-luster.”

With TV artists experimenting with cinema, Tony feels it is like watching a TV play on the big screen. “TV actors are everywhere from morning shows to commercials to billboards. When I hosted the red carpet for Khuda Ke Liye (KKL), I said that we need a whole new generation of film artists. Just like Fawad Khan and Iman Ali were introduced through KKL, and Humaima and Mahira through Bol. They hadn’t had much exposure before these films. There is a lot of talent around us but as long as there is sifarish, we will see the same people again and again, everywhere. Talent is not incorporated correctly. There is so much unemployment but our decision-makers at the top are fixated with the one dozen people you get to see everywhere.”

He also points at the lack of film marketing in Pakistan, “In Bollywood, films like Chennai Express are marketed so well that they make millions. A film should not be patronised by just one channel but should get promoted on every channel, and the cast should appear on every popular show.”

Tony Navaid Rasheed started out as a cultural reporter for an English language newspaper. “I worked at Dawn, Lahore for six years, doing interviews of film stars, writing film reviews and I think I have written the most on Pakistani cinema. I wanted Pakistani cinema to be talked about and the actors to be admired. I used to look at pictures in Filmfare and Stardust and wonder why our stars looked weird while the people in Bollywood appeared so stylish. So when I interviewed our film stars, I made friends with them and convinced them to get makeovers.”

Saturated with writing, Tony moved on to coordinate shoots and later got behind the lens to introduce fashion shoots with film stars. He teamed up designers and make-up experts to transform film celebrities and did away with garish make up, frizzy hair, tacky clothes and obscene body language. Suddenly film actors appeared in fashion glossies; professionally styled, fashionable and tastefully seductive. “I did makeovers with Reema, Nirma, Meera and Sana,” he related, “For the first time ever, I got Shaan, Resham and Meera together for a shoot. Even if people didn’t get along they would agree to team up for a shoot with me. Likewise, I teamed Veena and Resham with Zara Sheikh. Neeli and Sana became good friends.”

Photography: Mohammad Farooq
Photography: Mohammad Farooq

What was his secret to thawing out film stars to become friends? “I find film actors to be real people with real lives, as compared to models,” he responded, “I never broke anyone’s trust. I always stayed away from malicious gossip but included interesting trivia which the people and stars both enjoyed. You can write about Hollywood or Bollywood scandals and relationships and breakups but people cannot digest stuff about our artistes so you have to be careful about what you write.”

His TV career began in 1999. “I was interviewed in a show called Yehi To Hai Lollywood for PTV World. They liked it so much that I was asked to do something regular so I wrote and hosted a special segment called Naughty Navaid where the script was humorous, chatty and lively because I wanted people to get interested in Pakistani cinema and be curious about it.”

In 2006, he shot to fame instantly with his film review segment Malai Mar Ke because of his inimitable style and the substance that only he can offer. “It was incredible working with Nadia Khan who loved my style and thought that I would make a great travel show host after we had been to Bangkok for some episodes,” he said excitedly, “The film review segment ran for four years. I spoke dil khol ke on the Pakistani film industry. I was never interested in reviewing Hollywood and Bollywood films because you can find material on these everywhere, whereas no one discusses Pakistani films.”

Following that he did PTV’s Ghar Ki Baat for two years where he enjoyed viewership from small towns and villages as it is a terrestrial channel. “I once stopped at a bank near Kharian on the way to Rawalpindi and amazingly enough the staff there recognised me.”

Jalebi was not an acting debut because he has done short acting stints on TV in Teen Patti, Family Front and Mein Aisa Kyun Hoon. “For some odd reason the entire drama industry is in Karachi but I am Lahore-based where my photography studio is. So to work as an actor, I have to move to Karachi which is not possible at present.” Recently, he did a celebrity talk show series called The Absolute on Lights Asia channel.

With people like Tony around with in-depth knowledge of Pakistani cinema, one wonders why there is not a single show dedicated to Pakistani films on any channel? “It is a sad mix of politics and the fact that you have to suck up to people to work in TV channels,” he responded, “Kisi ki sifarish pe kaam milna to mere talent ki insult hai. I would rather not work. People know my potential and what I can deliver so they can contact me if they want to, but I cannot go asking around for work, nor get on to the party circuit. They have to put their trust in me just the way I trust myself. Whatever I am today is because of my talent, hard work and my mum’s prayers. My biggest achievement is that I haven’t ever deteriorated as a person to achieve anything. The much-clichéd casting couch has played no role in my success.”

Tony narrates an interesting incident when he hosted a special show on PTV in commemoration of the (late) playback singer Mehnaz Begum for the Ghar Ki Baat series, “Naheed Akhtar called me on the show to say that she was very touched at the way I spoke about a legend who was her contemporary. She said ‘Aap itni pyari baat kar rahe hain, loag to hamain bhool chuke hain’. Since she was such an awesome star for me, when she spoke to me I was literally trembling. Very few people know that Naheed Akhtar was the voice of film star Babra Sharif, but many people thought that Babra sang in her own voice!

“Recently, PTV did a comeback show for Naheed Akhtar with Babra Sharif and Shahid present in the audience. The show was hosted by someone who repeatedly kept referring to his notes. Incidentally, the programme was produced by someone who knew that I am a huge fan of Naheed Akhtar and that I know a lot about her; I even sing her songs. I called him and asked him how come he hadn’t thought of me for hosting the show? Alas, apne hi giratay hain nasheman pe bijliyan …”

Earlier this year, Tony opened Lahore-based designer Rani Emaan’s segment as the showstopper at the Style 360 Pantene Bridal Couture Week 2014 by singing a medley of songs. “I was told just two days before and I did the tracks, and revved my energy up for the dance as Farzeen of Rani Emaan did my outfit,” he related. Song and dance is no mean feat for him as he has won gold medals in several singing competitions, and been trained in semi-classical, thumris and ghazals.

His 24-year career in showbiz is dotted with milestones. “I sang Kuch Kuch Hota Hai on the request of the then Prime Minister of Malaysia Mahatir Mohammed at a wedding reception in Kuala Lumpur which was quite an experience. I wore a silk embroidered kurta with saleem shahi shoes that many in the audience later recalled as my “Aladdin shoes.”

Earlier, he performed for the Sultan of Malaysia at another wedding. “I was at the lavish wedding feast and enjoying the performance of an Indonesian singer when the Sultan, who had heard me perform earlier, sent me a message requesting me to sing.”

And that’s not his only claim to fame. “Oh, and I also did a photo shoot for Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan (UAE) with his son at the grand palace. He had heard about my photography through a friend. I was inundated by their hospitality and the huge banquet thrown in my honour.”

So what’s next? “Who knows? I’m still young and the sky is the limit!” says Tony Navaid Rasheed with a mischevious look in his eyes.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 27th, 2014