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Shehzad Roy
Shehzad Roy

Shehzad Roy is back and this time he isn’t making political wisecracks or shouting slogans. Rather, he’s stepped into his avatar of yore, of the love struck hero romancing a glamorous leading lady. Nineteen years into his career, now married and father to 19-month old Sikandar, Shehzad has retained his boyish good looks. In his upcoming video, Jind Jaan, he epitomises the smoldering bad boy, complete with abs, tousled hair, leather jacket, an iconic red and white-striped Mustang 65 and for the first time on screen, a beard.

It’s a far cry from Shehzad’s considerable spate of socio-political songs where he tirades for the common man. This new video, where he acts opposite Iman Ali, is stylised and replete with film-starry glamour. And while Shehzad’s upcoming movie debut is still in the pipeline, Jind Jaan serves as a teaser to the singer’s potential as absolute ‘hero material’.

Singing along with him is Zoe Viccaji, in an initial attempt at singing in Punjabi. “Zoe has a husky, very modern voice,” observes Shehzad. “She sounds great; nailing the dialect while at the same time sounding distinctively raw.”

“I just wanted to do something different,” he continues. “Since 2003, I have been deeply involved with Zindagi Trust where we have sought to reform government schools. It’s a colossal task, akin to turning over a mini-government. We’ve changed policies, implemented infrastructure and tried to improve educational standards. Consequently, the songs I ended up singing were directed towards social activism.”

It is one thing to just talk about change but Shehzad is one of the few struggling to actually turn things around

“A lot of people would tell me that I needed to occasionally revert to lighter music. It’s why Jind Jaan has finally come about. There is a very Fast and the Furious scene featuring some fantastic cars including the Mustang my character drives, all borrowed from my friends. Then, there are scenes within the studio with Iman. We had often talked about working together and she is an ideal choice for the video’s female lead, who is a beautiful girl haunted by her past.”

This past, apparently, features Shehzad’s ‘bad boy’ character and our romance unfolds when the two meet again. Yousuf Bashir Qureshi plays the villain. Saqib Khan has directed the music video. The song has been written by Nadeem Asad and composed by Shuja Haider. “I’ve acted quite a bit in the video,” he laughs. “It serves as a precursor to the movie that I’ll begin working on.” His upcoming Pakistani film is going to be directed by Ahsan Rahim with the script penned by acclaimed playwright Anwar Maqsood.

Does this about-turn towards romance mean that Shehzad will no longer be traversing socio-political territory? “I am sure I will,” he mulls. “My satirical songs have actually managed to touch a chord with the Pakistani masses. They impact the nation as a whole, pointing out realities and the need for change.”

Iman Ali
Iman Ali

“When I initially wrote my album Qismat apnay haath mein, sponsors felt that it was too controversial. The streak of terror raging through the country has diminished the number of concerts taking place and corporate sponsorship is a major earner for musicians. Nevertheless, I released the album and it became a success, winning over supporters and sponsors.

“The song Laga reh from the album was endorsed by columnist Ardeshir Cowasjee. There were people who would randomly quote lyrics from my songs. Once at a political rally, a politician said that the country was going through a naazuk mor. Immediately, some reporters retorted that they should stop repeating the same taglines, now it had even become the lyrics to a Shehzad Roy song. At another press conference, I have heard people mumbling, “I’m allergic to bullshit” — from my song Qismat apnay haath mein.”

Zoe Viccaji
Zoe Viccaji

“There are still so many lyrics that I have written but haven’t yet placed to music: ‘Jaahilon nay jihalat say qaum ko zehni ghulam bana rakha hai, Thori see umeed thi danish-mandon say par unhon nay bhi ilm ka kabar-khana laga rakha hai’.”

For all his abilities to enact the romantic hero and sing ballads, it would be a pity should Shehzad stop singing his tongue-in-cheek commentaries. Nearly a decade later, one still remembers his aged ‘buzurg’ in Laga reh who says ‘Kuch nahin kuch nahin, sab Allah par chhor do’ when faced with tension in the country or a dhoti-clad Faisal Qureshi who goes back to sleep after seeing Shehzad being taken off by foreign troops.

Yousuf Bashir Quraishi
Yousuf Bashir Quraishi

“The socio-political messages in my songs actually marry two causes that are close to my heart,” he admits. “Music has provided me with fame and the power to reach out to masses; the reforms I try to carry out through Zindagi Trust are my passion.”

It was this passion that guided Shehzad to turn things around for the SMB Fatima Jinnah Government Girls School in Karachi. “When we first adopted the school in 2007, I discovered that eight schools existed simultaneously within its campus. It was unfathomable. It turned out that there were 3,000 odd schools in Karachi within 900 campuses. One of the changes we immediately implemented at the school was unifying it under one principal. We also banned corporal punishment within the school and then, went on to have it legally forbidden on a national level. In my TV show Chal Parha I featured stories of children who were damaged both physically and psychologically at the hands of sadistic teachers.”

It is one thing to just talk about change but Shehzad is one of the few struggling to actually turn things around. He’s also got a wicked sense of humor, making one smirk at his pointed jibes while quietly acknowledging the truth behind his lyrics. And with his new video, he’s just about to remind us why he skyrocketed to heartthrob fame. It’s good to have Shehzad back in the news. He never is gone for too long.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, February 21st, 2016