The year 2017 has only just begun and Fawad Khan has already racked up accolades. In India, despite 2016’s post-Uri incident ban on Pakistani artists, Fawad found himself in the running for Best Supporting Actor at the 2017 Filmfare Awards for his role in Kapoor & Sons. In Pakistan, leading magazine The Herald named him one of its 10 People of the Year.
Around the time this interview took place, Fawad was in a sort of self-imposed vow of silence. He’d barely spoken to the media since relations between India and Pakistan turned ugly, an event that made promoting his latest Bollywood venture Ae Dil Hai Mushkil impossible. He was also preoccupied with the birth of his second child, a daughter, and only committed to rare ‘celebrity’ appearances.
In the few weeks since our meeting, Fawad appears to be pursuing long-awaited projects in local cinema with a vengeance. Pictures of him looking newly-bulked up for an upcoming Pakistani film directed by his long-time friend Bilal Lashari are circulating around the internet. Has he bounced back from the unfortunate, damaging Indo-Pak row that placed a halt on the Bollywood aspirations of every other Pakistani actor? Or was he never affected very much at all?
A lot of people think you’ve become a big star in the past three years when you’ve actually been in the public eye for over a decade. How has ‘being famous’ changed over time?
Fawad Khan: With social media I think it becomes a little more intrusive. It’s obviously very flattering — all the love and affection that you get — and then there’s also the downside of it — sometimes things don’t go your way. But in light of freedom of speech, people can say whatever they want and I think I’ve taken it in my stride. But people getting in your face can be a bit problematic. I wouldn’t say I enjoy it, but if someone wants a picture, that’s fine. Yes, it can get a bit out of hand but I haven’t experienced anything obscene as yet, they respect me and I respect them.
"I’ve been penniless. I’ve had to struggle. But now I enjoy thinking about that because it just makes me feel better about my achievements.”
In previous interviews you’ve mentioned that you went through a ‘dark phase’ in your younger days. Your friends have described you as ‘resilient’ because you managed to move past those times to become who you are now. Could you elaborate?
FK: When you’re younger, you have too many expectations from life. There comes a time when you start dropping those expectations, because the world doesn’t owe you anything, and you don’t owe the world anything in return.
When I was younger I’d be like, ‘I also want to make some money, I want a slice of the pie.’ So those could be the dark times. And yes, health was one thing that used to bother me. And that’s still something that’s with me, but I take it in my stride. Yesterday I was having a conversation with my wife that had I not experienced the downs I wouldn’t be able to appreciate the ups and my life would have plateaued. And when life plateaus, it becomes suicidal. You need to have a reality check from time and time again. So whatever that dark period was, I’m glad for it. Yeah, I’ve been penniless. I’ve had to struggle a bit. But now I enjoy thinking about that because it just makes me feel better about my achievements.
There’s been some talk about how you’ve become aloof and inaccessible. You said you don’t really enjoy being in the public eye, but when I spoke to one of your long-time colleagues, he said this was a ‘smart move’ because in today’s world it’s easy to overexpose yourself. So I’m wondering if this is just your personality or …
FK: Or whether it’s part of my strategy? I think it’s both. I’d rather speak less because I don’t consider myself a very intelligent person. So I think rather than being a victim of ‘foot-in-mouth’ disease one should refrain from talking as much as possible. I feel when you’re on a public platform and you put something out there in front of people who don’t know you, they might just perceive it in a very different way altogether. You may call me a coward, but I just don’t like confrontation. I don’t like upsetting people or getting upset myself. I don’t think I’m unfriendly, but it’s got to do with me being timid and having a serious case of stage fright. It’s not so much about being an introvert as it is about being slightly reserved about my opinions. I like to keep things that way. But just last year or so I started hosting parties for people and I found it to just be such a wonderful experience. It’s so much fun to watch people mingle in a dignified fashion yet still have fun.
What about an artist’s responsibility to speak about matters that might be of the public interest?
FK: The motto of my life is ‘the best advice is no advice at all.’ My belief is if one wants to take a stand on something, one must be very educated about it. We live in a Wikipedia generation. It’s a very sad fact that people are not well-versed in subjects and tend to get into heated arguments without knowing the context of things. I’ve been a victim of that myself. If I’m going to talk about something, I need to be educated about it and I need to have seen all the perspectives.
But in Kapoor & Sons you played a character who was in the closet. It appears, through your acting, you are taking a stand on certain issues, right?
FK: Not consciously, no. When you start labelling intentions to things, they become very materialistic, and in a way, selfish. If I get into something I get into it for the pure joy of it.
You may call me a coward, but I just don’t like confrontation. I don’t like upsetting people or getting upset myself. I don’t think I’m unfriendly, but it’s got to do with me being timid and having a serious case of stage fright. It’s not so much about being an introvert as it is about being slightly reserved about my opinions.”
You seem like you’re genuinely good friends with your co-stars in India. How have these friendships been affected by the ban against Pakistani artists in India?
FK: Nothing’s really changed. Obviously, I’m not a man of steel in the sense that people’s words don’t affect me. But I am becoming immune to it as time goes by. I have no expectations from them, and that’s what I think has developed this camaraderie. Even if I don’t work with them ever again, I’ll still always have love and regard for them, and I assume that’s how they feel as well.
What do you think you gained as an actor from your work in Bollywood?
FK: In Bollywood they’ve got their systems in place. It’s a monster machine that’s churning out like 400 films a year, consistently. They’re able to efficiently process things. For example, when I was on the set of Khoobsurat there would be a team of auditors who’d be analyzing the cost of each day. Seeing it practically kind of reinforces your belief that planning is very important. There are a few producers who are doing that here and it’s encouraging to see that. But other than that, if you talk about acting, I think I’ve learned as much there as I have here [Pakistan].
People say you’re successful largely because you’re strategic about the roles you take. You’ve got a two major projects coming up in Pakistan, Albela Rahi and Bilal Lashari’s upcoming film. Why did you choose to do these?
FK: I think pop star Alamgir’s life [Albela Rahi] is just very interesting. I feel some of the greatest content comes out of the lives of real people. [Alamgir has] had a very dramatic life. I haven’t stepped into the shoes of a real-life character in my earlier work. But yes, I’ve tried, or maybe it’s just happened, that the work I do is different from what I’d done previously. I’ve always felt I’d be better behind the camera. Who knows, I might fall short of my claims. But I do think I have an eye for roles. I depend on my team to help me pick my roles, and by that I mean my managers, my wife... we throw ideas across the table and talk about the pros and cons. We’ve been offered many scripts, but we do one out of all of them at any given time. There are actors out there who are so talented they can jump between three sets in a day. I’d rather do one thing and give it my 200 per cent.
What are you watching these days?
FK: Well these past few days I’ve been watching Richard Pryor and George Carlin. I’ve been watching the Richard Pryor Show for NBC made during the 70s. I’m a big fan of his work. I’ve been watching Andy Kaufman as well.
What about Pakistani cinema?
FK: I’ll be very honest, I haven’t seen much work. A big reason is that no one lets me watch films or TV in peace [laughs]. The last film I saw was Jawani Phir Nahin Aani. My friends are in it. I’ve heard rave reviews for Manto and Moor. I’d like to see them.
Now that acting in India is off the table, at least for the near future — what avenues outside Pakistan are you exploring?
FK: Wherever the wind blows me, I’ll go! My eventual goal is to have enough experience to produce something on my own.
A friend of yours told me what motivates you most now is your family. Do you agree?
FK: Yeah. They are the pillars, my cornerstones. My kids are the light of my life. I aspire to be a better family man, and now that I have more time, I’m learning the ropes again.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine February 5th, 2017