Seventy years down, Pakistan’s entertainment and fashion industry is still nascent. It has had its highs and lows, its proud moments and cringe-worthy instances, but it is still on an upward curve, yet to reach the pinnacles of success that will make it a globally recognised force. This Independence day, Icon sifts through the country’s galaxy of stars — the yesteryear pioneers and the game-changers of today — and identifies the rising stars of tomorrow.
This motley crew consists both of artists who are still on their way to stardom and others who have already risen to the big league but have the potential to go even further. Together, they may just be the ray of light for Pakistani entertainment and fashion in the years to come by shaking things up, innovating and raising the bar.
Nabeel Qureshi describes himself as “filmi.” It isn’t just that he makes films but he loves them with an enduring passion, enjoying every nuance as he tells stories that are an entertaining mix of reality, comedy and foot-tapping music. He loves it to the point that sometimes he is unable to resist making a fleeting screen appearance such as dancing with his lead actor for just a moment — surprisingly lithe for a director who is stationed behind the camera.
As Pakistan turns 70, Icon profiles some artists we believe are going to impact Pakistan’s entertainment and fashion industry in the years to come
Nabeel, in fact, is so devoted to cinema that it is no surprise that his first two directorial efforts were acclaimed hits: 2014’s Na Maloom Afraad (NMA) and last year’s Actor-In-Law. “I believe that a strong, coherent storyline is the key to a film’s success,” says Nabeel, who writes his movie’s scripts along with producer Fizza Ali Meerza. “I’ll cast actors that suit the roles and may add an item number if there is a situation for it, but these factors can’t save a movie if the script is bad.”
This year, Nabeel may just be able to boast about a box office hat-trick with his much-touted NMA 2, releasing in September. What’s next for him? “There are a few stories that I have in mind. I have so far delved towards socio-economic comedies but one day I may decide to dabble with more serious scripts,” he says.
Within local cinema’s fledgling landscape, Nabeel Qureshi is one of the very few directors who have managed to achieve commercial success. With his eye for detail, knack for entertaining and — let’s not forget — passion for the silver screen, we can certainly expect him to continue sweeping the box office in the future.
Sheheryar Munawar looks like the quintessential chocolate hero — light-eyed, fair-skinned with an easy smile — but there’s more to him than meets the eye. Sheheryar’s acting trysts may be limited in number but he’s made them work for all they are worth.
His career began with TV dramas but in 2016, he made the transition to film acting with Ho Mann Jahaan (HMJ), a film in which he may not have gotten the girl but which certainly won him rave reviews. As the brooding, troublemaking, emotional Arhan, his performance was one of the most interesting nuances to the long-winded movie. HMJ also saw Sheheryar turn producer, a career path that he plans to continue to pursue in his next venture with director Asim Raza.
“I am lucky that the lead roles that have been offered to me have many shades to them,” says Sheheryar. “They have given me the creative space to perform.”
Unfortunately, Sheheryar’s subsequent lead role has been in Project Ghazi, a film that premiered last month and notoriously got postponed on the basis of not having been edited completely. “As an actor, I tried to do justice to the movie. It’s a superhero movie and I worked very hard to make sure that I suited the role, both physically as well as in terms of emotions. I also promoted it even though I had the feeling that it was probably too soon to release it. But as actors, all we can do is make sure that we deliver, leaving the rest to the director and production team.”
We will only be able to appreciate Sheheryar’s efforts once Project Ghazi releases, revamped and hopefully edited into a more coherent storyline. Also in the pipelines for the actor is Dawn Films’ cinematic debut Saat Din Mohabbat In (SDMI), directed by Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi. Co-starring Mahira Khan, the movie is being touted as a romantic comedy with fantasy elements to it.
“It’s a challenging role where my character deals with insecurities and comes of age,” Sheheryar smiles. “I’m looking forward to it.” So are we!
“It’s unfortunate that we still need Bollywood’s stamp in order to be appreciated by our own people,” says Sajal Ali. “I have done so much work in Pakistan and yet, it’s only now that people are telling me that I am a star!”
The actress was referring to Mom, her recently released Bollywood debut movie where she has given a power-packed performance and held her own against veteran actress Sridevi. The movie may be a feather in Sajal’s cap but, as the actress points out, this is hardly the first time that she has proven her acting chops. Her work in dramas is extensive; the flirtatious, poverty-stricken Neeli in Mohabbat Jaye Bhar Mein, the complicated Nanhi and Farzana in Quddusi Sahib Ki Bewa and many other roles where she has played the woebegone woman who is an unfortunate mainstay in local dramas.
“I am asked why I play the miserable woman so often,” says Sajal, “and the truth is that our local producers and directors often don’t want to create any other storylines. Dramas centered round tortured women resonate well with the audience and raise ratings and are therefore allotted major prime time slots. I think now, more than ever, we need to present the audience with mor diverse storylines, to tell stories that are interesting rather than formulaic.”
One such story, according to her, is the currently being aired O Rangreza where Sajal is enacting the young, callous Sassi. She is also working on a drama serial with Sarmad Khoosat while simultaneously considering a number of movie scripts, from Pakistan as well as India. “I have to be careful about which movie I choose,” she says. “I don’t want to be part of a project that ends up looking like a commercial nor do I want to shed my inhibitions just in order to achieve box office success.”
It’s unfortunate that we still need Bollywood’s stamp in order to be appreciated by our own people,” says Sajal Ali. “I have done so much work in Pakistan and yet, it’s only now that people are telling me that I am a star!”
Given that she’s a veritable acting dynamo, one hopes to see Sajal in more challenging roles in the near future. Not every actress can bring so much emotion to the screen — Sajal’s an absolute pro!
“I just want to act,” professes actor Gohar Rasheed and that’s precisely what he does. Young aspiring actors entering the field often dream of becoming ‘heroes’, as did Gohar. He was quick to negate this ambition and reroute towards character roles. “I realised that there was a certain way that the local hero was supposed to look and I didn’t fit the bill. I didn’t even enjoy the few conventional hero roles that I did enact. I think that trends simultaneously changed globally and every actor, from Leonardo DiCaprio to Brad Pitt and Irrfan Khan, began leaning towards character-driven roles. I, too, opted out of the rat race.”
Having made the decision, Gohar has proceeded to deliver a range of compelling performances that have won him a fan base of his own and set him apart as an actor who is likely to make waves in the future. He’s played a lascivious General Ziaul Haq in KopyKat Productions’ Sawa 14 August, the antagonistic Shaukat in Hum TV’s Digest Writer and — possibly his most famous role to date — the Machiavellian Mikael in Mann Mayal. We also recently saw him acting alongside a large number of actors in Yalghaar, a movie that didn’t have much to offer in terms of performance or storylines and is better forgotten.
More interestingly, Gohar will be seen in Rangreza, set to release in cinemas in December, where he is playing a pivotal role as a street-smart, good-hearted, Karachi-dwelling qawwal. “I completely lose myself in a character and my role in Rangreza particularly has multiple shades to it. I gained weight, grew my hair long, learnt how to play the dhol and even mastered a unique Karachi dialect so that my character is more realistic.”
He’s also just started working on his own production, a movie with a football-centric storyline that is close to his heart.
Focused and well-aware of his many talents, Gohar Rasheed has managed to carve a niche of his own. Don’t expect to see him play the lovelorn hero any time soon — do expect him to stir your emotions with a well-conceived, multi-shaded character role.
FASIH BARI KHAN
Fasih Bari is no stranger to scriptwriting. His forte lies in creating eccentric but believable characters and painting dark, incisive comedies that are peppered with punch lines and twisted situations. He writes in unadulterated, vibrant Urdu and has a penchant for relating stories from the many communities within Karachi: Memons, Delhiwalas, Biharis, the flat-dwellers of Burnes Road and transgenders being among them. His most famous work for TV includes Quddusi Sahib Ki Bewa and Burnes Road Ki Nilofar. And now, as he turns his attention towards filmwriting, his distinctive style is one to watch out for.
Fasih’s first attempt in cinematic scriptwriting was last year with Jeewan Hathi (JH) which fumbled badly at the box office and was critiqued at large. Now he has penned Dawn Films’ upcoming SDMI, narrating a story that stems from Karachi’s Saddar area.
“JH was made under the banner of the Zee Unity project and I wrote it along the lines of a telefilm rather than as a full-blown movie to be shown in cinemas,” says Fasih. “I consider the script of SDMI to be my first one written expressly for commercial cinema. I have also recently written a script for TV called Mohini Mansion ki Cinderellayein. It’s a story centered round androon Lahore and the main characters will be played by Feryal Gauhar and Shabnam.”
While it remains to be seen whether Fasih’s scriptwriting prowess will adapt to cinemas, there is a good chance that he will be bringing something new to the screen. “I enjoy telling the stories of real characters and developing interesting situations in their everyday lives. I pay close attention to the dialogue, making sure that I represent their community in a genuine way.”
Refreshingly free from Bollywood influences and with a vision that is deeply steeped in reality, Fasih’s signature style may just be what Pakistani cinema needs in order to develop an identity of its very own.
Amna Ilyas proved her acting mettle in 2013 with her cinematic breakthrough in Zinda Bhaag and affirmed it further the following year with Good Morning Karachi. Since then, Amna has sporadically flitted on to the big screen, dancing to a Kala Doriya in Dekh Magar Pyaar Say (DMPS) or to a misplaced item song in the recent Mehrunnissa V Lub U, somehow performed during a baby shower.
“I enjoy dancing and I think item songs allow me to explore a particular facet of cinema,” says Amna. “Where the song is placed in the movie is, of course, not up to me.”
Amna’s cinematic work is hardly as comprehensive as her modeling career where she is a popular choice for the catwalk, magazine shoots and billboards and won the Lux Style Award for Best Female Model in 2015. Her upcoming acting projects, though, may push her career further.
In the upcoming SDMI she is playing an enterprising feminist and her movie Ready Steady No, helmed by newbie director Hisham bin Munawar, is tentatively set to release by the end of this year. She is also working on a web-series with director Wajahat Rauf where she will be acting opposite Yasir Hussain.
It appears that Amna isn’t afraid to experiment with the projects that she takes on and one can’t really predict whether her upcoming ventures will be wholly successful. But one can definitely vouch for Amna’s talent for acting — box office success notwithstanding.
Abid Brohi is a phenomenon — a music-loving, upbeat rapping sensation whose story is inspirational. From deep within Sibbi, Abid suddenly shot to fame earlier this year with the catchy, upbeat The Sibbi Song. Set to a thumping, electronic mix played out by the Lahore-based SomeWhatSuper, Abid belted out rap in Sindhi and sang a tune in an appealing melodious baritone.
While his career may have made a brilliant start, Abid had to face his share of pitfalls in the past. The singer didn’t know how to read or write but nurtured an obsession for rapping and singing. Time and again, he would approach artists visiting the Sibbi Mela, serving them food and tea and singing out to them in the hope of gaining their attention. Luckily for Abid, his singing was recorded by documentary filmmaker Raza Shah. Sometime later, Abid was approached by Patari and The Sibbi Song was incorporated into Patari Tabeer, an initiative that seeks to bring forward six hitherto undiscovered voices. Later this year one saw him on the Lux Style Awards stage, rapping his way through a fashion segment.
“Gaining success in Pakistan’s music industry isn’t easy,” says Abid. “People don’t generally want to help others who don’t have any connections. I’m working very hard but it is still an uphill struggle. I am recording a new song now and like The Sibbi Song it talks about the people around us in a comical way.”
While he may have had to contend with favoritism, Abid’s talent cannot be denied and has been lauded by a large number of industry veterans. The raw potency of his voice is testament to the many other undiscovered artists that may exist within the country but who lack the financial means to launch themselves into the spotlight. And we are waiting avidly for what Abid Brohi spins out next, melding together modern rap music with his traditional roots.
Aima Baig sang Kalabaaz Dil in Wajahat Rauf’s Lahore Se Aagey last year and the world at large suddenly sat up and took notice of her. She may have looked young but with an indubitable understanding of melody, Aima revealed herself to be a powerhouse. For the same movie, Aima also sang the youthful Befikiryan and Ehle Dil. Ironically, while the movie may have underperformed, it acted as a gamechanger for Aima.
Later, Aima went on to share the stage with Atif Aslam. She also signed on to the soundtracks of multiple major releases — NMA 2, Arth 2 and PHJ among them — as well as for a Bollywood movie. She is also performing in Coke Studio Season 10.
“Music has no boundaries and I just want to continue exploring new avenues with my singing,” says Aima. The talented singer has only just begun her journey and we can expect her to raise the bar even further.
Mooroo, aka Taimoor Salahuddin, is a man of many versatile talents. He sings in a soft melodious voice, creates online parodies, puts together comic videos on Facebook, writes, edits and directs. He is also a persistent hard worker — the underlying factor contributing to his career triumphs.
“Comedy tends to get people’s attention more easily,” Mooroo observes. “In the case of music, unless you manage to gain access to a major platform like Coke Studio or have a brand sponsoring you, it’s very difficult to gain people’s attention. The only solution is to constantly put out content online and eventually, if you’re good, you get noticed. I initially wanted to be a musician. Then, I studied film production and discovered a flair for comedy, writing and storytelling. Now, the work I do often drifts through all these different but correlated genres.”
There have been times when Mooroo’s songs have gone viral over time. For instance, his Tasweer — now a well-known hit — gained mileage slowly; at first, being shared on social media then remixed by Talal Qureshi and eventually featured on the soundtrack of the movie Dekh Magar Pyaar Say. Another song of his, Mariam, got picked up by a beverage company and was promoted extensively by the brand.
He is now working on a web-series that he is completely producing on his own. “I have written four episodes and I understand that since this is my first try, it may turn out to be a disaster,” he laughs. “That means that I’ll lose out on all that I have invested in it but I am prepared for it. It’s the only way I’ll get the hang of it.”
Self-deprecating and intelligent, Mooroo’s clearly set long-term goals for himself. We can count on him strengthening his presence in the years to come.
SYED SHAFAAT ALI
Syed Shafaat Ali is best known for his flair for mimicry. In a range of videos that quickly went viral on social media, we have seen him miraculously modulate his voice to sound like any and all members of Pakistan’s colourful political fraternity.
There is, however, much more to Shafaat’s career other than online videos. From 2006 to 2010, the comedian was part of the political parody-driven 4 Man Show, following which he joined the Banana News Network entourage from 2011 to 2014. He is, at present, paving his career as a stand-up comedian, performing in shows within Pakistan as well as touring the world.
“Over the past year, I have been part of more than 100 shows and I modulate the comic content according to the region where I am performing,” says Shafaat. “In Pakistan, of course, our main source of entertainment and information is politics.”
But while local politics are certainly an easy target for comedy, the content runs the risk of being hackneyed given the abundance of political satires that are perpetually playing out on different TV channels. “I understand this and I think that it’s important for even comedy to have an underlying message behind it,” he says. “The script needs to hint at the realities that are there but aren’t really talked about in the news. That’s what sets my scripts apart.”
Also, interestingly, Shafaat will be seen acting in Hum Films’ Parwaaz Hai Junoon (PHJ). Given how good an impressionist he is, he is likely to turn out to be a fine actor.
It is his talent for political comedy, though, that has us in stitches. Let’s hope that there’s much more of it to come in the future.
Sunil Shankar gets excited by the unconventional. A typical storyline won’t interest him much; he’d rather stage socio-political commentaries, create elaborate courtroom dramas, introduce concepts of sadism or challenge preconceived notions of existentialism.
In The Goat or Who Is Sylvia? he narrates Edward Albee’s strange tale of a man who has fallen in love with a goat. In Qusoorwaar — an adaptation of the Hollywood movie 12 Angry Men — he adds local flavour to the courtroom and the concepts of crime and punishment in local colours. In his debut directorial venture from 2012, Equus — now about to make a return to the stage — he narrates the dilemma of a 17-year-old boy who blinds six horses. Never one to balk at a challenge, he brought the six horses to life by means of men in elaborate costumes: topless and straddled with head-gear and hooves.
“I want to create stories that disturb and make people think,” says Sunil. “A commercially entertaining play doesn’t have to be one following a generic commonplace plot. It can be a story that makes you cry or angry or simply introspective. Just because you aren’t laughing doesn’t mean that you aren’t getting entertained.”
Sunil also feels that it is important for theatre to introduce topics that are out of the ordinary and present imagery that is visually stirring. “I am perpetually trying to find a fine line in theatre that is commercially appealing yet doesn’t make me sacrifice my creativity. As a director, I am inclined towards cinematic theatre. This means that every scene in my plays has to make impact. The set, lighting, sounds and movement are extremely important.”
Sunil is also a prolific actor, often playing a character in his own plays. It is, however, as a director that he stands out as a virtuoso, resiliently pushing boundaries and presenting theatre that is cerebral and unforgettable.
Ashna Khan majored in Fine Arts from the National College of Arts in Lahore and his learnings are visible in his work. In fact, the photographer considers himself a ‘fine arts photographer’, blurring the lines between reality and surrealism and spinning fashion into tantalisingly artistic fantasy.
Under his lens, a profile shot of Meesha Shafi is reminiscent of Dali’s artistic ethos, with her suspended in mid-air, surrounded by flying paper. Ready-to-wear by a high street brand is tilted to illusory angles and lawn catalogue shoots are imposed against computer graphics of cloudy blue skies or enchanted gardens.
“Clients come to me because they want something out of the ordinary,” says Ashna, whose career took off two-and-a-half-odd years ago. “They are interested in editorial shoots rather than generic imagery.”
Making fashion and celebrity photography his sole means of bread and butter, Ashna has chosen to walk a path less trodden, spurning queries for event photography which is generally considered to be a very lucrative avenue. “It is just too soulless and very run-off-the-mill. I simply can’t do it,” he asserts.
In a world that is increasingly generic, where a ‘fashion shoot’ usually tends to signify a lawn dupatta uninspiringly fluttering in the air, Ashna’s work is akin to a breath of fresh air. His work is a rarity, making him stand out as one of the most promising photographers to have entered the industry in a long time.
Fatima Nasir’s skills with hair and makeup are unusual. She understands the importance of aesthetically appealing images and yet, she revels in adding oomph to them; sometimes by virtue of a popping lip shade, at other times with gravity-defying angular hair, light and shadow, body paint or special effects.
“I am able to easily work different genres of beauty,” says Fatima. “I can create beautiful bridals, cutting-edge fashionable looks or zone in on the avant-garde. I also like to enhance the model’s natural beauty rather than alter it completely.”
This in particular means that Fatima is one of the rare stylists who refrain from painting models a pasty, incongruous ‘fair and lovely’. The woman she styles look ‘real’ — although there may be bits of the surreal added in via neon body paint or props.
Over a career that spans four years, Fatima has collated a strong collection of work that features many of fashion’s big guns including Generation, Khaadi, Sapphire, HSY and Asifa & Nabeel. “I have loved hair and makeup for the longest time. I think I must have read more than 70 books on the field and have attended multiple courses both in Pakistan as well with Kryolan in London.”
The passion is clearly visible.
Most people would declare that Sadaf Kanwal is already quite the star. The 5’8”-tall model has an extensive portfolio, diligently created over the span of her six-year-long career. She’s a mainstay at fashion weeks, is frequently visible on billboards and in glossies and is even now dabbling with the idea of acting, something that models tend to do once that they feel that they are sufficiently established.
“I am just realistic,” she shrugs. “I have witnessed people discussing models who have moved past a certain age and complaining that they ought to retire and it scares me. One day, the same thing might happen to me and to prevent it, I’m going to start building a career in acting.”
Sadaf — not having passed that ‘certain age’ yet — can still enjoy her modeling heyday at the same time. With her high cheekbones and distinctively bushy eyebrows, she continues to be a favourite amongst fashion brands. More importantly, she’s well-known as a hard worker and a true professional.
It’s no wonder that she won the Lux Style Award for Best Model this year. One can expect her to soar on further — from being ‘one of the’ best models to becoming ‘the’ model to watch out for.
Published in Dawn, ICON, August 13th, 2017