Once upon a time there was a phenomenon called Fawad Khan who ruled the television airwaves. There were damsels oohing and aahing over his good looks and mesmerising eyelashes. Even Asher’s insecurity and lack of faith in his wife Khirad failed to dent his popularity as Humsafar’s star performer.

Wherever Fawad Khan went, the ladies followed. There were selfies galore where the star was practically pounced upon by the dressed-up-to-the-nines female brigade. Fawad’s fame crossed borders and one found even little old ladies sighing over his eyes and sidelong looks. One irate lady even complained why Fawad’s leading lady in Zindagi Gulzar Hai was ‘not good-looking enough.’

“She acted very well.”

What women want is a curious mix of good looks and empathy

“Yes yes, but why don’t you people take someone who can match with Fawad Khan? He’s too good na.”       

That reminds me of a joke I heard in Delhi: if Fawad Khan were appointed as Pakistan’s Ambassador to India, the Indian ladies would themselves hand over Kashmir to Pakistan on a platter.

So where is Fawad now? He’s plumped up and hirsute for Maula Jatt and was last seen judging a music show. Consensus is that he’s no longer that dashing and since he’s not appearing as a telly hero, he has left behind a vacuum that is difficult, nay impossible to fill.

Did I say impossible?

Enter Ahad Raza Mir. The brooding Dr Afsfandyar of Yaqeen ka Safar has taken Pakistan by storm. The doctor’s romance with Sajal Ali as Dr Zubiya has led to hashtags like #Asfiya and #Ahadians.

What is truly remarkable is the ascent of Ahad Raza Mir’s popularity graph. It was not a meteoric rise to fame like Fawad. In the beginning of Yaqeen ka Safar the focus was on Barrister Daniyal, played by the versatile Shaz Khan while Ahad’s role was that of Asfi, the younger brother. He was the non-serious, crazy one who loved to dance, sing and be the life of the party.

The serial focused on the oppression of women in a patriarchal society which unhesitatingly condemns the victim. But instead of weak female characters, it showcased courageous women who fought back. In a society as narrow-minded and dependent on patronage and dependent on fear as Pakistan’s, speaking out has its own consequences and that is what defined this story.

The nation’s new hero has given rise to social media memes. A female fan posted a picture of Dr Asfandyar with the lines: ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but if the doctor is cute forget the fruit.’ Many are wishing for such a doctor in their lives while others are posting sad emoticons and pining for the serial. Saying goodbye to #Asfiya is such sweet sorrow — ‘What on earth will we do on Wednesdays now?’ they ask broken-heartedly.

Back to the long-haired and sloppy Asfi. It was a major shock that he was going to be the hero in later episodes after the suave Daniyal. But in the journey from Asfi to Dr Asfandyar, Ahad Raza Mir has surprised his detractors. It is not just the change in physical appearance — chopping off the long hair, wearing smart clothes, intense good looks — but also the way he has transformed his character’s mental make-up. His good dialogue delivery and perfect nuances as Dr Asfandyar are interesting to observe. Many discerning telly watchers may remember Ahad’s father Asif Raza Mir of the caffeine brown eyes who was an accomplished actor and a heart-throb of his time.

The nation’s new hero has given rise to social media memes. A female fan posted a picture of Dr Asfandyar with the lines: ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but if the doctor is cute forget the fruit.’ Many are wishing for such a doctor in their lives while others are posting sad emoticons and pining for the serial. Saying goodbye to #Asfiya is such sweet sorrow — ‘What on earth will we do on Wednesdays now?’ they ask broken-heartedly.

Now that the serial is over, #Ahadians are looking for any crumbs they can glean on their icon. “He’s slaying in black” they claim joyously. Digging up Ahad’s childhood pictures brings the verdict: “Lesson: never ignore your phupho ka beta.”

The fact that he enjoys cooking — whipping up honey garlic chicken on a morning chat show — is the icing on the cake. He even serenaded the audience, strumming his guitar and singing. Inner beauty is what matters to the man who’s single, much to the relief of his fans, unlike Fawad Khan whose wife was the fly in the ointment.

What makes Dr Asfandyar differ from Asher is his empathy. As he tells Dr Zubia who’s attempting to give explanations to her man: “Tum jaisi ho, tumharay saath jo kuch bhi huwa, mujhe koi farq naheen parhta hai. Mein tumharay saath hoon.” [It makes no difference to me what happened to you before. I’m with you.]

Is it any wonder that starry-eyed women are sighing with relief?

The columnist is a freelance writer.
She tweets @MaheenUsmani

Published in Dawn, EOS, November 19th, 2017