Yasir Hussain and Iqra Aziz are undoubtedly the most famous celebrity couple in Pakistan right now. They are the topic of coffee table conversations as well as multiple discussions on Twitter, and there are even many, many memes about them floating around. And this isn’t because Yasir and Iqra are talented performers. For the time being, their claim to fame is a wedding proposal that Yasir made to Iqra at the recently culminated Lux Style Awards (LSAs) where, when she accepted, he proceeded to hug and kiss her.
The country’s morality brigade was aghast. There are romantics who found it sweet. And Hamza Ali Abbasi and Veena Malik, being the way that they are, proceeded to have discussions about how ‘halaal’ and ‘haram’ it all was. They have certainly passed the ultimate litmus test for fame.
I meet the couple a few days after the LSAs and it’s obvious how heads turn as they enter the Pan-Asian restaurant where we are having lunch. Throughout our conversation, fans keep coming up to them, wanting to take selfies. More annoyingly, the restaurant owner assumes that it is his right to sit all through the very exclusive interview. Lesson learnt: never schedule an interview with two very famous people in a crowded restaurant that has a pesky owner lurking about.
Despite all these interruptions, I have so much to ask the two. The last time I had talked to them, they had been trussed up for the LSA red carpet, wearing matching clothes designed by Ali Xeeshan with Iqra managing a long, unwieldy trail and Yasir helping her out. Now, in their casuals, Iqra and Yasir are much more relaxed and comfortable, bantering with each other, seemingly unfazed by all the vitriol being poured against them from social media’s irritatingly sanctimonious higher ground. We plunge right into conversation by talking about that much talked about wedding proposal.
Yasir Hussain and Iqra Aziz set tongues wagging overtime after he proposed to her and displayed his affection for her during a public ceremony. But things have considerably cooled down since and Icon sits down with the soon-to-be-married couple to find out how and when they fell in love
About the proposal
“Honestly, it doesn’t matter to me what people are saying,” says Iqra. “I’m very happy, my family loves him and people from the entire fraternity are wishing me well.”
When Yasir hugged her at the LSAs, did she not immediately worry about how the masses, many of whom are huge fans of her dramas, would react? “At that point, I was just in this very precious moment. I didn’t think at all about the people around me. Yes, I’m an actress who works in dramas and because of the roles that I have played, people have this perception about me. They think that I would be the ideal bahu beti, wearing shalwar qameez and be soft-spoken. But there is so much more to me. I’m just as comfortable wearing jeans as I’m in a shalwar qameez. I am 21, and I can’t spend my entire life pretending to be how people perceive me to be. If a boy loves me so much that he decides to propose marriage to me in front of the whole world, why wouldn’t I be happy?”
The wedding proposal has ended up being one of the major highlights of this year’s LSAs, and skeptics have been wondering if it was a planned publicity stunt. Was it planned at all? “It was planned at my end but Iqra didn’t have a clue,” says Yasir. “I had planned it along with Fifi Haroon, the show’s Creative Consultant, and she kept urging me to tell Iqra. She felt that Iqra may say no to me because she would be under pressure in front of so many people. But I refused. I was doing this for her, not for the people at the awards. And I had no doubts about her.
“In fact, in the days leading up to the LSAs, she was teasing me that I had never proposed to her properly, and I was so tempted to let her know what I was planning to do it. But I didn’t. I wanted it to be a surprise.
“Still, at that point, I forgot all that I had planned to say. I’m the sort of person who always knows what to say in front of an audience and, for the first time, I was fumbling with my words. I hadn’t known that [film superstar] Nadeem saheb would be sitting next to Iqra but, when I saw him, I hugged him simply because I needed to hug someone at that point. Shabnam was also there but had I hugged her, there would have had been another controversy altogether!” he quips.
Yasir continues, “Some people have been complaining that I was disrespectful by hugging Iqra in front of seniors such as Nadeem and Shabnam, and my answer to them is that have they never seen these two actors’ old movies? Hugging someone is not alien to those two!”
Even though he’s notorious for making controversial statements on social media, Yasir hasn’t responded too much to the people criticising his proposal. Has he now chosen to be more careful about his commentaries? “I actually keep coming up with some really funny replies to all those complaining, but I just don’t have time for it right now. Actually, some of the jokes about us are really funny while others are downright offensive. There was one very clever punchline: ‘In Pakistan, you can pi** in public but you can’t kiss in public!’
“I’m just tired of all the hypocrisy in our society. I’m getting married to her, which is why I kissed her on the cheek. But Sheheryar Munawar isn’t getting married to Mahira, and he kissed her on the cheek too. Why aren’t people complaining about that?”
Iqra adds, “There has even been this criticism that I said ‘yes’ to Yasir without even consulting my family. How can they make assumptions like these? Our families have already met. We have been planning to make things official for some time now. Yasir’s parents have passed away and so he came up to my mum himself in order to seek her approval. They even met in secret, planning things out and, then, Ammi sent me a selfie of the two of them together, and I wondered what was going on!
“My mum was there at the LSAs and when I came home she was overjoyed about the awards that I had won, but she was even happier about the engagement. Men in Pakistan are hardly ever expressive. She told me that she couldn’t want anything more than for her daughter to get married to someone who was so openly affectionate towards her.”
“There was a very interesting point made in a video by YouTuber Ganji Swag about us,” says Yasir. “A comment was made that the crux of the matter is that, in Pakistan, we don’t usually see our fathers and mums hold hands but many of us do see our fathers raising their hands on our mums. That’s why so many people are finding our proposal objectionable.”
About how they met
We move on to talking about how the two first met. “We first met momentarily at the Hum Awards two years ago in Lahore. But it was last summer, at another Hum Awards — the ones that took place in Toronto — that we properly got to know each other,” recalls Yasir. “I was done with my part in the awards and was leaving the venue when I saw Iqra, Hira Mani and Saheefa Jabbar Khattak together. Usually, actors have a problem leaving an international venue because they end up having to wait for a car to come and pick them up. They asked me how I was going and I said that I would just ask someone to give me a ride. I managed to arrange a Mercedes sports car. There were two boys in front who owned the car and two seats in the back. I asked if anyone wanted to come along and they all did. So we all squeezed in and I dropped the girls at their hotel.
“The next day on we started spending time together. I have noticed how actors tend to get cliquey when they are abroad, excluding others. It hasn’t ever bothered me but Iqra and I did have a lot of fun. I instantly liked her, in a romantic way.”
“I began liking him like that a little later,” Iqra says.
And yet, following the trolling that spewed out when they recently posted images of a trip to Thailand together, Yasir made a public Instagram declaration that Iqra and he were ‘friends’. “But we are friends,” he smirks.
“We just didn’t add in the second part about us being more than friends,” Iqra points out.
“I mean, we have constantly been posting pictures together. People can put two and two together,” Yasir shrugs.
“Internet trolls can hate all they like but my family loved our images,” adds Iqra. “My family gives me the confidence to deal with all this criticism.”
About work, awards and Yasir’s tempestuous Insta-feed
Since we are on the topic of trolling, Yasir particularly gets targeted on the internet because of his tendency of making controversial remarks on social media. How does Iqra feel about his tongue-in-cheek, oft-contentious Insta-personality? “It’s how he is,” she says. “He is the sort of person who isn’t afraid of speaking his mind. I’m actually more emotional than Yasir. Sometimes I get so angry about something I read about us that my mum, sister and Yasir have to really hold me down so that I don’t retaliate.”
“I tell her to tell me what to say,” Yasir grins. “I don’t care what people say about me. And when Iqra gets bothered about random comments, I tell her that I’m doubting her sensibility. These people are not important to us.”
Iqra continues, “I’d just like to say that, besides being good performers, we have to be good human beings. Yasir is someone who is genuinely good. His jokes are hilarious and they are usually about his celebrity friends. When they are with him in a closed room, they laugh with him. I hate that they suddenly decide to attack him when he cracks a joke on social media. They decide that they are these superstars and launch into rants. Why do they decide to get famous like this instead of using their talent? Why do they use social media to get hype and to gain people’s sympathies?”
While she does not say this, Iqra is very obviously talking about Hania Aamir who took offence to a joke that Yasir had made about her skin. Yasir points out, “It’s strange that while, just some time ago, she was talking about being comfortable in her own skin, now she is endorsing a glow soap!”
Following Hania’s spat with Yasir, Iqra had unfollowed a large number of actors from her Instagram — something that immediately got noticed. Why did she do so? “I was just tired of reading all the news that they had to share. I can’t take so much negativity in my life. I even unfollowed celebrity pages.”
Does Yasir not worry that he now has a controversial image, and that he may end up losing work because of this? “My work doesn’t come from people, it comes because God wants me to get that work,” he says.
Iqra shares his views. “Throughout my career, I have dealt with industry politics. There were times when I would get unfairly replaced by another actress and there were disagreements. Still, whenever there is a multifaceted serious role, I’m approached for it. I get work on the basis of my talent and hard work.”
“The sad thing is that most roles on TV are written for women while men have more boring parts,” observes Yasir. “I’ve done very limited work because I refuse to be the actor who signs on to every forgettable project, the one that people squint at and ask, ‘Don’t you come on TV’? I will only do quality work. It’s why I did Naach Na Jaaney for theatre recently. People loved my role but I loved doing it too.”
“He tells me the same thing,” Iqra says. “Yasir says that he always wants me to work because he loves my acting but he does advise me to be more selective. There was a time when I was acting in three dramas simultaneously. Now, I take on a single project at a time. It makes sense because I’m able to give more to a character.”
She recently won two awards at the LSAs for Best Actress on TV, Viewer’s Choice and Jury’s Choice for the drama Suno Chanda. There were industry insiders who particularly cribbed about the latter win. Suno Chanda, after all, was a lighthearted comedy and Iqra was up against actresses who had played heavy-duty emotional roles in other plays. Had she also not expected to win the approval of viewers as well as the jury? “I hadn’t expected to win at all. You never know with awards. And when I won the Jury’s Award, I particularly went on stage and recognised my fellow nominees who are all great actresses in their own right.”
Yasir pitches in. “Still, how can people say that she didn’t deserve to win? I’m not a big fan of Suno Chanda but I think that Iqra did a very good job of playing a character who is emotional, ambitious, outspoken and makes people laugh. The awards were based on acting, not on who could make people cry more. If these were ‘crying awards’, the trophy would have gone to Sadia Imam many years ago. No one cries better than her!”
“It’s actually more difficult to make people laugh,” says Iqra. “I did the drama Tabeer which was so depressing that even I couldn’t watch all the episodes. My character in Suno Chanda was curated very carefully by the director Ahson Talish and the scriptwriter Saima Akram Chudhery, and I think that they did a wonderful job.”
About marriage and the upcoming wedding
Does Iqra feel that her thriving acting career may slow down post-marriage? “I wouldn’t mind actually,” she admits, “I’ve been working very hard for too long, and perhaps it’s time to slow down for a while.
“I do always want to continue working. I think women are natural multi-taskers. I have seen my mum toil away as a single parent, raising me and my sister while managing the house and her work. She is my inspiration and I want to be like that. Also, look at Ayeza Khan. She has two children, a happily married life and an exceptional acting career.”
I observe that it seems as if they have everything sorted out. Is the wedding soon and, following current trends, is it going to be a grand celebrity extravaganza? “The wedding is soon but we just want a simple wedding that takes place in our homes,” says Iqra. “We don’t want all the hype and hoopla of hiring an event planner and grandiose décor. On my wedding day, I just want to be me without worrying that people are looking at Iqra Aziz, the actress.”
Yasir adds, “Also, if we invite senior artistes to our wedding, then I can’t just sit like a groom and not attend to them. That would be disrespectful. My family is going to be coming from all over for my wedding and, on that day, I just want to attend to them. Later, we’ll have a reception for our friends in the fraternity.
“And why should a wedding be this big affair where you spend so much?” he says. “With our wedding, I want to make a statement that we don’t need to have grand, expensive affairs, that even a simple wedding with close friends and family can be sufficient.”
At this point in time, when they are both managing careers while planning out their future together, what is more important to them: fame or money? “Money,” Yasir replies promptly. “Fame doesn’t matter to me at all. I want to do good work and earn well from it.”
And what about you Iqra, I turn to her. “Neither, I just want a great private life,” she smiles. “I want to get married.”
Spoken like a true just-engaged girl! Haters can hate all they like, this couple’s floating on cloud nine.
Published in Dawn, ICON, July 21st, 2019