Photos by the writer
Photos by the writer

“Kyun aagaya, is sawaal ka jawab to mujhay bhi nahi pata [Why I came into this field, that is one question even I have no answer to], kaisay aaya [how I got into it], that road map would have been from God Almighty,” Gohar Rasheed begins telling me on the phone. “There were only three things that led me here,” he goes on. “Conviction, persistence and utter trust in God.”

Gohar, his voice changing to comical pitches, chronologically tells me his life-story: a tale of fits and starts and ups and downs, that loops back from theatre to television to film, as if part of a time travel story.

Born to a middle-class family in Lahore, Gohar is a graduate of Beaconhouse National University, with a major in television and a minor in journalism. Having finished his degree, he realised that, to work in the industry, he had to be where the industry is: Karachi. So, in 2010 he packed his bags, “took a leap of faith” and came to a city — and a profession — where he knew no one.

“It’s that typical story,” he continues with a sigh, “My father said ‘You wouldn’t make it in entertainment’, and me being a rebellious child, rebelled.

Gohar Rasheed retraces his turbulent journey in showbiz, and recalls the successes and failures that have made him into the person and the professional that he is today

“I only had my degree with me when I came over. In those naive days, I was under the impression that my degree would be enough to get me work,” he says, the expression in his voice indicating that he has just rolled his eyes.

Photos by the writer
Photos by the writer

“Directors would ask me, ‘what have you done’, and I would show them my degree, and then they would ask again [with tonal stress in his voice], ‘what have you done?’ — a degree is fine, but have you acted before?’

“ ‘You won’t be able to make it big. Chhotay motay role hi mileingey tumhein [You will only get to play minor characters]… and you have these scars on your face.’

“I mean, I was body-shamed, degree-shamed, it was an all-round shame-fest, everything became shameful for me,” Gohar continues laughing at his own state of misery.

“Berra-gharak hogaya self-confidence ka [My self-confidence was torn to smithereens], and I immediately became an angry-young-man version of Amitabh Bachchan, telling directors that we’d see if I can make it or not.”

Desperateness and motivation led him to I.I. Chundrigar Road. “Someone told me that the channel head offices were near Tower, Saddar, so my best bet was to take Khan Coach [a popular bus service] and drop my CVs and showreels to networks in the hopes that someone would hire me.

“Six months passed, 2011 hit, and my father was telling me to come back, and by a stroke of luck, I got a call from Style 360, which was headed by former supermodel Vaneeza Ahmad at the time.”

The interview went well, and Ahmad, thinking that he was “a good-looking, presentable launda [young man]” gave him a job as a Line Producer. She even supported him when acting opportunities came about, accommodating his work hours so he could audition for roles.

His first major breakthrough came from Shah Sharabeel’s theatre play Moulin Rouge, where Wajahat Rauf spotted him. Rauf recommended Gohar to Humayun Saeed, who invited him to his office the day after seeing him perform. “It was those days when Six Sigma [Humayun’s production company] was starting, and I was offered bit parts in his dramas.”

Gohar quickly became disillusioned in a year, his voice low as he talks about that time.

“I wasn’t getting the roles I wanted, nor was the volume of work that big that I could sustain myself. So, I told Humayun bhai, to give me an assistant director’s job.”

Saeed declined.

“If I am to credit someone for my acting career, it would be him.” Saeed told Gohar that hiring him as an assistant director would be beneficial for his production company, but he won’t do it. “Go out once again, give acting a shot, and if things don’t work out, Six Sigma’s doors are always open for you as an assistant director,” Saeed said.

With his confidence reinvigorated, Gohar struggled for good roles until he was offered to play the lead in Hum TV’s Digest Writer… which he surprisingly declined. Saba Qamar, whom he had worked before with on Geo’s drama Jal Pari then called him up. “Trust me on this,” she told him, “people will remember you as Shaukat [the character in Digest Writer].”

Photos by the writer
Photos by the writer

Doing the drama only for the sake of the actress, hoping that it would at least be fun on the set, Gohar had no idea about the acclaim he would receive. Even his father who, until that time, thought of the profession as a playground for — in Gohar’s words — “kanjars and meerasis”, started taking Gohar seriously.

Offers poured in, but he soon felt the dreariness of repeating the same characters again and again. “Since I was getting the same type of stuff, somewhere along the line, I started becoming monotonous and complacent.” Realising he was in a rut, he took a break.

“I went back to theatre — which, if you look at it from the industry’s point of view, is career suicide.” No one in their right minds thinks of theatre as a step-up, he tells me. “In Hollywood, most big actors do theatre between films for prestige and to liberate themselves, here it’s a downgrade. You’re a has-been if you do theatre in Pakistan after doing television.”

When Anwar Maqsood’s theatre play Sawa 14 August came up, Gohar jumped at the opportunity to play General Zia-ul-Haq, which led to critical acclaim, again. Opportunities in television flooded him after theatre brought him into the limelight, again.

Maqsood then personally offered him a character in Half-Plate. “Jab Anwar sahib khud keh rahay hain, to meri koi auqaat nahi ke main mana kar doon! [When someone of the stature of Anwar Maqsood himself is offering a role, who am I to reject it!],” he says, his tone suddenly strangely accented on the phone.

Gohar did Half-Plate, despite the gig not paying that much. “By that time, I wasn’t as hungry for money as I was when I had entered the business.”

He learned much from the experience of working with Anwar Maqsood — the least of which was of realising one’s own self-worth. Money, though being secondary, was still a necessity, so Gohar took Maqsood’s blessings and returned to television, and soon enough, film.

The young actor had already done a small role of a character best-remembered as Kaali Aandhi in Main Hoon Shahid Afridi (he was one of the underprivileged cricket team members), a minor role of a half-mad terrorist hoodlum in O21, and a supporting role in Seedlings, which gave him international acclaim.

Photo by the writer
Photo by the writer

Gohar was nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category at the New York Film Festival and the first ARY Film Awards. At that moment the still-fledgling actor thought to himself that he had made it. “No chance,” he laughs, counting off his checklist of achievements that got him nowhere in the entertainment biz. It was only after Mann Mayal that people took him seriously, he says.

And then he got Yalghaar — a film this writer had totally forgotten he was in. “ISPR was actually the best thing about that project,” he says. “Hassan Waqas Rana was the worst thing about it. He ruined a perfectly good film with his own ego.”

While Yalghaar was being shot — its schedule spread between three years — Gohar got the character of Waseem Wallay in Rangreza, an eccentric bad guy, and perhaps the only good thing in the film. Waseem Wallay was an immediate hit from the moment the trailer hit, Gohar reminds me.

Rangreza, which he did with his O21 co-star Bilal Ashraf, was an utter mess (people may not remember either actor from the latter film). “I was just aiming at a decent film, not a blockbuster that would blow the world to smithereens,” he says to me.

Yet, from that moment onwards, being eccentric on-screen became the actor’s calling card.

“The first thing I gravitate towards is the character, not its eccentricities,” he tells me, “Not the team, the director or the banner.

“However,” he continues, “Since Rangreza, the team and the director, to whom I’m going to surrender myself, matters a lot to me.”

“Working with insecure people — insecure people being the key word here — is a nightmare. A nightmare!” he emphasises, his voice booming back from a distant echo in his room.

“When Rangreza tanked, it hit me like a truck.” People close to him changed their attitudes overnight. “[Everyone said] Gohar’s career is over.”

As it had been happening every few years, people started writing him off, saying that he would not be able to score a big role again.

“Be it Mann Mayal’s or Digest Writer’s success — or winning international nominations for Seedlings — nothing in life taught me as much as Rangreza’s failure did.”

Days after Rangreza stepped down from the screens, Gohar went into self-isolation, eventually returning to Lahore. “Google me in 2018, and you won’t find a single news item anywhere,” he points out helpfully.

Up until then, every film in Gohar’s filmography had had storytelling problems; each, a greater botched job than the last. His only hope rested, he felt, on Maakha Natt, youngest of the Natt siblings in The Legend of Maula Jutt (TLOMJ) — a film that had also been in production at the time he self-isolated.

“Maakha Natt is that character that will make you forget Waseem Wallay,” he says, not telling me anything else about the movie or the character.

If TLOMJ did well, Gohar reasoned, he would make up his mind to return to the industry. But TLOMJ was also delayed — it is still yet to release. Gohar’s mother, meanwhile, helped him get through the hard times. “It took me a good one year to make up my mind and come back to Karachi.”

“Somewhere, someplace, I had become arrogant in my success,” he admits. “Mera dimagh kharaab tau hona tha [It was natural I would lose my bearings]. Now, I thank God that Rangreza flopped. If that film had become a success, I would have become an egotistical maniac.”

Realising his faults, Gohar called up everyone he felt he had hurt or put down, to apologise.

Photos: Raza Jaffri
Photos: Raza Jaffri

Months passed and Gohar was offered another character with villain-ish traits in Ramz-e-Ishq, followed by strait-laced characters in Ishqiya and Raaz-e-Ulfat. Back in films, Gohar is now also part of an ensemble in the heist-comedy Money Back Guarantee and the romantic-drama London Nahin Jaunga (LNJ).

“You remember the character called Circuit from Munna Bhai MBBS? [In LNJ] I’m Humayun bhai’s Circuit.

“I’m 100 percent sure that comparisons will likely be drawn between my character and Ahmed Ali Butt’s [in Punjab Nahin Jaungi],” he adds. “Even in a parallel universe, I cannot imagine being in Ahmed [Ali Butt’s] shoes. I can’t do better than him [in this type of character]. If my portrayal reminds people of Ahmed Ali Butt, then it will be a compliment for me,” he says.

Looking past the pandemic, Gohar sees himself enjoying the success of his film and television roles in 2021. He’s also become more philosophical. “It’s never the end result,” Gohar tells me. “It’s not the money or the success or the failures — it’s always about the journey.” A journey that, this writer bets, still has a long way to go.

Published in Dawn, ICON, May 3rd, 2020

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