“I am not good-looking, so I have to work harder than my contemporaries,” professes Fahad Mustafa, as we settle into conversation.
I am not sure whether he is serious or not, given that throughout our meeting he runs his hand through his hair frequently, betraying shades of vanity. But before I can make up my mind, he adds, “actors like Anthony Hopkins and Naseeruddin Shah really work hard on the characters they play, and so do I.”
I don’t consider this second statement to be too off the mark, given that Mustafa is an actor whose body of work is far more varied than most of his contemporaries’. Take for example, Laahasil in which Mustafa played a soft-spoken husband married to a self-centred young woman, and forms a special bond with her mother who was once a call girl, and then compare it to the abusive husband he portrayed in Kankar, whose obsession with his wife and in-bred view of women as intrinsically subservient beings causes him to strike his wife multiple times.
And yet, these two characters are only the tip of the iceberg as far as the diversity of Mustafa’s work is concerned. He has played myriad roles in the 10 odd years that he has been working – from a Bengali suffering from cancer in Aasthee to a gangster in Tahir-e-lahooti; from a feudal in Mastana Mahi to a confused young man who finds solace in religion in Main Abdul Qadir Hoon. Most of these roles are a distinct shade of grey and illustrate the fact that Mustafa is really an actor as opposed to just a ‘star’; he is able to evoke empathy even for the negative characters he has played because of the depth he brings to them. “People were supposed to hate the character I played in Kankar, but women came to me and said ‘your wife shouldn’t have left you,’” he recalls, adding “unfortunately women in our society have come to terms with domestic violence,” betraying a sensitivity that probably enhances his performances. And yet, despite these ‘meaty’ roles, Mustafa is a tad bored with television and says that he has reduced his workload considerably because “scripts no longer excite me.” However, he has not allowed this “boredom” to consume him; he has moved on to hosting the well received ‘game show’ Jeeto Pakistan which began transmission on ARY Digital in Ramzan. For Mustafa, Jeeto Pakistan has propelled him into the public limelight as never before, and he clearly loves this. “I have the number one show in the country, Jeeto Pakistan, it has made history... I have never felt such star power.”
The show stirred a hornet’s nest when its ratings overtook those of Inam Ghar on Express TV at the same time and which was hosted by Aamir Liaquat Hussain, causing the country’s favourite televangelist to proclaim publicly – and crudely – “Pyare bachon jo kuch karna tha kar lo... Abu arahey hain” (“Dear children, you have done whatever you wanted to, and daddy is now coming.”) Mustafa betrays amusement and a hint of accomplishment when I ask him how he reacted to Hussain’s statement.
Throughout our conversation, Mustafa is almost reticent; he does not wax lyrical about his accomplishments, but at the same time, he is clearly not afraid to cite them, or to speak his mind. In his view the quality of dramas has deteriorated in the last five years, because production houses are unwilling to take risks and “have killed the spirit of acting” by consistently relying on “masala-driven” plots that centre on “exuberant girls” (“I am so sick of these chulbuli girls!” he exclaims), thereby reducing male actors to “vegetables” who portray run-of-the-mill brothers, sons or husbands.
Although he feels he has countered this trend to an extent by co-establishing Big Bang Entertainment, a production company, several years ago and which has produced several plays (he has acted in some) that have done “extremely well”, he has turned to a new medium – that of cinema – to further explore his talents.
To this end, he has worked in two films that are pending release and he is clearly excited about his foray into films. The first is Mah-e-Meer in which Mustafa plays the famous Urdu poet Mir Taqi Mir; Sanam Saeed and Iman Ali also feature turns in the film.
“I am playing Mir – a shayar – in a contemporary setting. I don’t know whether the film will be successful or not, but I loved doing it; it is written by Sarmad Sehbai, who has trusted me to portray Mir, which shows that he has a lot of confidence in my abilities as an actor.” The other film he has worked in is Na Maloom Afraad, in which he plays “a typical Karachiite”. It is about “the many, many strikes that take place in Karachi and how people have come to terms with them.” He feels that this film features characters that anyone who has lived in Karachi will be able to relate to, be they rich or poor.
What is particularly satisfying for Mustafa is that the roles he has played in both films required someone who spoke Urdu well, which, given that he is Sindhi, makes it all the more rewarding. He also points out that neither film is “selling Pakistan” and is devoid of “conspiracy theories”. He wants people to watch them not because they are made in Pakistan, but because they are well made and can compete with the Indian and American films that are being shown in theatres. On the personal front, Mustafa has been married for eight years to Sana Mustafa, who is a scriptwriter.
“I had a shoot lined up for my production company, and the scriptwriter bailed out at the last minute. I usually show scripts to my wife, and when she found out we were in a fix, she offered to write the script for the play. As it turned out, I really liked it, and so did the actors.” Since then his wife has written several dramas for Mustafa’s production company. Mustafa admits that he watches “five to six films a night”. He also loves to play cricket, although he is “lazy”, which is why is he ends up missing out on many social gatherings and family functions. “I am on time for my shoots, but that’s about it.”
Despite everything he does, Mustafa says he isn’t a very busy person; and perhaps it is this lack of self-importance that is characteristic of many in his profession, that further differentiates him from them. He is also self-aware; he realises that his films may not become big hits. “I am hopeful they will work,” is all he will say.
And given that he is on a winning streak, the chances are that they probably will.
Mamun M. Adil is Manager, Business Development & Research, DAWN. firstname.lastname@example.org