Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

The Indigo Man

Published in Mar-Apr 2007

Shaan Shahid, the actor, film director, host and model, in profile.

Some call him a stud, others prefer to use the word ‘hunk’, and still others say he is dashing and charming. Whichever term you fancy, it is clear that Shaan is all of the above, and then some. In fact, he is irrepressibly attractive.

As he walks into his Vogue and GQ littered living room, about 15 minutes late for our interview, he looks every inch the ultra sophisticated ‘Indigo Man’, from the expertly coiffed hair, to fingernails that are manicured to perfection.

And he has the attitude to match. As relaxed and perfectly poised at 9:00 p.m. as most people would be for a 9:00 a.m. meeting, Shaan ushers his dog, Penny, into the room and takes a seat on a comfortable leather couch, using my first question – something to do with his first film Bulundi – to initiate a conversation that sheds light on his entire childhood.

While he talks about attending middle school at Aitchison and high school in New York, my attention is diverted to a picture in a faux antique wooden frame on the wall behind him. The man in the picture bears such a striking resemblance to the man seated before me that it is almost eerie. He is of course Shaan’s father; producer, director and writer, Riaz Shahid, who died just six months after Shaan was born. And his mother, Pakistan’s silver screen goddess of the 19s60s, Neelo, is no stranger to fame either.

The progeny of such illustrious thespian forebearers, it is no surprise that the young Shaan chose to tread the Lollywood route, although his decision was heavily influenced by his mother. After two years working in Urdu and Punjabi films – two years that spanned the course from his super hit film, Bulundi, to a string of mega flops including Nageena, Nag Devta and Sailab – Shaan bid Lollywood adieu for a time, and pursued a degree in film-making at City College in New York.

On his return to Pakistan, he was deluged by even more film offers and while this included many flops, there were several hits as well. Whether he was playing the gandassa chewing jawan, the star crossed lover, the angry young man with the Superman tattoo or the vicious Punjabi villain – with a foot long moustache to boot – Shaan established himself as a versatile actor.

As Indigo continued to roll out one commercial after another, Shaan went from being ‘that good looking and talented Pakistani film actor’ to a bankable brand in his own right.

At the same time he also set up a production house called 5th Element and ventured into directing films. But even though his films were popular with the public, Shaan had yet to find acceptability with a more sophisticated audience.

Then, in 2003, he was approached by Mobilink to act in a few commercials that would signal the re-launch of their post-paid brand, Mobilink Star, as the newly styled ‘Indigo’. Shaan accepted the offer with some trepidation; his experience with commercials in the past (Yamaha and Pepsi) had been less than satisfactory.

The first Mobilink Indigo commercials, which were released in 2004, with Shaan as the head of the ‘Indigo family’, starring alongside re-emerging phoenix Atiya Khan, caused a sensation that went beyond the brand.

The growing public interest was focused specifically on Shaan. His overnight transformation – from the brawny, unrefined, dishevelled and rather filmi looking youth, to the slick, suave and intellectual banker in finely tailored suits and indigo ties – became the hot topic of discussion in the drawings rooms and at the dining tables of the rich and famous.

As Indigo continued to roll out one commercial after another, Shaan went from being ‘that good looking and talented Pakistani film actor’ to a bankable brand in his own right.

In fact he became a brand ambassador for Mobilink in the true sense of the word, in that as Indigo transformed him, he created (in collaboration with stylist Tariq Amin and the brand management team at Mobilink) an image for the brand that is synonymous with class and sophistication.

Shaan is pleased with the public’s reaction albeit a little amused.

“The side of my persona that comes across in the Indigo ads, is the real me,” he explains.

“The only reason people are surprised is because they are used to seeing me as the filmi Shaan.”

If the country was awed by his transformation, it was astonished when a campaign for Ronaq (a masala paste brand by National Foods) hit the airwaves in tandem with Indigo, depicting Shaan as a somewhat chubby family man with longish, slightly flaxen hair and a positively indecent interest in masala.

Shaan explains his decision to do the Ronaq commercial as a favour to his friend, ace director, Saquib Malik, but also points out that just as acting in Punjabi and Urdu films has not hurt his Indigo image, Ronaq has not done it any harm either.

While this is undoubtedly true, I have a sneaking suspicion that Shaan will go to great lengths to inspire shock and awe within audiences as a means of marketing himself, even though he is loath to admit it. He does, however, point out that his perception of marketing and its application is far removed from current industry practices.

Using his production company as the launch pad for his ideas, he has directed a couple of commercials for Mobilink. Or at least that is what he calls the two Mobilink sponsored taranas – starring Madame Noor Jehan’s daughter and Mehdi Hasan – that were broadcast on 14th August and 6th September.

When I query whether these taranas have any impact on people, apart from temporarily inspiring a warm, fuzzy feeling in their hearts, he patiently expands on his marketing philosophy.

“There are two ways of marketing. To go on screen and tell the audience something, or to go on screen and tap into something they already know.”

Choosing the latter route, Shaan says that his idea with the taranas was not to make people think that he was trying to sell them something, but to sell the idea that here was a commodity that was worth having.

Revolutionary marketing techniques aside, however, Shaan’s significant media presence has also helped to boost his popularity with film audiences. Shaan’s current fame may well be indicative of the fact that audiences are becoming aware that while good actors do exist in Pakistan, good films are yet to be made. However, there are signs of improvement in Pakistani cinema and Shaan seems to be spearheading it. His latest film – Majajan – opened to critical acclaim, becoming the ‘must see’ movie for audiences across Pakistan.

Although he is pleased with his success, Shaan is by no means satisfied. His upcoming projects include a movie on 9/11 titled For God’s Sake, and a script for a film on the emotional side of Adolf Hitler.

As Shaan continues to talk about his ideas on marketing, films, advertising agencies and entertainment across the border, I suddenly realise that both sides of my tape are now full and I don’t have an extra. This minor inconvenience does not bother him at all; in fact he craftily takes advantage of being off the record to reveal all sorts of scandalous details about the media.

When I finally end the conversation at 11:30 p.m., Shaan suddenly morphs into Indigo brand ambassador mode, saying that he has noticed I use a Warid connection and that I really must switch over to Mobilink. I should insist that I’m quite happy with my connection, but Shaan’s boyish charm makes it impossible, and then I realise with a flash of certainty that he is well aware of his own sex appeal and, in fact, so is Mobilink.

Yes, he may be a movie star; he may be a director, writer, producer; he may even be a pretty face, but above all, he is the Indigo man.