The recent film Blinded by the Light centres on the life of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor and how Bruce Springsteen inspired him to become a writer and deal with the tribulations of being a Pakistani in England. Manzoor’s story is possibly just one of a million (if not more) stories of people whose lives have been impacted by ‘the Boss’. Closer to home, there are two such people: George and Kiran Fulton. Their lives may not have been changed as drastically as Manzoor’s was by Springsteen, but even so.
“One of the many things George and I bonded over initially was Bruce,” remembers Kiran, as we settle down to this conversation. George is seated next to her; their nine-year-old son Faiz has taken a sick day off school, although the mischief in his eyes has not waned; 18-month old Maya is determined to grab my recorder, a feat she is unable to accomplish due to Kiran’s eagle eye.
The couple have been married for 14 years. They met at Telebiz (a production house) in 2002, where Kiran was a producer – and George had just come to Pakistan to work on Question Time Pakistan (QTP) for the BBC. Their first major interaction was not too amicable.
“I went up to George and introduced myself and said I disagreed with the format of the show. I didn’t think it should be light-hearted at the end. This is how we met; we had a good conversation.”
George remembers things differently. “This woman comes up to me and criticises the format of my show. We went back and forth and she didn’t give in to my reasoned argument that after a series of heavy questions you need to diffuse the tension to close effectively. She refused to budge so I ended the argument by saying ‘Well, this is how the BBC wants it.’”
Despite this, George realised that Kiran was “intelligent, aggressive and fierce.” In the days that followed, he dropped in to her office and they started having lunch together.
“When I was handing her the daal, her eyes would lock into mine for two seconds longer than they should have; that was the beginning of our courtship,” he remembers jovially. Kiran rolls her eyes and then adds, “it may be very trite and cliché to say this, but his sense of humour drew me to him.” George, effusive as ever, adds “and my dashing good looks” and they both break into laughter.
After working with Telebiz for six months, George returned to London, where they continued a long distance relationship; then George decided to move to Pakistan and they got married.
“Parvez Musharraf was liberalising the media and it was an exciting time,” George offers by way of explanation.
This time, he worked on the BBC’s Hard Talk produced by Geo; after it ended, he was featured in a popular reality show George Ka Pakistan, which propelled him into the media spotlight. Kiran continued to work at Telebiz, producing and directing corporate videos and documentaries. After freelancing as a producer for two years, she joined Aaj as manager programming. George later joined Aaj’s news division and the chance for them to work together arose; this time on Kiran Aur George – a morning show which they hosted and produced.
Kiran terms the show “a celebration of life. We did not want to focus only on celebrities; Nadia Khan was doing a better job of that on her show,” illustrating her practical approach towards life. Although Kiran Aur George focused on celebrities to an extent, it also highlighted social issues. One of these was the predicament of children born in jails; the couple managed to negotiate with the prison authorities to take the children to a park for a day.
“Although it was a ‘feel good’ episode, it hopefully made people think about whether or not is it fair that children should be allowed to be born and raised in jails,” says George.
Another episode focused on child abuse which, according to George, was ahead of its time. The show was not always so serious and other episodes featured celebrities such as Strings (during this episode, Kiran and George played John Abraham and Sanjay Dutt respectively, mimicking a song from Zinda); in another, George dressed up as Maula Jatt. The show lasted for a little more than a year; the prevailing law and order situation made it such that the show was constantly interrupted by breaking news bulletins. Furthermore, Aaj was repositioning itself as a news channel instead of a hybrid one.
As George expresses feelings of “bereavement” about Kiran Aur George ending, Kiran is more matter of fact.
So is George the more emotional of the two? Although neither is willing to admit whether or not this is true, they agree that Kiran prefers to be behind the camera and George in front.
“I am a good enough producer to know I am not that as good on screen; I enjoyed doing the show with George, but it didn’t excite me in the way he was. George is a performer.”
In 2011, the couple moved to Puddington, George’s hometown. “My parents were concerned about the security situation in Pakistan,” remembers George.
The couple spent a little over four years in the UK. George worked for a think tank and pursued an MBA and Kiran for the most part cooked, took care of Faiz and acclimatised herself to small town living.
“I spent time connecting with his world. I discovered a love for running, nature and baking.”
George admits to having missed his ‘celebrity status.’ “It was like starting all over again; nine years in Pakistan meant nothing in the UK.”
Kiran’s mother passed away in 2015, and the couple moved to Pakistan to take care of her father. “Every member of our family blesses George for that,” she says fondly.
George joined M&C Saatchi World Services Pakistan as head of their PR Department; after the contract ended, he established Desi George – a YouTube channel.
“I felt that none of the TV channels were doing anything positive to celebrate Pakistan’s culture and people – that is the ethos of Desi George. I met Shaneira [Akram] and we thought that as honorary Pakistanis, we should produce a show where we challenged each other as to which one of us was the better one. Kiran is in charge of all the production and comes up with ideas for content.”
Kiran adds that “they were very excited about working together. I structured their ideas to see what would work and would not. We didn’t want them to be popular for the wrong reasons.” Shaneira has featured in approximately 60% of the videos on Desi George and due to their rising popularity, Shan has sponsored two videos.
Ultimately, the videos are more fun than work. George is working at Indus News as a producer and is about to host a show that is shot while he is driving. Kiran, following her father’s recent death, is contemplating what she should do in addition to producing Desi George. The only thing that is certain is that it will have to do with the media.
As our conversation draws to a close, I ask them what they have learnt from each other.
Kiran uncharacteristically sentimental, admits that “George has taught me not to take myself so seriously; he has helped me learn to celebrate life, as opposed to fighting with it.”
George says “Kiran has grounded me and provided me with great strength; she is my anchor and I need that because I can be all over the place.”
I can’t help adding “and keeps you in your place…” George murmurs his assent as Kiran tries to stifle a smile.