Farhan Saeed: Films will be Pakistan’s next best export to the world

Pakistani singer and actor talks about his new film Tich Button and why, like his work on the small screen, it’s likely to surprise his audiences



by

Anamika Chatterjee

Published: Fri 25 Nov 2022, 7:28 PM

What defines ambition in an artiste? When you push the boundaries and surprise yourself with what you are able to achieve. Pakistani actor and singer Farhan Saeed is possibly in one such phase. Years ago, Saeed captured our collective imagination as Pakistani band Jal’s leading vocalist. His solo acts in later years (think of the charming rendition of Yeh Jo Halka Halka Suroor Hai) were equally well-received. These days, however, it’s his acting chops that have taken the audiences by surprise.

On one hand, he effortlessly plays a young man often engaged in a war of words with his would-be wife in the hit Pakistani drama Suno Chanda, on the other hand, it is his role as the Australia-return Hamza, a young ‘saviour’ whose resilience is put to test when he begins to believe his wife has wronged him, in Mere Humsafar that saw him winning hearts en masse this year. Fresh off its success, Saeed is now back with Tich Button, which is co-produced by wife Urwa Hocane. In an interview at the Khaleej Times office on Thursday evening, he makes a case for reinventing oneself as an actor.

You are returning to the big screen after a rather successful run on the small screen with Mere Humsafar. Has the popularity of the series added to your confidence as an actor?

It surely has. But it has nothing to do with the character I play in Tich Button because it was shot before Mere Humsafar. Tich Button was shot before Covid, in 2019 to be precise. At that time even Suno Chanda hadn’t released. I would say it was Suno Chanda’s success that helped me play this character in Tich Button, because this role has a comic element as well. I am not sure if Mere Humsafar’s success has impacted me as an actor, but it has definitely affected how audiences look at me now — as a serious actor.

How was Tich Button conceived back in the day?

Qasim Ali Mureed, who was also the director of Mere Humsafar, and I have known each other for seven or eight years now. Urwa, Qasim and I would often sit at my place and discuss different scripts. This was the one we thought had maximum potential to turn into a really good film. It has a range of emotions — there is romance, action, comedy, a kind of film that I would like to watch in a theatre.

Tich Button is also an unconventional name for a film. How does it tie with the plot?

When we were planning the film, a Bollywood movie called Sui Dhaaga had just released. Whoever heard the name of our film thought that it may have something to do with clothes. In the film, tich button is a metaphor for a family that comes together seamlessly.

What were some of the roadblocks you faced as a result of the pandemic?

We were lucky to have shot most part of the film prior to the pandemic. The film is based in Punjab in Pakistan, and Turkey. The parts in Punjab were shot first. Towards the end of 2019, we shot in Turkey. The only thing left in the film was a song when Covid happened. After Covid was in control, there was a backlog of films that were to be released. And we did not want to join that bandwagon. We chose to sit on it for a while and thought now’s the perfect time to release the film.

Following Mere Humsafar, many will tend to bracket you in the ‘romantic hero’ category. Are you comfortable with these labels?

When Suno Chanda released, people thought that perhaps those are the kind of roles I can do best. After Mere Humsafar, people will tend to do the same. The difference is in a film, you have to go through the journey of a character in two or three hours. Dramas are very differently made, there is time to show evolution of a character. This is a guy who does not like to study, he likes the arts, but one problem back home in Pakistan is that anyone who is in performing arts is believed to be non-serious about life. Every person in a family cannot be a doctor or an engineer. People are good at different things. So there is a sugarcoated message in the film about that.

You mentioned that in Pakistan while arts and culture enjoy patronage, one is not actively encouraged to pursue them as a career. Celebrities like you and Atif Aslam have had fairly successful run in both music and acting. Do you think you have collectively been able to change that perception?

I think so. When Jal started, the time was different. Right now, it’s a different ballgame. Now more passionate and trained people are joining the industry. Back in those days, if someone were to say they had studied filmmaking or music, they’d be seen as an anomaly. Now, it’s very common. Everyone is in this business to prove themselves as artistes. There are other factors too. You have shows like Coke Studio Pakistan that have been making waves globally. Films will be Pakistan’s next best export to the world. Recently, we saw The Legend of Maula Jatt doing exceedingly well at the box office. All we need is consistency, which we have in our dramas and music.

Speaking of The Legend of Maula Jatt, how has its success impacted the Pakistani entertainment industry?

The Legend of Maula Jatt is the most expensive film made in Pakistan. God forbid if it were to fail, no one else would have wanted to put in that kind of money on a project. Its success has been encouraging for investors from all around the world. It has also created new audiences for Pakistani cinema. Going forward, people will also compare its box office performance with that of other films, which is not a good idea. Each film is different, the budgets aren’t same either.

It must also be an exciting time to be an actor in the industry with many of your colleagues getting work abroad — Humayun Saeed in The Crown and Mehwish Hayat in Miss Marvel. Do you want to chart a similar path for yourself?

Absolutely. As an artiste, I am not satisfied when I remain at one spot for a long time. All these people who have been part of international projects, they have not only made Pakistan proud but have also enjoyed themselves immensely. Surely, their worldview has expanded too. I want to feed my artiste’s soul. After all, a true artiste always loves challenges.

Given that you are also a singer, is there also a temptation to do playbacks for the films or dramas you’re acting in?

In Mere Humsafar, I opted out of it. In Tich Button, I sang one song, which also I wanted someone else to sing. If I am playing the leading role in a film, I cannot be insecure about who is singing. One song in the film is sung by Mika. The moment that song was composed, I knew it had to be Mika’s song. But I opted for Daler Mehendi. Somehow it did not work out and then we went to Mika. He is so good; he literally acts with his voice. So there was no point in me singing that song. Though I understand where people are coming from, they have seen me sing for the past 15 years, and it’s difficult when they see me lip syncing to someone else’s voice.

You have said your character in Mere Humsafar was to turn violent at some point in the script and you resisted that shift. Is it necessary for celebrities to take a stand against portrayal of toxic masculinity on screen?

While I was shooting Mere Humsafar, I was also filming the drama Badshah Begum, where the character, who is a feudal lord, pulls his wife’s hair. A negative character will be shown doing things that we may not always be comfortable watching on screen. Now raising hand on a woman is not alright, but as an actor, you should be intelligent enough to understand the graph of your character. My point with Mere Humsafar was to not send out mixed signals. Hamza is a guy who has studied in Australia and returns to Pakistan. In the original script, he slaps Hala (his bride) on their wedding night because he gets angry. I felt he cannot be her saviour at one moment and then resort to slapping her. Thank God, I did not do it because it would have killed that character.

Your co-actor in Tich Button is Feroze Khan who was in the news recently when his wife made allegations of abuse. As a public figure, what is your stand on the issue?

We have known each other professionally and shot this film in 2019. All I have to say is that there is no way you can endorse violence. Which is why he has not been involved in movie promotions. At the same time, I cannot say he has done it because I have not seen it. Right now, you have people who are saying it’s true and then there are others who are saying it’s untrue. We should let the courts decide that.

Tich Button is out in UAE theatres now


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