By Sonya Rehman
The first time I’d ever heard Fawad Khan’s name was a little over five years ago – when amidst a succession of harrowing A’ level days between ‘all-nighters’ – that involved law and literature, syllabuses and timetables – two of my batchmates confessed to having serious crushes on “that EP guy”.
Fast forward a couple of years later, and one batchmate got hitched; the other progressed overseas for a ‘higher’ education, EP disbanded, Fawad too, eventually, got married and out came his debut in the film, ‘Khuda Kay Liye’.
So here I am at Coffee, Tea & Company (in Lahore), with a recorder, notepad full of questions, doodles, and camera at bay, ready to interview “that ‘Khuda Kay Liye’ guy”.
The road outside the café is an absolute mess – dug up chunks of it (in gravel form), along with tiny hills of muck and earth lie slapped on either side. And if you forget to roll your window up whilst driving through it, there’s a ninety-nine point nine percent chance a pebble will strike up against your car door and then ricochet off – to eagerly bonk your forehead – in the sadistic hope to make you see little tweetie birds (in tutus) doing the Cha-cha-cha.
And just about near the curb, there’s a man in an inter-galactic-looking, bright orange jumpsuit driving a mammoth-sized steamroller over the opposite road. He dons a yellow cap and he’s as dark as the ace of spades. In a Steven Spielberg science fiction, this would’ve been an ideal setting for ‘E.T lands in Lahore’. But then again, E.T would never land in Lahore – far too much red tape – heck, the Sharif brothers have already been issued stacks of arrest warrants…E.T ol’ boy has a hope in hell.
Fawad finally arrives.
Instep: Okay before we talk about the film, let’s just re-cap a bit…what happened after E.P and more importantly, what’s the status with your recording studio?
FK: Well, immediately after E.P, I’d signed up for some projects related to TV. The advertisement game is pretty old, as in, it’s always been the same thing…its easy cash and very one-off, you go shoot an ad, and you’re done. The major change in my life after E.P however, was the recording studio that falls under me and two partners; Hassaan (from E.P) and this other architect friend of ours, Awais Khan. It took around a year to complete and now we’ve decided to begin working with bands and start recording.
Instep: So what sort of bands are you hoping to work with – what genres of music? Anything in particular or anything at all?
FK: Oh anything at all! Because what I feel is, and I’m sure a lot of people would agree with the fact that music is lacking production quality in our country. I mean you can tell the difference in quality when you listen to a music CD from Europe, India or America in comparison to CD’s recorded here in Pakistan. There’s a huge difference. Half of the music recorded here isn’t a hit mainly because of the way it sounds when played.
Instep: Okay but let’s look at it this way – Mekaal Hasan really got to where he is today after years of work as a producer…venturing into production, don’t you think in a way you’ll be stepping out of the limelight, and in a way it’ll also be hard making a name as a producer?
FK: It would. Because production does take a lot of long hours, yes there are trade-offs…whether I’ll be doing other people’s music or my own…but the main thing is…this has been my passion for a very long time. I may not call myself a full-time producer or recording artist, because if other projects come my way, I may have to take a little time off.
Instep: So is the recording studio sort of like a safety net?
FK: No that’s the thing; it’s not a safety net at all. That’s where it gets a little complicated because recording has always been one of my greatest passions…and it’s not as if I’ve started only just now…even on E.P’s album, I was down on the mixer and producing as well – majorly. Tweaking the drum sounds, making the drum sounds, stuff like that…so it’s not a safety net, just a passion I’d like to pursue.
Instep: And what about pursuing your own solo music career? Are you giving that some thought?
FK: Actually I’m so-so on that, reason being, as serious as I may be…I don’t think I should put the news out there right now and then get embarrassed when 6-7 months down the line people ask ‘where’s the album’? I intend to fully put out a solo album but I just don’t want to announce it right now.
Instep: Yeah, I guess announcing it will resort to major expectations from people and then the anguish of a cut-off date, deadlines etc…
FK: Exactly, so better to just keep quiet and get it done with.
Instep: One question about the solo music career though – what genre do you think you’ll venture out into when you eventually decide to cut an album?
FK: I’d like to focus on folk music – I mean even though I’m not very experienced in that genre of music, but I really like it. We used a lot of ethnic instruments during E.P, but rock music isn’t our culture – it isn’t very convincing somehow…folk music on the other hand is convincing because it stems from our culture, our heritage. And if you fuse it intelligently with western instrumentation, it sounds great.
Instep: Okay now onto ‘Khuda Kay Liye’…how did it come about? Who approached you?
FK: What happened is, before the movie’s shoots began, a friend of mine (Bilal Lashari) was assisting Shoaib Mansoor and one day he rang me up and said: ‘Yaar aik movie ki shoot start honay wali hay so why don’t you come down and give an audition’? And around that time there was a lot of hype about the film – everyone knew that Junaid Jamshaid and Ali Zafar were due to feature in it…but nothing was finalized just yet. So I went immediately after I’d gotten engaged – and around that time, I was this big (fat) ball – so I went and met him but his objection was that I was a little…uh…fat.
Instep: Fat?! But you’re far from fat!
FK: At that time I was…my waist had gone upto about 38 inches. So he [Shoaib Mansoor] took one look at me and said; you look fit to play the role of a grandfather.
Instep: He said THAT?!
FK: That’s not he said exactly, but that’s what he meant…and that’s how I interpreted it. So anyway, he goes; okay then we’ll meet some other time perhaps for another project or something. So I said sure, shook hands with him and walked off.
Instep: Were you disappointed?
FK: No because I hadn’t gone in with any expectations…it was totally on the spur of the moment and was all very spontaneous. Anyway I went back, and around that time I was working for the ‘Kashf Foundation’, but then six months down the line…once the shooting of the film had started, I got a call from Bilal asking me to come back since Ali Zafar had quit. And so I went back, and three days before the actual shoot was to begin, I got my script and we just started. That’s it. And infact by that time I’d lost weight and when Shoaib saw me, he was like: now you look fine!
Instep: When all of you were in the midst of recording, did you guys realize how big the film was going to be? Because till today local cinema houses showing the film are still being booked in advance with its tickets being sold out…
FK: Actually no we didn’t know that – but the two very big reasons as to why it’s been so big is yes, the film’s content, and more importantly, the marketing and promotion of the film. I didn’t have any doubts of it being any less that good since it had Shoaib Mansoor’s name associated with it…but I didn’t know what the outcome would be.
Instep: In comparison to ‘Jutt & Bond’, what was your experience like as an actor between the sitcom and Shoaib’s film?
FK: ‘Jutt & Bond’ was a very loud, slapstick TV sitcom. And (chuckles), ‘Khuda Kay Liye’ is a dead serious film! That’s a really weird comparison (laughs) why’d you come up with that?!
Instep: No no, because you took a whole 360 degree turn – from a comedic character to a role which is very intense!
FK: Yeah but ‘Jutt & Bond’ was six years ago and it was just all of us friends ‘working’ and having fun together…but I was a little thrown off balance because I’d done the sitcom years ago and now I had to face a 35mm camera, don a beard and had to look like a very serious person. That was the challenge I guess, and yes I was nervous…it got my knees knocking, because you’re hearing the camera’s roll and everyone’s looking at you – dead quiet and dead serious waiting for you to say your lines. Shoaib was also conservative about having re-takes and so surprisingly our take ratio was something like one to one.
Instep: Did you all actually go to Afghanistan for that particular scene in the movie?
FK: It wasn’t Afghanistan but a beautiful place called ‘Barachinar’ somewhere near Abottabad – it actually hits the Afghan border. And yes we were scared witless at a point, when we heard that a moulvi in the local mosque had announced a fatwa against us there. They didn’t know what we were shooting though but they got very ticked off when we were around…they tolerated it for seven days and luckily the day they’d announced the fatwa, we had packed up and were ready to leave.
Instep: What about the women – those three little girls who were in the village scene?
FK: They were actual actors from Peshawar.
Instep: Was the entire filming process very tiring?
FK: Yes it actually was very tiring…because we had been shooting the film for like; two years…the reason being that something or the other would always go wrong. But the actual shooting of the film was only two months.
Instep: And in addition it took a whole year of editing right?
FK: Not just the editing, also the ‘washing’ of the film, putting it together, then editing it, the sound, the dubbing, yes it took in totality about three years. And on some level, we had stopped anticipating the film’s release…uptil the last day. But yeah after I saw the film at the Karachi premier, I was overwhelmed.
[At this point Fawad looks at the window worriedly.]
Instep: Don’t worry, that isn’t an earthquake…they’re making the road outside…it’s the steamroller.
FK: Yeah that’s what I was wondering.
Instep: There’s this particular scene in the film where you throttle this guy with a gun – how did you prepare yourself for ‘getting into the mood’ and making that come across as ‘real’ rather than just ‘acting’?
FK: Well first of all it was as hot as hell and automatically (laughs) it made me exhausted…but on top of that…I just put myself into the character’s shoes and performed.
Instep: And what feedback have you gotten from your friends and family about the film so far?
FK: Of course they’re all pretty happy for me – but it’s not as if I’ve conquered some big moral issue…I mean there was a time when [the issues brought up in the film] got to me, but now I’ve just stopped feeling that way, because what’s meant to happen, will. I mean when you have a system that’s politically challenged, getting into a whole debate about it is pretty pointless to me.
Instep: I know this sounds so clichéd – but the film does portray a clash of ideologies, what’s your take on this?
FK: A clash of ideologies, sure – but the ‘moderates’ who’ve been objecting to the clergy and having certain notions about the ‘mullahs’ and imposing things on them, why then, are the liberals being hypocrites by saying that the orthodox are impressing upon them? It works both ways. It’s like you’re responding in exactly the same manner as they are by stating: what we’re saying is right, and what they’re stating is wrong. So basically, the ‘moderate Muslim’ is also a mullah. My whole take is that we should quit pointing fingers and blaming each other – just cut it at that yaar…end of story and live peacefully.
Instep: Were all of you nervous about the fact that as the Lal Masjid siege was being wrapped up, ‘Khuda Kay Liye’ was released simultaneously?
FK: Yes! I was. Especially when I heard that the mosque had raised a fatwa against the film. And uptil now in totality we’ve gotten 3-4 fatwas…so we’re pretty used to it…so if we get another one now, we’re like: oh okay!
But yeah at that time I was nervous because I thought people would react badly to the film but nothing happened…people in Pakistan aren’t as ‘animalistic’ as the Western media portrays them/us to be.
Instep: Last question, what’s the status of rock music in Pakistan?
FK: Rock in Pakistan is dead.
Instep, The News