After a successful career as a model, followed by a number of noteworthy performances in television serials, Asad Zaman enters the world of cinema with bang as the lead in Faroouq Mengal’s feature film Hijrat.

1.           The release of your first feature film, Hijrat, is around the corner. How do you feel?

It depends on the time of the day. There are times when I am optimistic and feel that the film will do very well. Then there are times when I worry about me failing to impress people with my histrionic skills or Hijrat not doing well at the box office. It is an exciting time for me, both exhilarating and unnerving.

2.           You appear to be very calm though.

Yes, I am calm, not because I am not excited or nervous, but because I am a man of faith and believe that the hard work of the team of Hijrat will be rewarded. We worked very hard and very long to make what I believe is a wonderful film. The discipline, dedication, sincerity and commitment of the team was phenomenal. Our heart and soul went into making the film. I have faith that it will do well.

3.           What is Hijrat about?

Hijrat is the story of a young man named Murad whose carefree and easy-going life changes dramatically after he is introduced to the world of refugees and falls in love. The film deals primarily with the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual transformation of the protagonist as he deals with two romantic relationships and comes face to face with the tragic lives of people who have been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution and violence.

4.           What attracted you to Hijrat?

It was the film’s focus on the refugee crisis. Refugees lead sad and tragic lives. They are forced to give up their homes in order to escape war, disasters, oppression and tyranny. They are rarely welcomed in countries where they seek refuge. Health, education and civic facilities are almost never available to them. They are often dealt with suspicion, contempt and disrespect. The truth is that no one gives up his homeland voluntarily to move to a country where he is not welcome. A refugee uproots himself and his family out of fear because security and safety are no longer available in his homeland. Host countries need to understand the plight of refugees and treat them with kindness, sympathy and compassion. This is the focus of Hijrat and the reason I was drawn to the film. The film’s sensitive, intelligent and nuanced treatment of the refugee crisis is its greatest strength. Hijrat will force people to think about the problems faced by refugees, all over again, and re-assess their position on the issue.

5.           You started your career in show business as a model.

Yes, I did but it was not something I had planned. It was pure happenstance. I was attending an event at the Expo Center in Karachi where Ajmal Murad approached me and asked me if I had an interest in modeling. In less than twenty-four hours, I was signed on, albeit as an extra, for a shoot. Thus began my career as a model. I enjoyed modeling even though it involved a lot of hard work and did not pay well, but it got me recognized and noticed by people in television and cinema. I also got to walk the ramp with models like Mehwish Hayat, Arij Fatyma and Ayyan Ali.

6.           The famous Ayyan Ali?

Yes, her.

7.           What do you think of her?

I think she is a good model and easy to work with. She has a lot of scandal surrounding her these days but I honestly have no clue if the stories are true or not.

8.           Talking of scandal, the director of Hijrat, Farouq Mengal, was accused – and later exonerated – of engineering the murder of his wife. Did that make working in Hijrat difficult?

Not at all. I found Farouq Mengal to be talented, capable and very professional. He is truly an actor’s director. He was focused on making a good film and I was focused on putting in a good performance. We paid attention to nothing else during the making of the film.

9.           Did you find acting to be more difficult than modeling?

No. Modeling is a very tough job. One has to stay fit. One has to rehearse for days on end, for very short appearances. The work itself is grueling. And the pay is low; very low, to be honest. It is not really worth the effort involved in working as a model.

10.      You have worked in quite a few television serials and are now working in films. Which do you enjoy more, film or television? 

Film, for sure.

11.      Why?

Cinema has a lot of glamor and allure, much more than television. I find it easier to work in films. The entire script of the film is available before the start of shooting.  As a result, an actor has the time to study the whole story and prepare for his character well before shooting starts. This is not the case with television serials where the script is often handed to actors on the day of the shoot. The pace of work on television is frenetic whereas it is more reasonable in films.Actors are allowed the time needed to put solid performances without the pressure of having to complete an unreasonable number of scenes per day. Work in films is focused and often completed in one spell. Shooting spells on television are often separated by weeks of inactivity. This makes it very difficult to manage continuity and stay in character. Films allow actors to stay focused; television does not.

12.      You belong to a family that runs a successful textiles business and is not involved in show business.  Did you face a lot of opposition when you decided to become an actor and a model?

A little. My immediate family was largely supportive. It was the distant family that seemed to have issues and kept bringing up the “dark side of show business.”

13.      How dark is the “dark side of show business?”

There definitely is a dark side of show business. The world is highly competitive and people can be ruthless in their desire to succeed. There is a lot of abuse and there are a lot of bad people in the business. This, however, is true for other industries as well and not just for show business. Perhaps, the “dark side” is a little darker for show business than for other lines of work but one can learn to deal with the problem and have a safe, successful and thriving career in show business.

14.      Do you believe it is possible for newcomers to avoid abuse in the world of show business?

Yes, absolutely and positively. I would be lying if I said that emotional, sexual and financial abuse did not exist in show business. It is a surmountable problem nonetheless. One does not need to succumb to abuse. In fact, the most successful folks in show business are those who resist, confront and stand up to abuse.

15.      How does one resist, confront and stand up to abuse in show business?

Naiveté, ambition and impatience conspire to make newcomers susceptible to abuse – primarily sexual abuse – in the industry. Newcomers who are morally strong, who have confidence in their abilities, who are willing to work hard to hone their skills, and who are not looking for shortcuts to success find it easy to avoid abuse.

A number of steps can be taken by newcomers to avoid abuse, exploitation and mistreatment.

The first step is to associate and work with honorable, professional and respected people. The world of show business in Pakistan is not very big. People know each other. The names of people who like to take advantage of newcomers are well known. It is, therefore, always possible to stay away from such people. I believe that the first step toward avoiding abuse is making sure that you associate with honorable people who have a good reputation in the industry.

The second step is to be patient, willing to work hard, and not be desperate to become a superstar overnight. Success that comes through hard work and with time tends to last longer. The rush to become a big star often forces newcomers to give in to abuse.

Newcomers must also conduct themselves in a respectable, confident and dignified manner at all times and make it well known that, while they are willing to work long and hard, they are not willing to accept abuse. Their behavior, on and off set, should be impeccable and of such dignity that predators become afraid of approaching them with indecent proposals. A strong character is a great defense against abuse. 

Finally, newcomers must always remember that talent, skill, hard work, commitment and professionalism are the only keys to success.

I genuinely believe that, once these steps have been taken, it becomes  easy to confront abuse and say no.

16.      How do you know that?

I know that because I took the steps I listed, I confronted abuse, I said no, and I did not fail.

*Photo Credits: Asim and Bilal