BANGALORE: Pakistani actor Fawad Khan is quoting playwright David Mamet and citing Brando's brilliance in the 1951 classic A Streetcar Named Desire, minutes after he has been made to dance to a hit from his debut Hindi film Khoobsurat with Sonam Kapoor. He had danced to the rather inane Ma ka phone aaya, with a downward gaze and a reticent smile that reveals that even the unsparing Bollywood publicity machinery has not been able to make him forget just who he is. An actor who would rather act on-screen than off it. He is a superstar back home and India discovered him first via Zindagi Gulzar Hai, a top rated show directed by the legendary Sultana Siddiqui. Indian fans have since then been scanning YouTube for gems like Behadd and Dastan and even his unsung work in the 2007 cross-border collaboration Khuda Kay Liye, where he worked with Naseeruddin Shah.
Beyond all the love and hysteria in India, he is acutely aware of the enormity of his real role. That of a cultural ambassador and speaks to City Express about this and more.
A global village beyond politics
Remind him of the 80s when cult Pakistani soaps like Ankahi and Dhoop Kinare were avidly followed in India and how his own work today emphasises that there is no 'them' and only 'us' inhabiting the shared stories and concerns and he smiles, "I get that a lot in India when people say that stories from Pakistan are a reminder of their personal connect, their ancestry and just how similar we are. My father was born in Patiala and my mother is from Lahore. If I close my eyes in Karachi, I can imagine myself in Mumbai and vice-versa. I have actually had flashes of deja vu because I see the same faces and the same spaces there and here. Nationality and faith are labels that cannot diminish or exalt human beings. I am, however, very conscious of what I say here because I am representing my people and I do not want to say anything that will offend your sensibilities. I am here to mend broken ties and a lot of effort has been made by assorted forces to bring stories from Pakistan to India. I feel honoured to bring to you glimpses of a side of Pakistan that is beautiful and not represented in newspapers which are a different space altogether. I think of myself as an ambassador of stories. We call the world a global village and it is time to believe that for real."
Fame and the craft of acting
Tell him just how obvious his discomfort is with excessive limelight on Indian reality shows and promotional events and he shakes his head, saying, "You can see, I am not doing a great job negotiating the shift. This tour has been about great warmth everywhere but yes, this level of promotion surrounding a film is not something I am used to. It is a whole new world. I don't talk much and that can be construed as arrogance but I don't like talking about myself. I am not quick on my feet but I respect the uniqueness of what I see here. I am not judgemental."
A certain level of refinement shines through his conduct and even his performances and he says, "That is a bigger compliment than being praised for my 'good looks' which I don't think much of to start with. I am more concerned with the craft of acting than flashing a 100 watt smile and popping pecs. If I am sitting idle in a frame and using just my face to convey a moment, it will be boring so I try to give a character certain habits, imperfections, a manner that sets him apart. It is not just about taking the method route but living a character."
He continues, "I have learnt a lot observing Olivier and Brando. Brando, for instance, always did something even with silence. There is a scene in A Streetcar Named Desire where he is speaking to Blanche (Vivien Leigh) about the Napoleonic code and she is not listening to him and he wants her attention. He snaps at her and the way he does it made me fall in love with acting. Playwright David Mamet once said, 'If you can't cry..don't. Do something else'. In a funeral for instance, there are many kinds of mourners. Not everyone cries. Devastation hits people differently and I try to remember that."
Purity of language
Does he feel Pakistan has done a better job respecting the purity of the spoken language than India? He says, "When I was doing Dastan, a period drama, it was tough because the syntax and semantics of that era were unfamiliar to me. If I am working in a modern story or playing a glue sniffer or a street urchin, I will obviously not speak in chaste Urdu. There will be colloquialism and contemporary idioms to connect with the audience watching me. I often improvise dialogue to make it more relatable and real. In the end, it is not so much about language, though it must be valued, as about content and good writing. If the writing is good, even a terrible film can become a masterpiece."
In life as in his work, says Fawad, he looks for coherence but with flashbulbs popping around him all the time, it has become a luxury to find it.
The signature song from Khoobsurat, Abhi to party shuru hui hai is playing in the background and it is time to go to another city and perhaps dance again.