After taking a two-year-long break from television dramas, Ahsan Khan will return to the screen in three serials during the month of October, much to the delight of his fans worldwide. In an exclusive interview for Pakistan Today, the talented young actor talks about his upcoming plays and a lot more.
- You will be appearing in three television serials – Alif, Maryam Pereira and Aangan – soon. Are you excited?
Yes, I am. Acting is my first love. Everything else – modelling, hosting, working in commercials, compering and the like – is less important. I am the happiest when working as an actor. I took a break from acting on television after Udaari and I am glad to be back with these three serials.
- Why did you take a break from acting in television serials, after Udaari?
Udaari was a very intense and demanding project. It took a lot from me and exhausted me, both emotionally and physically. I needed a break to recover from the gruelling experience. Moreover, there was a lot that I wanted to do, which I cannot do while working in a serial. So, I took two years off from television dramas and did theatre in London, two feature films, hosted two seasons of PTV’s Ramzan show, started writing a book about child sexual abuse, did two seasons of Knorr Noodles’ Boriyat Busters and got involved in a few philanthropic activities.
- Do you have a favourite amongst the three upcoming television serials?
No, I do not. The serials are very different from one another and powerful in their individual ways. I really love all of them and believe that they will all be very successful.
Alif deals with themes of spirituality, mysticism and is a very intellectually stimulating serial. It has been written by Umera Ahmad and is being directed by Haseeb Hassan. The cast includes Hamza Ali Abbasi, Sajal Aly, Kubra Khan and several other famous actors. My role in the play is rather small but very interesting. I play the role of a sensitive artist named Taha Abul Ala, who finds inspiration in the teachings of Maulana Jalaluddin Muhammad Rumi and does his best to lead a pure, pious and honest life.
Maryam Pereira is my own production and stars Sadia Khan, Emmad Irfani and me. It has been written by Riffat Siraj and is being directed by Iqbal Hussain. It is the story of a love triangle in which a female schoolteacher is pursued by two of her colleagues and is forced to deal – simultaneously – with their duelling but genuine love for her. The story of the serial is simple but important because the principal character is a Pakistani Christian. It is not often that minorities are presented in important roles in our media. The play deals with the religious identity of the titular character with great finesse, tremendous ingenuity and remarkable poise. I think it will go a long way towards mainstreaming religious minorities in Pakistan films and television dramas.
Aangan is based on Khadija Mastoor’s 1962 novel and is being directed by Mohammed Ehteshamuddin. It has been adapted by Mustafa Afridi for television. The cast of the play includes Abid Ali, Ahad Raza Mir, Mawra Hocane, Omair Rana, Sajal Aly, and Sonya Hussayn. I believe that Aangan will be one of the most popular plays of 2018, if not of all time.
- What attracted you to Aangan?
Three things attracted me to the drama. First was the team making the serial itself. Momina Duraid is a skilled producer. I have acted in a number of her plays including, Saiqa, Vasl, Dastaan, Paani Jaisa Piyar, Mata-e-Jaan Hai Tu, Preet Na Kariyo Koi, Saya-e-Dewar Bhi Nahi, and Udaari, to name a few and enjoy working with her. Mohammed Ehteshamuddin is an actor’s director and has a unique ability to always bring out the best in actors. I worked very well with him in Preet Na Kariyo Koi and Udaari. I have only worked in one play written by Mustafa Afridi but have been a huge fan of his work for a while. I am glad to be working in his adaptation of Aangan.
Second is that it is a period drama and set in the first half of the 20th century. I have always had a fascination with history and love period films/dramas. I enjoy transporting myself to other eras and exploring their social, cultural and political milieus. The fact that the story of Aangan unfolds around the time of the partition of British India made it a very attractive project for me.
The third thing attracted me to the project was the source material. In my opinion, Khadija Mastoor is one of the finest writers of the Urdu language. I love her novels Aangan and Zameen. I first read Aangan in 2010 and have visualised it as a television drama ever since. I am very glad that it is finally coming to television.
- What do you like about Khadija Mastoor’s Aangan?
Aangan is written in a simple but very effective manner. The characters have been fleshed out exceedingly well and are complex, nuanced and interesting. The story is told from a woman’s point of view and deals with the lives of women confined to the four walls of their homes, but expected to carry more than their gender’s fair share of society’s many burdens. It is both an indictment of the patriarchal culture of its period and a celebration of the grit, strength and resilience of South Asian women.
- Although Aangan is a highly celebrated novel, it has also been criticised for being excessively melancholic and morose. Is the criticism valid?
Absolutely not, as one cannot expect a writer to write a happy novel about sad lives and times.
- A lot of novels set around the time of partition – Amrita Pritam’s Pinjar, Altaf Fatima’s Dastak Na Do, Yashpal’s Jhoota Such, Khadija Mastoor’s Aangan and many others – have very interesting and strong female characters but rather flat and weak male ones. Why is it so?
The time of partition was one of great moral, social, cultural, religious, and political upheaval. A great deal of strength, courage, daring, tenacity and fortitude are required to deal with such times. Men do not have these qualities in the amount that women do and, in trying times, they tend to give up and look to women for strength, inspiration and direction. Women, on the other hand, hide these qualities during peace but unleash them in times of war, turmoil and mayhem. The most important and interesting characters of the stories written about partition are, therefore, female.
- How would you compare the female characters of Amrita Pritam’s Pinjar, Altaf Fatima’s Dastak Na Do, Yashpal’s Jhoota Such and Khadija Mastoor’s Aangan?
I like Pinjar but am ambivalent about its central character, Puro. She is a strong woman but does not evolve during the course of the story. I also do not understand and certainly do not respect her decision to return to the abusive and selfish Rashid at the end of the novel.
As a reader, I felt let down by Puro. I find Jhoota Such’s Tara and Kanak to be more interesting, real and engaging. Their growth and transformation during the two volumes of the novel is depicted with a lot of delicacy and intelligence.
Dastak Na Do’s Gaiti Ara is a phenomenally well-written character with a lot of nuance and depth but her eventual concession to her family’s wishes, against her own, is disappointing and, somewhat, inexplicable.
Aangan’s Aaliya is my favourite character amongst the ones you mentioned and from Urdu Literature. She is strong, passionate and determined. She keeps her head high. Even under intense pressure, steadfastly maintains her independence.
- What do you think of the other female characters of Aangan?
I think that the book has some of the best-written characters. Aaliya, Chammi, Salma, Tehmina, Kusum, Najma, Amman, Dadi Amman, and Kareeman Bua are rich, vibrant and interesting characters who have agency over their lives and exercise a considerable amount of volition in their personal lives. They are not content being victims of religion, politics and class in a ruthlessly patriarchal society.
- What about the men in Aangan?
A few of them are weak and some abhorrent but the principal ones – Jameel, Safdar, Mazhar and Asrar – are multi-dimensional and have a lot of complexity. They cannot be labelled as weak, vicious or vile.
- And you play the role of Safdar in the serial?
Yes, I do. Safdar is an orphan who spends a very sad childhood in his uncle’s home. He eventually leaves his foster family to go to study at the Aligarh Muslim University, where he comes into his own and asserts his independence, individuality and self-respect in no less than uncertain terms. In a particularly poignant scene, he proudly returns money sent to him by his uncle. I think viewers will both love and admire Safdar.
- Do you believe that the themes of Aangan are relevant today?
Yes, they absolutely, positively are.
The cesspool that existed at the centre of Indian society at the time of partition is alive and well, even today, possibly more potent and destructive than it was about a century ago.
Communal polarisation, religious conflict, classism, patriarchy, corrosive politics and many of the ills that afflicted the British-India exist in 21st century Pakistan. The themes of Aangan are, if anything, more relevant today than they were in the 1930s and 1940s.