Two male stars of ‘Janaan’, Bilal Ashraf and Ali Rehman Khan talk careers, hopes and why acting is a vocation and a mission…
By Suman Bhuchar
ONE of the things that ‘Janaan‘ has highlighted is that there is no dearth of acting talent in Pakistan.
Two relative newcomers make their film debut in this rom-com – which has made it into the UK top ten – they are the two leads,
Bilal Ashraf, playing ‘Asfandyar’ – whom the programme synopsis describes as “an arrogant Pathan is reserved, blunt and boorish”, however Ashraf is nothing of that sort.
The charming, polite and well-mannered, 36-year-old told www.asianculturevulture.com that the reason why he got into acting was to fulfill a dream of his late sister, filmmaker, Saadiya Ashraf.
“I am actually a visual effects director, it’s funny because I started off as a hedge fund consultant and I was working as a hedge fund consultant in New York.
“My late sister is the main reason why I am in this field, she was a filmmaker, unfortunately she lost her battle to cancer and she always wanted to make films and she was very passionate about films. And it just so happened that I quit my job and moved to London and studied animation and visual effects and moved to Pakistan to open up a studio with her called Radical Studios and we worked until she passed away.”
Her death was a turning point for Bilal and before that he was happy being behind the camera.
“For me it was about taking her dream forward and finishing what she started so my core is very different, I never thought I’d be acting, but here I am and I really want to see this all the way through I want to do it to fulfil certain things that she started (which was making films) and to reach – inshallah, hopefully through this powerful medium, bring Pakistan to an international level and really push because everything about Pakistan is really negative, it’s changing rapidly – we have cinemas coming up and the entertainment industry is coming up really fast – yeah it was really about a positive Pakistan through cinema.”
Ashraf, who was born and brought up in Karachi, went to a very small liberal arts college in the US called Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania, where he graduated with a double major in finance and art and psychology minor.
In “Janaan” he makes his acting debut although he has also been working on other films including “Yalghaar” an action film, and “Rangreza” where he plays a musician.
Alongside him is another emerging talent making his debut in film – Ali Rehman Khan playing the role of Daniyal described as a “cool Islamabad boy and a mischievous but irresistible charmer!”
In real life, you can say Rehman shares some of his characteristics although he is no stranger to the acting world.
He is an ethnic Pashtun, whose early life was peripatetic (his dad worked in the government, so he has lived in Dubai, and Abu Dhabi among other places) and then began theatre acting as a teenager.
He told www.asianculturevulture.com that he always knew he wanted to be an actor: “I’ve had the passion for becoming an actor as long as I can remember it was dream since I was eight or nine years old – I’ve always been an entertainer, I’ve always liked the arts and it’s something I’ve always aspired to do. I’ve been very consistent with what I wanted to be – I didn’t know how I wanted to go about it.”
He began his professional life in theatre working with director, Shah Sharabeel working on English language musicals and then appeared in the film, “Slackistan”, which was not released in Pakistan.
On the strength of the trailer for that film – he got head hunted and cast in some Hum TV’s serials and became a known face.
He is also due to appear with Bilal Ashraf (and Armeena Rana Khan) in “Yalghaar”.
All three actors are really fine ambassadors for the film.
The film is something of a vehicle to promote a positive image of Pakistani and moreover Pashtun culture, because as Rehman said, in Pakistani culture, the “Pashtun culture is usually seen as comedic or terrorist – stereotype, so this film breaks all these stereotypes and shows a Pashtun family as functionally dysfunctional as the rest of them!”
Apart from that, “it shows Swat – an area tarnished with a lot of negative publicity because of Malala Yousefzai and Taliban intrusion into it – as a beautiful place and shows Pakistan is a beautiful place and promote tourism in Pakistan. And with this collaboration it shows cinema has no boundaries!”
So should you watch ‘Janaan?
BEAUTIFUL in so many ways, “Janaan” is a film you have to see if you want to believe in another Pakistan.
Not the one we see on our TV news – of strife and conflict – Swat, where this film was shot, is so easy on the eye, it would melt the steel in anyone’s heart.
So too would the cast – Armeena Rana Khan as Meena is ‘tidy’ in the widest of respects, but is almost eclipsed by Hania Aamir as Palwasha, and even among the older set, Mishi Khan as Gul Sanga has a radiating presence and for the fair ladies, we haven’t even got to Bilal Ashraf’s – as Asfandyar – dimpled smile or Ali Rehman Khan’s cheeky glint (as Daniyal).
This is a feel good cast and a feel good movie and with the Indian channel B4U distributing this film internationally, you can see why it appealed.
Billed as a romantic comedy, it isn’t written for big laughs, in fact to a degree the set-up is conventional and predictable and the laughs are generally easy but well executed.
Meena is a Canadian Pakistani (as Armeena is in real-life), and arrives from her home in Toronto for a family wedding and to a place she has not been in, since her mother’s death 11 years earlier.
In the house, a younger cousin Palwasha is getting married to – shock horror – a Punjabi Pakistani boy who lives and works in England.
Palwasha’s family are Pashtuns.
There’s a nice set to sending up the whole idea that we have to marry into our respective communities, (the parents’ experience of the five stages of grief and then loving acceptance).
In this house, there are also two brothers and rivals, Asfandyar (Ashraf) and Daniyal (Rehman Khan).
They represent opposite ends of the potential husband spectrum for Meena: the former is broody, temperamental and arrogant, but oh so, hot. The latter is a playboy, and cheeky charmer, who is not quite so ‘wah wah’, but still a respectable squeeze (with a ring on his finger).
You can see the way it goes – there are some twists and turns – provided by the milieu and the Pashtun cultural code.
It’s entertaining and well done for the most part, if a little long and a little soapy, as an interesting and rather more edgy sub-plot kicks in.
It may be too ‘clean’ and glossy for some, but an opportunity to show a warming and quite different side of Pakistan and the Pashtun people has not been missed. (Sailesh Ram)
ACV rating:*** ½ (out of five)
‘Janaan’ is out in the UK and internationally now