Who are the next big stars in Pakistan?
The great thing about living to see a couple of the next generations experiment with life, art, and everything in between, is to learn that talent is infinite. It never runs out. Any claim of there never being another great actor, vocalist, poet, artist, is simply not true. Sure, there won’t be a new Faiz Ahmed Faiz, but someone with his depth of thought and lyricism will put pen to paper one day. There may not be another Mehdi Hasan or Nayyara Noor, but the subcontinent is absolutely rife with other golden-voiced people, some of whom we have been listening to for years as well. We’re always happy to welcome more artists across disciplines onto our screens and into our hearts, because appreciation can simply multiply, frames of reference can become more complex and sophisticated; we ourselves may learn more about ourselves, our societies and evolving systems and values.
The last year has seen both arrivals and departures, and while we still may be grieving the loss of some of the legends we grew up with, we do think there are legends-in-waiting, ready to take over your imaginations next.
The kids are the best, but they aren’t alright
Over the years, more successful actors have dismissed actors trained at the national institute offering performing arts as a subject as ‘over-trained’, ‘not groomed enough’. One director, who has done several sequels and prequels of one particular play which refers to landmark events in Pakistan’s history, actively ribbed at an actor from the institute playing a small role in one of his productions for enunciating everything and speaking too properly while he closed his show. Other actors who have gone on from theater to television and film have just dismissed these actors as not being screen-friendly enough, the plays not being entertaining enough, to ever be popular.
While actors trained at this institute are better at their craft than some of the biggest names in the mainstream industries, they are failed by their mentors and teachers in that, they aren’t groomed for what is a very visual medium. The money, ultimately – and one has to eat – is in film and television, and these skilled actors need a fighting chance to get on those media. How they present themselves is a huge part of this, and needs to be made part of the curriculum as soon as possible.
While the actor may be the youngest onstage to have written and directed an original play most recently, what he excels at is sound design. Raza thoughtfully picks the soundtrack to his productions, and music blends into dialogue, every move, gesture, and development punctuated with ambient sound that the actor-director creates. While this should be a redundant observation to make, it is always welcome when artists embrace the technology available to them at the time to layer their work. Hasnain Raza reminds us that he is a classically-trained actor, with some really old-school sensibilities, and just likes to express those qualities through a more modern filter.
Syed Qasim Shah
Before we touch upon – again – on Shah’s acting prowess, we would also like to point out that Syed Qasim Shah has a face that’s meant to be photographed. He has interesting, sharp features, and while he is by no means typically handsome, he has a certain charm that could potentially be magical if worked with correctly. As an actor, and this has been mentioned several times before, Shah has the ability to morph from this to that with chameleon-like ease. If Nazar ul Hasan is the most gifted actor in Pakistan theater from late ‘00s and ‘10s, Shah is primed to take that place among his contemporaries right now.
Seen most recently in An Inspector Calls, Khalid is a surprise-and-a-half, and we have a suspicion she quite enjoys revealing her strength as an actor as the story progresses. It isn’t a case of, ‘oh look a girl actor!’ anymore, whereby audiences will take what they can get; there are enough women actors on stage now for us to be able to fairly discern the hugely talented from the unchallenged. There still aren’t very many theater actors who are women to note, but there are enough for us to note when someone is better or good, and Anusha Khalid is definitely one to watch out for.
No country for young men
No one has made the impact on local film except for the bigger, biggest names that we all know, and honestly, good for them. Whom can we look forward to on the silver screen though? The pickins’ are slim. So we’ll go with the one choice we have, because he is talented, has screen presence, but perhaps not the look that would make him very popular. Give this guy a chance, directors and producers!
He was in Joyland, playing one of the most heartbreakingly sweet and earnest characters ever, but will he ever be a popular mainstream hero? We must give him a chance to see!
When we think of music, we’re gobsmacked by how many promising musicians have sprung in the last few years alone. Then there’s variety across genres and mainstream music and its lesser-known cousin, counterculture. If the likes of Abdullah Siddiqui, Hasan Raheem, Shamoon Ismail and Young Stunners are rewriting the sonic landscape of the music scene, there are still those who are doing such good work that we are more than happy to point out that they are the stars of tomorrow.
It just doesn’t happen often that with one song, just one song, a singer outshines everyone and continues to do so with the work that is put out in its aftermath. However, Shae Gill, who co-sang ‘Pasoori’ in season 14 of Coke Studio 14 (2022) with Ali Sethi has reached that pinnacle. Her voice reached out to us with as much soul as her co-singer and since that major debut on a national platform, Shae Gill has proven to be more than a one hit-wonder. Though she helped resuscitate a 25-year-old jingle with a music legend and has done other branded work as well, Shae Gill’s presence on the song ‘Sukoon’ by Hassan & Roshaan was a study in how a singer can truly take the game away from everyone else. For those who are yearning for more from this astonishing artist, do check out ‘Left/Right’, a joint collaboration between Ali Sethi, Shae Gill, Maanu and Abdullah Siddiqui, with the latter also being the music producer. Gill carries herself in the music video with such flair and the required flirtatious voice that we expect great things from her in the near-future.
We admit that Mehdi Maloof has appeared on Coke Studio and that means a great deal but Maloof is one of those names who has been around for years, often overlooked for his writing skills but an artist whose every release is nothing short of extraordinary. He appeared around on the horizon 7 years ago and releases music when he deems it fit. But, when he does release a single, it is hard to not mistake it as an organic balm for your soul. You will not find songs as quirky and real as ‘Gandi Si Building’, ‘Peero’ (Mehdi Maloof x Talal Qureshi), and ‘Mera Dost Pareshaan Hai’ (ft. Ali Hamdani, Shamsher Rana and Varqa Faraid) and ‘Kaheen Main Khirki’.
Zeerak Ahmed, known under the stage name Slowspin has been a monumental figure in the counterculture movement that began coming out of Karachi in the last decade or so, releasing EPs such as Nightfall’s Reverie and Between Shadows in Water – in addition to collaborating with other artists, teaching and showcasing her strong connection to the art scene. Slowspin is a singer, songwriter, performer, curator and composer. But even as she is now based in the United States, her music has rich ideas and a showcase that she is still connected to her roots. As she plans to drop a new album called TALISMAN this month, which feels quite possibly her most ambitious effort, she is another name to celebrate as a South Asian artist, who has a lot to say musically and through her aesthetic. As she said in a press statement, her new album is “Collectively it composes the spatial richness and complexity of the contemporary South Asian voice.”