If you visit Junaid Khan’s Wikipedia page, you’ll come across a discussion amongst the website’s users on what the article’s proper title should be. What, the editors wonder, is the best epithet for the multi-hyphenate entertainer? Should he be identified as a singer, for he did start his career as one, or should they label him an actor, the role for which he has won widespread recognition? It’s a fair question, and their confusion does make a certain amount of sense, seeing how Junaid has made a name for himself in both fields. And with all the projects he is working on at the moment, he clearly has no plans of surrendering either of those titles.
Small screen star
From performing in theatre plays at university to becoming a prominent face in Pakistani television dramas, Junaid’s acting career has come quite a long way. The highlight of his small screen journey so far, he opines, has been Yeh Mera Deewanapan Hai (2015). “That was one of the best stories I’ve done,” he tells Instep. “Zanjabeel Asim wrote a terrific script and Shahzad Rafique shot it really well. My character, Jahangir, had so many shades. From a young man in his early 20s, to a mid-life stage, to an older age period – in all these phases he loves a woman who is almost twice his age. It was such an interesting character and teleplay, so that’s a project that stands out for me and that I’m very proud of.”
Junaid is now enthusiastic about his latest TV venture – the new instalment of the drama Khuda Aur Muhabbat, which sees the franchise return for a third season with a different cast and plot. “The third season isn’t directly linked to the first two,” Junaid explains. “This is a different entity with an entirely different script and cast.”
The storyline, as the title suggests, revolves around the topic of love in its many shapes and forms. “Love is a person’s basic need and people are very passionate about this emotion. There are many relationships in the world in which a person forms the bond of love – with their parents, children, spouse. There is another relationship that a person has: with God – divine love for your creator. Both these relationships are addressed in the storyline.”
So, what drew him to this project? Many things, he replies. “I hadn’t seen the previous seasons of Khuda Aur Muhabbat, but I had done various plays with Wajahat Hussain, who is an excellent director with a strong command over the script, characters, and execution. That was the first thing that drew me to the project; I knew that the director is good and capable of handling the script well. After that, I knew that the production house, 7th Sky Entertainment, is also great. Abdullah Kadwani and Asad Qureshi, the partners who own the production company, are both individuals who work very passionately; they see every single thing in detail and try to improve it. And then, of course, there was Hashim Nadeem’s fine script. When I read the script, I could see the characters, and the visuals I could see, I thought that the director would execute that vision well.”
All these reasons, he says, inspired him to take on the project.
He also couldn’t resist the chance to portray a powerful, dynamic character. “My character’s name is Sikander. He is a landlord who supports his family. There is thehrao and depth in this character that you will see when you watch the drama,” he promises.
The project also gave Junaid the chance to work alongside a star-studded cast that includes the likes of Usman Peerzada, Hina Bayat, and Waseem Abbas. “We had such a grand cast, so many superstars,” he says. He especially valued the opportunity to learn from his colleagues, particularly the senior actors who offered a treasure-trove of knowledge and experience. “As actors, our work is all about observation. When we see a senior performing – how well they engage with their character, how they adapt their character, the subtle things they add to enhance their performance – we learn all this when we work with them. You can see the methods they use upfront, so working with them gives you the opportunity to see and learn a lot from every one of them.”
The series was shot in various locations – Multan, Bahawalpur, Lahore, Karachi – across Pakistan which gave the cast a chance to bond. “Whichever city we went to, we tried the cuisine and enjoyed ourselves, but when we were on set and the director said ‘action’, we all worked professionally. So there was a very good, healthy atmosphere led by Wajahat Hussain who handled all of us really well. He took good care of us. So it was a nice, pleasant experience. I enjoyed it a lot and learned a lot.”
Sight set on cinema
After quite emphatically conquering television, Junaid had been searching for the perfect big screen project to make his proper movie debut (having previously made a cameo appearance in 2015’s Bin Roye), and he has finally found it in the shape of the upcoming film Kahay Dil Jidhar. “When I read the character, I was sold instantly,” he states. “I knew I had to do this film! A solid script, a good team, a talented cast, and a good character; I just couldn’t refuse. I always got lots of offers for films, but I was never going to do a movie just for the sake of it. KDJ was just the project I was waiting for.”
A pre-existing link with the filmmakers also made him gravitate towards this project. “I had previously worked with director Jalal Roomi on my band Call’s music video ‘Main Aisa Hi Hoon’, so there was already a connection with him. The film’s writer and composer is Kamran Bari who I knew as a musician. So this was the environment, comfort zone, script, and character that I was searching for. My director was happy with what I’ve done, so let’s hope [the viewers will be too].”
Junaid describes the themes of the movie as “friendship, love, and sacrifice” and reveals that the storyline also deals with the topic of drug abuse. He also offers high praise for the film’s cast which includes entertainment veterans like Sajid Hasan and Atiqa Odho, both of whom, he says, helped and guided him a lot.
Originally set to be unveiled “at some point between Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha last year”, the release of the movie has since been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a new release date yet to be decided.
Having worked extensively on television prior to this film, Junaid now has first-hand experience of the many differences between the two mediums. “Doing a feature film is a different ballgame,” he says. “Budgets, shooting method, acting method, characters, and the target audience – everything is different.” The broader scope of the storylines as well as more diverse roles help make the celluloid arena more dynamic. “We get to portray very different characters in films. On television we are limited to a domestic setting; very few characters venture beyond the house,” he concedes. “But in film, the whole world is the canvas. In movies, you can find the kind of characters that you usually don’t have on television, grand characters with depth.”
He likens the moviemaking experience to that of working on music videos and commercials, both of which he has done in the past.
His experience in the music industry might also lead you to expect that you’ll hear his voice on the soundtrack of Kahay Dil Jidhar, but Junaid confirms that won’t happen. “By the time I got the script of the film, the music had already been finalized and the songs made,” he says. “I heard the songs and I really liked them. Songs are very important for me. Whenever I watch a film, or even a television production for that matter, I always observe the songs. I understand the importance of music and I think it is an important tool for the narrative of a play. So I was happy when I heard the KDJ soundtrack. Kamran Bari has produced the songs and a terrific score. People will enjoy them when they listen.”
Rock’n’roll dreams come through
Speaking of music, Junaid’s fans will surely be delighted to learn that the singer is also working on new music at the moment and hopes to release new material soon. “Music is – and will always remain – very close to my heart,” he proclaims. “I had a lot of thoughts and ideas in my mind that I’d been writing down and putting together. Things were getting delayed for a while because I was so preoccupied with television that I was not able to really think through and release my musical ideas. But a couple of months ago, after completing Khuda Aur Muhabbat, I took some time off television and sat down and worked on my music. So there are a few songs that I will release soon that reflect the thoughts I’ve had over the last few years and I strongly believe in them.”
Each song he is working on, Junaid says, has a different sound, a different approach, and tells a different story. He aims to experiment and explore various dimensions while working with several talented producers and musicians.
The single he plans to release first is called ‘Jeenay Ka Chaska’. “The concept behind the track is that we stress so much over future planning and future issues that we don’t celebrate the present. Even if we achieve something today, we don’t celebrate it; instead we go out searching for the next achievement. In the search for what’s next, we compromise what we have right now, without understanding that life is very unpredictable. Aaj hai, shayad kal na ho. So celebrating right now and congratulating yourself over what you have done is very important.”
The song features Mizraab frontman Faraz Anwar, and Junaid is very excited about the guitarist’s participation in the project. “He is a big name in music and an excellent guitar player. He has been in the field for quite a while now and has vast experience. He is renowned not just in Pakistan but also internationally. So I wanted to do this track with him and I am glad that he agreed to it. It’s going to come out soon.”
‘Jeenay Ka Chaska’ will be yet another single from the artist whose long-promised debut album still hasn’t arrived. Since the advent of streaming, however, there has been some debate about the necessity of albums altogether. Some see the album as an outdated format, while others opine that the album still means something as a body of work. Which faction does he side with? “People argue both sides of the case,” he agrees. “I personally believe in singles. The album, to me, is kind of an outdated format. I think in the new digital era every song should be heard and I believe strongly in this. In albums, sometimes the tracks that are down the order are compromised. People listen to the first few songs and don’t give importance to the tracks down the list.”
“Every song I make reflects my thoughts,” he continues. “It’s always an important thought that we are narrating in the form of music, so we want each and every thought to be heard. For that, it’s important that we release each track separately, one at a time, so that people listen to and try to understand each song. We did the same thing in Call – released videos step by step and then compiled the singles into albums at the end. So I’ll do the same thing with my album. I’ll keep on releasing songs throughout this year and I’ll compile them at the end of the year.”
As for Call, the band is also working on a few more tracks. “Call is a very prized entity for all of us – me, Xulfi, and Sultan. At times we reckon we overthink what we want to do with Call,” he chuckles, “but that’s how it is. We look after Call and we are oversensitive about it. We have lived our entire lives as members of the band, so we don’t make any compromises on Call. We want to be very precise in whatever we do in terms of production values and the ideas we have. So of course when we release new Call material it will be very special.”
So, between television, film and music, Junaid Khan is clearly keeping himself very busy. Just reading about his many projects is enough to leave you exhausted. How does he manage to juggle so many things? “It’s all about time management,” he replies. “I don’t do all of these things daily. I manage time. I also took some time off work; I regularly do that. I’m an advocate for keeping a healthy mind and body; it’s necessary you keep yourself involved in these things. But yes, there are so many things I’ve taken on right now, and it’s good. I like keeping myself busy and occupied in activities. And hopefully the audience will enjoy the outcome of my efforts.”
(Oh and in case the users of Wikipedia were still wondering, the title Junaid prefers is “artist”. You’re welcome, Internet!)