Buried under a layer of dust in a forgotten corner of a bookshelf, I locate, after a considerable amount of searching, my old university yearbook. Each person in the 2001 batch at the National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences (FAST-NU) has their own page in this rather hefty volume. It takes me a while to find the entry I am looking for: roll number 1413 – Farhan Saeed Butt.
Several of his friends have shared their comments about him on his page. There is a fair degree of ribbing going on.
“A guy with a beautiful voice and zero coding skills,” one class fellow jests. “I remember the time when I spent a whole night teaching these guys assembly [language] and he got a zero in the final!”
“Jughatain jitne marzi lugwa lo, mazak jitna marzi karwa lo, bus kaam koi nahi kurna,” another japes before warning all his female fans that Farhan “sukht flirt hai and buhat dhokay baaz hai.”
“Ego honi chahiye banday mein, per bila wajha ki nahi,” yet another friend writes: a stuck-out tongue emoticon firmly in tow. So, a lot of glowing testimonials about a promising young man, basically.
All kidding aside though, there is one thing that nearly all the commentators agree upon: the dude has an amazing voice. It’s this voice that has propelled Farhan Saeed to fame.
The story, as he recalls, begins on the grounds of the aforementioned university where a reluctant performance unexpectedly ended up changing his life.
“There was an event at FAST that my friends were arranging,” he reminisces, “and they had a slot of ten minutes which they were not sure what to do with. They asked me if I could perform. I was very dicey at the start, but when they had no other option, I agreed to sing. I did two songs and performed for about 10 to 15 minutes.”
One Zulfiqar Jabbar Khan (Xulfi) was in the audience as well. “I, of course, knew that Xulfi was two years senior to me at FAST. Many members of the band EP studied there, including Fawad who was one year senior to me.” Xulfi heard Farhan sing and subsequently introduced him to Jal guitarist Goher Mumtaz who had, by this time, parted ways with Atif Aslam. They quickly bonded and started recording songs that would end up on the group’s first album, Aadat. The rest, as they say, is history.
“Jal was one of the best time periods of my life,” he states. “It seems like some other life now. I spent ten years with the band. Some of the best times of my life were with Jal. The band life is, in itself, a great thing to experience. And yes, we had a lot of fun and Alhamdulillah, by the grace of God, we saw the best times as a band. We toured the world, we saw hardships together and we experienced [success] together. I was a teen when I joined Jal, and I left when I was 28, so a decade of my life, my prime youth, was with Jal, and I loved every bit of it! I miss it sometimes, but it’s beautiful and I want it to be like that in my memories forever.”
Did he face any challenges while navigating a solo career after his exit from the band? “It’s a new world altogether when you go solo,” he replies. “You have to do everything yourself. In Jal my role was that of a vocalist. When you go solo, you need to compose, write songs, jam with other people. In a band, when you’re working with one composer, your chemistry and understanding develops. When you go solo, you have to work with a lot of composers and teams. So yeah, it was quite challenging at the start, but by the grace of God, it worked for me. In the early stage of my solo career, Allah really helped me make good songs that people actually liked. That belief and the fans’ trust in my work – that gave me confidence. It was difficult at the start, but then things went smoothly. All that was because of fans accepting my music.”
Looking back at his early solo releases, he is proud of songs like ‘Pi Jaun’, his collaboration with singer Momina Mustehsan; the track ‘Naam-e-Wafa’ which appeared on the soundtrack of a Bollywood movie; and ‘Roiyaan’, a track he wrote with Kumaar when he was in India, and which subsequently won him the Song of the Year trophy at the Lux Style Awards and the Best Solo Single accolade at the Hum Awards.
His next musical release is a collaboration with another popular singer. “Because of COVID-19 and lockdown, I had time on my hands and was able to give time to my music. Very soon you’ll see my new singles coming out. One of them is with Aima Baig. It’s called ‘Akhiyan’ and it will be out in a week or so. It will be followed by two to three other big releases. Fans who love my music… I haven’t done justice to them in the past two to three years, so I’m going to make it up to them. This year and next year will see a lot of music releases. I do hope COVID-19 goes away very soon and we can return to the stage and perform for our fans, because performing on stage will always be my first love.”
Speaking of his serendipitous foray into the music industry, Farhan agrees that fortune played a huge role in the trajectory of his professional life. “I never thought that I was going to be a musician,” he says. “I think it was destiny. Nothing was planned at all.”
Singing, of course, is no longer Farhan’s sole claim to fame. Of late, it’s his acting career that has been keeping the multi-hyphenate entertainer busy.
“Just as music was destiny for me, acting was destiny for me too,” he says. “When I was doing music, both with Jal and as a solo artist, I got quite a few acting offers from India and Pakistan, and I explicitly said no because I never thought I was going to be an actor. I never thought I could act. I hadn’t discovered that side. I wasn’t thinking about that at all, so I said no to quite a few acting projects, one of which was a Bollywood movie.”
Then the drama De Ijazat Jo Tu came along and enticed Farhan into the world of acting. “When I started doing it, then I wanted to do it perfectly. When I start something, I really want to master the art of doing it. I soon got the [hang] of it. Then came Udaari, which was one of the best projects, one I was lucky to be offered. Then Suno Chanda. Everybody loved these two dramas. I got the confidence and I really liked being in front of the camera. Working in music and acting complemented each other. It still works for me.”
Farhan sees Suno Chanda as the highlight of his career and the project that made him who he is as an actor. “I never thought it was going to do so well. When you’re doing a project, you do it hoping people will like it but you actually never know if it’s going to be a hit or flop because there is no formula for it.” That said, he sees Udaari as the turning point of his career. “When I worked with such brilliant actors by my side, I learned a lot.”
The latest drama we saw him in was Prem Gali which is another project that is very special to him. “The script was close to me. The family values, the neighbourhood, everything … I really liked the concept. It had social messages that are very important right now. I think it was brilliantly written and above all I had such brilliant actors by my side. Each one of them was a treat to watch. So I learned a lot. Prem Gali was one of the best experiences I had.”
He hopes to keep entertaining his fans with even better performances in the future. Among his upcoming ventures is the webseries Ruswai that is being directed by Wajahat Rauf and also stars Hania Amir. And then there is the film, Tich Button. “Tich Button is a darling project. It’s the first project by our production house Shooting Star Studio. It was tough being a producer for the first time, and then acting in it. Being a producer was a tough job too. But I loved every bit of it and worked really hard. Me, Urwa [Hocane], Qasim [Ali Mureed], we all worked really, really hard. The film stars myself alongside Iman Ali, Feroze Khan, and Sonya Hussain. The ensemble cast also includes Sohail Ahmed and Qavi Khan sahib. Faiza Iftiqhar wrote it.” The release of the film has unfortunately been delayed by the present pandemic but Farhan is eager for the movie to be unveiled. “I have a very good feeling about it. InshaAllah, people will like it. It was a very good experience and it was also very, very challenging. We can’t wait to share it with our audience.”
The aforementioned Urwa is, of course, Farhan’s lovely significant other. Their high profile romance has been keeping gossip columnist(s) busy for the better part of a decade. Lately, however, there has been much speculation about their marriage and rumours have been swirling about a supposed split. That’s a topic Farhan is not inclined to discuss. Speak to him about a lack of privacy though and you quickly realize he has made his peace with it. “The only downside of fame is that there is no private life,” he says. “People can comment on your life, people can comment on whatever you do.” But he understands where that interest is coming from. “At the end of the day that’s what you work for actually. When people love you, they like you so much that they think they have the right to comment on anything you do in your personal life too, because it’s just not about your talent anymore; it’s you as a personality.
I think that’s the price you have to pay and honestly I learned this a long time ago, and I live with it. I don’t mind. I know when to close my ears and I usually don’t get affected by that. What I know is that whatever we do is because of the love of the fans and the love we want to get, and all the attention they give us all the time is worth it.”
If he had a do-over, is there anything he would have done or handled differently? “Professionally I don’t know; I don’t think so. Personally, maybe, yeah,” he says before pausing and reconsidering. “Well, I actually don’t believe in regretting something. What you do right is your success. What you do wrong is a success because you learn from it. So I don’t think I would redo anything in my life [altogether], but maybe something here and there.”
Farhan has certainly come a long way from the youngster in our yearbook who was willing to trade his four years at FAST-NU for a Cornetto. He has clearly made the most of the chances luck has given him, and is disarmingly candid about the fact that he still has miles to go. “I believe I still have to do my best,” he says.
“The best is yet to come. I’ll keep improving and I hope that people will like me in the future too.”