Playing to different tunes

October 19, 2014

He’s been a VJ, model and director; Adnan Malik now turns to acting

Playing to different tunes

He’s got the looks, the drive and he’s got THE girl - as Mahira’s Khan leading man in the latest TV sensation, Sadqay Tumharay, Adnan Malik is a worthy contender to the ‘heartthrob’ throne where Fawad Khan once sat pretty.

Post-Humsafar, ST is one of Hum TV’s biggest productions, and comparisons between the two dramas are inevitable. The Khirad-Ashar duo created magic on screen with their chemistry and as another tale of star-crossed lovers with the beautiful Mahira Khan to be romanced, ST has a lot of expectations to live up to.

Malik, however, isn’t worried. "Sadqay Tumharay is a beautifully written play, a classic love story and I’ve put my heart and soul into it. I love the play for the values it portrays and for the fact that it is reminiscent of the PTV dramas of the ‘80s, a time when life was simpler and purer. I hope people tune in to escape, to be reminded of a better, more honest Pakistan," he tells us.

Set in a Pakistani village in 1979, the play has Adnan in the lead role of Khalil, a Bachan-esque angry young man who might come across as a bit of a thug but has his heart in the right place. Malik describes him as "morally just," a term one could never have used for the spineless Ashar in Humsafar and it is safe to say that the similarities between the two plays end at the female lead.

So how did the suave New York-returned, Vassar-educated Malik, known primarily for his intelligent behind-the-camera projects, end up playing such a desi character? Adnan laughs and admits that Khalil’s role is one that he wouldn’t necessarily have taken up if it hadn’t been for the phenomenal script and producer Momina Duraid’s excellent powers of persuasion. "Momina had been trying to persuade me to act in a serial for the past 7 to 8 years, ever since I returned to Pakistan, but back then it just didn’t feel right. I wanted to focus on directing. I remember she was so insistent about one project and just wouldn’t take no for an answer that I went and got my head shaved knowing there was no way she would cast a bald actor for the role!"

The main object of Malik’s attention then was AMP, short for Adnan Malik Productions, a ‘boutique’ production house that produces commercials, music videos and documentaries among other things. Direction still remains his first love and under the banner of AMP, Malik has produced a number of well-received music videos. Remember Aaminah Sheikh kicking some serious butt in Bumbu Sauce’s ‘My Punjabi Love for You?’ That was Malik for you. He was also the man behind Zoe Viccaji’s ‘Mera Bichra Yaar’ that won an LSA for Best Music Video Director, as well as Viccaji’s recently released ‘Phir Mili Tanhai’.

What these videos have in common is their portrayal of the female protagonists not as victims or in a sexualized avatar, but as strong and independent characters who forge their own paths in life. A deliberate move on Malik’s part? An emphatic ‘yes’ is the answer.

"Men in this country have a very skewed idea of masculinity and I want to challenge that mindset through my work. There’s a hypocrisy that exists in Pakistan that stems from the cultural confusion within. Why is it that an Ali Zafar or a Fawad Khan are feted when they work in Bollywood but a Humaima is vilified? We are much more forgiving of men - our cricket team is another example. They can be corrupt to the core but once the dust settles, they are back to being heroes."

We love a man who’s comfortable around strong women and Malik is a fine example of one. Any other actor making his debut against an actress as big as Khan would have been fazed by her undisputable star power. But it wasn’t Khan’s greater fame that had the relatively unknown actor nervous, it was the responsibility that came from doing justice to an autobiographical script. "I’ve known Mahira since we were both VJs on MTV and she’s a good friend, so I wasn’t worried about our chemistry. The challenge for me was to stay true to the script, which is the writer Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar’s own life story. It’s a personal narrative; hence it has a lot of pathos. As an actor, I wanted to get that across as faithfully as I could."

Malik’s dedication to the play meant that for the six months of the shoot, his directing jobs took a backseat and he threw himself wholeheartedly into the character. Mahira has gone on record to say that Malik’s passion and commitment surprised not just her but the whole crew. The actor admits that the serial took over his life and he lived, breathed and dreamed the character. "Khalil is a sportsman so I trained religiously and lost a lot of weight. I would go running for hours every day so that my body would ache, because that’s what the character went through, and I wanted to embody his feelings and his body language as purely as I could."

Such commitment is not new to him. It was this very quality that convinced Rohail Hyatt to take on the then relatively green Malik as part of the Coke Studio team. For five years, Malik managed the show’s video production, leaving only with the changing of guard this season when Strings took over. He cites Hyatt as one of the most important influences on his personal as well as professional life, calling him "an evolved spirit with a great mind," and despite a sense of loss at no longer being around Hyatt’s unquestionable genius, Malik is all praise for the new team.

"You have to understand that it was a very amicable changing of hands. Rohail was great but Strings bring their own flavour to the show. In Pakistan, it seems that it’s about the people, when really, it should be about the project, the institution. No matter who’s in charge, the important thing is that the show is going on."

Playing to different tunes