The reluctant heartthrob

November 23, 2014

His Bollywood debut has earned him a legion of swooning female fans but Fawad Khan isn't one to take his sex symbol status seriously

The reluctant heartthrob

Milli, the klutzy physiotherapist who steals Prince Vikram’s heart in Khoobsurat, may have grated on our nerves, but can one really blame her for acting all giggly and idiotic around the dreamy prince played by Fawad Khan? This is the man who’s making women across the subcontinent (and probably beyond) believe in fairytales all over again, forcing feminists to abandon their ideals (who doesn’t want to be rescued by this prince and ride off into the sunset?) and generally creating mass hysteria wherever he goes.

When an interviewer asked Sonam Kapoor if she would have hit on Fawad had he not been married, the reply came out before the question was even finished, a resounding "YES!" Do we hear an indignant chorus of "Isn’t it enough that she got to kiss him onscreen, won’t she leave him alone in real life?" But Fawad will assure you that when it comes to the two of them, despite the sizzling chemistry they shared in Khoobsurat, there is absolutely no danger of them harbouring "gandi gandi" thoughts for each other.

Does he find her hot though? "Of course I do. I find all my co-stars hot, whether it’s Sonam Kapoor or Mahira Khan or Sanam Saeed," says Fawad. "You need to find the person that you’re acting opposite attractive to make the onscreen chemistry believable." But he makes sure to reiterate that the much talked about kiss between Milli and Prince Vikram never took place (and that’s our cue to stop hating poor Sonam). "It was a cheated shot. When I read the script, I told the producer I can’t do that. I wasn’t ready to kiss on screen in my first movie. It wasn’t something that I would be comfortable with and they agreed to work around that."

We’re meeting in designer Omar Farooq’s outlet in the actor’s hometown Lahore and in person, Fawad looks even better than he does on screen. He’s put on some weight since his Khoobsurat days, having admitted that his gaunt look might have gone a little out of hand, and he’s sporting a moustache reminiscent of Hollywood’s leading men of the ’50s. Cigarette in hand and intoning in that rich baritone that makes women go weak in the knees, Fawad is every inch the movie star.

You wouldn’t think it to look at him but his newfound stardom post-Khoobusrat is not something the 33-year-old is entirely comfortable with. "Yes, life has changed since the movie came out and all the attention does make me conscious. I am the sort of person who runs away from the limelight so there are times when I get exhausted. Having said that, any star who claims that they get mobbed every single day of their lives is totally bullsh***ing. It doesn’t even happen to Shahrukh Khan anymore. The public has learnt to take celebrities in their stride. As for my popularity, I think the insanity is just a fad, people will get over it in a month or two," he says with a self-deprecating smile.

He couldn’t be further than the truth. Had Fawad been just a pretty face, he might have faded from collective memory after a brief spell but he’s a seriously good actor too, so much so that even critics who panned Khoobusrat for its clichéd plot were forced to laud his talent. Top that with his impeccable manners and his effortless charm and it’s easy to see why columnist Shobhaa De would gush over him and "and shamelessly drool each time Fawad takes in his breath and intones the royal ‘Hum…’"

Mention the rather explicit article that De wrote about Fawad for an Indian website and he squirms in embarrassment. "It’s flattering," he says, trying to find the right words to convey his unease with his status as the reigning heartthrob of not one but two countries. "Honestly, I find the title totally inaccurate. I fail to see what the fuss is about. I guess I’m fresh meat," he jokingly quips.

How does his wife deal with all the female attention? It can’t be easy watching your husband romance the gorgeous Sonam onscreen. "One of the sexiest things about Sadaf is that she’s a woman, she’s not a girl. She can take all this in her stride. Yes, she’s possessive but she’s not a control freak. She knows this my job and the better I am at it, the better I’ll be able to pay the bills."

Clearly besotted with his college sweetheart and now wife of eight years, Fawad dismisses the idea that celebrity marriages are singularly prone to ending in disaster, given the temptations at hand. "I think marriage is hard work, whether you’re a star or a regular person and the odds of it breaking up are the same across the board. I can only speak for myself and I am completely in love with my wife. She’s everything I want in a woman – she’s sensible, she’s smart and she’s one of the most stylish people I’ve ever seen," he declares.

It does take an exceptional woman to be able to deal with a husband whose private space gets invaded so frequently. Anyone who’s ever run into Fawad in public will vouch for the extreme display of patience and good humour he shows, even when he’s on the verge of being mobbed. It’s no coincidence that half of Lahore is proudly showing off selfies with the actor on social media; it’s a clearly cultivated move on Fawad’s part.

"I am what I am because of my fans and that’s why I make sure I am accessible to them as much as possible. I’m not the sort of person who will let one person take a photo and refuse all the others. I have to please everyone, that’s my job. Agar larkiyon ke saath loon ga tou phir larkay naraaz hotay hain, hence I have to make sure everyone gets the opportunity. It’s not easy though; like any normal person, I too get apprehensive at the constant scrutiny. Kabhi kabhi ghabra jaata hoon."

But then, no one said being famous was an easy job and it’s this very ability to get past your inner fears and embrace your public persona that makes for a true superstar. And while it may be too early to declare Fawad one just yet, he’s well on his way to the top of the ladder. His successful debut and the effect that he has on the public haven’t gone unnoticed and offers are pouring in. The actor, however, is reluctant to spill the beans until he signs on the dotted line.

"I am in talks for Battle of Bittora opposite Sonam but nothing has been finalized yet. There are also a couple of other big banner projects in India that my fans will be excited to hear about, as well as two movies in Pakistan that I am in the process of signing. All will be revealed in good time," he promises. "I find it rather discourteous to count one’s chickens before they hatch so I’m not going to say anything about future projects till the deal is sealed."

That’s Fawad for you – ever the gentleman. It’s not easy to get him worked up over something but mention the conspiracy theories that abound in Pakistan over the Indians’ agenda of not letting actors from across the border prosper in Bollywood and you get to see a hint of ire simmering beneath the surface.

"This is utter nonsense. Just look at the Indian market, its huge! And Bollywood caters to just one segment of the population; India has so many regional film industries, and successful ones at that. Actors often don’t cross over yet are superstars in their own right. In such a vast market, actors from Pakistan make up one tiny percentage. Do you really think people care enough to go after them? Are we that important? I’m afraid not. How can we be so pompous as to assume we deserve that kind of attention where people want to bring us down?"

"Personally, I never felt I was treated any differently because of my nationality during my time in Bollywood. In fact, we all lived like a close-knit family," he continues. "Indians have a code of hospitality that is very strong and they went out of their way to make me feel at home."

Other than the Kapoor clan, though, the actor remained too immersed in his work to rub shoulders with A-listers. There were no high profile parties, no heart-to-hearts with Bollywood stars – Fawad will be the first one to admit he’s guarded when it comes to letting people in.

"One day I saw Rishi Kapoor standing next to me at a patisserie in Mumbai. I’m a huge fan of his but I couldn’t bring myself to go up to him. I felt as shy as any regular guy and the thought of encroaching upon his personal space wasn’t very appealing."

This has been a recurring strain in our conversation – Fawad’s belief that he still is ‘just a regular guy’. You can be cynical and chalk his ‘oblivion’ up to a smart PR strategy but there’s no denying that this endearing humility is part of a package that has millions of hearts racing across the nation. Pakistan has its first bonafide movie star of the current generation and we’re smitten.

The reluctant heartthrob