Osman Khalid Butt talks to Instep about his brand of humour and how he channels it towards incisive social commentary on Twitter.
You may know Osman Khalid Butt as Mr. Funny Bones, the guy with the quirky Instagram videos and theatre background. But the artist has now dabbled in almost every other creative medium from acting, directing, producing, scriptwriting and choreographing. Having appeared in popular TV plays like Diyar-e-Dil and Sanam and a film called Balu Mahi, he recently returned to the world of theatre after a gap of three years with a play titled Seven.
In a telephonic interview with Instep, I asked the actor why he took a three-year gap from his first love.
"Television is a very demanding medium," he replied. "Diyar-e-Dil took eight months to complete and theatre requires six months for one project. It becomes difficult to stage a project on such a large scale because of time constraints but this was a fantastic return to theatre."
He shared that living Mukhtaran Mai’s story through Seven was truly an edifying process.
For Seven, Butt joined hands with Momina Mustehsan, executive director of Digital Rights Foundation, Nighat Dad, Ambassador of Sweden, Ingrid Johansson, actor and activist, Mariyam Nafees, Chairman National Commission for Human Rights Pakistan, Ali Nawaz Chowhan and Secretary to Ministry of Human Rights, Rabiya Javeri Agha to raise awareness about violence against women - a topic he feels strongly about. Following the performance of Seven, he took to his Twitter and wrote, "It is high time men stand together with women, helping them fight their fight. Speak out in the struggle for gender equality; declare yourself a feminist and most importantly, put your money where your mouth is. Empower women. Make that commitment, now."
‘Feminist’ is a divisive and loaded word that most people are afraid to identify with. Celebrities avoid using it because they consider it a PR liability but Butt has no such inhibitions. "I’ve always considered myself a feminist but recently decided to put it out there because for me the word simply means empowering women instead of subjugating them. It’s means working towards that goal especially in a society where the entire burden of honour falls on a woman," he said.
Butt has always commented on socially relevant issues on his Twitter and does it in his quintessentially light hearted way. From the Mahira Khan scandal where he posted a picture of himself smoking, attempting to point out society’s double standards when it comes to a female committing an ‘offense’ as compared to a male. He showed his support for the #MeToo campaign and also commented on the disastrous Bata advertisement. I ask Butt if he feels that people understand weighty matters better if they’re touched upon in a humorous manner.
"It’s the method I use and it’s always worked for me because I see things from that particular lens and that’s how I showcase them too. The proverbial pill is not that difficult to swallow and through humour you can push some boundaries and push some buttons as well," he laughed.
One wonders how Butt pushes his beliefs through the roles he chooses and the scripts he writes. "I am now accepting and rejecting roles after having debates with my directors on them," he said. "I do that more now than three years ago and I think it’s important to because it’s not just about entertainment. You are also educating people and you become an advocate for the choices your character makes; it reflects on you so I’m trying to make good choices," he shared.
He is currently playing Saba Qamar’s love interest in Baaghi, a serial on Qandeel Baloch’s life. "We’ve already been introduced to other men who manipulate her (in the serial) so when my character appears people said he’s a breath of fresh air and knight in shining armor," he reflected on the role. "But I did the role because I liked the idealism behind the character and felt he’s the kind of person we really need in society. I don’t think Saba Qamar’s character really needed a savior; she just needed support and that’s what he provided her."
He feels that as a society we’ve started to thrive on negativity and that’s why characters like his in Baaghi are important. Such characters have a good chance of inculcating values in people because he’s relatable. The character has his own flaws but there’s optimism, hope and positivity that overshadows negative sentiments.
"We’ve gotten desensitized to our surroundings because of the state of the world. We’ve actively started seeking out negativity and that’s why these characters are important so we can reflect on what you are becoming as a person and a collective whole," he explained. While writing the script for Janaan, Butt wanted to send out some messages and discussed with his directors how the script could address women’s issues. "I touched upon the fierce independence of the female characters and how they don’t let themselves defined by the male leads. It’s not easy to immediately make a difference but it’s important to," he said.
Butt is currently writing the script for a social satire film and also reading some scripts for TV serials. Managing so many creative mediums must not be an easy task but he shares that he always wanted to choreograph and act as a child and has been acting on his passions.
"I learnt when I went and to audition for my first play with Shah Sharabeel. I used to be the painfully quiet kid at the back of a class and never thought I would audition for anything. But then I decided to seize the opportunity and I always remember that compulsion in everything I do," he recalled.
He feels he will gravitate towards one of these mediums and it’s most likely to be directing. "I slowly and steadily have been working towards that goal but that doesn’t diminish the fact that I am absolutely in love with acting - theatre, television or film. All my passions coexist and I am in somewhat of a happy chaos."