It’s a dark and dusty studio in which the cast and crew of Jawani Phir Nahi Ani 2 is filming its promotional song. Every half hour someone or the other comes into the makeup room for a quick touch-up, change of wardrobe, to make a phone call or simply unwind over a cup of tea. I wait for Fahad Mustafa to give his shot and settle down for what is our long overdue interview. He pulls up a chair as his assistant hands him a bottle of Sauvage, which he sprays heavily around himself before settling down to chat. He’s wearing a V-neck shirt, worn with a red bandana, which isn’t too fashionable but then Fahad isn’t one to conform to the norms of what is or isn’t trendy.
Fahad Mustafa, at a glance, is your average ‘guy next door’ except he’s the guy millions of people across the country have come to love and look up to. He’s done six films, all of them either box office or critical hits, and has acted in dozens of TV plays, his claim to fame being the bold Mein Abdul Qadir Hoon. Fahad also produces now, Big Bang Entertainment being behind over 65 plays including Muqabil and the currently airing Meri Guriya. His biggest breakthrough though, has to be game show Jeeto Pakistan, which Fahad compares to "hosting a valima for 600 people" every week.
He’s a people’s person and his co-stars, especially his current heroines Mehwish Hayat and Mawra Hocane, can’t stop singing praises of how brilliant he is. "Fahad the everything," Mehwish replied when I asked her whether she preferred Fahad the actor or Fahad the show host. Mawra had no problem singing his praises when we chatted on set. He’s also Nabeel Qureshi and Fizza Ali Meerza’s poster child. He made a big screen debut with Na Maloon Afraad in 2014 and four years later, he’s spearheading their third project, Load Wedding, which is being projected by pundits as the film that will most likely have the best content.
It’s Fahad versus Fahad this Eid, as the star also features in the other big banner film, Jawani Phir Nahi Ani 2, in which he plays a rich man for the first time; Fahad has, in various instances, been termed "ghareebon ka hero".
How does it feel to be in two huge films, releasing at the same time, I ask him? What exactly does he think makes him box office gold?
"I think I’ve chosen the right films and the right people to work with," he begins, modestly. "It’s not just me but it’s a collective effort. There are some great actors out there but they probably haven’t found the right people to work with. Also, they become stars first and work hard later. We have to prioritize; hard work has to be followed by attitude, stardom and not the other way around."
"The two people who’ve been a great inspiration for me are Jawed Sheikh sahab and Humayun Saeed and if you meet them today, apart from their talent, they are good people. They are humble, nice to talk to and gel in easily with others," he says.
Your co-stars speak very highly of you, I ask?
"I’m a good person," he states.
But there is a common perception that you’re extremely arrogant…
"I am arrogant too," he almost immediately responds. "I’m a human being; I vary from person to person. I am arrogant with people who are ill mannered and brash.
I’m a producer, host and an actor. There is a reason why I am a host. The way I meet people, no one in Pakistan does. Every Friday and Sunday, I host a gathering of 600 people be it kids, oldies, girls, anyone. Sometimes husbands willingly make their wives or sisters sit with me on a motorbike; I’ve never had a problem on set. Other than that, if someone comes to me and talks nonsense, so I will give a befitting reply."
He talks about people, even women, being comfortable with him on set and our conversation steers towards a subject that has made even the purest of men in the industry squirm in discomfort. There is an underlying tension that - post Meesha Shafi and Ali Zafar scandal - men in the entertainment industry fear being caught in a similar situation, fairly or unfairly.
"We need to move on," Fahad says, without a moment’s hesitation in sounding politically incorrect. "Do you know that even women harass men but will anyone believe us if we say it?
"I work in an office of 250 people out of which 60-70 are women," he explains. "For me, everyone’s equal. If I have to work and shout, then I don’t care if I’m addressing a male or female. When you step out to work, that’s how it’s done. I don’t want to get into details but assassinating someone’s character on Twitter is just wrong. I don’t know who’s right or wrong but it’s very easy to target someone in today’s world and I’m against social media. This will happen to one of us too tomorrow and no one will know the truth because we’ll be accused, prosecuted and executed on social media."
Fahad brings up the little girl, whose drawing he criticized on his show, as an example of the damage social media does.
"I’m a good father and I love my kids. My nieces and nephews are more comfortable with me than they are with their own parents. It’s a known fact in Pakistan that I’m popular among children, then how could I be rude to them?" he questions. "I told the girl that her drawing wasn’t too good and I’ll say it again. I don’t want to lie to kids and if I go around praising their work, I’d be lying to them. I didn’t even know that the issue had blown up on social media until my wife brought it to my notice."
So you’re not a fan of social media?
"Not at all. It’s very unfortunate that we live in that bubble. It’s a six-minute memory and eventually everyone moves on."
Do you think social media adds to your star value though?
"I know I am a big star and I have 1.5 million followers on social media but I also know that only 25 people on my Twitter are actually active; the rest I have no clue about. And I keep telling those 25 people to get a life. If you’re going to send me a message in the morning, requesting me to pray for your exams, then I’d tell you to go study hard. What difference will my prayers make to you? Jao parho bhai…"
Unpretentious and unafraid to say it like it is, Fahad comes across as someone extremely comfortable in his skin. He talks of his lack of dance skills, which can easily be contradicted judging by his recent songs. He also speaks of not being the conventional good looking, chocolate boy hero and making it to the top regardless.
Do you feel there are any formulas that have contributed to your success, I ask him?
"There are absolutely none," he replies. "It’s a fluke and it’s working. I don’t know what Nabeel saw in me that he decided to make all movies with me. I wasn’t even a star back then. I was dead meat. I was doing a morning show and they (the channel) had planned that they wanted me out. Luckily, before that I left myself. Then my film worked and so did this show. People advised me against the game show; they said the same about certain dramas and brands. They wanted me to be exclusive. But I didn’t rely on formulas or exclusivity. What I understood, I did. I did Harpic, Coke, Sprite and Clear and nothing damaged my career. I’m living on hard work and luck…and the fact that I’m doing what I love. Currently I am doing a movie in which I haven’t charged a dime for because that’s something I love and that also reflects on screen.
Fahad has done one rom-com after the other and we talk about heroes and romance and why it appears that he’s uncomfortable with love and romance on screen. He even said, in a recent interview, that he was unable to handle romance in a traditional form.
"I find my brand of romance very funny," he agrees. "It’s a witty kind of romance and it’s very innocent. Our market is not the sort to absorb steamy kind of romance. It’s not a question about whether I would like it or not but that people won’t like it. I, for instance, can’t watch certain channels because I’ve kids at home and parents too and the content is too bold; it’s too in your face. It’s like soft porn for me so I wouldn’t like to be a part of something like that. I have grown up watching Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan movies with my parents and they’ve been clean. They are the only true icons according to me. But if you purposely want to make content that is best suited for Netflix then that’s another story."
You’ve spoken about your discomfort with the ‘steamy kind of romance’ but you don’t even do war films, I point out, looking to understand the man who has become a larger than life star by playing an average Jo on screen. It’s another level of "power of the common man," as Shah Rukh Khan would call it.
"I only do things which I like and that doesn’t lessen my patriotism for my country," he explains the reason behind not doing war films. "In fact, I have done shows for them and I have met the army chief and I have been offered films too. But I’m not much interested in such content. I’m not here with an agenda. I don’t wish to preach or lecture. I want to do what I enjoy."
His formula is clearly working for him; he’s enjoyed both Load Wedding and Jawani Phir Nahi Ani 2; he’s also quite delighted by the fact that never in 15 years in Pakistan one lead actor had two mega releases at the same time.
So, on Eid there is going to be a Fahad versus Fahad situation, I ask him. Does he see that as a good or bad thing?
"It’s not the best thing but I feel two films can work and the best thing is that both the films are of different genres," he says. "The third one (Parwaaz Hai Junoon) was to release last year with NMA2 so I feel that wasn’t very fair of them to release at the same time too. But before shooting the two movies, I always knew they’d be releasing on the same day. I had chats with Fizza and Nadeem and when they went to the distributors and told them the plan, it worked in my favour.
I was supposed to produce Load Wedding but I didn’t because both the parties were friends and I didn’t want to get into any complication. But I feel both movies will come out as winners, eventually."