Channels just want to mint money: Mohammad Ahmed

January 5, 2020

An unconventional writer, Mohammad Ahmed has emerged as a brilliant actor in the last couple of years. In this interview he talks about the transition and the many roles he has been essaying lately.

Photo by EMK Photos

Syed Mohammad Ahmed is one actor you can catch in multiple ongoing drama serials; he is Mateen sahab (late) in Mere Paas Tum Ho, Malik Allahyar in Ehd e Wafa, Abba (Mehmood) in Ruswai and Dr. Arsalan in Yeh Dil Mera, among other roles. One must admit that the doting father he plays in most of his dramas, as he did in Asim Abbasi’s Cake, comes very naturally to him, and rightly so, given that he has four daughters.

However, what many may not know of is that Mohammad Ahmed was a writer before he came to prominence as an actor. Some of his scripts include popular comedy-drama Azar Ki Ayegi Baraat that he wrote in 2009 while he penned Ramchand Pakistani (2008) and Lala Begum (2016) for director Mehreen Jabbar.

Instep caught up with the writer-actor one fine evening in Karachi where he shared why he stopped writing, took on acting projects and what’s in store for the future.

“I left writing, Cake released and people apparently thought I can act,” he said as we met over a cup of tea at his house.

Cake wasn’t his acting debut though; there are few, moving roles that he played on the small screen in the last decade. He essayed the role of Sanam’s father in the Sanam Baloch, Samina Peerzada-starrer drama serial, Durr-e-Shehwar in 2012. One instantly fell in love with his character and the letters he used to write to his daughter as she struggled to make a place at her in-laws’. In 2018, he caught attention in Nibah; his character was of a progressive, supportive father who always advised her daughter, essayed by Aamina Sheikh, to keep her chin up despite the odds.

“When I stopped writing, I was very fortunate to get work even at this age and I think Cake played a major role; I was even nominated for it,” he admitted. “I’ve been associated with the industry for over two decades but I was never invited to the Lux Style Awards before, let alone for a nomination. I didn’t know that the team of Cake had boycotted LSA 2019 due to the Ali Zafar-Meesha Shafi controversy. I found this out at the ceremony and I thought if Cake gets any award, I’d have to go and receive it and the team might not like it so I left.”

Syed Mohammad Ahmed has since then appeared in numerous drama serials and he is overwhelmed with the tremendous response he has been getting from viewers. Besides dramas, he is part of an online series, Janaza Online, on Binjee while one can see him on other digital mediums (Teeli) as well.

“I am just going with the flow; I don’t think anything sustains for long in our industry so as long as I am getting acting opportunities, I am acting. When I feel it’s no longer serving me, I will stop doing it,” he explained.

Reflecting on some of the current dramas he has been a part of, the actor continued, “Mere Paas Tum Ho is a very well written script and the direction is superb; if it was someone other than Nadeem Baig, it wouldn’t have been the same. When I was shooting for the drama, I didn’t know if I have done well but I was sure Nadeem has shot it with brilliance – the café scenes, the rain, etc. – he pays so much attention to detail.”

Writer-turned-actor Mohammad Ahmed as Mateen sahab in a still from Mere Paas Tum Ho.

“When Mateen sahab passed away, the next morning my Instagram was flooded,” he added. “When I stepped out of the house, people called me ‘Mateen’ and those who I hadn’t talked for ages, traced and called me. It was huge for me.”

Ruswai – that revolves around the survival of a gang-rape victim – was very challenging, the actor admitted, as it was so intense. He doesn’t use glycerine or water to cry and there were days when he just had to cry and shoot for emotional scenes. “I would have panic attacks and would come back home with depression,” he recalled, adding that he isn’t a method actor. “I become the character and start behaving in the same way.”

In Ehd e Wafa, Mohammad Ahmed plays a Punjabi landowner named Malik Allahyar; though the character is loved by many, there are some viewers who feel the actor doesn’t have the right accent required for it. When asked about it, the actor was quick to admit that the viewers are very right and he even apologized for not being able to use the desired accent.

He said, “Cake was so much into me that I couldn’t get out of the character and I’m not a Punjabi so I couldn’t speak the language the way I should’ve. But I was so happy when I recently went to Punjab for shooting; I was overwhelmed with the respect I got there; those who didn’t know my name used to call me Malik Allahyar. I think they liked the character and forgot my accent.”

One thing the actor finds similar in almost all of the fathers he’s played onscreen is that they die (Deewar E Shab, Rishtay Biktay Hain, Mere Paas Tum Ho), either after the first few episodes or closer to the end. “To portray a female protagonist in misery or to strengthen her, or to shatter a family, the father has to die,” he maintained, adding that now when he is offered a role, the first question he asks is, ‘When am I dying?’”

When asked if being a father of daughters helps in his onscreen roles, he responded, “I have four daughters who respect me and never let me down; I am a very proud father and I’m grateful to have daughters instead of any son(s). I feel the pain of anyone’s daughter and this translates on the screen.”

Moving on, we spoke of reason(s) why he stopped writing in the first place. Among other things, the actor shared, “The work I did as a writer wasn’t as popular except Azar Ki Ayegi Baraat; I either wrote telefilms or series, I can’t write long serials. And now it’s no longer 13 episodes, it’s above 20 at least.”

However, what’s more frustrating about being a writer today is that one is not allowed to write exactly the way they like and is rather ‘told’ to write according to the channels’ demands.

“Content heads sitting at different channels haven’t written a script themselves and they too have to follow instructions from above,” explained Mohammad Ahmed, adding, “There should be a label outside every channel stating, ‘We are not here to serve art’ – something we hear too often. Their only intention is to make money but nobody knows where that money is going. They keep churning out similar dramas one after the other; this year was all about abuse, molestation and assault and most dramas sensationalized these subjects. The purpose should be to show how scary it is so that people actually take some action to eradicate these social evils. Now after the success of Mere Paas Tum Ho, everyone will start making dramas on similar themes, like it happened after Humsafar.”

Mohammad Ahmed went on to share that he writes on lighter issues that don’t revolve around extra marital affairs, divorces and saas-bahu issues. Hence, he doesn’t meet the standards of a good writer. “I even tried to write like those women so I was told, ‘Mohammad Ahmed you don’t even know how to write, neither your sentence is beautiful nor you can write a story’. When I got to hear this after two decades, I thought maybe I’m not capable of writing so I stopped.”

Nonetheless, he is trying to write once again as he has to finish a few pending scripts while he is also working on a film script. “My film will be different but it will not be without song and dance; Indo-Pak audience wants to see drama, action, dance and music. I don’t even mind an item number if it’s making sense in the story. Puppetry is part of our culture,” he elaborated.

On a parting note, the writer-actor stressed that expertise, exposure and education is important for a writer and/or director to be able to treat a subject with the attention and sensitivity it demands rather than just following similar patterns.

Pakistani actor Mohammad Ahmed says channels just want to mint money