From theatre to television to films

May 31, 2020

After picking up positive reviews for his performance in Ehd e Wafa, theatre-turned-television actor Wahaj Ali is gearing up for his big screen debut with Fly.

Wahaj Ali with Ehd e Wafa costar Hajra Yamin, who will be starring opposite him in his upcoming debut film, Fly.

An actor’s work trajectory in Pakistan is somewhat predictable. Many of them start off with theatre and switch to television as soon as an opportunity arises, which is likely to pave way for a (big) break in cinema. Local TV has been a stepping stone for many such actors, who thanks to drama serials, become household names. Some actors rise to fame quicker than others and one name that is gradually coming to the fore is Wahaj Ali, who recently played a key role in the critically and commercially successful drama serial, Ehd e Wafa. He has also signed on for his first film, the socially-relevant Fly, apparently the story of a breast cancer survivor.

With small to prominent roles in multiple drama serials including Mah e Tamaam, Bharam and Haiwan to his name, Wahaj has been around for five years. However, Ehd e Wafa that concluded earlier this year, became one his most acclaimed projects as praises poured in for his strong performance. His chemistry with co-star Hajra Yamin also resonated well with viewers and the two will be seen opposite each other in Fly as well.

Staying indoors due to the lockdown these days and trying to make this time as productive as possible, Wahaj has been engaged in readings with Hajra Yamin on Zoom. In this exclusive telephonic interview with Instep, the actor informs that so far they are progressing as planned; the only difference is they are working online.

Penned by producer-scriptwriter Asma Nabeel, who herself is a breast cancer survivor, Fly aims to create awareness around the subject. It is her story and this is the reason Wahaj gave a nod to the film. “It comes straight from her (Asma) heart; it is sensitive, emotional and above all, a true story,” he says.

Fly is not just based on the issue of breast cancer but it is also about its effects on our society,” he furthered, adding that it is infotainment. “I connected to it instantly. It moved me so much that I felt like being a part of it. It is an important issue that needs to be addressed and if I can be associated with a project that can help bring change, I would be honoured to do that.”

Wahaj had no inhibitions attaching his name to a film surrounding a somber subject but given that it will be his first appearance on the silver screen, the actor admits that he is concerned about making it look different than his performances on TV. “There should be an element of freshness for viewers who have been watching me on the small screen,” he explained.

Acting was never in the pipeline for Wahaj though. He was happy with his office job, working at a TV channel in the news and programming department until he shifted his entire focus to acting and decided to polish his skills. He didn’t enjoy it at first but later became accustomed to it. He had been associated with theatre since 2007 but made his television debut in 2016, followed by one role after the other.

How was the transition from theatre to television for him?

“I find TV more difficult; it is more technical,” he responded. “On TV, an actor is very limited in terms of expressing himself. In theatre, we practice for months and then deliver one day. It is tough and requires a lot of hard work but the judgement/feedback is based on that one performance then and there. But television is a medium where however one performs, it remains there and anyone can go back and analyze a performance. Hence, one has to give their best.”

He continued, “I used to find television easier since it is pre-recorded and one can have re-takes. However, I still remember I was very nervous when I had to utter my first dialogue. I was camera conscious. Now I actually enjoy taking on different roles.”

Reflecting on his most recent role in Ehd e Wafa in which he essayed the role of a fearless journalist Shariq, Wahaj admitted that it was one of his most commercially acclaimed projects. “The story was based on all four of us (Osman Khalid Butt, Ahad Raza Mir, Ahmed Ali Akbar, Wahaj Ali); everyone played their part really well and this is why the project picked up rave reviews,” the actor asserted. “Viewers connected with it. There are certain things that resonate really well with viewers, even beyond one’s expectations. In case of Ehd e Wafa, we did anticipate it will do well because it wasn’t one of those run of the mill stories.”

When asked about his preference when offered a role/project, the actor was quick to share that it is the director, more than the script, that comes first for him. He elaborated, “There are a lot of people who do not know their craft but are directing dramas and this is a disaster for the industry. A director with a vision can save a poor narrative whereas one without any can destroy a well written script. Though the writer plays a key role too, given that television is a content-driven medium, direction is above everything for me. I have done projects with very small roles (such as Haiwan) but they stood out because of how they were executed.”

Speaking of how the industry received him and if it is welcoming for fresh talent, Wahaj maintained that the industry has witnessed a transition of sorts; a lot of newcomers are coming from strong educational backgrounds and it is not like anyone can step in.

He furthered, “Producers certainly want to invest in faces that are popular among masses but I feel if one is capable and gives their best, their time will come and their craft will speak for itself. Whenever I perform, I don’t think of the response I will get as long as I am content with my performance. Not all star-studded casts get high ratings; one cannot predict the response anyway.”

On a parting note, Wahaj revealed that fans will see him in three upcoming drama serials including one opposite Yumna Zaidi, directed by Kashif Nasir, while another project is written by Fasih Bari Khan of Quddusi Sahab Ki Bewah fame that will feature him alongside Ramsha Khan. The third drama serial, that has just gone on air, is directed by Shahid Shafaat in which he shares the screen with Neelam Muneer and Yasir Nawaz. One episode in, Bikhray Moti appears to be a hard hitting story tackling several social evils at the same time.

From theatre to television to films