In conversation with Ahmed Ali Butt on his international debut and national projects that had to be shelved in 2020 but will hopefully take off now.
Ahmed Ali Butt, whether you’re meeting him for the first time or seeing him after a hiatus, has a charming demeanor that immediately puts you at ease. Considered among the country’s top stars/comedians, Butt most recently hosted the 19th annual Lux Style Awards along with Mehwish Hayat but at home, he’s a hands on father to his six-year old son, Azaan who zooms in to say hi on his scooty and tell us he’s gotten a new puppy.
After explaining to his son that he’s going to need some time and quiet for an interview he’s about to give, Butt settles in for a conversation with Instep. One gets a glimpse into his familial life because the pandemic has thrown off all old routines as well as changing the course of what would have been a very busy year for him.
Believe it or not, it still has been a busy year for him. Despite his next local film, Fat Man with Nabeel Qureshi and Fizza Ali (more on this later) being temporarily shelved due to the global situation and particularly uncertain fate of the nascent Pakistani film industry, Butt’s testing out new territories with his first UK-Punjabi international film debut.
Phatte Dinde Chakk Punjabi is a collaboration between Humble Motion Pictures and Omjee Star Studios with HKC Entertainment & Cinestar, set to release globally on Eid-ul-Azha. The Jawani Phir Nahin Aani star is obviously very excited.
“About a year ago I got a call from Hammad Chaudhry about a Punjabi film. I’ll be honest I hadn’t really seen Punjabi cinema before but I read the script; it was pretty good, funny, family oriented and I thought, why not?” explains the ex-Entity Paradigm member. He agreed to the film but wasn’t sure how long it would take to pan out.
Fast forward to November 2020 and Butt is in the UK shooting for it.
“I started seeing Punjabi cinema and realized they’re very similar to our local cinema, especially in terms of humour but their audience is huge,” he says. While he can’t reveal much about the plot yet, Butt assures that the film is a family entertainer, a comedy of errors with a big cast and lots of masala.
How has his experience shooting for an international production been, given how far behind the local industry is? As far as he is concerned, while the experience was expectedly smooth and highly organized, he believes it’s a numbers game.
“Look, they get to be proficient at what they do given the volume of films they produce each year. Just a single production house putting out 12 films in twelve months, no wonder they’re organized and their shoots anticipate any hiccup that might arise during the course of the day,” he opines.
Coming now to his local projects, Butt reveals that Fat Man was supposed to go into production after Fahad Mustafa and Mahira Khan starrer Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad had finished filming but the pandemic has left everything in a lurch.
“When Nabeel and I spoke, he was very clear on the idea of the film but the script was being written and details of the second half were being worked upon,” says the actor.
A movie based on the relationship between a father and a son, Fat Man was going to tackle the issue of fat phobia and fat shaming, as the title suggests. As someone who has been plus size and struggled with weight, Butt understands the character well though he jokes that he’s lost so much weight during the lock down (some 20 kilograms) that he no longer fits the character’s physical description.
Having heard along the grapevine, one is also curious about one last project: his own feature film. A long-standing plan yet to come to fruition, Butt’s finished his first feature film script and has even picked out his cast, speaking to a chosen few about the film and their roles. While he can’t reveal much more about the project yet, he’s hoping that this year sees it at least take off, given global conditions permit and our industry survives this long, crippling break.
Before the conversation comes to a wrap, social media comes up and one asks Butt about his divisive social media take on a particular feminist slogan that saw him and local activism circles at loggerheads earlier in the year. Butt opines that the slogan mera jism meri marzi goes against our societal values by propagating abortion rights and vulgarity. However, being aware of the actor’s lineage (Butt is Madam Nur Jehan’s grandson, his late mother and aunts all working women, considered some of the most progressive families in the country) it’s difficult to believe that he would be against a slogan supporting female autonomy.
He says he experienced the ‘male gaze,’ as feminists term it, while dressing in drag for a film in 2018. He plays the character of Maina in Jawani Phir Nahi Aani 2 and while dressing in drag, Butt acknowledged that the looks he got, even from crew who knew it was him under the guise, was enough to rattle the star. “I used to pull up my sari and sit wide legged, showing off my hairy calves to temper some of the looks,” he reminisces.
What does this have to do with a feminist slogan though?
In context of how he was viewed on set in drag, could he not understand where the need for women to express bodily autonomy came from? Butt concurs. He acknowledges that the sub-continental male gaze deals with a filthy, dehumanizing mindset that reduces women to objects and agrees that it must be changed and addressed.
On that mutually agreeable note, we part ways with the actor whose son has been waiting to get his attention for a bit. We hope to see him back onscreen next.