Juggling between music, TV and film, Haroon Shahid reflects on his acting career, from Shoaib Mansoor’s Verna to his ongoing TV play, Qayamat and everything in between.
With characters that he has played in TV plays such as Do Bol, Khaas, Muqaddar and now the on-going Qayamat, Haroon Shahid has emerged as the quintessential blue-eyed boy, and I say this both literally and metaphorically. In Pakistan’s reel world, where men are often villainous, abusing or manipulating the women in their lives, Haroon stands in stark contrast, usually providing support or relief to the women in distress.
Busy on a tight shooting schedule, Haroon takes time to meet after recordings. He walks in, guitar in hand and with a beaming smile that betrays none of the exhaustion that a 12-hour work day may result in. Agreeing to a diet coke, he confesses to having an incorrigible sweet tooth and therefore avoids going near sugar. But he himself is super sweet, a characteristic reflected in most of the characters he’s played on TV. He’s always the guy who supports the girl going through personal troubles.
Where one could feel typecast playing similar characters, Haroon isn’t one to complain. Here’s why. Up until two years ago, if anyone ever mentioned TV plays to him, the musician turned actor would shrug away the idea. ‘Who even watches Pakistani dramas?’ he would say to himself. It wasn’t until one day he was at the Centaurus Mall with Mahira Khan and Naimal Khawar, promoting their film Verna, that he saw the scores of people flooding the mall. “Mahira said to me that day, ‘this isn’t my film following, this is my TV following.’ And then I realized what TV is.”
But Haroon is privileged to have dabbled in all three mediums so early in his career: He started as a musician, made his way to film by debuting in Shoaib Mansoor’s Verna and is now making waves through TV. It seems like a dream to him, the way all these opportunities came his way. From being a fan of Vital Signs in his childhood, to meeting all the key players of the iconic band when he became a musician, Haroon got the opportunity of a lifetime when Shoaib Mansoor called him and offered him the role. But as daunting as it could have been, Haroon reveals that Mansoor made it very comfortable for him. “He would tell me that he’s my friend and he had so much faith in me, someone who hadn’t even read a script before doing his film.”
Regardless of whether you’re standing in front of the iconic director or his leading lady, (Mahira Khan) for your first film, Haroon explains that acting isn’t just about standing in front of a camera and can often be an overwhelming experience. “There are people on the set, all staring at you, you have to be mindful of the lights, sometimes it becomes uncomfortable but you have to zone out and do your job.”
For instance, on the sets of Do Bol, Haroon encountered an experience in which he was almost ready to call it quits. After being yelled at on the set of the drama’s promotional shoot, his younger, more brazen self almost walked off. “But that play made me survive this industry, or else I was packing my bags.” And why was he yelled at? They were shooting at the Railway Station and he didn’t change his jeans, as there was nowhere to change!
As much as TV is revered in the country, Haroon feels the music industry isn’t as respected as it should be and he doesn’t hold back when voicing his opinion. He talks about award shows, the Lux Style Awards in particular, where musicians are too often sidelined. Music awards are announced right at the end, when people have either left or lost complete interest in the show. He also feels that due credit isn’t given to real musicians. Attention is given to those who are famous and can bring in millions of views, even if their work is mediocre.
In a culture where music, TV and film is constantly colliding with one another, where we have musicians who are acting, we now also have actors who are singing, for example in the show Kashmir Beats. Are they potential singers, even though autotune most obviously plays a huge role in their vocal range.
“I don’t want to bring in any negativity,” Haroon says. “Music ho raha hai yaar, shukar karain! (Music is happening, we should be grateful.) And all branded music shows should learn a thing or two from this. Instead of making fun of actors for singing, we should applaud the fact that they’re all singing original songs. We are all sick of hearing covers. You’ve heard of qabar ka azaab…well, this is cover ka azaab!”
Whether on screen or off screen, one thing becomes more and more clear as our conversation progresses. Haroon truly is a nice guy, a blue-eyed boy who stays away from off-screen politics except when he’s on Twitter and being vocal about national politics. He’s not too bothered about the trajectory of his career, enjoying whatever comes his way, which is a lot. Despite getting mostly supporting roles, he is featured on all the promotional posters and signs his next drama before one ends. Right now he’s wrapping up Qayamat and prepping for Amanat.
“I’m just trying to understand the industry and acting as a whole,” he smiles. “And I think I’m getting better. I don’t recognize the politics in the industry, even if it exists. I don’t notice it, even if other people point it out to me. What I do hate is when stars are disrespectful to others on the set, such as the spot boys or other people on set who aren’t as senior in position. Unfortunately that’s something I have to tolerate. More than any internal or external politics, that is what truly affects my performance a little because it hurts me to see people being treated badly.”