This article originally appeared in Express Tribune Life and Style.
DUBAI: Most people know Asim Azhar as one of the youngest people to appear in Coke Studio but his recent foray into acting has pegged him down to be quite the performer as well. Asim’s mother, Gul e Raana, has been an actor since 2011 but Asim has just begun his journey into the dramatic arts. He is currently starring as the second male lead in Pagli alongside Hina Altaf and Hira Mani. The Express Tribune (ET) caught up with the multitalented young man to talk about acting, fame and his celebrated Coke Studio duet with Momina Mustehsan, Nawazishein Karam.
ET: Your mother is a fantastic actor, what made you start acting as well? Did her career help you in landing roles or do you prefer to call yourself self-made?
Asim Azhar (AA): Acting has been an on-and-off thing for me until now. Previously I’ve had the opportunity to make a few guest appearances. There was a musical I did in 2017 which was written by Umera Ahmed but Pagli is the first proper, dedicated project that I’ve done. It was after I performed at an award show that I started getting offers.
I read a few scripts and I really liked the story of Pagli. It was women-centric and the female lead is independent and standing up against the odds – that’s what made me choose this play. I do think I get the acting genes from my mother even though she has only been acting since 2011. But I can proudly say that before Coke Studio and Pagli – whatever work I got through my mother, I refused. I always did things on my own and like the feeling of being on my own feet. I achieved everything on my own – even if people believe it or not, it’s the satisfaction that helps you sleep well at night.
ET: Between singing and acting, which one has been more fun and which one was difficult?
AA: I think has singing has been more fun; It comes more naturally. If I have to compare, acting is more difficult because of the ‘set life’ – the hours and the circumstances. Sometimes you have to shoot in the heat. The first spell of Pagli was shot in June in Saddar – it was a very strange location. The house you see in the show wasn’t available and we actually had to shoot in some go-down.
After every few shots, we would go stand in front of the pedestal fans to cool ourselves down. When you’re working with seniors like Mahmood Aslam and notice that he doesn’t have a problem with the situation, as a budding actor, you can’t go ahead and say ‘I can’t stand the heat.’
Musicians are pretty spoilt, I’ll be honest. I’m not trying to make it sound easy but if you compare it to acting, all you have to do is go to a show and perform, and you get the same amount of money that you’ll probably get in one project. So when it comes to comparing these two very different processes, I’ve started to respect actors a lot more, especially my mother.
ET: What about films? Would you ever venture in that arena?
AA: I have partially been a part of it since I did the title track for Balu Mahi. There’s not a lot of money for actors in films but there is a lot of opportunity. I’ve enjoyed the past few films that have come out but because our industry is on the verge of a restart and the release cycle isn’t fast. However, recently there actually are some films coming out back to back like Verna, Chupan Chupai, Parchi and then Maan Jao Nafor which I have sung. It’s good that the release cycle is now increasing and I like that.
We need our cinemas to show more Pakistani films, which is a little difficult but the industry has really improved in the past few couple of months so things are looking hopeful. I’d love to do a film if my character isn’t irrelevant. I wouldn’t sign a film just because ‘it’s a film’ – I will definitely be interested if the character is crucial to the storyline.
ET: What is the best and the worst part about being a star in Pakistan?
AA: The best part is the love that you get from people and the special treatment. But I think it’s also a bad thing and unfair. I don’t like it when ‘stars’ can cut queues and its okay just because they are a star. I think stars and the people should be treated equally when it comes to such matters like waiting in visa queues, etc.
ET: In the past couple of years, who have been your inspirations?
AA: Atif Aslam; He is where is he is because of his music and that’s all that he does. On the acting front, I’m a huge Shah Rukh Khan fan. I’ve been crazy about SRK since I was three. I used to have his tee shirts, his films on VCR and I wouldn’t eat without watching his films on those cassettes. As a child, I was ecstatic when I saw him perform in America once. In Pakistan, I really like Faisal Qureshi and his acting. Whenever I’ve seen him in a comedy show, I recall his sitcom Main aur Tum; he was so good in it. He’s also done some psychotic roles and he’s been amazing at those though.
ET: When did things truly change for you? After ‘Coke Studio’ or after ‘Pagli’?
AA: Definitely after Coke Studio – the second time around – when Nawazishein Karam was released. It was a global success and received about 64 million views on YouTube. I think it was the fastest song to cross 50 million views and the third most viewed Pakistani song. More people outside of Pakistan have viewed it and that really put me on the map. I consider it a glimpse of reaching the top and it makes me really happy.