Acting is what I know and acting is what I will always do. The thought of becoming a producer or director has never really appealed to me. I still feel I have far to go as far as acting is concerned,' says Faisal Qureshi
Faisal Qureshi is an actor cast in the mould of a true thespian. He belongs to that rare breed of performers who take each role and make it their own. From a song-and-dance role in a tele-film to a nonsensical comedy routine in Mein Aur Tum, he seems firmly entrenched in the character he plays, always looking for newer challenges to evolve into a better artiste.
Starting out as a child, moving to Lahore and then on to the silver screen and its smaller counterpart in Karachi, Faisal has had an eventful journey in the entertainment industry. His first big appearance on TV and the one that people most identify him with was the character Boota in Toba Tek Singh. From that rustic role, he has played mostly urbane characters in serials such as Ahsaas and Harjaee. "I love to experiment and look forward to very challenging roles. Acting has been my passion from an early age. This is what I've always wanted to do," he says.
Although his foray in films was less than memorable, Faisal feels that it was part of a learning process. He believes the silver screen is the ultimate medium in entertainment and would love to work in films again if offered suitable roles. "An actor truly becomes an actor only when he delivers on the large screen because it is only then that he is scrutinized by the camera ... something that the small screen lacks. In Pakistan the viewer bank for television is far larger than that of films. Only when the quality of local films is improved and a proper infrastructure of movie cinemas and cineplexes made can the ratio be reversed. These days it is not extraordinary for a person to own a DVD player or a home theatre system. This obviously indicates that people do want to get the cinema experience. If an ambience is created at a movie theatre that is suitable for families along with good films being made then there is every reason to believe that people will embrace Pakistani films," he says.
These days, the local channels have also lost a large chunk of their prime time audience to Indian drama serials being aired on satellite channels. Strongly believing in the local entertainment industry in spite of all the competition, Faisal says that Pakistani viewers will always gravitate towards their own drama serials and TV programmes. While his argument does explain the popularity of local TV stars, the fact remains that for sometime now local dramas have been hit hard by the influx of entertainment across the Wagah border. By the liberal use of flashy clothes and exorbitant storylines, local plays have tried to recapture the market lost to Indian serials such as Kyun Ke Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. Says Faisal: "I lay the blame for this trend on the distributors rather than the producers or directors. In the 1980s, these distributors forced film-makers into making movies that fit the gandasa storyline because those movies appealed to film viewers in Pakistan. Similarly, the distributors of TV dramas are focusing more on selling drama to viewers by imitating what is telecast on Indian channels rather than doing what they are good at."
At the same time, he believes that only about 30 per cent of the serials being made focus more on joining the competition rather than competing on their own strengths. "We have our own heritage of serials and plays. I recall the days when the streets would be deserted at 8pm because everybody would be home watching plays. If we focus on what we are good at and on quality rather than quantity then obviously the viewers will watch their own plays," he says. Another reason the quality (and thus the viewership) of dramas has slumped is because there are so many TV channels. When you have to fill a time slot with a programme no matter what the merits of the programme are, quality is compromised. Often viewers see drawn-out sequences which convey the feeling that they are there simply to fill the time slot and get to the next episode. Faisal calls these 'time fillers' and associates them to the current lot of plays being aired.
A couple of years ago, after shuttling between Karachi and Lahore quite frequently, Faisal made Karachi his home. Does he perceive any difference in the working methods between the two cities? He takes a moment of introspection before answering. "People in Lahore are very passionate about work but have a slightly care-free attitude towards it. Karachi is more business-like with people expecting you to have a much more professional approach." So which does he prefer? "Being a professional actor I prefer Karachi. You know exactly what is expected of you and I like to work with people who take their work very seriously," he replies.
A smile lights up his face at the mention of family life. Faisal is now a happily married man and the father of a month-old son. "Balancing my busy acting career and family is not an easy task," he assures me, "but I still make sure to spend whatever time I can at home."
The recent phenomenon of Pakistani actors working in Indian movies and even plays in light of improved relations between the two countries has seen a few people in our showbiz industry wary of this new trend. Faisal, however, is not one of them. "This trend is more beneficial than adverse and can only help to make our industry stronger. Obviously, the Indian entertainment industry is much larger and developed than ours. It is a boost in a performer's career if he does go across to work in Indian productions not only because of the popularity he gets but also because of the extensive learning process," he says emphatically.
Even though Pakistani artistes are recognized and honoured, they hardly receive the kind of adulation their Indian counterparts receive and Faisal admits being stumped by this. He says that the acting capabilities of our performers are undeniable, but the basic infrastructure of the industry is much weaker in Pakistan. "Our entertainment industry, like many other fields, is alive simply by the dint of sheer talent. There is a dearth of formal training institutions which can hone the skills of people entering this field and promote promising graduates. Institutions like these are present in India and we can learn from them and have similar setups in Pakistan. NAPA is a step in the right direction. But we will need more places like these if we are to compete globally. One can learn so much from a professional than from one's own mistakes," he says.
Then there is the question of the scope and opportunities for actors working in Pakistan. "It's become a lot easier to be picked for a role than it used to be thanks to all the new channels that have come in," he says, "But many talented people are cautious about committing themselves in this field because of the uncertain nature of work and a lack of proper opportunities. If we want a larger pool of actors then we must provide them with the right incentives."
Faisal also believes that there is great potential for both countries if they can collaborate on productions and Pakistani technicians can pick up the techniques and work with the advanced Indian equipment. Would he be interested if an offer came his way? "Why not," he says, adding, "it's a great opportunity for anyone and you can use whatever skills you pick up to improve our own industry to make it more competitive."
While many actors and actresses aspire to go into production and direction, this actor is firmly attached to his roots. "Acting is what I know and acting is what I will always do.
The thought of becoming a producer or director has never really appealed to me. I still feel I have far to go as far as acting is concerned." Faisal's journey in entertainment may still be nascent, but the actor has succeeded in carving out a cosy niche for himself.