Khawar Riaz is known as a star-maker par excellence and has been instrumental in making several careers Zara Sheikh, Farooq Mannan, Ahmed Butt, Arooj, Imran Abbas, Amina Shafat, Danial… the list of stars made by this star makers is endless. Having the Midas touch must make him feel ten feet tall!
“I love unconventional faces – faces that most other people wouldn’t consider exceptional. I sometimes get fascinated by a particular face and imagine how I could go about transforming it. For instance, when Ahmed and Zara came to me, no one would have thought that they had it in them to become models, but I saw their potential right then and there. I immediately knew that they would become the king and queen of the industry. But I had to work on them. I had to give them time, patience, and the right kind of environment. And then they just blossomed and these seemingly ordinary individuals became head-burning beauties. Stars need to be made into stars; there’s always a creator behind them”.
In a place like showbiz where careers are quite short-lived to procure numero uno status is difficult, but what is even more difficult is to sustain it. There is this general impression that Ather Shahzad have managed to keep the fire going, while Khawar’s work, on the other hand, is fast losing its edge.
How would you defend your decline?
“I think I am very successful in my own way. I am still surviving. Success does not lie in people’s praise but in your body of work – what you deliver. If you are satisfied from within, I believe you have achieved it. And this inner satisfaction is far better than keeping others happy, you have to be true to yourself and do what feels right. If you go against your inner being just for some worldly attainment, you will never be happy in the long run. People who play diplomatic games lead very disturbed personal lives. But that’s not the case with me. Thank God!” says Khawar with sheer confidence.more
The nomination list of the Lux Style Awards 2002 came as a shock coz one didn’t see his name among the nominees for the category of Best Fashion Photographer….
“Everyone knows that nothing in our country is absolutely honest and transparent, and the Lux Style Wards are no exception. And I’m not just saying that because I wasn’t given an award. It’s statement of fact! Just look at the various categories – that don’t make any sense; last year, they gave the Best Designer award to a textile designer. Then there’s a photographer who hasn’t produced any work worth mentioning and he gets nominated again and again. Sometimes it seems as if the judges are handing out awards by turns – baari baari awards diye jaatay hein. The board of judges doesn’t seem to have fixed criteria. Nepotism and personal whims reign supreme. So I stay away from all the fanfare, because otherwise it seems as if you yourself are part of the petty rat race. The people at Lux kept pestering me to send them my work. They made such a big fuss that I sent in whatever I could grab hold of at the time. I was never desperate. I believe good work speaks for itself – and if Lux was so eager to include me, it can only mean that my work is good. There is some depth in it – I try to inject life in my work. It might not always be the best. But as it is, I think the people who are supposedly ruling the roost have a lot to thank politics for getting them where they are! Even my portfolio was rejected because of the dirty politics in the fashion world. Later on, I totally regretted taking part in the entire event.”
But isn’t it true that many people think that the rebuff to his portfolio was justified because he didn’t have much to his credit in 2002.
“My portfolio in 2002 was stronger than 2001. In fact, it was instrumental in getting other people nominated! My protégé Ahmed Butt actually won because of my photographs and here the mentor didn’t even get a nomination! That’s absurd”. And that’s why he didn’t send his portfolio for LSA this year. “Yes. I’ve decided that these award ceremonies aren’t my cup of tea. They’re unfair to the core – not just the awards, but the entire system that we’re a part of. There have been several instances where my name has been struck off the nomination list simply because other individuals – who indulged in petty politics – felt threatened by my competition. But I guess at the end of the day, it’s the faith you have in your work that really matters. If you are satisfied with the quality of your work, everything else can just take a backseat”. On asking who is to be blamed for this. The lens master said. “The panel of judges! They didn’t have a clue as to what art, photography, composition, and makeup were all about. If you invite people such as principals of art colleges, socialites, and architects to judge, what else can you expect? They should have called up people who have had exposure can have a sense of fashion, like editors of fashion magazines. In fact, I think personalities from abroad would make the best judges because they’d at least make impartial decisions”.
Recently the controversy that has made headlines is his fallout with his protégé Zara Sheikh. News was it that she was upset because he was giving her a raw deal and so she decided to fly solo.
“I am a very passionate person. Guys and girls come to my office every single day. Zara’s discovery too was just a stroke of fate. I saw her on the cover of an Urdu digest and decided there and then that I had to work with her. That’s how I am if I like someone, I go after that person. After getting them, I pamper and spoil them as I would my own child. And it’s not as if I have any devious motives – I am very sincere with my work. And then if you give them the right kind of attention and loving care – sometimes don’t give – they just blossom like a flower. Mein us (Zara) ko chand pay lai ke jaana chata tha magar who rickshaw par ghar chali gayi.” He further adds, “What happens usually is that when a person’s star is on the rise, they start getting offers left, right, and center from people who want to cash in on their fame. People approach them with half-backed ideas that contaminate their impressionable minds. You have to tread very cautiously then because it’s very easy to veer off-track. As the story goes; if you look back, you get turned into stone! You can’t let others influence your way of thinking and knowing what is right; you have to be able to smell out who the benefactor is and who the opportunist is. Zara’s fall from grace began when she started paying heed to the advice of friends, who were actually foes. For example, other photographers started pumping her up negatively. She was unable to judge people for who they really were. And so she suffered. There was a time when I used to recommend. Zara to photographers and artists and was bluntly refused with comments like. “Oh, she’s so paindoo,” and, “she’s so jaahil.” But I turned a deaf ear to them. And then when Zara reached the pinnacle of her career, she stumbled.
But what we heard was that he was irked because she joined hands with his rivals, Ather Shahzad…
“I don’t have a problem if Zara doesn’t work with me. The two years that I worked with (and on!) her brought out the best in her. I enhanced her beauty to the fullest, I left no stone unturned: we experimented with all sorts of styles, settings and props. Ab aap kuch rakh saktay hain to agarbatti rakh saktey hain. It’s not as if now other photographers are going to turn her into a fairy! People misguided her, telling her to work with other photographers because her work with me was getting monotonous. I even advised her to tell those photographers to come and speak to me directly and I would give them my blessing to work together. But she chose to move on to what may have seemed to be greener pastures. She realizes now that it was a mistake – that what she left behind her was her home, and that has no equal anywhere. So it really doesn’t have anything at all to do with Zara working with Ather Shahzad”, uttered Khawar.
If not after Shahzad then the bone of contention must be Mikaal, Zara’s steady boyfriend, whom he truly despises.
“I am happy with the Zara-Mikaal association. I was the one who introduced them to each other. It pleased me to see that Zara chose somebody like Mikaal to befriend. He comes from an educated background and their relationship would have benefited her in so many ways. Whatever goes on between them is their personal matter. But I wonder if Zara has a mind of her own!”
Ahmed Butt is his another protégé who flew away from his secure nest. Just like Zara, the Butt-boy too is accusing Khawar of taking him for granted and treating him like dirt.
“Something similar happened in Ahmed’s case. I introduced him, and molded his image. I, as a photographer and makeup artist, can bring out the best in a model and can turn them into a celebrity. What I can’t do is change the way they’ve been brought to because that is something that needs a whole lot of education and training right from childhood. A child may pretend to be nice in his elders’ presence but in fact how he behaves in their absence that truly reveals what type of person he is. Then you cannot stop them, cannot force them. Every child has his dreams. I had my dreams. I made his dreams. I had my dreams. I made Zara and Ahmed what they are according to my dreams. But of course, they have to fulfill their own dreams too. And those might have been very basic in nature. You don’t realize that your well-wishers aspired to take you even higher than where you ultimately landed on your own. And as the saying goes, ‘The king is great, but the kingmaker even greater’!”
Not many people know that Iman Ali and Vinny started their voyage with Khawar but ran away before they could learn to fly and teamed up with Ather Shahzad, who proceeded to capitalize on them in a great way and turned them into prized catch. Doesn’t he feel lost out?
“Iman came to me when she was a nobody with an intense desire to make it big. I was hesitant to take her under my wing as her father, Abid Ali, was against her decision to join the modeling bandwagon. If I had taken her on, it would’ve brewed differences between Abid and me, and I didn’t want that because he’s a dear friend of mine. Iman then went over to Ather Shahzad. But I’m really happy the way she’s made a name for herself and above all, in the way Ather Shehzad brought out the best in her. As far as Vinny is concerned, in a way she is my discovery and in a way she isn’t but having discovered someone does not mean that you have an authority over them. I am pleased with the fact that she works with everyone and has a mind of her own. I love Vinny as a person. What intrigue me about her is her dexterity, her fluidity, and her versatility. One moment she’s arrogant and the next she’s lovingly carting around a servant’s child in her lap. And then she squats on the floor and with her characteristic smirk says, ‘I’m only what you guys make me. There really isn’t much in this plain ol’ face of mine.’ Unbelievable!”
For a fashion photographer it is imperative to work with the right people, be it models or designers. But we hardly ever get to see Khawar working with the crème de le crème. Why are the people who matter apprehensive about working with him?
“I worked with most of the top models while I was working with Nabila. Later on I never got the chance. Like Iraj wants to work with me as much as I want to work with her we even collaborated a while back. In fact, we have similar outlooks with regards to our work. I’ve got some shoots with Iraj and Sunita Marshall in the pipeline – when they come to Lahore. The problem is not disinclination but opportunity. Recently my focus had shifted towards the film industry, but now that I’m back in the fashion fold, I would love to work with all these models, and I will”.
But what about the top designers who prefer Athar Shahzad and Deevees and show no desire to work with him?
“A creative person works according to his moods. I too have my moods and they swing frequently. I don’t need top designers frequently. I don’t need a top designer’s clothes in order to express my creativity – for that I just need my skills. I could even get inspired by the tailor next door and come up with a smashing shoot for his clothes. It’s a matter of inspiration more than anything else”.
No offense, but I think the apprehension arises because they think you are less educated and not well-groomed.
“I am a very natural person. I do what I feel like doing, wear what I feel comfortable in – be it offensive to people or agreeable. If you don’t like me, don’t work with me. Simple. And for those who wish to work with me, I am always there as a down-to-earth human being. My philosophy is that when there are no veils between God and man, why should there be any between fellow men? If somebody doesn’t inspire me, I don’t work with them no matter how popular they are with other photographers. As for education, let’s clarify what exactly we mean by “education.” Is it the crisp sheet of paper in your closet that you call a degree; or is it the entire code of ethics that teaches you how to respect people despite personal biases? When a photographer polishes you, pampers you, and introduces you, you start slandering him. Is that what it means to be well-educated?” said Khawar with rage.