Don’t get surprised if you spot the most stunning model of the town at the modest interior of PIVIC Saddar arguing at the absence of Roshan Ara Begum rather than rocking in frenzy at some lazy number of Beyonce Knowles at a trendy elite party. The popular Nawab Sultan of Umrao Jaan Ada, IMRAN ABBAS in person too seems to belong more to the oriental Moghul era with a refined sense of aesthetics rather than today. Don’t get surprised; just reaffirm your faith in the age old maxim that appearances are deceptive.
How did you land into Umrao Jaan Ada?
I had been into modeling for four years when Umrao Jaan Ada came my way. I had already done ten to eleven projects in acting till then, Rana Sheikh spotted me in a shoot I did for some magazine.
Didn’t you feel it was too demanding a character for a novice like you?
I was really apprehensive about it at first. Nawab Sultan was played by the likes of film star Shahid and Farooque Shaikh. And then like most people, I had this impression that it depicted an older character than I could practically be. It’s only when I was told that Nawab Sultan portrays an eighteen year old that I could think of taking it seriously.
That must have relieved you about looks and bearing, but how about the performance itself. Did you believe you could do justice to a phenomenal role of the sub continent?
Let me reveal something that is not known yet. I have been acting since childhood. I acted as a child star in famous plays like Aghosh and Putli Chacha. Then I was into classical music. I used to sing regularly in all Pakistan music conferences from my school and college. I even hosted radio programs as well. So I was never camera shy.
Did you have to battle with family opposition while making showbiz a career choice?
Don’t ask me how much. My family is still not happy with my involvement with showbiz yet.
Most of us succumb to such pressure. How did you cope with that?
I have always been very self-reliant in that regard. That is why I have made a plunge into several things every now and then. Nobody knows it here in the showbiz that I once used to be in the Air force.
Don’t tell me that the dreamy aristocrat of Umrao Jaan Ada and the cheerful youth of milkon candy took up the mighty challenge of flying planes once?
Well I did. I was an Aviation Cadet and was about to be a GD Pilot. I spent two and a half years in Pakistan Air force Academy. I went through all that ragging and training that every cadet goes through. After flying for fourteen hours in a row one fine morning it got into my head that I wanted to quit. I gave it up, simple!
And what made you quit?
It was not my cup of tea.
But you joined in on your choice too, didn’t you?
Yes I did.
Does this mean that you tend to lose interest in things quite fast?
Well that’s like me. That’s how I am.
Where did your instincts push you next from Pakistan Air force Academy?
The National College of Arts, Lahore.
Wow! Quite a transition. And what did this young pilot steer there?
And did you steer well?
Pretty well. Well enough that I steered this and modeling and classical music.
Ever sang in public?
Many times. I was the in charge of Eastern Music Society at NCA.
But you never sang on Television, did you?
In my childhood I did. But now I don’t
And why not?
This one thing my family would never approve of and I respect their reservations.
Ok, Give me a break. Say that this is the end of revelations about your multi faceted, multi talented persona?
It’s not. I am a painter as well. (giggles) I have had two exhibitions abroad one in Tokyo the other in Hong Kong.
Just hold on. A pilot, an architect, an actor, a model, a singer and now a painter too. What are up to?
My parents say that now that I have done Architecture I should take that up seriously as a career.
So after doing Umrao Jaan now you are giving yourself a break from acting?
Not at all. I have done dozens of projects after Umrao Jaan Ada only.
Do you feel Umrao Jaan Ada has given you an added recognition as an actor?
Oh yes, that’s for sure. Otherwise they don’t take models seriously when it comes to acting.
They are justified, aren’t they? Models don’t have to offer much when it comes to their potential in acting.
That’s not true anymore. We have seen models like Vinny evolving themselves as most successful actresses all through these years.
But then they need much more effort, don’t they? Will Vinny or any other model be rated at the same level as we rate Sania or Nadia Jameel?
See models are paid for their looks. They are always conscious of the way they look. That’s how they are trained to behave. So they can’t really come out of that consciousness even while acting. Being a model I am very well aware of my best angles. However, acting is above all this. In order to perform well, an actor has to be indifferent of his surroundings, of himself.
Well, you do accept it as a drawback of being a model?
Yes it is. But luckily, being a child star helped. Then my father is a poet, my sister is a poetess and we have a sound literary atmosphere at home. I was brought up in an environment where radeef, qafiya, behar were subjects of everyday conversation. My Urdu therefore has been very clear and fluent which is very unusual as that is the last thing that is expected of models here. On the sets of Umrao Jaan Ada too. I was always telling Amina that she is overdoing something or going out of scale while reciting a verse, thanks to my upbringing. I feel accent, expression and delivery play half the game in acting.
So this you can call your strength as an actor?
And what do you feel is your strength as a model?
I once used to be really proud of my hair which now I am not. They are always the same. Long or short, they just lie flat on my face. I can’t give them a new look no matter how hard I try.
What is your weakness as an actor?
I speak too fast. When I push myself to speak at a slower pace while acting then I don’t sound that original. It somehow loses spontaneity.
Then Umrao Jaan must have been a feat to accomplish. It was full of pauses.
Don’t remind me of that. The faster I spoke, the slower Amina did. It really was a feat to bring the two of us into harmony.
What is your weakness s a model?
I used to be very thin some time back. So I really had to be very particular about what I wear, Khawar Bhai used to constantly urge me to put on weight.
That tells me that you have worked with Khawar Riaz too?
For two or three months. I did. That was the time I came into modeling.
You were in Islamabad, you said. How did you run into Khawar Riaz then?
I was when I was in NCA that I began modeling. There in Lahore. I got to know Khawar. I was witnessing a shoot in which Khawar bhai was involved some way. He spotted me there.
How is Khawar Riaz as a person? Everyone has something different to say about him?
For me, he is terrific. I regard him in great respect. Khawar is a person easily misunderstood. In an industry that functions on sham affection and hypocrisy, Khawar is a person who is outright candid to the extent of being blunt. That’s how he is a culprit to most of the people around. Our fashion industry is like that. Moon pe to aap gal se gal mila ke sugar & honey bane rehe aur eche aik dosre ki tange khenchey. Khawar is very straightforward and people can’t digest that. And that’s why he is labeled as arrogant and difficult.
There are people who find him moody and reproachful. What do you say about that?
I think he scolds you when you ask for it. And he is justified in that. I he won’t scold, we wouldn’t see that quality in his work that we do now.
Who else do you think has helped you mount your career?
Sultana Sidiqui. She trusted me with a major role in Jannat though I was a newcomer. I feel this helped me a lot in learning. Had there been no Jannat there wouldn’t have been shayad ke bahar aye and eventually no Nawab Sultan of Umrao Jaan Ada. She is the one who has chalked out my acting career.
For a medium like TV, Umrao Jaan Ada was too bold a venture. AS much as it was appreciated for the creative input, it was criticized for its daring depiction and use of raw language. How did you as an actor cope up with such a revolutionary kind of project?
You are right about the language bit. But then, can we deny the existence of such characters in our society. They have been there since Stone Age and they are there to stay for the times to come. The very fact that Mirza Hadi Ruswa wrote it gives it an acclaimed recognition in the domain of our literature. As far as the suitability of the medium is concerned. I feel it should have been rated for parental guidance. The way it went when Daira was played on air. But then, people knew that Umrao Jaan Ada would he on air. The kids at my place didn’t watch it. I didn’t watch it with my parents either. Eventually, it is all a matter of choice.
You believe for topic like this you could not avoid being bold?
I had to be. Can we strike out a prostitute’s character from our society? Good or bad, it has always been there. If it was portrayed on TV, it was not glorified. It ends on a tragic not that she is deserted. There was no judgmental approach to the play. Can we void it as a subject? Would suppressing a subject end the subject itself? What did the anti prostitution act of Zia regime yield? Did it bring an end to prostitution? Instead prostitutes deserted their quarters and spread all over the city. It is essential to portray vice in order to show virtue outshine it.
But then playing Nawab Sultan must have required lots of effort on your side. Since it was not you in the least?
As far as the poetic element is concerned. I was pretty sure of myself. My forefathers were from Aligarh in India but there was a lot of stress in our family on pronunciation and decorum of speaking Urdu. I really had to concentrate on my body language. So it was very interesting to make a sprightly aviation cadet back from the Air force Academy acquire the ways of a leisurely Nawab from the orient. Then doing romance in front of the camera was on ordeal in its own. They used to say that I am too hesitant and don’t even look straight into the eyes of the heroine. I still recall that first meeting scene with Umrao that was daringly romantic. Oh my God! Rana called me up after it and said I had full liberty to express myself. It took time to get even with that flow.
You have worked with a number of female models and actresses. Is there anyone with whom working was an exhilarating experience?
Working with Amina Shafat was tremendous. I believe she is the only model I met so far with whom you can have a decent, meaningful conversation for more than 30 minutes.
And is there anyone working with whom is still a dream?
God only if I get a chance to work with Madhuri and Babra just once in my life.
But this is difficult to happen?
Why not. It can be an older woman, younger man love situation.
You said performing in romantic roles gives you butterflies in the stomach. Is appearing in romantic roles mostly a coincidence then?
Well, very soon you will see me in a negative character in one of the upcoming serials.
Is it just the sets where you are reserved with the fairer sex? I mean doesn’t star struck female fans melt your heart once in a while?
Let me tell you what happens. Right in the middle of the night when you have managed to snatch a few snores just for an hour or two because you have come from a shoot and then you have to get up early for a shoot, they call you up in the most dreamily husky voice that one feels like yelling why don’t you sleep honey when you are so sleepy already.
Doesn’t it feel good that people love you so much?
Not when you are dying to sleep, oh please!
But when one is working in proximity with the opposite gender all the time, aren’t there more chances of getting attracted?
Being in the field, when you come to know people closely and their persona is removed, you begin to get disenchanted. You come to know that everything is fake. This world is not as beautiful as it seems. After coming to showbiz. I have developed repulsive feelings about it. It does not fascinate me anymore. The closer I got to these people, the more fake I found them. Now whatever I am doing is not out of willingness or that I am enjoying it. It is purely professional commitments that I am fulfilling.
We’ve learned that you are from Islamabad but for quits some time you have been residing in Karachi. Do you find the two cities contrasting?
Tremendously. I found all the love in Islamabad. Karachi is too mechanical, too robotic. People here are always in a rush. All they talk about is profession rather than emotions. Character assassination is of prime interest.
Being so much into romance all this while, what is your idea of love?
I really suspect love to tell you the truth. I mean, we tend to misinterpret the idea most of the time. We call infatuation love, we call lust love. At times you are calling a transient feeling love. Mohabbat walion ka kaam hai, Mohabbat karne ke liye bara dil chahye. I have seen lots of people in love and love coming to an end. I believe if its love, it has got to be everlasting. I don’t say that it does not exist but is too scarce.
So what is your definition of love?
To me love is an unexplained phenomenon where logics have no part to play.
Seems you will go for an arranged marriage?
Who is your ideal woman?
I wouldn’t call it an ideal but she has to be educated, intelligent and understanding, somebody who has the wits to appreciate good humor. She should be eastern and should have a taste for music. Aur usey sanwali bhi hona cahye.
Wow! Isn’t this more like Umrao Jaan Ada herself?
Oh my God, I never noticed that.
So when do you plan to tie the knot?
In the coming two years.
And she won’t be from the fashion industry as you said?
No way, never! She will be an ordinary person.