There are two kinds of actors in this world; those who excel in positive roles and those who love playing the bad guy. However, Ahsan Khan is one of those actors who are at ease whether the character is positive or negative, as long as it’s impactful. Be it casting for a period play or one with a social message, a telefilm that gets produced for an across-the-border production house, or a long play where he plays a blind man to raise awareness, Ahsan Khan is the man for the job.
BOLD had a chat with the talented actor who is about to return to films after a hiatus of five years (if not counting his voice-over work for the animated flick Tick Tock that came out in 2018). His last film Chupan Chupai featured him opposite Neelam Muneer in 2017, and in 2022, he is partnering with not one but two Neelams in Yasir Nawaz’s Chakkar, and the eternal ‘Khoobsurat’ Ayesha Omer in Amin Iqbal’s Rehbra.
Chakkar & Rehbra – Back to where it all began!
Unlike his contemporaries, Ahsan Khan has kept returning to the medium where it all began in the late 1990s. At that time, a young Ahsan wanted to make a name for himself and was even cast in Sangeeta’s Nikaah in a supporting role, before making it to the big league with Ghar Kab Aao Gay which also starred Shaan Shahid and the now-forgotten Zeeshan Sikandar.
‘I have always been closer to films than any other medium, as it gave me a chance to try out everything from acting to dancing. I remember working with the late Saroj Khan in GKAG who was so impressed with my dancing that she asked me to visit India. It was only after the quality of films started deteriorating that I chose to switch to TV, and that move hasn’t backfired since.’
Be it playing the lover boy in Tere Bin Jiya Na Jaye, Sultanat, and in the Punjabi film Ishq Khuda all before the current revival of Pakistani cinema, Ahsan Khan never actually left films. He believes that whenever a good script came his way, he put his dancing shoes on, and was back to where it all began.
‘Usually, actors who haven’t worked in films act in telefilms to show the world that they can also work in films, whereas I worked for multiple telefilms during the last five years, beginning with Chashm-e-Num where I played a blind man, and Momal Rano that was produced for Zee Films and featured me and Saba Qamar together. Mohsin Ali’s Chupan Chupai came next whereas I performed Voice Over duty for the animated flick Tick Tock in 2018. With Chakkar and Rehbara, it’s like a homecoming for me the film actor.’
Ahsan Khan believes that both Chakkar and Rehbra are films that will appeal to the general public, who have not seen him in the ‘hero’ avatar on the big screen in recent years. While one is a mystery thriller with two Neelam Munir’s, the other takes the audience on a journey of self-discovery, and both the topics haven’t been tried in our films.
‘Had it not been for the pandemic, Rehbra would have been released a lot sooner; it is a sweet story about a boy and a girl who discover themselves during the course of the film. As for Chakkar, it was shot during the pandemic which made it no less than a challenge. On one hand, we had to save ourselves from COVID, and on the other give our best so that whenever the film came out, no one could point fingers at us for taking a shortcut. I had a fabulous time working on both films and while Chakkar will be released in cinemas on Eid, Rehbra will be screened a month later.’
At ease with the Good, the Bad & the Ugly characters!
Ahsan Khan has proved his worth as a versatile actor, but there was a time when he had to struggle to find quality roles. The first phase of his innings on TV saw him relegated to boy-next-door characters where he got to work with the best actors and directors in the industry, but without setting a trend for others to follow.
It wasn’t until Neeyat and Pani Jaisa Piyar that he started to take the spotlight away from his more senior colleagues. Ten years later, he is all set to reunite with his Pani Jaisa Piyar co-stars Saba Qamar and Mikaal Zulfiqar in Fraud, where he seems to be the closest person to the title.
‘When I entered TV back in the day, every good-looking actor wanted to play the leading man, and it was understandable since the antagonist always lost in the end. However, after Pani Jaisa Piyar and Neeyat, where I played negative characters, I sort of realized that playing the bad guy isn’t that bad a deal. I kept juggling between the two sides, and while some hated me for being Paa Imtiaz in Udaari and Rashid in Qayamat, those with a keen eye for observation praised my performance. Had I stayed to the goody-good roles, I might still have been playing the winner, when in fact I would have lost many great characters.’
Indeed, Udaari started a trend after which every good-looking actor wants to play the bad guy to give his career graph the versatility it was missing. The character of Imtiaz became so popular that during the next year’s awards, the other actors were relegated to just nominees, as Ahsan Khan won each and every award for his performance.
He explains that there is a method behind his madness here, something that not many people know. He did not choose to play Imtiaz for the sake of acting but he went for the role after one of the people he knows went through a similar issue, thus he chose to educate the audience. The way he portrayed that character made his fans and detractors realize that he is not just an ordinary actor but someone who can put heart and soul to portray a character at the drop of a hat.
And when the audience thought that Ahsan Khan was finished as a villain, he returned with not one but two characters that terrorized his fans – Rashid in Qayamat and Murad in Qissa Meherbano Ka.
‘You will not believe that while I was playing Rashid, everyone I interacted with wanted me to switch over to reality, including my assistants, my wife, and my children. On numerous occasions, my kids told me that I was being weird like Rashid, and I shouldn’t act like that at home. Similarly, when Murad was making Meherbano’s life miserable on TV, random people used to look at me as if I was Murad and not Ahsan Khan. I am sure my character in Fraud will surprise them as well, for it is quite interesting in many ways.’
The truth behind the British-Asian thingy!
Recently a video featuring Ahsan Khan went viral where he claimed to be a ‘British-Asian’ actor who is working here and there, thus inviting people to make memes over the social media. Some felt that he was trying hard to look cool, while others felt that he could have just said ‘Pakistani actor’ instead of trying to fit in. But not many know that Ahsan Khan was ‘actually’ born and raised in England, and when he came over to Pakistan in the late 1990s, his accent was more British than Pakistani.
‘I enjoy it when my videos go viral and that’s the way I took the recent one as well. The video was made a handful of years back when I was working in a stage play Heer Ranjha in London as Ranjha which brought desis living in England closer to home. I was at an event that was being attended by both Indian and Pakistani artists, and when we were asked to say something on the camera, we were instructed to mention our connection to England, and that’s why I said ‘British-Asian’ instead of plain and simple Pakistani. I am a proud Pakistani, despite what people think, and still enjoyed the memes that came after the video went viral.’
Hosting sets Ahsan Khan apart from all!
And then there is the other side of Ahsan Khan that people get to see ‘here and there’. He loves hosting shows all over the year, and while currently, he is winning hearts with his Ramadan transmission on the state-owned TV channel, his talk show is also doing great as well.
‘When I started doing ‘BOL Nights with Ahsan Khan’, I didn’t want to just interview the guests but also try to talk to them about their route to success, what made them go for a certain character, and how they have managed to stay relevant despite the passage of time. That exercise helped me a great deal and even today when I am conducting the talk show on another channel, I am trying to do the same thing with my guests, and that makes the audience love it.’
He recently co-hosted the Lux Style Awards 2021 alongside Ahmed Ali Butt, Mehwish Hayat, and Mansha Pasha and hopes to be on the receiving end of the award instead of the presenting one, next year. Add to that his Knorr Boriyat Buster show for kids and his profile is complete, as the perfect entertainer for audiences of all ages.
‘Maybe because I am a father of three kids, or that I am a kid at heart, I connect with children easily and that’s why Boriyat Buster is exactly what the name suggests for kids. It makes me closer to my own kids who love the show and want me to try new things as well, which we do whenever we get the chance.’