One of television’s busiest actors and successful model Shamyl Khan has been making waves in the industry for the last 12 years. He is known for his dashing looks and his impressive acting. He started off his career with Syed Noor’s famous flick Larki Punjaban (2003) opposite Saima Noor. The success of his debut led to a string of hit serials and films to his credit. He is currently starring in three television serials and has a feature film slated for release this year. In an exclusive interview with The Express Tribune, Khan speaks about his career, the craft of acting, his love for books, life on a farm and upcoming projects.
You have been in film and television for more than a decade now, and have had considerable success in the industry. Greater fame and success outside Pakistan seems to have eluded you. Why is that?
In recent years, the success and stature of Pakistani actors has come to be determined by work done abroad, especially in India. This is rather unfortunate, because actors should be judged primarily on their acting talent and histrionic ability. However, I do think that working on an international project can be a great opportunity if an actor secures interesting roles in prestigious productions. I want to work abroad but only for a genuinely good film, like Bajrangi Bhaijaan. I have been offered a few roles in international productions but did not accept them due to personal and professional reasons.
What were those reasons?
I am very attached to my family and prefer projects that do not keep me away from home for more than a couple of weeks at a time. This is typically not possible with international projects.
(Right) Shamyl Khan is an avid reader who believes that e-books take away the romance from reading. PHOTOS : OMAIR MIRZA
The second, more important issue is my pride as a Pakistani and a Muslim. One of the projects I turned down was a Canadian production that required a protracted kissing scene and partial nudity. Quite a few Indian films display anti-Pakistan sentiments and several international ones portray Islam in an unfavourable light. I do not want to be a part of such productions.
You are one of the busiest actors in Pakistan and usually have more than one serial on air at any given time. How do you manage to work on so many projects simultaneously?
Working on multiple projects has become a financial necessity. Actors’ fees in Pakistan have improved in recent years, but not enough. A lot of hard work, perseverance, patience and drudgery goes into succeeding as an actor. Fortunately, I am a disciplined person. I request shooting spells that are longer than one or two days, so that I don’t have to be in a new project every other day. I also prepare for each shooting day from the moment I wake up till the time I reach the set, trying to arrive fully prepared for the shoot and remaining in character.
How did you get your first break in acting?
It was pure chance. I was in Lahore for basant where I met veteran film-maker Syed Noor at a party. We started talking about acting for films and he asked me to send him some photographs, which I did. A few months later, I decided to follow up on them, only to find out that he had been looking for me. I visited him in Lahore a few days later and signed a contract for five films with him.
What was working with Syed Noor like?
I enjoyed working with Noor Saab. He is intelligent, patient and a master of both the technical and creative aspects of film-making. Working with him was a true learning experience. He taught me about direction, cinematography, production, editing, scriptwriting and much more. He is a complete film-maker and one who shares his vast knowledge generously.
How did you learn to act?
A poster of the 2011 movie ‘Son of Pakistan’ starring Shamyl Khan. . PHOTOS : OMAIR MIRZA
I believe I was born with an innate acting talent and polished it over the years by observing other actors and taking an interest in understanding disciplines such as screenwriting, directing and editing. I also read a lot of books about the craft of acting and various acting techniques, like practical aesthetics, by authors such as Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, Uta Hagen, Viola Spolin, Meisner and Stanislavsky.
You do not seem to be a fan of modern communication methods.
I have a love-hate relationship with social networking and electronic means of communication. Even though they are convenient, they lack the personal touch. They have made our attention spans shorter and robbed our generation of writing and reading skills. There is no way to avoid them but one needs to use them in moderation. It is nice to be able to send a personal letter or an Eid card once in a while.
Tell us about your experience of living on a farm.
I love nature. People may not realise this, but life on a farm is full of pleasures – breathing fresh air, listening to the sounds of birds and animals, basking in the sunlight, eating fresh organic food, and enjoying the peace and quiet. I have an emotional attachment to my farm.
I study scripts on my farm in a manner that is not possible in the city. I can study the character I play without interruptions. I can take my time to understand the motivation of characters, the development of the story, the delicate nuances of the script, and the mise en scène of each scene.
You gave up a promising career in the world’s largest oilfield services company when you took up acting. Have you ever regretted that decision?
No. I have been treated well in show business. I have received a lot of respect, recognition and love as an actor, for over a decade, and have never regretted my decision.
A poster of Shamyl Khan’s debut movie in 2003 opposite Saima Noor. Photos : Omair Mirza
What are your current projects?
I am currently working in three television serials and a feature film. I play a patriarch in Qaus E Qazah who commands tremendous respect in his community but is a failure as a husband. Kissa Kursi Ka is a hilarious comedy about a young man who inherits nothing but 26 chairs from his wealthy grandmother. He sells the chairs off not knowing one had a hidden chamber full of diamonds and valuable gems. In Akeli, I play a brother who is extraordinarily protective of his younger sister whom he loves.
I am also working in the upcoming feature film Revenge of the Worthless which tells the story of the 2009 Swat insurgency. The film marks the directorial debut of actor Jamal Shah and is being made with the support of ISPR and USAID under the banner of Hunerkada Films.
Ally Adnan lives in Dallas and writes about culture, history and the arts.
He tweets @allyadnan
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, October 11th, 2015.