To me, ratings frankly don’t matter: Osman Khalid Butt

Last summer Facebook and Twitter were flooded with Behind The Scenes snaps from (the then upcoming) Goya and people,...
Updated 02 Apr, 2015 03:54pm

Last summer Facebook and Twitter were flooded with Behind The Scenes snaps from (the then upcoming) Goya and people, (were going crazy over Osman Khalid Butt. No denying that he is good looking, (“The hottest thing in Pakistan,” as one fan has said), but I was waiting to see how he acts; I was going to be reviewing Goya and hadn’t seen, Aun Zara or Eik Nayee Cinderella.

During the ‘rock, paper, & scissors’ scene in episode one, I decided I was going to interview him.

After doing some research on him I found out that he was the one behind the infamous Humsafar parodies along with many other parodies he has done.

Besides being extremely hilarious, he is also a fantastic writer – he wrote Siyaah for IRK Films and won Best Screen Play at the first ARY Film Awards. A month ago, I finally got a chance to interview Osman Khalid Butt and upon talking to him realized that besides being a great actor and writer, he is an extremely intelligent person, really very funny in reality, and more than any of that, he is just an amazing human being in general.

Here is what he had to say:

1. Tell me a little about yourself…who is Osman Khalid Butt?

An idiot savant, minus the savant?

Quick fact check:

I’m the youngest son of Dr. Khalid Said (an esteemed actor, director & playwright) and Saira Fatima Butt (an artist, educationist and the love of my life). My brother, Omar, is a reporter and news anchor for PTV and an avid photographer and my sister, Michelle, heads Kuch Khaas, an arts and culture center based in Islamabad.

So you see, the bar in this family has been raised quite high. #nopressure

I’m a journalism graduate and have been actively immersed in the performing arts for – whoa – a decade now, starting with theatre back in 2005. I also love writing (read: living vicariously through the characters I create).

As a person, I suppose I’m a certified introvert. There’s nothing I enjoy more than solitude, a good book, and a steaming cup of chai. Except for when I’m onstage. Nothing beats that high.

2. You made a lot of hysterical parodies on YouTube (especially for Humsafar); how was the feedback for that?

The feedback was incredible. Aside from all the love and wonderful response I got for a bizarre brand of humor I usually reserved for the closest of friends, my video-blogs gave me national recognition. Speaking of Humsafar, I still remember how cool it felt to have my parody aired on HUM at the wrap-up celebration of the serial, and hearing positive feedback from Mahira Khan, Hina Bayat, Atiqa Odho and QB.

Any time anyone fondly remembers the satire, the Meera impressions, or asks me to do the Phadda dance, I feel extremely happy. I’m glad I got the chance to make people laugh.

3. What do you enjoy more, theatre or television? Any plans on films?

Let me put it this way – there’s a quote by Martha Graham that goes: ‘The center of the stage is where I am.’ (His eyes lit up while talking about theatre).

That’s me. Theatre has taught me so much; confidence, self-actualization, discipline, the ability to mold myself into different, complex characters. In 2004, I was at a crossroads: three semesters into my Telecom degree, I felt as though I was just drifting without purpose. Theatre became my raison d’être.

However, I do enjoy the challenge of television. Where you constantly have to construct, deconstruct and then rebuild your character, bring yourself to whichever point in the script is being shot. I’m extremely grateful to all my directors – and especially the writers – for giving me the opportunity to play interesting roles in the short time I’ve been on TV: from the quirky yet-to-come-of-age Aunn to the multifaceted Omar Hashmi to the (upcoming) ‘angry young man’ Wali, who wears his heart on his sleeve.

As for film, there just might be an upcoming project but I don’t want to jinx it. I’m definitely writing – once again for producer and friend Imran Kazmi, who I collaborated with for the screenplay of Siyaah.

4. In a short time, you have become extremely popular and have gotten accolades for all of your roles. How does that feel?

I think you’re being unfair to my surma in Aik Nayee Cinderella; it walked away with all the limelight, if not the accolades in that serial! On a more serious note, it feels really great to be recognized for doing a good job with a character. I’m always on the lookout for critique, though – as an example, one of the criticisms I received during the initial episodes of ANC was that I was coming across as too stiff.

I tried loosening up in my next serial – Aunn Zara… perhaps to a fault. (Laughs) I’m going off on a tangent here, but I remember there was this one scene in Aunn Zara where I had to roll around in bed in order to disturb a sleeping Zara (Maya Ali), and after the first take, my director Haissam wondered out loud whether I was auditioning for an item number in a Lollywood film. Angrayiyan le leen jo maine zor zor se and all that jazz.

The credit for all the accolades I’ve received goes to my directors, my co-actors and the writers, and I’m not being diplomatic. Transitioning from theatre to television wasn’t easy for me, with all the restraint and control over expressions that comes with the territory, but my directors, particularly Haissam, who launched me and who I owe everything to, were incredibly patient; my costars full of helpful tips and feedback.

5. Let’s talk about Goya… How was the overall experience?

It was great – Omar Hashmi on the surface comes across as your average privileged man-child, but the character is wonderfully layered. I’m glad I got to work in a serial with a script penned by Mohammad Ahmed saab; the situations and dialogues he crafts are so natural and hit the mark without being bombast.

Shooting was a lot of fun; there was a natural camaraderie between all the actors that I think shows well onscreen. I clicked immediately with Furqan, Hira, Gohar and Farah Shah (Farah introduced us all to the Coca-Cola song, which made its way to the serial as well!)

Farrukh is an easy director to work with; he knows what he wants from the scene and from each actor: he and Ahmed saab make for a great team… fun trivia: they both have a great sense of humor! Both allowed each actor (no matter the role or screen-time) to have their shining moment, which, to be honest, is quite rare. I also love how Omar and Mohini’s relationship was shown; she is the yin to Omar’s yang… the chemistry was relaxed and while it took a bit of time for the ice to break between me and Sana, once we got under the skin of our characters it was great fun.

6. Why do you think Goya isn’t getting the ratings it rightfully deserves?

They’re not? I’m honestly at a loss as to the reason. Maybe because twelve episodes in, there’s no wailing heroine jis par tashadud ho raha hai?

Sorry, didn’t mean to be caustic, but let me recount a story: after my first serial, Haissam told me I should start watching dramas more to be better informed on the goings-on of the industry, various actors’/directors’ work … so one day I sat down and flipped through all the entertainment channels.

All 14 of them had a mid-shot of the heroine crying with an alaap or dramatic music playing in the background. It was quite, err… illuminating? And frankly, terribly misogynistic. I love how serials like Aunn Zara and Goya showcase strong, independent women who, yes, might be flawed, but at least they’re not two extremes we see on television as a norm: the home-maker or the home-breaker.

I don’t think one Goya or Aunn Zara or Diyar-e-Dil will make the required impact: we need to start experimenting more with content to change audiences’ mindset.

Of course, this is all conjecture and my opinion. To me, ratings frankly don’t matter as long as you have a dedicated audience and good reviews.

7. You are shooting for Diyar-E-Dil at the moment, can you tell me a little about that?

Diyar-e-Dil is based on a novel by Farhat Ishtiaq and is directed by virtuoso Haseeb Hassan. It is an intense love story and a family drama spanning three generations with a strong theme of how ego and intransigence can destroy bonds once thought unbreakable.

I don’t think I’ve ever been this nervous about a character: there are huge expectations of Wali and I hope I’ve done justice to the role. It’s also a serial where Maya Ali (who plays Farah) and I are reintroduced as a passionate, intense couple. The equation between Wali and Farah is an incredibly unique one.

8. What is your dream role or dream project?

That’s a tough question to answer, because I want to leave more than just an actor’s mark on the world (even though I’ve had an Oscar acceptance speech prepared since I was, what, 12?). I’m very interested in taking on direction; I’ve had a script ready – all in my head, mind you – for the past three years for my directorial debut. I’m planning to go abroad for specialized courses in film direction before I take that up, though.

I’ve always wanted to stage Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – one of my favorite plays of all time… take the play on a nationwide tour. As an actor, I’m drawn to fully fleshed-out negative characters: a role as exquisite as Iago from Othello (or it’s equally brilliant Indian counterpart Langda from Omkara) or the menacing Jack Torrance from The Shining would be the kind of characters I would love to play.

9. How is family life…with both siblings being in arts and media, do they give you any advice?

You know, regarding my career and life-choices, my mother always used to say: ‘it doesn’t matter whether you sleep rich or penniless; what matters is that you sleep with a smile on your face.’ Thanks to my siblings, their unconditional love and support, their advice, critique and sacrifices to see me successful… I do.

Ours is a relationship about speaking your mind without reservation. My sister is the biggest influence in my life; she’s shaped me to become the man that I am today.

Bhai is my motivator, the person who pushes me out of my comfort zone. They are the best support system anyone could have asked for. We have done theatre together as a family and as a team (I formed my production company, The Living Picture Productions, in 2007 and they have both played important production roles in all four plays I’ve directed under that banner).

10. Any plans on going across the border?

If a good project with good merits comes along, why not? I’m not ashamed to admit Indian cinema has had a huge impact on my life; the melodrama, the storytelling, the music, the larger-than-life performances – the actor in me was born from watching Bollywood classics (Mughal-e-Azam being the first film I ever saw. Still remember).

I get that all this might be controversial of me to say: God knows when a local website quoted an interview I did with the Hindustan Times where I mentioned I’d like to work in Bollywood, people in their comments branded me everything from a sell-out to someone who wants money through shortcuts (?!) and is willing to sideline Pakistani projects in favor of making a quick Indian buck.

Let me assure you, that is not the case. But I will not suddenly turn into a hypocrite to please public sentiment. I have a wish-list of directors the world over I admire and would love to work with, and several Indian directors feature among them.

11. If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?

An arts, culture & entertainment reporter, and a novelist. I’ve actually started work on a collection of short stories, all belonging to my favorite genre, horror. ‘Started’ being the key word: three down, at least 11-12 more to go.

If not that, then definitely a teacher. I love maths (#nerdalert) and literature.

12. Something I ask almost everyone I speak to: what are your thoughts on the kinds of Morning Shows we have and the impact they have on society?

I’m not going to comment much – I’ve already campaigned against moral policing in morning shows in one of my video-blogs – but I do believe that there are few shows out there that are more than just the superficial. You usually see practically every guest asked the same recycled questions; there’s little research done into the theme, and most importantly: I get that morning shows are their own form of escapism – but you either see extremely frivolous topics or, at the other end of the spectrum, issues that border on sensationalism.

There needs to be a balancing act: inform and educate the audiences by throwing light on social issues with practical solutions offered, and throw in the shugal-masti and fun, interactive sessions with guests. Weekend with Nadia Jamil is an excellent example of this model.

13. And finally, a message to your fans (and detractors)?

I’d like to thank everyone who’s supported me, and given me constructive criticism during my journey – I feel extremely lucky to have a network of well-wishers. I’d like to take this opportunity to say that while I may be terrible at responding to comments and messages, that doesn’t mean that I’ve not read your feedback, your words of encouragement: they’ve helped me better myself as a performer. I say this because I don’t think we credit people enough for giving us genuine advice.

An actor without an audience is nothing. Thank you for all the love, and I hope that I can exceed your expectations of me one day. To the most wonderful, eclectic audience I could have hoped for: a toast.

And with that we ended the interview. My entire experience during this was amazing. Like I said in the beginning, Osman is a great person to talk to, gave absolutely zero starry attitude, and to be honest, he did most of the work; I just get to take credit for it.