Around his birthday, The Friday Times caught up with the senior film and television actor Faisal Rehman for an exclusive candid interview.
Muhammad Ali: Which directors do you reckon are up to the mark in terms of dramatic excellence on television or film?
Faisal Rehman: I have worked with many directors in films as well as on television. The film directors are story tellers while the TV directors are just filling in the blanks. What I mean to say is that television is not a medium of story-telling. It was developed for propaganda and that’s where it ended. Entertainment on TV is an added bonus: hence TV directors making serials or dramatic plays are not considered directors per se. It is evident when they make films. They don’t understand the big screen and its audience, and therefore fail miserably. They never make the crossover journey to films for various reasons. Show me one TV director who has been successful in film direction independent of the market push.
M.A.: You seem to be painting a bleak picture of the future of media entertainment and our film industry…
F.R.: Well…I don’t want to rock anybody’s boat but one has to wake up and smell the coffee. TV as we knew it is history. The huge TV channels need current affairs to run their empires. That is what TV does best. The entertainment factor has been taken over by news anchors. They are the heroes and heroines. They charge top dollar and their acting abilities are compared and talked about. Don’t take me wrong, but it is all an evolutionary process. The world changes all the time, and the sooner we learn and adapt, the better.
M.A.: And films?
F.R.: What films? I might sound as if I’m contradicting my earlier rant about films and film directors, but I’m not. Let me explain. If TV is evolving and TV channels are going bust because of the internationally centralised system of entertainment and news right in your hands in the form of a mobile phone, we won’t need big TV channels any more in future. Same goes for films. We all have to eat our humble pie and realise that the time of films as we knew it is over! The film business is dying out all over the world. Tell me who in their sane mind will buy a 1,000-rupee ticket and go to watch a Pakistani film when they have much better entertainment in the palm of their hand, and that, also, almost free. Multinationals thought there was a revival of cinema in Pakistan and put a lot if money in the new films, only to realise no one is watching them. My suggestion to them is: invest in the internet – YouTube channels, Instagram and other local and international media. Pakistani cinema is not a good vehicle for product selling. However, I’m sure they have done their sums. These big cinemas with huge parking lots will have to find another business. When they were coming up about 15 years ago, I used to tell my friends that these new cinemas are coming up in the hope that Indian films will never be banned because they made money from Indian films only, neither English nor Pakistani. It wasn’t a wise calculation from a business point-of-view. We know our relationship with India hangs in a very precarious balance, and I was proven right. Our government told the cinemas to open their doors for audiences after Corona but they refused. It’s too expensive to run empty halls.
“Television is not a medium of story-telling. It was developed for propaganda and that’s where it ended. Entertainment on TV is an added bonus”
M.A.: But you also made short films, wrote, directed and produced. How come you never crossed over from acting to directing?
F.R.: Yes, I did, for I wanted to tell stories and I still want to. But I’m most happy in front of the camera rather than behind it. I’m an actor first – then anything else. When I used to make those films, I thought a new era of varied talent in filmmaking had emerged and lots of people will be making short and feature films. It didn’t happen, as the only outlet or the venue to exhibit those films was television. Channels discouraged independent filmmakers because that didn’t make much money for them. Serials did. They would buy the short films, play them at an ungodly hour when the whole country was asleep and to add insult to injury, cut out all the credits because they had bought the film outright.
M.A.: So, are you out of work now?
F.R.: Hahaha! That’s a good one. No I’m not out of work. I have reinvented myself – which I do so often. I have my own YouTube channel by the name of Faisalrehmanofficial and also an Instagram account by the same name. I’m starting almost three regular programs on my YouTube channel very soon. That keeps me very busy nowadays. Please subscribe Faisalrehmanofficial
M.A. You must have favourites; directors, writers and actors?
F.R.: “You are my favourite till we are working together.” Out of sight, out of mind! This is business. You don’t make friends here, just work connections. It sounds cold and unappetizing but it’s not. It’s loads of fun to be extremely close to people when you are working and then disappear for years only to pick up from where you left on the next project.
M.A.: So, you are saying “no favourites” as you are not doing acting nowadays?
F.R.: I can’t say favourites but I can tell you who I have enjoyed working with. In films, I have loved working with directors like Hassan Askari, Nazrul Islam, Shamim Ara, Javaid Fazil. You can find my films on YouTube. My favourite films would be Nahin Abhi Nahin, Doorian, Beqarar, Palkon ki Chaon Mein, Love Story, Chakkar, Miss Colombo and a few others. The list is long. In TV, I have enjoyed working with Khalil ur Rehman Qamar. He is the only writer-director who gave me a role very close to my heart in his serial called Chand Pur ka Chandu. I have also enjoyed working with Mehreen Jabbar. And another director who I have enjoyed working with immensely is Babar Javaid. He understood the television audience very well. Oh, Owais khan as well. His short film Farz Karo was right from his heart.
“Multinationals thought there was a revival of cinema in Pakistan and put a lot if money in the new films, only to realise no one is watching them. My suggestion to them is: invest in the internet”
M.A.: And actors? Female co-stars?
F.R.: Hahaha! You want to put your nose where it shouldn’t belong…
M.A.: I’m just concerned my readers are bored out of their wits with all the knowledge regarding visual entertainment.
F.R.: Hahaha! You asked me questions that qualify for such a reaction from me. Well, Babra has been my long-standing buddy. We have worked together in many films and have fond memories. She chooses to be discrete and out of sight. I respect her privacy hence will not dwell any further.
In the relatively newer lot, I have had very good chemistry with a girl called Hina Altaf. When I was offered a serial opposite her, I didn’t know who she was, as I never watch TV. I had to Google her name. To my surprise she turned out to be a very famous actress. I hope you know who she is – or you can Google. I will not say she is a good actor, as no one is. There is always room to variate and impress. But we proved to be a good team. Other than that, I’m still waiting eagerly to work with all the newer lot. I love it when they call me “Faisal sir”. Haha!
M.A.: How do you spend your free time?
F.R.: It might surprise a few people but I do not watch dramas and movies at all. It’s ironic but it is so because being there in the field, dramas and movies become more of critical pieces to be analyzed for me rather than mere creative productions. I am more inclined towards watching news or informative documentaries on National Geographic.
M.A.: What’s next in store for your admirers and fans?
F.R.: Well, I don’t make haste. I do everything with an element of fun. Right now, I am loving my YouTube channel and my Instagram. If you subscribe it, you will love it too. Faisalrehmanofficial is the ID.
Muhammad Ali is an M.Phil scholar and a former visiting lecturer at GCU, Lahore. His interest lies in indigenous literature, the specific research areas being the Partition novel, Environmental Literature emerging from South Asia and classical and contemporary Pakistani television drama. His research on Sahira Kazmi’s “Zaib un Nisa” which was a part of his graduation thesis has been presented on various platforms including Olomopolo Media. This interview is a part of a series of interviews in which various Pakistani celebrities including writers, actors and directors will be asked questions regarding their professional work. The writer can be reached at email@example.com