Honesty wins the day, if you are honest to the craft, good things happen: Rehan Sheikh
You have seen him on TV as a leading man, as a brother, as a villain, and more recently as a father on Hum TV.
Be it Sadqay Tumhare, Sammi, Inkaar or Udaari, Rehan Sheikh does the job so well that you start believing that he is good or evil depending on the character he is playing. He is the first choice of most drama directors but that wasn’t the case when he began his second innings – as a character actor.
Spotlight met the man behind Hafiz Ilyas and asked him how he felt transitioning from leading roles to non-leading ones, how difficult it is to make his character important at a time when all the attention is on the leading pair and what he wants to do in coming years, with digital becoming the next big thing.
You have been part of some of the biggest plays on Hum TV such as Akbari Asghari, Sadqay Tumhare, Udaari, Sammi, Tau Dil Ka Kia Hua and recently Inkaar. Is that a conscious decision or it just happens?
Rehan Sheikh: It just happens (laughs) but I am glad that it happened. I enjoy a healthy working history with Hum TV and it’s a coincidence that most of my plays have aired on the channel. It all started with a cameo in Mera Naseeb and then Akbari Asghari which was the beginning of my second innings – as a character actor. They were followed by Aakhri Barish and later Sanjha which is the most memorable experience for me as an actor.
It’s not that I haven’t worked elsewhere but since my comeback and Hum TV’s ascent took place at the same time, we sort of complimented each other. I guess they also came up with the most interesting offers which are why I have been seen at Hum TV’s screen more than others.
What do you see in a script when it is offered to you?
Rehan Sheikh: The Character, the storyline and the journey of the character I am playing. There was a time during my younger days when I used to reject a lot of offers (once I rejected 9 offers in a space of a week ) and went off to work in Theatre instead. That was because I was very choosy and (perhaps even idealistic) and looked down upon acting on TV.
However, with the passage of time, I have mellowed in my approach and learned to enjoy Television with its artistic limitations and also found the joy of working with some really talented people like Zafar Meraj, Farooq Rind, Shahid Shafaat, Mustafa Afridi, Ehteshamuddin and Kashif Nisar among many others. It took me a while to make the switch from Leading man to Character Actor, but coming from Theatre, I always believed “Character” is everything whether it’s the lead or a supporting role. I guess it’s something some of the fans and audiences had a tough time accepting who just wanted me to see you as a “Hero”.
Talking of Zafar Meraj and Kashif Nisar; you played Hafiz Ilyas in Inkaar and won praise from every quarter. How did you manage to make the character your own, despite not being a parent or a hafiz in real life?
Rehan Sheikh: That’s what we do – as actors – create using our own experience, observation, research, and instinct plus of course the Script. But all hats off to Zafar Meraj and Kashif Nisar; Zafar Bhai wrote a great script while Kashif managed the shoot in such a way that we felt we were living the situation, story as it unfolded. A good director creates an environment where his Actors can come and play and do their best and Kashif did just that in Inkaar.
Increasingly these days, our directors become managers who have to manage Production issues so they are too burnt out to be creative but in Inkaar it was different. Kashif and his team ensured that when we rehearsed, we weren’t troubled; when we gave the final take, nothing was disturbing the actors.
On top of it, we had a dream team of Actors – Yumna Zaidi was phenomenal, Sami Khan is wonderful and a thorough professional, Imran Ashraf is such an exciting talent, Noor Sahab, Kinza Ji was superb – everyone was on top of their game, and that really helped. When I said yes to the script, it was incomplete but since Zafar Meraj and I go a long way (we did Dozakh in 2001 where I played a young man from streets of Karachi who becomes an assassin), things just happened.
I wanted to work with Kashif Nisar also so it was like a New Year gift for me. I just let my beard grow longer and started working on the script and with the guidance of both Zafer Meraj and Kashif Nisar started creating Hafiz Ilyas. Honesty wins the day and if you are honest to the craft, good things happen. At times I was unsure – as I was with a new team of people but Kashif reassured me throughout, trusted me and gave me the margin to perform. Thankfully, It worked wonders and we received a lot of critical appreciation for our work in the serial.
If you are asked to name one scene from the play, which scene would that be?
Rehan Sheikh: Inkaar was a different kind of play because it didn’t bank on a victimized crying woman; in fact, it showed how that injured woman, supported by her father, goes out of her way to get justice. There were many scenes in the play that I loved performing, but the one that stands out takes place after Hafiz Ilyas’s daughter Hajra played by the brilliant Yumna Zaidi is shifted to her ward and he meets her for the first time since the accident.
He narrates to her a memory of another accident that took place when she was young was in a fit of uncontrollable rage he had beat up Teefa – the man responsible whilst the whole neighborhood gathered around to watch the spectacle. Hafiz links the current scenario and his own desire of hurting his daughter’s tormentor (Rehan Chaudhry) but is stopped by the shame of the spectacle it would create for his own family.
Though I am not a father, I felt that the scene required more than one emotion – a mixture of rage, love, helplessness, hurt, pain, shock – as the father was talking to his child who had been stabbed more than two dozen times.
And then there was the story behind one of the character roles in Aangan where your own student played a character meant for you?
Rehan Sheikh: (Laughs) Nearly 10 to 12 years back, I did a play called Mukti, written by Mustafa Afridi and directed by Ehteshamuddin which I rank as one of my best works for TV. It was a play in the Partition Stories series where I played three characters, and it went onto be selected for an International Festival. Ehtasham and I worked also in Sadqay Tumharay and Preet Na Kariyo – two serials I had enjoyed working in a lot.
So when they approached me for Aangan, I immediately said yes but due to one reason or another, their shooting kept getting delayed. When they finally informed me regarding new dates, I was booked elsewhere and couldn’t travel to Wazirabad where they were shooting the drama. I felt really bad at missing the historic play, however, when I found out that the writer Mustafa Afridi himself was roped in to play the part, I was happy.
I thought that it was destiny as it was ‘meant to be’, an introduction of a new actor in the Industry. Mustafa was my student at NAPA when I was teaching Acting and I knew he had the Acting germs. He has the potential to be a good actor and I am quite happy for him.
Many young actors find your way of acting quite different from the usual Pakistani style. Is there a method behind the madness here?
Rehan Sheikh: I don’t know…..It might have something to do with my brought up – I was born and partly raised in England and my training as a professional actor also took place in the West. I studied Drama at University and ran my own Theatre group for years. I always wanted to be a film actor as my inspirations were Robert de Niro’s Deer Hunter, Taxi Driver, The Godfather 1 and 2, Once Upon A Time In America, etc.
I spent about well over a decade in Theatre in England especially with a company called Tamasha which had produced some very successful mainstream Productions. I would be doing one play for sometimes eight shows a week for six months with an ensemble group of mostly British actors, most of whom were trained and highly accomplished actors. As a young actor, I learned a lot in such a Professional and Artistic environment.
I never cared much for TV be it dramas or soaps and that’s why when I came to Pakistan, I didn’t do much acting as I was a Theatre actor from England, who secretly looked down upon TV as an Art form. I was selective and waited for films to happen but they were not happening in the nineties that much. It was later in my career that I started to realize the importance of Television for an Actor’s career, So in the good old pre-social media days I would do a serial and then disappear to do Theatre in the UK for months and months – I would rehearse a play, then travel with an ensemble cast to different cities .
It taught me Acting, commitment, Teamwork, hard work, tolerance, and discipline. It also kept me in a good shape, made me into a thinking actor and helped me develop a skill set that perhaps was not so common here.
Name one major difference between acting in the sub-continent and the West, that you observed in your career?
Rehan Shiekh: There was a difference in approach to Acting too I found, especially in those days. There is always a tendency for Acting to be more loud and Showy here and also in Bollywood but the British approach would be to do less. Less is more, as they say!
The art is in the silences between the words and the silence should be genuinely earned and not cosmetic. So in a way, what you do not show is the real Art and is just as important as what you show. You just show the possibility, but one is always learning and at the end of the day, it’s the director’s painting. An Actor is only as good or bad as the Production he is part of. So it’s mostly out of his/her hands.
Seldom we see a great performance in a bad Play/Production. “The whole” (The play/film/serial) has to work for the Actor to shine. So it’s always a collaboration with the Director (also with the co-Actors and the team). If I have been good at anything – the Director deserves equal credit in giving me space and margin and guiding me there.
The first award I won was that of the Best Actor from an International Jury at 5th Kara Film festival in 2005 for which Shahid Shafaat the director deserves equal credit, for how he conceived the concept, guided me and created that space for me to flourish. In theatre, Actor is more in control, relatively speaking, than in Film or TV. Once the play opens it’s you and the audience.
On TV, he can cut your work in the editing room. It has been a few years since I did theatre in England, and the thought of going back on stage scares me somewhat, but I will go back soon, and renew my love for the platform. It’s like going back to the mother’s lap.
Being over 40 for a male actor is not the best time as he is neither hero material, nor father material. Do you agree with that?
Rehan Sheikh: We seem to be stuck in a rut, in terms of our stories and themes and most of them seem to be about household politics and conspiracies or start with boy meets girl. Leading characters are categorized as hero or heroine and mostly considered to be people in their twenties, which shows partly the immaturity of our content.
Hollywood leading men are mostly forty plus – 89-year-old Clint Eastwood is still a leading man while people like Tom Hanks, Robert Downey Jr. are still getting leading roles. Even on Television, you have popular serials like Breaking Bad or House Of Cards, etc. Their content is mature and so are the leading men, and the same goes for the award categories. When Brando won the Best Actor trophy for Godfather he probably had less screen time than younger Pacino but it was Pacino who was in Best Supporting category and not the other way round.
What we need is more out of the box Creators, filmmakers and content developers who can think more radically and create original content and original characters and storylines. Also, the will needs to be there from the channels to let those ideas through and not let the Marketing people dictate so much. Aging is inevitable but being Forty-plus is a great time for an Artist because of experience and maturity. But the talent needs the right vehicle. Mind you, it’s much worse for forty plus Actresses.
You may be playing confidently in your second innings, but you still have fans who loved you back in the 90s as much as the youngsters of today idolize Fawad Khan. What is their reaction when they meet you, today?
Rehan Sheikh: During the days of Travel Guide of Pakistan or Kiran Kahani – I was new to the TV Industry in Pakistan thus was introvert and private. I acted on Tv, hosted the show and then stayed in my own shell after work. I had no idea that people were mad about me, apart from some crazy fan moments. That’s why when suddenly I meet a die-hard fan, it creates comic situations for me. Maybe I wasn’t very comfortable with this thing called fame. I am still a very private person but I am grateful for people’s love and appreciation.
I am more at ease with my own self now. Some of my fans still want to see me like when I was the younger slimmer “Hero” – I still get messages like please don’t play fatherly roles. You still are young. You are a hero, etc. I appreciate their sentiments and love but I believe we are always evolving, growing and I am at a different place in my life and I am wholeheartedly embracing it. I am seeking newer challenges like trying to be a better human being than before.
I am also writing and creating stories – made my Indie film Azad that had good reviews and just wrote and directed another short film. What I am also seeking is better stories, scripts, and exciting characters as an Actor. I may still play the” Hero”, who knows, with the right script and story; after Rehan Sheikh 1.0 and 2.0, you may get another version Rehan Sheikh 3.0 (laughs). Picture abhi baaqi hai meray dost (winks and laughs).