I would love to work with Sajal Aly: Osman Khalid Butt
Osman Khalid Butt is not just a good-looking face when it comes to TV dramas or films; the multitalented writer, actor, director, choreographer and now lyricist, continues to grow with every project.
His upcoming ones, Surkh Chandni and Baaji will feature the handsome hunk in a role that he hasn’t done before. He is loved by all due to his countless TV hit dramas such as Dayar-e-Dil, Sanam and Baaghi but not many know that OKB’s contribution to the revival of films has been immense.
It was his script Siyaah in 2013 that made people realize that Pakistan can make horror films; he wrote Janaan that broke into the UK Top 10, while the songs he choreographed in Parchi are still popular.
Spotlight asked this all-rounder about his upcoming projects, how dramas can be bettered and what he intends to do in the future.
Directed by Shahid Shafaat, written by Asma Nabeel, Surkh Chandni revolves around acid victims from what we have heard. What made you go for the play in the first place?
Interestingly enough, when I first read the one-liner of Surkh Chandni, I found it melodramatic. It is an uncompromising, graphic drama that explores the trials and tribulations of an acid attack survivor as she fights to reclaim her honour. But then I was quick to remember that we as a nation respond with cruelty whenever we feel a woman has provoked the patriarchy. Acid attacks are rampant in Pakistan – this is fact, not fiction – and unsurprisingly enough, they are mostly perpetrated by men who feel a woman has brought them shame and dishonour.
It is that mentality: the accepted misogyny, the entitlement over a woman’s body, over her agency that my character Amaan combats. And unlike, say, Sheheryar from Baaghi, he propels the narrative as he is thrust into Aida’s world from the get-go.
In the hands of Shahid Shafaat, the material became more complex, the conversations and silences more meaningful; he made all his actors methodical, especially Sohai. I connected with him because I feel we are bonded through our love for theatre, its practices and methodologies. He treats every scene like a scene from a play. There is drama, movement, shifts in emotional beats; certain energy.
Surkh Chandni is perhaps the most intense, emotionally exhausting experience of my acting career. It is an edge-of-your-seat thriller; it highlights a social issue we as a society might have emotionally disconnected from; it’s a glimpse into the darkness of the human psyche, a fascinating study on the resilience and the spirit of a woman, and also, it is a beautiful love story between a fractured soul and a man furiously trying to mend it. It was hard to pass up on a drama that offered all that.
With Mansha Pasha as one of the antagonists and Sohai Ali Abro as the female lead, how was the experience of doing an intense drama with such versatile actresses?
I was incredibly excited to work with Sohai; I’ve been a fan of hers since Jawani Phir Nahi Aani. Her work in Motorcycle Girl was phenomenal, as was the film itself. She poured her heart and soul into Aida (her character in Surkh Chandni). On set, she would disappear into a character. I think she carried a part of Aida with her even after pack-up. This kind of subject matter weighs heavily on you, but she did complete justice to every nuance of her character while keeping her wit intact.
Speaking of Mansha’s style and approach to acting, they are refreshingly nuanced; subtle, yet layered. In Surkh Chandni, she has humanized a character that could be easily interpreted as a stock villain.
The way she has manoeuvred projecting her character’s pain and resentment into unspeakable acts of cruelty are especially commendable. Also, commendable? Her work in Laal Kabootar. This is a pivot in conversation but to anyone reading who hasn’t seen the film: please watch it. The new wave of cinema has truly arrived.
Don’t you think our dramas have halted their progress and makers are now stuck at one point where they move in a loop than upwards?
I do miss the diversity found in the golden era of television – most of the old PTV dramas are shockingly more progressive, more liberal and intellectual than their contemporary counterparts. They also don’t peddle misery quite as we do now. My main gripe is that traditional television isn’t fully embracing different genres.
There is a dearth of good comedy, horror, action and workplace dramas, procedurals – why isn’t someone making an Inspector Jamshed series? Why haven’t we seen another Ainak Wala Jinn… Get on it, producers! – Anything to counter the heavy social-issue based projects (which are also incredibly important, mind you) or plays that tackle the seemingly infinite woes of matrimony. My fear is that because almost all of our content is so… heavy, we might end up desensitizing ourselves to horrific themes like, say, domestic abuse.
Also, women are more than lambs to the slaughter. Men are more than brooding, passive ‘heroes’, beasts that need taming, or chauvinists who need some naik Parveen to see the error of their ways.
I do feel that with a tilt towards digital content, we’ll see some of that progress you mention. I’ve heard Mehreen Jabbar, Asim Abbasi and Haseeb Hasan are all working on web series, and that is very exciting news.
How was your experience working with Saqib Malik and Meera in the upcoming film Baaji?
Baaji was an experience of a lifetime. I still remember Saqib narrating the story to me one night at Xander’s (I wasn’t even being considered for a role at the time) and I was sold. It had every ingredient: drama, mystery, glamor, betrayal, heartbreak, shocking twists, and turns, dark humor: And it is such a relevant story: a Lollywood superstar at a crossroads as traditional Lollywood fades and a more contemporary brand of cinema takes the spotlight.
I’ve always wanted to work with Meera: I’ve seen a lot of her films and am a fan. She is as fascinating a personality off-screen as she is mesmerizing onscreen. To have that dream realized that too in Saqib Malik’s debut film: I couldn’t be happier. Saqib’s storytelling, his striking visuals and his grip on narrative, is a master class unto itself. Anyone who’s seen the music videos of Khamaaj and Na Re Na can attest to that.
My character in the film, Rohail, is a film director who finds his muse in Meera. That dynamic is something I’m really looking forward to seeing on the big screen.
The film is going to be a game-changer for Meera.
You also write, don’t you feel that if given the chance you can write better than many writers of the day?
I’d never been that presumptuous (laughs). Baaji, aside from acting, gave me the opportunity to turn lyricist again after Laal Kabootar, as well as script consultant. So even though I haven’t written a full-fledged script since Janaan, I’ve found ways to dabble in my craft.
I think we have great writers, especially for dramas; it just circles back to giving them absolute freedom to develop an idea without fear of the dreaded ‘r’ word: ratings (or for film, box office viability). I’m not discounting the importance of either, but we tend to revert to the familiar, trope-y three-act structure when confined by them.
Why do we promote physical violence in our plays and why has a divorce marital rape, running away from home to escape marriage, become so common in our plays? Can’t we make dramas with simple storylines?
It was Brecht who said “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.” The drama has to be a form of truth, however ugly it may be sometimes, that’s its moral function. It’s when bombast and excessive sentimentality seep in that we become dishonest with our stories.
There is a fine line between addressing an issue and sensationalizing it. Domestic violence, forced or unwanted marriages: these are unfortunately very real issues that deserve the spotlight, but perhaps not with such sadomasochistic excess.
You are quite active on social media; don’t you feel that as a celebrity you can give some idiot’s comment a miss rather than going all Rambo on him?
Oh, come on, you should have seen me five years ago, I’ve actually toned down quite a bit! Look, I have absolutely no issues with professional critique, even personal attacks. V-logging helped me develop quite a thick skin. It’s just that I cannot let misogyny go unchecked, nor do I tolerate baseless attacks on my fraternity and my profession.
Artists are the quickest to be called out for their supposed lack of morals, and it is appalling what the women in our field have to go through every day when they read the callous comments passed by men – and women – all over social media. Some of our entertainment (read: gossip) pages help fan the flames of our internalized misogyny further, letting their comments section go unchecked. If schooling one person makes someone else think twice before passing base commentary on an issue, they know little to nothing about say, feminism, I’m willing to be, as Adil Omar puts it, a Paki Rambo.
Everyone wants to work with you but who do you want to work with?
I would love to work with Sajal (Aly); I recently got the opportunity to share the screen with her in a cameo for Haseeb Hasan’s Alif and now can’t wait to do a full-fledged lead opposite her. I think she’s on top of her game. I’m also waiting to be reunited with Hina Bayat in a drama!
Don’t you miss your first love – theatre?
Every day. 2013 was actually the last time I directed and acted in a full-length play, which is shameful. It’s just so hard finding the time to commit to it: partly because television does make you a bit complacent, partly because the whole experience is so ephemeral. You invest six months of your life to a project and then poof – it’s gone. You don’t find the permanency or the audience you find in television and film.
That being said, I’m actively looking for a script to either direct myself or find a collaborator and act in. There is no better high than performing on stage.
If you meet a 10-year younger OKB, what advice would you give to him?
Wear your weirdness like a badge of honour. Don’t procrastinate! Also, don’t isolate yourself in your quest for greatness. Actually, I think ten-year-younger OKB would have advice for me too: be fearless.