‘When I came to Karachi, I wanted to become famous over night, koi barri cheez bun jaaon ga, (become a big star)…but within a week I understood that aisa kuch nahin hai, I have to work hard, I have to earn a living, I have to survive. I even forgot why I had come, all I was concerned about was how to sustain myself. There were many times when I should have given up or could have given up, but I never did’. As Mohsin Abbas Haider reminisces on, the determination in his voice makes me sit up and take notice. This is not your average rags to riches story, I say to myself.
I remember watching ‘Na Maloom Afraad’ and really admiring the acting of this young, new, talented actor whom I was watching for the first time. Then a few years after, I was surprised to learn that this was the same actor who was behind the soulful vocals of ‘Uddi Jaa’ in the latest Coke Studio Season. I honestly didn’t have an idea that, in addition to his brilliant acting prowess, he could sing so beautifully as well, only to discover very soon, some harsh truths about the struggling actor, in a candid conversation with the very handsome and multi-talented Mohsin Abbas Haider.
Mohsin smiles and says:
‘You are talking about a kid, whose mother used to stand outside the washroom, because he was so scared. Now that kid is staying in a place where the roof leaks, has to place a towel over his head, the water in his washroom has sand in it. He gets up early to look for a hamaam to shower on the roads of Karachi, who doesn’t have money to buy food. If he eats at one time, then he will have to travel on foot to reach to his workplace. For dinner, he kept an eye on the boy at the night shift at the radio, wondering, does he have a tiffin or not? And if the boy does have it, he will take a few bites from it. So there is an entire series of such events over the past 10 years. There were many times that I told myself that, Mohsin, it’s not that easy’.
Faisalabad Sey Karachi Tuk, can this be made into a film? I asked him jokingly.
Oh yes! I used to be an over confident person. I tell everyone now, first of all you should know what is your best. Once that’s done, you should work on that. Make it so good, become an expert, so that no one can do it as well as you do it, or even if they are good, they cannot do it like you. You should be confident of your special individuality.
A lot of people say: Overnight stardom… sifaarshi. I just smile. A lot of these comments came at the time of Coke Studio. My family and friends used to smile, because they know the real story. People saying these things don’t know that I have been in the industry for 10 years and all that I have been through. My story is for me and my work is for them.
In answer to your question, ‘Making Of A Star’ should be written, and that should be about me. But now I have no time, maybe later, when I have sometime.
Amused by his honest reply, I asked: What about luck, does that play any part?
Yes it’s a huge factor. Here I would like to say that my mother prayed so much that Allah had to do it for me. There are so many people who are better performers and singers than me, but maybe they were not as lucky as I am or maybe not as hardworking. I am very very hardworking.
Mohsin joined NAPA (National Academy of Performing Arts) when he came to Karachi. He was auditioning and seeking work at the same time. He decided to go it alone and not take any money from his parents. ‘Itna khuddar tha. Bollywood nay qafee dimaagh kharaab kiya huwa tha’, admits Mohsin.
In these 10 years that marked his struggle, Mohsin worked as an RJ, wrote copy and scripts for various projects, managed some voice-overs, and also worked in Na Maloom Afraad. As I listen to his story, I realise the scope and variety of work he has undertaken, this work again validates the length and depth of his talent. So I cannot help but ask him my next question:
Why are you still performing at ‘Mazaaq Raat’? After delivering a brilliant acting performance in ‘Na Maloom Afraad’ and then as a singer with ‘Uddi Jaa’, isn’t Mazaaq Raat undermining your own talent?
The actual answer to this question, which I think you are not expecting, is that I am used to a pay cheque. From the very first day, since I started my career, I have always been a permanent employee and receive a regular salary. I get a lot of offers and opportunities, but what happens is, that when they call me, I tell them: I give 3 days to Mazaaq Raat, I can give you 4 days. Dramas never have a huge budget to fly me so many times, so the call never comes. Mazaaq Raat has kind of restricted me and I have not been able to do a lot. So eventually, to do something else, I will have to choose between Mazaaq Raat and other opportunities. So let’s see…
Did the response to Uddi Jaa surprise you?
Yes. I used to say, ‘Uddi Jaa will do well’. That’s about it. Even as a listener, for Coke Studio 9, I didn’t find many numbers that I could download on my phone. So I thought maybe Uddi Jaa will also be just okay. Especially given that I am a new comer. But when it came on and the response it received, I was shocked at what happened! Even I didn’t expect it…it was the first time that people saw the real Mohsin. I have made it with all my heart, exactly as I am in real life. No pretence and no acting.
And your inspiration was?
I never take credit for Uddi Jaa, I get scared. I never wrote it with hardwork. When you write sometimes, it’s either a lot of hard work, or it just comes to you like they say in Urdu ‘aamud hotee hai’.
This is the first time that the story of Uddi Jaa will be in print.
‘Me and my team had been to Do Darya for dinner. As I was driving back with my friend, I was sleepy after the meal. I had pushed back my seat, the car window was pulled down, I could feel the breeze upon my face. When I closed my eyes, I saw my self flying out of my body, slowly. I saw myself and my car below. It was a bird’s eye view. Then, when I opened my eyes, I was singing these lines. ‘Uddi Jaa Uddi Jaa’. It’s very rare that you come up with the lyrics and the composition, all in one go. It was like Allah chose me to write this. From that moment, this song woke me up so many times and asked me to write it. I remember, even in the worst days in Karachi, when the situation was dangerous, I used to be walking in the streets and writing this song. It would just come to me. I never had to change it, redo it,…never! I have used it just as it came to me. I cannot take the credit. I am the lucky one who was chosen by Allah for this song.’
Mohsin Sang Uddi Ja…Just For FUCHSIA Readers. Click On The Video Below To Listen To The Unplugged version.
You being part of this industry, and having struggled so much, don’t you think you have a responsibility to launch an album?
As I said, our record labels have finished. So where will you take your album? I think all the singers know their households will not run.
When you create a song, it’s so difficult. A layman doesn’t know that creativity is as difficult as giving birth to a child. When you write a song, and you can’t sleep, you walk around, your brain gets stuck. To compose and then write the lyrics is that difficult. When you write 12 songs, you will be drained. It will take you a long time. You will get the music done, then videos of 4 to 5 songs. So your lacs of rupees will be spent on that. But you will get no return. Because all the songs will be downloaded. You will not recover a penny. I am a victim of this. When I made Bayperwa Bhola, its audio and video together was Rs.5 lac. For me, those Rs.5 lac were huge at that stage in my struggling career. It didn’t give me anything financially other than some Facebook Likes. Only I know how difficult it was to pay off that loan. That’s why singers like me join Mazaaq Raat. The ground reality is very painful. So I cannot do an album, if I have to pay the bills. For that, we need concerts. There are no record labels. So what will that album give me?
How can we help struggling stars to take that magic leap and be noticed by the ‘right people’ in the industry?
I believe our industry should also have a platform for new comers to have it easy. Regular auditions should be scheduled, music platforms should reopen for new singers. Music labels have finished.
So this entire setup needs to change. We should all know what is good acting and what is not. We should know our worth. If we don’t know it, then we must be told and improve. ‘Mohsin Abbas nay jitni mehnat ki hai, first you do that’. My teacher once told me that even if you are practicing, someone should be there to tell you that you are practicing this wrong. Otherwise you will become strong in singing it the wrong way and it will become okay for you. But for the audience, it will always be wrong.
Why can’t your critic be a common viewer like me?
Because that common viewer doesn’t have the technical expertise. I don’t agree that just anyone can be my critic. It sounds rude, I know. But my critic has to be senior to me. It can be my teachers. It cannot be a friend who has no knowledge of singing. It can be an older actor or singer. The blogs or Facebook comments, if they are saying my singing is bad…no, not at all.
Who are you producing this music for? For us, for audiences? Right? So If we don’t like it then doesn’t that count for something?
Yes I am producing it for audiences, so I take their feedback into consideration. People have liked Uddi Jaa so I will produce more songs like that. But I am talking about the technical aspect. If you come and tell me this sur is not right, this tune is not how it should be, then I will ask you: Do you know what raag this is, what is the taal? If you say no, then I will tell you that, ‘You enjoy the musical part and leave the technical part to me’.
You once said, ‘I don’t want to just concentrate on films’. Given the recent boom in the film industry, do you still feel that way?
I feel where we are happy and cherishing the fact that our film industry is expanding, we also live in fear that, everyone is making movies! In a day, I get atleast 4 calls from people who are making films and who have just bought a new camera. But they have no answer when you ask them about the script, about production experience etc. That’s why I feel we all have to be more conscious. Just like I got a chance, I would also like to support a new comer and give him/her a chance but there has to be a script, the plot should be solid. The choice has to be made with caution and pragmatism.
Mohsin is currently performing in a TV serial called Muqabil on ARY Digital and has won the audience’s hearts once again with a brilliant performance. We wish him well and we leave you with this final image…when next you listen to Uddi Jaa, do listen to it whilst riding in your car, with the car windows pulled down, and a gentle breeze upon your face…and imagine, that you are soaring up above…just like Mohsin…harcheez ki ek aamud hotee hai…this is Uddi Jaa for you!
Rabia stays involved in various social causes. Believing in creating equal opportunities for underprivileged kids, she helps The Citizens’ Foundation, Pakistan, to create awareness of the need for providing quality education to children. At the same time, she is also involved with Singapore-based VWO, 4PM’s Ramadan on Wheels project by supporting it through the FUCHSIA platform. At FUCHSIA, Rabia oversees the Marketing and Public Relations work. She is also part of the Editing Team in conceptualising articles and monthly issues.