The Green-Eyed Boy Wonder
Shazli Khan opens up about getting that desi accent right, missing his grandmother’s cooking and being inspired by Bradley Cooper.
Pumped up in a suit with a briefcase in hand, he walked in and out of the bank. No, this is not a scene from one of his upcoming projects, this was actually Shazli Khan’s life right before he realised his heart truly yearns for acting. And boy are we glad he did! The talented actor swooned us over with his performance in Yaqeen Ka Safar and is geared up for mesmerising us some more. In a candid chat with FUCHSIA, Shazli shares his struggle with the Urdu accent (having lived in the States), using his expat insight in his roles, what he misses most about not being in Pakistan and more.
Can we start by complaining that you leave your fans wanting to know more about what’s going on with you since you mostly live abroad?
I feel a certain [amount of] distance is good; it makes it easier for audiences to identify with the characters I am playing on screen [Smiles].
Is it hard to bag good roles since you’re away so much? Do you feel you miss out?
The only thing I miss out on is hanging with my friends and Nanu’s delicious stomach-churning cooking.
Understandably, you have struggled with your Urdu accent onscreen. Do you let your natural style flow or work harder at dialogue delivery in order to get the desi accent right?
I was very nervous when I was shooting Moor (2015). I still work hard on it (the accent) but the real focus is making sure the character I am playing is believable. True acting is all in the subtext of what is not said in the scene. So the real work is figuring that out. When you have that, it helps [with] the Urdu as well because you know the intentions of your characters.
Does the character of Hashir, in your currently on-air serial Lamhay, mirror Shazli Khan’s own background, growing up abroad?
Yes, the east- west connection and reconciling both those identities was part of Lamhay. But I think you can find something or the other identifiable with even the most reprehensible of characters because we are all operating on the same emotional scale. Hashir treads the line of likability, but that’s what drew me to him. It was his complexity and to show the angry young male (who is a very prevalent archetype in our society) have a catharsis of sorts. To play him, in not the stereotypical way but as a human being and explore what makes him behave like that, then to show the transformation and his capability of substance, yet not making it clichéd, was something that was a great challenge for me. How boring would it be to just keep playing extremely likable characters? I wouldn’t consider myself an actor then.
On a more serious note, do you feel it’s about time that the male actors need to use their star power to address societal issues effectively?
They don’t need to do anything other than speak on the things that they truly care about. I can give you sound bites on such topics to sound progressive and thoughtful. But truth of the matter is, the real issue is the lack of introspection. One must ask the deeper spiritual questions of themselves. Only after you do the inner work, the issues that mean most to you make themselves known. Only then are you truly adding real value because you are working on the issues you are aligned with.
Is it time to break the mould on screen, too? Or do we still pander to the typical angry-young-man ego because it sells to the female fans?
I am not sure because I don’t do many dramas and frankly, don’t watch any. But of course, variety in entertainment is critical and new voices and stories are needed, especially for the impressionable youth. Most likely it (the aggressive male portrayal) will change because it’s the natural evolution of an industry.
As clichéd as it sounds, we want to know what’s Shazli Khan’s mantra to deal with so much competition?
As an artiste/actor if you start thinking of it [your work] as competition, you might as well say goodbye to a healthy life. I mean of course, you can be inspired and if you see a great performance, it urges you to raise your game but I save competing for sports and board games with my family.
Very well then, let us ask, what inspires the artiste in you?
Someone inspires me every day, I am not even joking. You can learn something from everyone. There are way too many things happening around us to not be inspired. I am inspired by ordinary people who have a zest for life. Work-wise, recently (the inspiration has been actor) Bradley Cooper, since he was 10 years my senior at the Actors Studio in New York and he just made a Hollywood film, A Star Is Born that [I think] will be a classic. He is just pushing the envelope [which is] truly inspirational.
Producing, film-making, script writing, storytelling, acting – there are many dimensions to your creative side. Which do you identify with most?
I am a student of life and learning and following my curiosities wherever they may lead me. One of the biggest revelations for me a couple of years back is that ‘we are all here to create and follow that which makes us feel good’. Success to me is the creative process of going towards an ideal or goal that means something to you. That doesn’t mean you have to become an artist or a billionaire, it can be just constructing your day to your liking. So to answer your question I identify with all of them and many more things because they all make me feel good in doing them.
Tell us what you are working on next. A little birdie tells us that your fans might be in for a cinematic treat made by Shazli Khan, himself. Is it true?
Living through the acting circuit in New York and LA, I realised years back that as an actor, I need to create the roles I want to play. While I was learning screenwriting and making films, it dawned on me there is not a single film in the global film circuit that has Pakistani characters that are inspiring like the characters I grew up watching in classic Hollywood films.
At this time the story of The Martial Artist was already marinating in my head; about two brothers who are desi MMA fighters. So I decided I was going to write the script that no one could ignore and also study how Hollywood works in the process so that when we produce the film, it’s in the best possible hands for distribution. I am happy to say, years of effort has paid off and now I am almost at the starting line to go into production next year. I plan to make the first global sports action film that happens to have Pakistani actors as leads.
Disclaimer: Images of Shazli Khan credit – Instagram feed, Shazli Khan
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This article is the collaboration effort of several members of Team FUCHSIA.