Yasir Akhtar’s journey as an artiste has been a long one and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down any time soon. The multi-talented performer has already handled three different aspects of drama productions — music, direction and acting — with aplomb and is making waves these days with his new drama serial shot entirely in the UK, Sard Aag, on Hum TV.
Images caught up with Yasir shortly after his arrival in Karachi and talked to him about his newest piece of work and ethics. “In Sard Aag, I have taken care not to insult the audiences’ intelligence in terms of production and provide unadulterated entertainment. I spent well over a year in Manchester to make the serial and my efforts now seem to be paying off, as according to ratings, it is one of the highly-acclaimed television productions on air these days.”
For all those who have seen Sard Aag, the question that arises is: where does the directorial edge come from in all of Yasir’s productions? “When I was in my mid-teens, I had the opportunity to learn from ace directors such as Sahira Kazmi and Shahzad Khalil whom I worked with on my acting assignments at the PTV Karachi centre. Many of the new directors that are around these days may not have this ‘unfair’ advantage. Secondly, I have acting background as well and when an actor turns director, he has the ability to see things from different angles. As a musician, my productions have my own music compositions which further gives them a unique flavour. Then again, my casting is also selective and I prefer fresh faces over those who are seen on every other channel,” he says.
In answer to his critics who say that by casting himself in his own productions, he has succumbed to the temptations of self-promotion, Yasir says: “I think it’s an added advantage for me to cast myself as an actor in my productions. By doing this, I can coordinate my talents both as an actor as well as a director.” He also claims to be a perfectionist when it comes to work, saying he doesn’t care about budget restrictions when it comes to quality work.
“Those around me tell me I waste too much time on minor details while others mint money by doing the same work in a relatively shorter period of time. My argument to them is that I always stick to one thing at a time and make sure that the end product is fine-tuned. By doing this, I try to make every scene special for the viewers, even if the dialogue is as routine as, say, ‘pani lao’. I try to add my own layer of detail to such scenes.”
Private productions have really taken off within the last decade and Yasir feels that while our entertainment industry has developed, most of our artistes are unaware of the hazards of overexposure. “For them, doing more and more work, even if it is substandard, is the ultimate goal. In the long run, it works against them as people ultimately get bored stiff of watching them endlessly,” he says.
Yasir says he has some promising projects lined up in the near future including his new album that also contains the title tracks of Sard Aag and Jayain Kahan Armaan. “I have composed soothing melodies this time and I am sure the album will find acceptance on a wide scale.” He says he still hasn’t decided a title for the album though.
Springing a surprise, Yasir says he also plans to start shooting his first feature film next year. Given the slump that has plagued our film industry for the past two decades, the investment climate is anything but rosy. Why does he still want to make a feature film in Pakistan? He defends his position by saying that the film will be a commercial entertainer and is targeted towards the international audience. “In Bollywood, producers are not targeting the common Indian cinema-goers anymore. They tailor their movies according to the taste of desis settled in the West because a major proportion of their revenues come from the movie’s business in foreign territories. My film will also cater to such an audience.”
And does he have a set formula to make both the viewers in the East as well as the West happy? “People may be dispersed globally but there are certain emotions that are universal. You can find similar themes in American soap operas as in ours. I want to bank on these universal emotions and themes in my film.”
Yasir has also set dates for shooting a documentary for Channel 4 about the controversial subject of shahdolas, a term given to those affected by an unnaturally caused deformity that leads to under development of the brain cavity resulting in smaller than normal heads, prevalent in a certain section of Pakistani society. Yasir shot the documentary in and around the shrines of Gujrat. He feels that a good director should have ample technical knowledge of camera work. “A number of directors cannot even work when they are not being assisted by seasoned cameramen. This is important because it gives the director a sense of control on what he wants to make. Their counterparts abroad are half-cameramen themselves.”
Reflecting on the suspicious attitude bordering on selfishness rampant in showbiz circles these days, Yasir says that many actors who are considered big names today initially came to him asking for roles. But soon after they had made a reputation for themselves, they failed to recognize him as their mentor — the reason being that he himself is an actor. He quotes the example of a model-cum-actress and shows footage of a music video that he had shot with her, claiming that she was introduced by him. But, he says, the dusky diva refuses to acknowledge the fact.
Having come a long way both in terms of drama production and music, what fires the artiste in Yasir Akhtar? “For me, there is always room for improvement. I still have a knack to achieve my optimum level of technical maturity and creative finesse in serials and music. I think our scripts are up to the mark but we lack the technical expertise. I want to give this industry a production that is far more technically sound and creatively competitive than any of my previous work. And I believe in growing with each passing day,” he says.