Capital Calling: Osman, Uzair & Momina: ‘These Are The Best Years of Our Lives’

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This is the story that we really don’t want to ignore as Pakistan’s entertainment industry grows by leaps and bounds: An insider view into Islamabad’s talented creative class that has significantly channeled its ingenuity to Pakistan’s hubs of showbiz. We begin with an up close and personal with three wunderkinds whose stagecraft and vocals have their names abuzz; Osman Khalid Butt, Uzair Jaswal and Momina Mustehsan.

OSMAN KHALID BUTT


As a character actor, what is the ideal character that would thrill and stimulate you?
The last time I played a villain was on stage in 2009 in a production of The Pillowman, directed by Junaid Malik. Theatre for me is the ultimate immersion therapy; roles like Michal push you far out of your comfort zone as an actor. That’s what I miss. That complete abandon; the opportunity to
really get under the skin of a multilayered character where you’re not just caught in a tug of war between your onscreen love interest and mother (did I hear ‘Oedipus complex?’). So to answer your question: a fully fleshed-out anti-hero or villain. I hope television trends are changing after the world stood up and noticed Ahsan Khan’s brilliant portrayal of Imtiaz in Udaari.

You initially became known for a melange of comic eccentricities and slapstick humour. Describe the moment when that began? One particular gig you loved most from that time and why?
The turning point was definitely when I performed the role of Stanley in Shah Sharahbeel’s production You Only Marry Twice, an adaptation of Ray Cooney’s Caught in the Net in 2006. I remember an audience member paying the ultimate compliment, that I was Islamabad’s answer to Jim Carrey. That production and playing Lumiere in Ghazala Siddiqui’s Beauty and the Beast really brought me out of my shell. I owe the success of my video-blogs to these plays; they brought about a confidence in an otherwise introvert. A shout-out to the ‘Insolent Knights’, founded by Tulin Khalid- Azim and Natasha Ejaz – this was a comedy troupe that performed in Kuch Khaas (and beyond!). Of course, I love – and terribly miss – my v-logs. I know
the Humsafar parody is a perennial favorite, but personally, I love the Maya Khan sketch the most. Mariam Saleem was phenomenal in the titular
character’s role.

Now you’re on the ‘serious’ actor bandwagon on TV and the silver screen: Which role has been the least fun and why? (You are free to convert least to most).
That’s a tough question – and I love the way you put serious in quotes (Laughs). Television was an unprecedented challenge; having to rein in expressions, body language, learning the art of subtlety and the power of a quiet shift of expressions – in a nutshell, it was a complete 180 degree turn from theatre. And so, not because I didn’t enjoy the experience but because there was just so much to unlearn and learn, I’d say my first ever play Aik Nayee Cinderella directed by virtuoso Haissam Hussain. If I had to compile a list from least to most fun, it’d look something like: Cinderella; Sanam; Goya; Balu Mahi, Aunn Zara and Diyar-e-Dil. Of course, Zibahkhana gets top billing because I got to play a zombie! Can scratch that off the bucket list. You’ll notice this is an incomplete list – some experiences you’d much rather erase from memory.

Do you believe in time travel (In your imagination, at least)? In another time, another country, which person would you like to be? Why?
(Laughs) In my imagination, I am the 13th century incarnation of the Doctor (from Doctor Who). Rather than be a specific person, I’d want to have the ability to go back and forth in time and have many an adventure like the good Doctor and his companion – or Rick and Morty. For example, I’d love to visit Ancient Greece; meet the father of tragedy and the inventor of drama, Aeschylus; maybe Salem in the late 1600s when the witch  trials happened… because, err… morbid curiosity; or go way back and compare notes about Jurassic Park versus reality; or, travel to the future to see whether we actually do devolve into a Black Mirror dystopia. The unfortunate reality is right now I don’t even have a companion, let alone a time-travelling police box. Insert #foreveralone hashtag here.

If you stepped into the films of your generation; which film, actor and favourite line would you be/share?
I think in local cinema, I’d have loved to be part of Manto. What a fantastic ensemble in a film that truly exemplifies the quote ‘there are no small parts.’ One of my favorite all-time films is the Danish musical Dancer in the Dark by Lars von Trier. It’s difficult to watch but I’d kill to step into the shoes of Björk. Another favourite is Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman. Either Riggan or Mike Shiner would do. I remember the latter’s ‘popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige’ dialogue and how it resonated so deeply.

Life gives you lemons and you see your popularity ratings as an actor take a deep dip. What would you do and why? Stay, bail, or follow another passion?
I would stay, most definitely. I think the proverbial rise and fall is part of an actor’s process; without the latter you’d never be able to grow; there’d be no margin for selfimprovement. If it ever comes to the point of no return, I’d switch focus to choreography and direction – maybe finally write that novel that’s been brewing in my head for years. And teaching: I’ve had a wonderful time giving workshops and directing plays with school and university students.

If you walk into a room full of people you didn’t know, would you be nonchalant, friendly or entitled? What’s the right way, in your opinion?
Well, I’m a bit socially awkward. I’ve always been a bit of an introvert, so large groups used to faze me once. Now, I try to actively participate in conversations and be friendly. I’d like to think I’m quite approachable – acting entitled or like a ‘Starboy’ has always been a turn-off. You can’t wear your celebrity like some fashion statement. I try to stay myself, in all my (rather whacky) glory. As to what’s the right way, to each his own I say.

How has Islamabad living informed your creative endeavours?
It’s really nurtured them, specifically theatre and writing. I think Islamabad had one of the most vibrant theatre cultures in Pakistan between 2004 12. I’m humbled to have been part of that journey, to have contributed to that culture – through acting and later, direction. And it’s not just me – some of the best talent you see on your television – and even film – screens today is from Islamabad. I feel quite honoured to have given some of them their first taste of the performing arts.

What is the most favourite part your home city of Islamabad? What do you do for fun here?
Well, my family’s here and we have incredibly honest, best-friend-like relationships, so my home is definitely a favourite. My closest friends are from this city and it’s a diverse group. Some of the most creative people I know are from here. For fun: There’s hardcore game nights on weekends (#nerdalert!), impromptu dinner, movie and hiking plans, get-togethers, gigs and jamming sessions – contrary to popular belief, there is much to do in this city, particularly if you’ve lived here your entire life. The spirit of Kuch Khaas, a Islamabad’s famed centre for arts and culture, lives on strong (despite us losing its founder Shayan ‘Poppy’ Afzal Khan, so there’s always something creative to do here.

What are you most grateful for in your career and your life?
The opportunity to have played diverse, challenging roles onstage and on TV; the fact that I’ve been able to do it all: theatre, television, film and even my brand of comedy on YouTube; my siblings, Michelle and Omar, for being my anchors; my mother, who always pushed me to do what I loved and to appreciate rather than resent the struggle; my friends, for their honesty, love and loyalty. And finally, the incredible fans, who are so invested in my career and my success they practically feel like friends.

Momina Mustehsan
Songstress, pretty face, potential industry diva, Momina Mustehsan has spent the past year testing the waters of the entertainment world and looks like she loves it! She chanced upon mainstream show business through an impactful appearance on Coke Studio and went on to broadcast a visual identity through Instagram and other social-media tools, while also lending herself to brand endorsements and causes. Islamabad resident, she is genuinely talented and we can’t wait to see if her latest projects will use her potential to the maximum.

Do you think you have an adventurous spirit? What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve done so far in your life?
Yes! I live for adventures. I frequently travel to countries that are not popular tourist destinations; I’ve gone bungee jumping, jumped from the top diving board into the deep end of an Olympic standard pool without knowing how to swim’; flown without a visa (shh), and the list goes on.

With more than a million followers, (shall we crown you queen!) – What do you like most about Social Media? And what aspect do you have the most reservations about and why?
I went from 100k followers to a million in half a year, so I’ve really got to have quite the social media experience! What I like about it is that you get to rapidly share content with millions across the globe; everything and everyone has become more accessible. What I don’t like is that in that process, the line between appreciation and intrusion has become blurred. Also, having so much readily available to you raises, your expectations from yourself and from others go to unreal levels.

Singing and song-writing – who are your creative inspirations? What are you working on now?
I take inspiration from the experiences I have had in my own life, and also from the individual journeys and stories of the people I have met. I am working on a few exciting projects at the moment, two of those should be out soon!

You’re quite the brand ambassador on a roll!? In what role would you cast yourself (and why) if you were the director of a tea commercial?
Haha! (Takes a bow) thank you! Tea commercial? I’d cast myself as the random extra in the back, whose only job is to keep eating, or maybe drinking a cup of tea? (Laughs).

What would you do if you were asked today to record an album with an iconic Pakistani pop star or leave that and head to a famous university for a degree?
I have already had the honour of working with some very well-respected musicians of our country (something I had never even imagined). I would love to record an album with a pop star, but I might grow more as a person with the latter. Getting a degree isn’t just about the piece of paper you get at the end. It’s a whole journey of accumulating knowledge and a great learning experience.

If you walk into a shadi and several aunties want to introduce you to their son, would you run a mile or play the game for fun?
I wouldn’t just run a mile, I’d run 10! Thanks, but no thanks (laughs). This is a big reason why I don’t like going to shadis.

How has Islamabad living informed your creative endeavours?
When my parents decided to move to Islamabad, I was a bit sceptical because the general perception of the city wasn’t too appealing. But, man, did I fall in love with the place! Islamabad is the perfect setting for channelling your creativity because of thelandscape, weather, and most importantly, the
calmness and serenity of the city.

What is the most favourite part your home city of Islamabad? What do you do for fun here?
My favourite part of Islamabad is my house. If my schedule allows it, I absolutely love being home all day every day, to the point where even my parents try making me step out. I love driving to Faisal Mosque early in the morning sometimes to soak in some sun and Islamabadi vibes.

What are three things we don’t know about Momina Mustehsan?
1) I’m a very good cook

2) I have very few actual friends

3) Anything in my life can get fixed with a vanilla caramel cupcake, or any sort of cake.

Family, fame, fun, food and fortune. How would you place these words in your order of priority from 1-5?
Family, Food, Food, Food, Fun. Food NEEDS to take up three spots because I love food and I eat a lot. Fame and fortune don’t make the list.

Uzair Jaswal
Islamabad native Uzair Jaswal with his millennial perspective and dream-boat looks has had a busy year; his new album hit the charts, he began his television acting career and also won his first Lux Style Award last month. We love his unselfconscious outlook on life and pragmatic plans that will surely lead him to more success in the years to come.

How would you rewrite your acceptance speech if you had the opportunity to rewind back to moments before receiving your first Lux Style Award?
I wouldn’t want to change my acceptance speech because there was an element of surprise there! What I said was in the moment and it was exactly what I felt at the moment. What matters is that I thanked everyone I had to; my producer, my parents, and the fans, friends and family that stuck by me. I think it was perfect the way it was. Spontaneous!

What are the songs you grew up singing and the singers you grew up emulating? Who are your favourite creative inspirations?
I grew listening to all sorts of music; music that my brothers liked, music that my parents liked. I would look up to, perform and sing a lot of the American rock band Lifehouse and James Morrison, but my biggest musical inspiration was always and still is John Mayer – I love the way he writes and composes and he has huge part in the music I make. And also my elder brothers are inspirational.

You’re at a party and they’re playing 60’s rock ‘n’ roll. Which song would you want it to be (and why)? And if you don’t like that genre, what kind of music would you want the DJ to play?
From that era, I am huge fan of Elvis Presley. Now and even growing up, I would listen to a lot of Elvis. So for me anything by Elvis! ‘Jailhouse Rock’ would do! At a party anyone would love Elvis songs!

Tell us about one of the best music concerts you’ve attended in your life?
That would have to be the first concert of EP (Entity Paradigm), I was 14-years old and headbanged to all their songs like a crazy fan and I even opened for them – it was a really exciting and special night for me.

From love ballads like ‘Tere Bin’ to your new album ‘Na Bhulana’ how would you describe your evolution as an artist?
I feel like if nothing else, I have matured as a person and an artist, in the way I write and think about the music I want to do, and my compositions. If you hear the album you will see and feel and hear the journey and will feel that over time the writing process has become better.

What kind of themes do you navigate in the album? Does your music reflect the way you’re feeling, your relationships with family or friends and where you are in your life right now?
For sure, my music definitely reflects my life and what I have been going through. I feel like ‘Na Bhulana’ (the first album) is all about love and emotions and what love brings to your life and takes away when it is gone. For me, it was all about personal experiences; being there, feeling the emotion, then writing and singing about it. My music is definitely my journey through life and love and what it’s been like up to now.

Where do you see the music scene in Pakistan going right now? Where do you fit in?
The music scene has been in a little shaky for a while now here. Big artists have stopped making music videos, releasing albums, or believing in the music industry. I feel like I have the responsibility – all of them have seen their fair share of good times in the Pakistani music industry – and now this
is our time, this is my time! Even my album was a step in the right direction to bring back the album culture. I feel like I fit right in, right up there, trying to bring back good music videos, good albums, and being a persevering artist.

How has Islamabad living informed your creative endeavours?
Islamabad is such an amazing place for artists, especially for musicians. For me personally, it is a perfect getaway from the hustle bustle – being by oneself and being one with nature. This place inspires me; I have friends who live by the lake to whose house I go to make music and try and write.
Islamabad has played a vital part in the creation of my nostalgic music and the place really helps with recognising one’s emotions and expressing oneself better. Islamabad is great place for artists to make magic!

What is the most favourite part your home city of Islamabad? What do you do for fun here?
I like the silence, the lake, the mountains, the roads, everything is great in Islamabad – that’s the best part – also the fact that my parents live here. Islamabad has always been home. Whenever I am anywhere; touring the country, travelling, out for shooting, I miss home, and Islamabad is home. I love being around family and friends and enjoying those long Islamabad drives parallel to the Margalla Hills – literally driving around for no reason –
laughing, hanging out and listening to good music. That’s exactly the kind of fun that I like; enjoying my city (every corner); driving on the empty roads; being inspired by it; going to the hills, jet-skiing on the lake. Islamabad is awesome!

What are you most grateful for in your career and your life?
There is so much to be grateful for, amazing parents who always been so supportive, my family who’ve helped me push forward and motivated me so much, my fans, my friends, everyone who has been a part of my life. This life, every day, every new opportunity, even the hardships, even the bad times, because it makes me a stronger person, I think and write better, live better and love better. I am grateful for everything! Can’t thank everyone enough for all the love, appreciation and care!

Interviews: Amna R. Ali
Photography: Irfan Sheikh of Bling Studios, Islamabad
Wardrobe Momina: Yasmin Jiwa
Wardrobe Men: Eden Robe
Hair/Makeup: Toni & Guy Islamabad
Fashion Stylist: Pashmina Ahmed
Set Design: Arsalan A. Khan of KOHR
Wardrobe Coordination: Sabah Bano Malik

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