We had the good fortune to spend a summer afternoon chatting with easygoing and HILARIOUS award-winning actor and musician Ahmed Ali Butt. Read on to find out about his work-wives (think Humayun Saeed!) and what he really thinks about Lollywood’s newest starlets (he didn’t mince words)!
Tell me about work, home and family.
At home, my son makes sure I’m down to earth. He’s over a year now, and my wife Fatima is taking it very gracefully. I try to be at home with Azaan as much as possible. It (fatherhood) changes you in a lot of ways and you start to take things very slowly and appreciate little things in life. I watch cartoons on C TV – Jaan really fascinates me. I felt we needed to create our own super heroes. That’s why I worked on 3 Bahadur. I just hate Doraemon though – it’s dubbed in Hindi, and it’s not our culture. It’s just a fat ugly cat.
For work I’m in Karachi all the time. My wife teases me about having a second wife there– which can either be Humayun Saeed or Nadeem Baig and when I’m in a good mood, then JJ. I have two (unofficial) new projects in the pipeline – Humayun Saeed’s new film and Jawani II. Currently I’ve been shooting Shameen.
Let’s talk about the influences you had growing up: namely your mum and grandmother.
They were my only influences. I was born in a house where women dominated men. They were very strong-headed women. They were career oriented. At that time I didn’t know Noor Jehan that well, I knew my grandmother.
It was only when I was 13 or 14 I realized who she was. Before that I used to think “ke buss nano hain, nano hain ouper bethi hain – kabi bhujia banati hain, kabi chocolates dey ri hain” – she spoiled us silly.
I started learning music at 9 and by 11 I made song and sang it in front of her in a very behaya tareeka. All she did was smile and she said “ay bara shararti hai.”
Every weekend we used to be in the studios after family lunch– I was raised in studio environment – Sultan Rai, Muhammad Ali, Dilip Kumar – at 10 I had seen all of them work, and be in and out of our house.
Why are you always the host? (at Pakistani award shows)
I love hosting. My roots are in theatre and plays – I got my acting chops came from theatre and I had my own production company – and this is the closest thing to theatre that you can do. Hosting gives you the leverage of improvisation. My comedy is not restricted to scripts – that gives you a lot of freedom, and people love that. You’ll be surprised – people get upset – “mera mazaak kyun nai uraya?”
I ended up doing ARY, HUM, PAS a week apart this year and everybody noticed, although I’ve been doing this for 5 – 6 years. I actually never thought about hosting but Frieha Altaf pushed me and said “listen, you’ll be good at this.”
Did Taher Shah ever reach out to you? (about your impersonation of him)
Not directly but I’ve heard some rumors. One producer told me that Taher Shah not happy with me because “aap log tou mera mazaak utartay hain.”I love him though and. I love Qandeel Baloch. They know what they’re doing. I respect both of them because they know how to manipulate media. Some people cash in on talent, some cash in on attention. Qandeel is a product of Kim Kardashian. They are what I call Insta celebrities – we love to gossip about them but not to associate with them – which is kind of hypocritical I think.
At the awards it felt like it’s like Pakistani film is a big family? Is it like that?
Somewhat, because it’s a small industry. Each film has its crowd. You can say that everyone knows everyone – even though everyone hates everyone – but still you put on a fake smile.
You and Hamza seem to be great pals…
Hamza is a good friend we’ve spent some great times together. I don’t agree with 80% of things he believes in but he’s a great guy. I respect him – whatever he’s doing he believes in it. He’s a talented actor and that’s all I’m concerned with. Whatever political stance he takes – that’s his choice.
I read that your wife thinks you’re a serious person – how come?
My wife does think I’m a very serious person – she gets to see my thinking moods, zoning out in front of the TC – worst of me I guess.
I think of myself as a practical guy – I like to keep things very black and white, I don’t like to live in bubbles. I think life has taught me that it’s good to dream in colour but see in black and white – I just made that up but that’s actually good!
What’s happening on the music front?
I’m making music through film – music is not feasible now to be honest. Music itself has died down, it will take rebirth through the film industry. Last year there were 50 new songs from films. I did JPNA’s theme song. That’s one of my conditions – the films I work in I want to make their soundtrack. I’m entitled to being that demanding I think.
Are you at all worried about the reception the JPNA sequel will receive?
People weren’t expecting anything from Jiwani. I think that worked in our favour. Everyone ended up seeing it a few times. When you create something like this your expectations always go up. On the bright side people will come to see it no matter what you create – whether disaster or not. The storyline that Wasay and Nadeem have come up with is very different from the previous one. The best thing about the film is that the characters are so relatable. People love the characters so if you take those characters and put them in new situations, I think it’s always going to work. We’re going to attempt to do much better of course but its all about how people react to it.
How did you and Fatima meet?
We were friends for the longest time friends for 8 years. Menay kaha friendzone ab buhot ho gya hai – if you’re supposed to be Khaleesi, I’m supposed to be Jorah. I kind of liked her always. Then I went to London and said “hey, wassup?”
What’s been your favourite project, in retrospect?
Film-wise of course Jiwani is going to be the top contender. Before Jiwani Inspector Koji. Wasay and I are going to be doing a film on it now… in 2017. But Jiwani is going to be special because we went in without expectations and came out on top of the world. It
Opened up channels for me – I met Humayun got to know him as a person
People say he’s a narcissist… which is true haha – but actually he’s a very kindhearted guy. He’s a great man. Everyone who’s worked with him knows what I’m talking about. Nadeem is a wonderful director – I’ve taught him everything he knows
Tell me about the awards… does ARY only award its own films and Hum only award its own?
In a fledgling industry… this is going to happen. I think that’s understandable.
Favouritism exists. It’s better to address the white elephant in the room. The
good thing about ARY film awards especially they acknowledged – and nominated all films – independent, art commercial, and mainstream. As the industry grows this is going to change. It’s very childish to say – “no award, not coming”. Someone, not naming names, said if you’re not giving me best actor – then I’m not coming. During the awards I heard there were people commenting “humain tou taaliyan marney ke leeyay bethaya hoa hai” because their films didn’t win awards. Before the Hum awards 15-20 people left – ke front row mein nai bethaya. We are creating that fractious bubble concerned with image rather than work. Would you rather be known for pictures rather than your work?
At the end of the day there will always be a new girl to replace you. We’re too obsessed with how we look, act and dress. They’re not long lasting – flavor of the month
Tell me about tough times.
I’ve been in this field for 18 years and I’ve seen a few tough times. There was a time when I left everything. My partner ran away, I owed a lot of people a lot of money and I left the television industry. At that time I was the Country Media Manager for City School Then Frieha (Altaf) brought me into hosting – that’s how I came back.
Tell me about the people coming into the industry now.
Most have a sensible head on their shoulders. But half the ladies coming into the industry are bat-s**t crazy (I can’t write that? Can I? Yes you can… BAT S**T CRAZY) – “ooo my followers, ooo the designers.”
I don’t blame them because that’s all they know… they haven’t studied theatre or literature – they posted an Insta picture, got into a drama and got a lawn ad! 80% of these newcomer girls don’t know how to deliver a line, or hold an expression… but the boys seem better. There are some exceptions… I think Sohai is amazing – that girl has excellent timing – she can dance, she can do comedy. She has a shararat. And even Sarwat, Mehwish, Maya, and Osman Khalid Butt I really like!