Let’s talk about your life in Pakistan before becoming a star?
My parents were professors and I was born and brought up in Lahore. My father was also a painter, who retired as the chairman of the Fine Arts department of his college. My mother was the first scholar in Library Science and they both always pushed me to read the newspaper. As a kid, I too would paint and was introvert and shy. My parents built a small house with a lot of difficulty in an upcoming posh area of Lahore by borrowing money from friends. We were the only family in that area, who did not have a car. There was a big park in front of the house where I would play cricket and I thought I wanted to become a cricketer. But when I was about 14, they realised that we could not afford to live there and so we moved out into a house given by the university to my dad. I felt sad leaving my cricket and friends. I asked my dad, ‘How much money do we need to live there?’ He said, ‘Rs 10,000.’ And I told him, ‘I will make that money.’ When I was 16, I wanted to become a model, but we did not know anyone from the glamour world. So when I was 18, I started making portraits at the PC Hotel lobby that is a prestigious five-star hotel there. I would make quick 15- minute sketches and make Rs 500.
My day would start with getting up at 6 am to go to college, then the gym, then straight to PC till midnight. I would then go home and crash to get up again at six in the morning. But from that time till date, every single penny I earn I give it to my dad. While I was sketching at PC, the top photographer of Pakistan saw me and offered me to model. I then did a bit of acting jobs on TV, but realised that basically I wanted to sing. From the age of 16, I was the vocalist of this underground band that was into the alternative kind of music, where we played English music and covers of bands like Pink Floyd. On our first concert, we could not get the crowd. I was also the manager and while we hired the hall, I realised that we had forgotten to take the permissions. I also wanted to create my own music. For four years, I continued working at PC and collected money till I made my first song Channo. Channo changed things for me overnight and I became a star in Pakistan as it became the biggest hit. It took me time to deal with becoming a star from an ordinary boy. I won all the awards and got signed up by big brands like Pepsi. My dream was that one day, I would step on to stage and there would be an ocean of people who would sing along with me and that dream came true with my first concert.
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What made you move into films?
Singers back then, were the movie stars of Pakistan. There was a time when, on one weekend, I would perform as many as 11 shows. By the age of 27, I had toured the world and had seen all the screeching of girls in the audience and the big entourage in international shows. I was doing a show in Norway in front of 50,000 people and I remember I felt bored on stage with singing. I knew that it meant I needed to do something else and thought, ‘Why not movies?’ This was the time when Atif Aslam and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan had made a name for themselves in India, but I wanted to do something different. I thought there was no one who had come from Pakistan and become a successful actor in India and I wanted to become one. I then got three offers from Bollywood, one was a film about a rockstar, one a romantic comedy and the third was Tere Bin Laden. I was creatively a little non-conventional and took the not so obvious option of Tere Bin Laden.
You are married and yet you choose to give all your money to your father.
We have now shifted back to the same house, where I stayed as a child and live there together with my parents and my two brothers. My wife Ayesha, son Azaan and I stay on the first floor while my parents and brothers stay on the ground floor. Now, it has become very small for us, so we are constructing a bigger house where we can all live together. I have no idea what money I have and where it goes. I feel money is good for all your needs and all of that, but the obsession with money stresses me out. As long as my basic needs are fulfilled, I don’t care. It’s also a very convenient structure for me as my father manages everything. My wife is extremely non-materialistic and is happy to get a monthly pocket money from him. I have a joint account with him, but he either invests the money or donates it to a few charities where I want the money to go. My father is the conventional good person who has never done anything wrong in his life. He is calm, complacent and intellectual. I have always questioned many things, right from a young age and would read history, philosophy and religion to get my answers. Strangely, from 18 to 28, I could not enjoy my work even though I was leading life with so much fame and money. I have always been thinking about other things related to society and humanity, as to why do we behave like this, where do we go from here, how can I make a difference. I feel I am made for something bigger and not just to entertain, sing and dance. I don’t know what that would be but personally, I feel that a life spent only for your own aspirations and dreams is not a life that I would like to spend. I want to be remembered as a person who made a difference in something bigger and better. My father always told me, ‘Agar aapke dil mein reham nahi hai, aapke sur mein nahi ho sakta.’
Talk about your wife Ayesha?
She had also come to get her portrait made from me at PC when I was 20. Word had gone around that there is this really cute guy at PC making portraits, so girls would come in to get their portraits made from me. I got married to her when I was 29. I can’t say that I was loyal for those nine years but post marriage, I have been very loyal. She is an exceptional woman and extremely kind-hearted. I had always thought that my wife, more than anything else, should be a kind-hearted human being who would make my son a good human being. She is selfless, unbiased, honest, non- judgemental, mature and makes me a better person everyday. She is the only woman who has seen my journey from zero to hero and knows the real me. I love her the most in the world.
What did India mean to you being a Pakistani?
As a child, India was Bollywood. My father speaking about Dilip Kumar and we watching Amitabh Bachchan films, my father and his friends having musical sittings and discussing Naushad sahab’s to Khayyam sahab’s music. My father always told me one thing, ‘Pakistan ki behetari is by having good relations with India.’ Pakistanis have been taken for a ride for many years by the rulers there. We don’t deserve this. Since there is not so much tourism in Pakistan, we crave to show people when they come that we can love. So we outpour our love on Indians that come there through our emotions and food.
Talk about Total Siyapaa?
There is a reason I did this film. I questioned myself that I do films for myself but what am I giving to others to think. I have hung on to what my father said that it is very important for our people to understand the necessity of coming together for peace and for people to know that tasveer ke dono rukh hote hain. To be able to develop the ability in people that agle ka bhi ek point of view hota hai and he too believes in his point of view. So till you don’t talk, nothing can happen. The film does not convey this in a heavy-duty way, but somewhere it is there in a lighter way. I could do another commercial film and become a bigger star. What will happen? Whatever I want I have, wherever I want to travel or live in the world, I can, whatever in the world I want to buy, I can. Family I have. So why should I not leave behind things that matter?
Any unfulfilled wishes?
I came here knowing nobody, that too from Pakistan. I spend 75% of my time here and miss my family terribly as after a hard day’s work, I cannot go back to them. So I tell Ayesha, ‘A rockstar’s life is not possible without sex, drugs and rock and roll. So please come as much as you can as I don’t indulge in any of those.’ But she is a hands-on mother who wants to drop Azaan to school everyday. So that is the only regret I have. But other than that, if I was to die tomorrow, I would feel that I have experienced everything. I think it’s time to give back as much as I can now.