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Over the past year or so, Pakistan’s fashion and entertainment industry has seen a host of new faces. Gulf News shortlists those who look most set to launch the proverbial ‘thousand ships’. These up-and-comers are oozing with talent, and also have the gumption to make the right career moves. Some of them debuted in 2020-21, while others have been around for a bit longer. But this year, they are getting their shine on. Here’s a look.
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Khushhal Khan: In just a year and half since he entered the showbiz, Khushhal Khan, 21, has already won over top Pakistani couturiers like HSY, besides becoming the envy of many who can’t stop raving about his perfectly defined jawline. Last year, this handsome and ambitious boy, who hails from a small town in northern Pakistan, headlined some of the biggest fashion campaigns before being crowned the best emerging talent at the Hum Style Awards. Though his acting debut was rather humble — in Ahmed Sarym’s low-budgeted teen drama on YouTube, ‘Midsummer Chaos’ — Khushhal surprised everyone with a special appearance in Mahira Khan’s telefilm as a producer, ‘Aik Hai Nigar’, which also starred her in the lead. He capped the year with two back-to-back drama serials for Hum TV — ‘Qissa Meherbano Ka’ with Mawra Hocane and ‘Bey Basi’ opposite Alizeh Shah — consolidating his position as one of the brightest stars on the horizon. This year, Khushhal is tipped for even bigger things. First up is ‘Churails’-famed Asim Abbasi’s new web series for Zee5, where he gets to share screen space with Fawad Khan and Sanam Saeed. Working with these superstars was “a dream come true,” he says. He also feels indebted to director Abbasi for making him a part of the project. The admiration is mutual: In a recent Instagram post, Abbasi was all praise for “Baby K” and his “eager[ness] to learn, and to outdo himself. This kind of hunger is not learnt, nor is it something one puts on for show.” There’s another web series Khushhal is upbeat about: “It’s a thriller which shall give the audience a great adrenaline rush,” he says, without revealing much about it. Also in the pipeline is a feature film where he plays the lead — it’s “a very fun role,” he promises — and a short film, Gulabo Rani, directed by Usman Mukhtar, which is “a gritty take on a disturbing social reality of our times,” Khushhal says.
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Talha Chahour: Rising star Talha Chahour is currently facing the toughest part of being in the limelight — how not to let down his fans. His last work on screen, Haissam Hussain’s critically acclaimed period drama ‘Jo Bichharr Gaye’, is a hard act to follow. And Chahour knows that. No wonder he’s taking his time sifting through the projects on offer. His success story is the kind of stuff movies are made of. This humble guy from Rahim Yar Khan literally ‘came in from the cold’ and stunned everyone with his performance in ‘Jo Bichharr Gaye’. His act as a simple, upright military man from the erstwhile West Pakistan, who is deputed in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in the midst of an extraordinary situation, is so convincing that it left the audiences rooting for his character, Captain Farrukh, every time his fortunes dip in this semi-autobiographical play. Critics hailed him for owning every scene he appeared in, even where his fellow actors were big stars like Maya Ali and Wahaj Ali. But Chahour wasn’t a novice when he first stepped on a drama set. He had previously done theatre, both amateur (in college, where he led an Urdu adaptation of ‘Macbeth’) and professional (with Ajoka). His plays with Ajoka led him to perform in India also on five different occasions. Besides, he was part of the Harry Potter fan movie, which was filmed at GCU, Lahore, his alma mater. Not many people know that Chahour’s screen debut happened long before ‘Jo Bichharr Gaye’ — in a PTV play titled ‘Farz’ (2017), which was directed by Kashif Nisar. As he puts it, “Destiny takes its own course, and we can only make plans.”
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Shuja Asad: There’s a unique, childlike quality about model turned actor Shuja Asad that sets him apart from his peers. At 27, he slips comfortably into the role of a teenager in producer-director Fahim Burney’s new drama serial, ‘College Gate’. Elsewhere, his portrayal as Neelam Munir’s doting fiancé in ARY’s latest drama serial, ‘Pyar Deewangi Hai’, has a warmth and spontaneity that renders it utterly believable. He brings a degree of innocence to even the most grunge fashion looks he’s to carry (check out his first TV commercial where he’s sporting a stubble and a man bun). He can also be effortlessly funny (his Nabeel Qureshi-directed TVC and the many videos with comedian Danish Ali come to mind). And recently, when he put on his dancing shoes for popular radio jockey cum singer Dino Ali’s music video, ‘Main Aur Tum,’ you couldn’t tell that he isn’t a pro at it. In his various avatars, Asad has also drawn comparisons with the Bollywood superstar Salman Khan straight out of ‘Andaz Apna Apna’ (1994) and Lollywood’s Moammar Rana from ‘Chooriyan’ (‘98) days. Incidentally, Asad is a huge fan of both the artists, and “wish I was born in the 90s!” His other all-time favourites are Anil Kapoor whom he loves for “his remarkable energy”; Leonardo DiCaprio, for “his freak-out acts”; and Tom Hardy, “because he is Tom Hardy!” Given his good looks and screen presence, Asad could potentially be Pakistan’s next heartthrob, but he’d rather “play different characters on screen. I am dying to show my range as a performer,” he declares. Asad will next be seen in BNN-famed Murtaza Chaudhry’s untitled short film, which he shot last year in Turkey with actress Mashal Khan. “I feel proud that I bagged this project because I’ve some pretty intense scenes in it which involved a lot of crying and falling-on-the-floor,” he says with a chuckle. He’s also due on Sarmad Sultan Khoosat’s serial, ‘Gumm’, and director Aabis Raza’s next in the Bandish franchise whose genre is “a mix of horror and drama.”
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Jannat Mirza: She was a star even before the showman of Lollywood Syed Noor cast her in his comeback film, ‘Teray Baajray Di Raakhi’. This soft-spoken girl with a pretty face had famously turned heads on Tiktok, where she’s believed to have the highest number of followers for any Pakistani, and her YouTube channel in which she mostly documents her day-to-day life. The views shoot up every time she vlogs about her longtime friend turned fiancé Umer Butt love-bombing each other on their birthdays, special days etc. (Butt is also a popular Tiktoker.) Interestingly, both Mirza and Butt were offered to play the leads in Mahira Khan’s web series, ‘Barwaan Khiladi’, but Mirza says she “was in Japan, vacationing at my sister’s place, so I had to let it go,” while Butt declined the offer because she wasn’t a part of it. Later, the love birds came together on screen for Shazia Manzoor’s music video, Dil mod de. Mirza claims that she was supposed to feature in Hum TV’s drama, the Mahira-Khan-fronted ‘Hum Kahan Kay Sachay Tha’, but she passed this one too because she “didn’t want to debut in a negative role.” That the role eventually went to Kubra Khan is history now. A multi-tasker, Mirza is currently studying to be a fashion designer. She also loves to travel. Hailing from Faisalabad, she says it was great fun coming to Lahore for ‘Teray Baajray Di Raakhi’s’ shoot. Up next is a qawwali video by renowned qawwal Khalid Khan (of ‘Kaali Kaali Zuflein’ fame). There are also a couple of acting projects in the pipeline, but she “would like to keep it under wraps for now.”
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Zaviyar Naumaan Ejaz: He is a bit of an anomaly in show business. Despite his artistic pedigree — his father, Naumaan Ejaz, is a celebrated TV actor — Zaviyar chose to go it alone. “I wanted to achieve whatever I could, on my own,” he says. What’s more, he made a deliberate attempt to stay away from boy-next-door roles, and opted for a complex character like Hikmat in Hum TV’s ensemble play, ‘Sang-e-Mah’, and a mature role opposite Mawra Hocane in ‘Qissa Meherbano Ka’. Both these serials are big productions; especially, ‘Sang-e-Mah’, which is led by Kubra Khan, Hania Amir, Saania Saeed, Samiya Mumtaz, Omair Rana, and singer Atif Aslam. Interestingly, it also stars Naumaan Ejaz as Zaviyar’s father. That Zaviyar holds his own in every frame he shares with these acting giants, speaks volumes for his talent. He has an easy charisma about him that has helped him diversify. His next play, Hum TV’s ‘Weham’, is an edgy thriller, bordering on the supernatural. An Aitchisonian, Zaviyar studied business management at a university in Canada before returning to Pakistan for a stint in acting. Though, he had had a taste of it in junior school where he played the prince in ‘The Little Mermaid’, he never got to pursue acting because his parents wanted him to focus on studies. On a more personal front, Zaviyar was dealing with body weight issues. “I was 105kg at the time. I was told that if I wanted to be in front of the camera, I’d have to reduce. So, I took it as a challenge, and five months later I had brought it down to 75kg,” he says. Once on set, he says he was in his element. “I was ecstatic, watching the cameras being set up, the lights being mounted etc. It was all so overwhelming!” Unlike most new actors his age, Zaviyar isn’t star struck, which is partially due to the fact that he was never exposed to the industry: “Baba (father) always kept us away from the media,” he says. “I didn’t know who’s who, except for a few senior actors who were Baba’s contemporaries. But I believe that this eventually helped me focus on my craft without feeling intimidated by anyone around me.” His screen idols are Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Pankaj Tripathi. “Just look at how they transform completely with every role they play! That’s what I’ve seen my father do, and that’s what I aim to achieve,” he says.
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Hamza Sohail: It’s tempting for critics to attribute a star kid’s performance to their genes. But when you watch Hamza Sohail’s scene-stealing act in Hum TV’s ensemble play, ‘Badshah Begum’, now drawing to its close, you don’t even remember that he could’ve inherited acting chops from his father, Sohail Ahmed, a renowned comedian, actor and talk show host. His success is his alone. An MBA from London, Hamza says he’s made it thus far “entirely on my own.” Though, its ‘downside’ was that he didn’t get a dream launch on the platter; he had to work for it. He was “like any other struggling actor who gave up a comfortable life in hometown Lahore, moved to Karachi, began contacting production houses, gave auditions, got turned down, and was eventually hired as second AD with theatre director Dawar Mehmood.” When the pandemic happened and all filming came to a halt, Hamza returned to Lahore where he met with TV director Kashif Nisar. “I told him I’d like to assist him. Instead, he offered me an acting gig,” Hamza says. That’s how ‘Raqeeb Se’ happened. The drama serial proved to be a critical success and Hamza was noticed, even though he didn’t feature in a lead role. Next, he was seen in another supporting character, in the ARY soap, ‘Main Hari Piya’. But he looks back at these brief screen appearances as part of the “learning phase.” Today, as he’s “getting multiple offers, I am being extra careful, because your choices matter.” Next, he heads up Nisar’s drama serial, ‘Breaking News’, for Green TV, opposite Amar Khan. Hamza does not believe that because his father is a great comedian he should be good at it too. “In my view, everyone has their own strengths. I am only beginning to discover my strengths and weaknesses as a performer.” He is taking his career very seriously, and that includes being fastidious about the way he’ll come out in a shoot or whether he’ll feature on magazine covers. “I’m here to stay,” he announces. “There’s no plan B for me.”
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Nameer Khan: This hazel-green-eyed model and actor looks like the younger version of Bollywood star Ayushmann Khurrana. “I get that a lot,” says Khan, who turned 27 this year. He also believes the comparison is unfair, because, “I’ve a long way to go.” A qualified software engineer, Khan left a lucrative job in Toronto, Canada, only to return to Pakistan and pursue his dream of becoming an actor. By his admission, it was “a leap of faith.” But he wasn’t coming back without having cut his teeth at an acting school in Toronto. He also worked on a few seminal projects his agent had booked him. These included a festival short, titled ‘There Are No Children Here’, and Iranian-Canadian composer and guitarist Babak Amini’s music video, ‘Bekhan Ba Man.’ Besides, he shot for Canadian-based Pakistani director Iqbal Ansari’s 10-part web series, which is due out soon, and a video by Pakistani playback singer Shazia Manzoor. Back home, Khan landed prize fashion campaigns with the likes of Mohsin Naveed Ranjha aka MNR, Sana Safinaz, HSY, and Faiza Saqlain. For his first TV commercial he was paired with noted actress Madiha Imam. More recently, he signed on Faizan Khawaja’s web series for Urduflix, opposite Sonia Mishal. He’s also cast in the ARY drama, titled ‘Hubs’, alongside heavyweights Feroze Khan, Ushna Shah, and Ayesha Omar. When he isn’t shooting, which “rarely happens these days”, Khan can be spotted pumping iron at a gym or engaging with his fans on Instagram. He doesn’t take social media too seriously, but would like to give credit to the digital boom for creating “more and more content, which means greater opportunities [for actors and models]. Public profiles are a great tool to catch the attention of producers and casting agents.”
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Junaid Jamshed Niazi: Model turned actor Junaid Jamshed Niazi has the looks, the height and a great physique. But this self-confessed “gym freak” would like the spotlight to shine on his acting chops instead. Hence, he’s carefully picking and choosing his projects. After finishing his Masters’ degree in Business IT from Australia, Niazi started working at a software house, circa 2018. Fashion modelling was a side hustle. He says he weighed 100kg back then, and had to “work real hard to get into shape.” He also fought body shaming. But all that’s taught him what he calls life’s biggest lesson: “You can’t enjoy your success if you didn’t struggle for it.” His first project was a fashion show for Mohsin Naveed Ranjha (MNR). Over the next couple of years, he had modelled for all the leading fashion designers and brands of Pakistan, including Fahd Hussayn, Hussain Rehar, and J. But he always desired to be an actor. Luckily, he was noticed by top drama and movie director Nadeem Baig who was looking for fresh talent to play Yumna Zaidi’s love interest in his magnum opus, ‘Sinf e Aahan’. An audition later, Niazi was in. Though it’s a supporting role, it struck the right chord with the audience. It also won him two projects with Hum TV — the Ramadan soap, ‘Paristan’, where he played the boy next door, and ‘Hasrat’, directed by Meer Sikander.
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Jamal Yousaf: Model Jamal Yousaf would like to believe he’s “very ‘filmi’ though I may not look it. People around me keep telling me to unleash my inner Shah Rukh Khan,” he says. One of the top male models of Pakistan, Yousaf recently turned to acting with a drama serial for Aur Life channel, titled ‘Dil e Benaam’, where he played a-rich, spoilt brat who is a misogynist. Next, he appeared in a feature film, ‘Rishtay’, in a Mills & Boons kind of romantic character. It’s a project which, he says, “will always be very dear to me, whatever its box office outcome, for the very fact that it’s my movie debut.” He admits that these may not be the biggest projects happening in the industry, but “that’s unfortunately how it goes for somebody who comes in with no connections. You’ve to face nepotism.” To his credit, he never gave up. Right from his debut on the ramp a few years back, in a college-level fashion show which he famously won, to earning campaigns with leading Pakistani brands, he says he “always kept on grooming myself while simultaneously building contacts.” He also worked on his accent and dialogue delivery. He is currently self-employed in the real estate business in Islamabad. But he says he wants to “make it big in the industry.”