Emmad Irfani has walked the runway and graced the covers of fashion magazines many times over the 15 years since he began modelling. He has also featured in a number of recent TV dramas. But it wasn’t until ‘Cheekh’, his latest show, that he won over audiences as well as hard-to-please critics.
His portrayal of a mature, educated man who is thrown into a situation where he must believe either his siblings’ side of the story or his wife’s is sensitive and nuanced. Irfani captures with remarkable restraint the myriad emotions his character is experiencing. It’s a credit to him that his performance is not overshadowed by others, even in scenes where he is pitched against acting stalwarts such as Saba Qamar and Aijaz Aslam.
Ironically, this was one acting assignment Irfani says he was reluctant to take on because Shayan (his character’s name in ‘Cheekh’) jumps into action only after the 10th episode.
“When I first read the script, my gut feeling was that it’s quite risky,” he tells Gulf News tabloid! “I was apprehensive about the audiences accepting a character that appears midstream. Also, I wasn’t sure if it would be able to create an impact vis-a-vis the other characters whose emotional arc has been defined already.”
Playing Shayan posed another kind of challenge, too: here’s a character that could easily come across as ‘passive,’ given a less competent actor, because his wife and brothers are at the heart of all the action. But Irfani balances it perfectly in the valiant way his Shayan lends support to his wife. Of course, he is ably helped by his good looks.
Excerpts from the interview follow:
Q: In ‘Cheekh’, you play husband to Saba Qamar’s Mannat. It’s a character that is so refreshingly unconventional in the way he stands up for his wife without coming across as henpecked. When you were signing on, did you ever realise you were going to play against type?
A: To be honest, yes. Shayan is portrayed as a different type of a hero, unlike your formulaic screen husband. So I was a little wary. But at the same time I was loving the script; it had so many layers, and the characters had been properly sketched. I just couldn’t let it pass.
In order to counter my apprehensions, I started working on Shayan’s back story in my mind. And it occurred to me that this guy is the scion of a family which is full of misogynistic and power-hungry men, and yet he is so unlike them; he’s self-made, he’s humble, and respects women. I tried to decode his objectives. That was quite challenging.
Q: Did you discuss your findings with the director?
A: I had discussions with Badar [Mehmood, the director], I wanted to know if he had imagined Shayan any differently. That helped me achieve clarity of thought. My next challenge was to acquit myself successfully, to bring my skill set as an actor and my homework into good use on the sets.
Q: How critical are you of your own work?
A: I’ve always been overcritical about my work. With time you realise that you need to also be encouraging with yourself. Having said that, I believe in going to the sets fully prepared and focused. That’s the mantra for good work.
Q: What was it like sharing screen space with an accomplished actor like Saba Qamar?
A: Working with Saba was a unique experience. She has her own method of approaching a character. There were some difficult scenes that we shot where I could feel we both were working at a very high level. Facing an actor of her calibre is a huge incentive for you to push yourself [as an actor]. I am grateful to our audiences that they’ve accepted our on-screen pair and appreciated our chemistry.