Humayun Saeed’s is a curious case. At 50, he is perhaps the only actor of his generation in Pakistan who not only attracts the conventional ‘hero’ roles in TV dramas and films but also pulls them off with amazing ease.
While most of his peers have to contend with senior parts, the oldest that Saeed has played is father to a school kid in ‘Meray Paas Tum Ho’ (2019), one of Pakistan TV’s highest rated shows in recent times. Danish (Saeed’s character in ‘MPTH’) is supposed to be in his mid-30s. Though some argued that it wasn’t an ‘age-appropriate’ role for him, to Saeed’s credit, Danish fit him like a glove.
Currently, Saeed is on a whirlwind tour promoting his Eid Al Adha film, ‘London Nahi Jaunga’, where he plays the quintessential lover boy. In many ways, his mustachioed Punjabi munda, Chaudhry Jameel, who wears his heart on his kurta sleeve and is out to win his lady love, is being seen as a continuation of Fawad Khagga.
That character was the proud scion of the well-oiled Khagga family, from 2017’s record-smashing ‘Punjab Nahi Jaungi’, especially in terms of how he carries himself with the swagger of a privileged male and speaks a heady mix of Urdu, Punjabi and English languages.
Saeed’s rendition of Khagga is so convincing that it’s hard to picture anyone else from among his contemporaries in his place. Also, it remains his most popular screen character till date.
But Saeed’s journey isn’t all about defying age in a highly ageist industry. In a career spanning more than two and a half decades, during which he has worked successfully across TV and film mediums and played everything from boy next door to a charmer and anti-hero, Saeed is hailed especially for envisioning Pakistan film industry’s revival and making it happen.
His production house, Six Sigma Plus, has to its credit critically acclaimed drama serials such as the Mehreen Jabbar-directed ‘Neeyat’ (2011), Haissam Hussain’s ‘Durr e Shahwar’ (2012); Nadeem Baig’s ‘Pyare Afzal’ (2014), ‘Dil Lagi’ (2016), and ‘Sinf e Aahan’ (2022); and is now churning out blockbuster movies too.
Circa 2013, he produced his debut feature, ‘Main Hoon Shahid Afridi’, which was sheer gamble at the time because the movie business had hit rock bottom in Pakistan. But Saeed had faith in his product, and he was proved right: ‘Main Hoon Shahid Afridi’ clicked big-time, thanks to its fresh theme — street cricket, a first of its genre in Pakistan — and a cast of popular TV actors and, of course, Afridi’s glorious cameo.
Even the director, Syed Ali Raza Usama, had been picked up from the small screen. ‘Main Hoon Shahid Afridi’, together with Bilal Lashari’s ‘Waar’, which were back-to-back releases, proved to be the harbingers of the country’s New Wave Cinema.
In 2015, Saeed produced and starred in the megahit ‘Jawani Phir Nahi Ani’, which started a successful franchise. He also led the Mahira Khan-starrer ‘Bin Roye’, which became the first Pakistani movie to get a wide international release.
Its decent earnings at the UK box office inspired other Pakistani producers to think beyond the local market. Saeed’s next, ‘Punjab Nahi Jaungi’, had an even bigger release internationally. As per Rentrak, which compiles global box office data, the movie beat the earnings of Bollywood star Ajay Devgan’s simultaneous release, ‘Baadshaho’, in the UK itself. On home turf, ‘Punjab Nahi Jaungi’ remains one of the highest grossers, second only to ‘Jawani Phir Nahi Ani II’ (2018), another Saeed production.
In an exclusive chat with Gulf News, Saeed reveals that ‘London Nahi Jaunga’ is being released across the globe on “225-plus screens, the largest for a Pakistani film ever! And that is not counting the 150-odd screens in Pakistan.”
The film took long in the making as shooting was halted amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Saeed says he “wanted to wait till [the pandemic] would subside.” Also, he had eyes on Eid Al Adha, because “Eids are generally considered profitable for cinema as people turn out in large numbers on these festive occasions and film business picks up remarkably.”
Incidentally, this may not be the best time to release a film in Pakistan, as hyperinflation has deeply impacted the way the audiences consume entertainment.
Saeed declares, “I’ll be happy even if our film makes around PKR 250 million [at the box office]. At least, we’ll have put ourselves on the map.”
Indeed, that’s the kind of vision he has for the industry. Though he says he “would love to back a project that pushes the envelope — something offbeat like [Netflix’s] ‘Marriage Story’ — but right now my focus is feel-good commercial cinema because that’s the only way to get the industry back on its feet.”
Last month, Saeed and his ‘London Nahi Jaunga’ costars Mehwish Hayat, Kubra Khan, and Mirza Gohar Rasheed kicked off promotions in London, where they attended media junkets and talked to different radio and TV networks. The city is part of the film’s title, and team Humayun made sure they cashed in on that.
When the Pakistani stars appeared on the streets in Southall, riding a horse-driven carriage, and dressed to the hilt in desi outfits — the boys in colourful dhotis and kurtas, and the ladies in designer shalwar kameez draped with dupattas — the crowds, mostly Pakistani and Indian expats, went berserk. Videos of the tour have gone viral on social media.
Early this year, Saeed grabbed headlines when it transpired that he had joined the cast of the popular Netflix series, ‘The Crown’s’ 5th season, as (the late) Lady Diana’s Pakistani love interest, Dr Hasnat. Quiz him about that, and he says politely, “I am not allowed to talk about that.” But insiders say that the filming of his part is complete, and the show slated for a late November premiere.
‘The Crown’ would be Saeed’s maiden international project, but this isn’t the first time he has worked outside of Pakistan. In 2009, he debuted in Bollywood in a Mahesh Bhatt production, ‘Jashn’. The film was a box office failure, but it fetched Saeed some rave reviews.
A staunch supporter of cultural exchange, Saeed roped in Rajeev Khandelwal and Amna Sharif, two of Star Plus’s hottest stars of the time, for his 2005 serial, ‘Sun Leyna’, produced under the banner of 7th Sky. More recently, for ‘Jawani Phir Nahi Ani II’, he wanted the late iconic Bollywood actor Rishi Kapoor to play an important part that was eventually taken by Kanwaljit Singh.
Recalling his interaction with Kapoor, Saeed says, “Though he couldn’t do the movie, we kept in touch. He was a great man. He and [his wife] Neetu ji would tell me that they had the chance to watch ‘Punjab Nahi Jaungi’ and ‘Jawani Phir Nahi Ani’ in flight, and how much they enjoyed these movies.”
Saeed's comparisons to Bollywood superstar SRK:
It may be interesting to mention that in his initial years in the industry, Saeed often drew comparisons with superstar Shah Rukh Khan.
Whether it was because of his mannerisms or his good looks, but the comparisons became more pronounced after the release of ‘Inteha’ (1999), his film debut as an actor, in which he essayed a negative character opposite Meera.
A few years later, he had the rare occasion to perform on stage with Khan, at the Zee Cine Awards 2004. In a live broadcast of the event, the two superstars from neighbouring countries hugged each other warmly before they matched steps on ‘Veer Zaara’s’ peace anthem, ‘Jaisa Des Hai Mera.’ It was a memorable performance, in which they were joined by Preity Zinta and Pakistan’s Reema Khan also.
Today, Saeed is raring to explore other territories. In the pipeline is a mega-budgeted historical, titled ‘Selahuddin Eyyubi’, which is his joint production with Turkey’s Akli Films. “It’s a $10 million project,” he says. “The sets are being mounted on a lavish scale in Turkey, where much of the shoot is expected to start later this year.”
‘Selahuddin Eyyubi’ is an ensemble drama, and comprises noted actors from Turkey and Pakistan. Interestingly, Saeed is not going to feature in the serial. His reason: “I won’t be able to dedicate the kind of time it requires, because I am occupied with a host of other projects.” These include big-screen ventures like ‘Love Guru’, ‘Love You Jutta’, ‘Loafer’, and ‘Naram Garam’.
In April this year, Saeed surprised everyone when he launched Cast&Crew, a clothing line, in collaboration with his industry friend, Adnan Siddiqui, and J., a popular menswear brand. “The entire designing is J.’s responsibility; we’ll be contributing ideas.”
Ask him how he has managed to stay relevant and maintain his heartthrob status this long, and he says, “There are so many examples in Hollywood and Bollywood also. Look at Shah Rukh Khan, for instance. In Pakistan, Shaan [Shahid] is one of the best.”
Saeed has won several honours for his contribution to the entertainment industry, the most prestigious being the Pride of Performance, awarded by the President of Pakistan. But he remains humble and grounded. During the preproduction of his latest film, he was prompted by a journalist who was of the view that ‘Main London Nahi Jaunga’ would have been a catchier title.
A soft-spoken Saeed responded, “Maybe, but I don’t like to use main [me] a lot; it scares me.”
Don’t miss it!
‘London Nahi Jaunga’ is out now in UAE cinemas.