For this month’s issue of The Laaltain, we caught up with Gohar Rasheed – an actor not many in Pakistan may have heard of yet, but who soon promises to take the acting scene in the country by storm. Gohar has been creating ripples on the international film festival circuit for his powerful performance in the film Seedlings (Lamha), which won the Best Audience Choice Award and Best Female Actor Award at the 2012 New York International Film Festival and was nominated in seven categories (including a nomination for Gohar as Best Actor in a Supporting Role).
Having arranged to meet up at a busy cafe in Lahore one winter night, Gohar walked in with an easy smile and opened with the lines “please excuse my long hair and beard. I know I look like a bona fide villain, but it’s for my next role”. Having effortlessly broken the ice, we sat down to the business of learning all about what makes this 28 year old tick, how he came upon the role that changed his life, and the big plans he has ahead. And here’s what he had to say:
Has acting always been a passion?
Absolutely. My majors were Theatre, Film and TV and minors were Journalism at Beaconhouse National University in Lahore and then got involved in theatre acting. I also did a couple of plays for TV, but I always knew this is what I want to do with my life.
It’s not easy in Pakistan, because we don’t even have the basic infrastructure or support system available elsewhere to be able to do what we do, so everything is a struggle. But the bigger the challenge, the more fulfilling it seems in the end.
How did you end up with your role in Seedlings (Lamha)?
OK, this is something else no one knows! I found out that auditions for this film were being held here in Karachi so I went along with my friend Ali Chaudary to try out. Now the problem is that I’m actually terrible at auditions. Like really terrible. So when I did the audition, which was basically a scene from the film, I was convinced that I had bombed it and nothing would come of it. Later I found out that the people taking the audition were really happy with the performance I gave, and decided on the spot that I was the one they wanted for the role. I got a call telling me I had made it through, but I was still reluctant. Finally, my friend Hamza Ali Abbasi convinced me that I should take it up, even just for the experience. And the rest is history.
What was the experience of acting in this film like? There must be moments that really stood out and that have stayed with you since.
I couldn’t have asked for a better first role, and that’s mainly because of the people I got to know through it. It was an incredible learning experience because the other actors, the producer, the director – who were all my seniors – really went out of their way to help me give my best. Amina Shaikh and Mohib Mirza (the leading actors in the film) are not only brilliant actors but brilliant human beings. Unfortunately, it’s very rare in Pakistan for people who are more accomplished than you to take the time and interest to help you develop your own skill. But that’s exactly what Amina and Mohib did every step of the way. Mansoor Mujahid (the Director), Summer Nicks (the writer) and Meher Jaffery (the producer) were meticulous in the way they planned every scene, and they ensured that they talked us through everything beforehand. And this was a really refreshing experience, because usually what happens here is that you land up on the set and are told right there and then what scene you will be doing, and you just have to do what you can on the spot.
How was the film received by international audiences?
The reaction was truly overwhelming. None of us expected it. We had two premiers scheduled in the New York International Film Festival at Tribeca cinema, but due to the huge public demand the organizers had to schedule another screening there. I was amazed to see so many people in the audience crying.
After the first screening, during the Q&A session, a lady in the audience got up and said she would like to direct her comment to me. I was suddenly petrified because I didn’t know whether she was going to tell me off or say I had done a terrible job in the film. But to my amazement she just stood and clapped in appreciation, which led the entire audience to give us a standing ovation. It was one of the proudest moments I have ever experienced, and it demonstrated to me that if you work hard and produce quality work it will be recognised.
We’re all eagerly awaiting the film in Pakistan; none of us have actually seen it yet. When will it be premiering here?
If all goes well, we’re looking at March 2013. We wanted it to be much sooner but there were so many hiccups along the way. We’re all eagerly anticipating how the film will be received here, so let’s see. There’s nothing like earning appreciation for your work in your own country, so I’m hoping for the best!
Do you feel that projects such as this, whether they are films, performances, literature or art, are a good opportunity to showcase what Pakistan has to offer to the world?
Absolutely. It’s now more than ever that Pakistan needs to be able to showcase its talent to the world. And from my experience with Seedlings (Lamha) I can vouch for the fact that these things do have an impact internationally. I actually attended the festival in New York wearing a sherwani and a Jinnah cap, and people were genuinely intrigued about my clothes. It was a great opportunity for me to explain the significance the Jinnah cap holds for Pakistanis, and eventually I ended up gifting the cap to the CEO of the festival because he liked it so much!
It was a great feeling being able to represent my country at such a forum, and I really feel we need to strive to do more of this. Only then will we be able to show the world how much talent, passion and potential Pakistan has.
What does Gohar Rasheed plan to do with himself next?
There are a lot of exciting things going on at the moment. Currently, I’m producing an action comedy feature film called ‘Kambakht’. My good friend Hamza Ali Abbasi is the director, and the planned release is in summer 2013. I’m also acting in two upcoming films called ‘Mein Hoon Shahdi Afridi’ and ‘The Extortionist’. I can’t divulge too many details about these projects at this stage but I’m really looking forward to how they will turn out. And of course, my show in FM91 called ‘Pakistanwallah’ will continue. I love radio, so it’s not something I want to give up doing anytime soon.
So we’ll end on a clichéd note, and ask if there’s anything you would like to say to those young aspiring actors that are trying to make their way in Pakistan?
[laughs] Well all I can really say is do your best, give your 100% and leave the rest to God. He always comes through sooner or later.
Favourite Actors – Moeen Akhtar, Bushra Ansari, Anthony Hopkins, Meryl streep, Aamir khan, Kirron Kher and the list goes on & on
Favourite Films – Pan’s Labyrinth, A Separation, Yip Man, Scent of a Woman, Khuda Ke Liye, Meet Joe Black, The Pianist, Dil Chahta Hai, Mugal-e-azam etc.
(Published in The Laaltain – Issue 7)