An exclusive interview with Abdul Mannan Butt who played Imran Khan in the upcoming movie ‘Kaptaan’
Releasing this May is director Faisal Aman Khan’s ‘Kaptaan’ – a film based on the life of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan after retiring from the world of cricket, entering politics and all the events that occurred in his life up to 2010. News of the film first broke in 2011, when the teaser track ‘Allah Hoo’ was released. Since then the movie has faced some delays but is now considered one of the most awaited films of 2013, despite a notable lack of widespread publicity.
The lead actor Abdul Mannan Butt is adding to his repertoire of modelling and photography by debuting as an actor in this film. A rapidly rising star (who actually bears an uncanny resemblance to Imran Khan and Hrithik Roshan), Mannan is a true Lahori and an amazing host. As I sat down to interview him, I must admit to being initially star-struck, but as we continued to talk the 32-year-old proceeded to make me feel comfortable and welcomed. And here is what he had to say:
Laaltain: So how did you get to where you are today?
Mannan: Now that is some story – at least for me. I used to go to Anarkali regularly to learn typing, and in 1998 as I was passing by the place one day I was spotted by Khawer Riaz. Despite my repeated warnings to him that I knew nothing about modelling, he insisted that I come to his office. I figured I had nothing to lose so I ended up going. Having no background in modelling and the industry not being as popular back in the day, I had no clue as to who I was meeting. He was nice enough to introduce me to his family, after which he showed me some portfolios of top models. That’s when it sunk in who he actually was. Back then I knew it was a risky decision to enter this field, but I was curious so eventually agreed to try it out. I got my portfolio made and he forwarded it to other agencies. I still remember how happy my family was when they saw my commercial for the first time. [smiles]
Laaltain: So did you just carry on after your first commercial?
Mannan: Actually I kind of lost interest after that first commercial as I felt my curiosity had been sated. I received a handful of calls with offers for more work but I didn’t accept any of them, usually making up one excuse or another. As I said, I wasn’t as curious anymore, and it was just a hobby for me. My main goal was actually to become a businessman.
Laaltain: Then what brought you back?
Mannan: As clichéd as it may sound, it was when my interest was sparked once again. In 2000 I was selected for a fashion show. There were 70 of us, and I, for whatever reason, was in the top 7. I experienced a new high with that show, so in 2005 I joined the industry on a professional level. That is when it all really began for me. It wasn’t smooth or easy, but I was in it for the long-haul this time.
Laaltain: Was the way to ‘Kaptaan’ easy?
Mannan: Well, around two years ago one of the agencies recommended that I approach Faisal Aman Khan, as he had apparently been trying to contact me. So I called him up and was asked to meet immediately. I went through the normal routine of screen tests and auditions, then they signed up Saeeda Imtiaz [who plays Jemima Khan in the film] and the work began in Pakistan.
Laaltain: You even look like Imran Khan!
Mannan: [Laughs] Yes, I have been told a few times. I think that is one of the main reasons I landed this role. But thank you, I can’t help but feel flattered every time someone says that.
Laaltain: How did the idea for ‘Kaptaan’ come about?
Mannan: Faisal, our director and producer, got his degree in filmmaking from the UK. He had the idea two years after he graduated, so he started the project independently, even writing the story on his own. He then met and interviewed Imran Khan in the UK regarding the project. Even my selection was done there.
Laaltain: Has this project received a lot of support from the PTI?
Mannan: Financially, no. But that is not the only support one needs. PTI was very helpful in every other aspect of the project. This being a biographical film, Imran Khan provided us with his life’s details when needed. As for PTI itself, they helped us shoot in places where, for many political reasons, a shoot would not really be possible.
Laaltain: Then where did the money come from?
Mannan: Faisal has financed the project himself. The budget is pretty modest; there is no sign of extravagance in the film. An independent project usually doesn’t get much financial help, so we tried to make do with the funds we had. This meant not being able to build sets from scratch, but as I said before, with PTI and Imran Khan’s help we were able to shoot in a lot of original locations, and that obviously helped a great deal.
Laaltain: Was there anything in particular that drew you to this project?
Mannan: Apart from an obvious appreciation for Imran Khan himself, it would definitely have to be my own experiences as well. Like him, I lost one of my parents, my father, to blood cancer. It made me very hostile and I just wanted to do something to fight the disease. Naturally, thinking and doing are not the same thing. While I was only able to think about it, Imran Khan actually made things happen. Maybe I couldn’t do what he did, but the least I can do is relay his story to the world. Apart from this, it is any actor’s dream to work with a director who is not afraid of taking risks, and Faisal is exactly that type of guy. He doesn’t use the clichéd styles of directing we often see in Pakistan and I appreciate his methods.
Laaltain: Would it be an understatement to say that portraying the role was hard?
Mannan: Oh most definitely! The kind of pressure involved in trying to depict someone like Imran Khan, who is clearly considered a living legend, is – to put it lightly – a backbreaker. In a more visual way, growing my hair was one of the hardest parts. I have always had short hair, and it took me a good while to get it that long. Apart from that, copying his voice, mannerisms and body language was hard. But I went through his videos on YouTube and learned what I could. Another difficulty was copying his bowling style. I had to practice a lot to get it right.
Laaltain: And what about shooting problems?
Mannan: Shooting in PTI-related areas was fairly easy, thanks to their support. The real issue came in respect to other political parties like PML(N) and MQM. When we tried to shoot in locations related to these parties we were regularly denied access or NOCs. So that was undeniably one of the issues. Overall, people refused co-operate because they belonged to other parties, or were in general against Imran Khan.
Laaltain: So tell us more about the movie itself.
Mannan: Well, it’s based on Imran Khan’s life. It focuses on all the highs and lows he experienced, starting from his cricket days but mainly focusing on events from his retirement up till 2010. The rest you will have to watch!
Laaltain: Does the name Kaptaan have to do with anything more than captaincy as a cricket player?
Mannan: A captain is someone who leads or commands. He has done it throughout his life. First with cricket, then cancer, then education and finally politics. Captaincy is his symbol, no matter what the context.
Laaltain: Would you mind telling us about the threats you received after the movie was announced?
Mannan: Oh several threats were received by both Saeeda [portraying the role of Jemima Khan] and myself. Having spent my whole life in Pakistan I have become immune to such things. However, Saeeda is a US citizen and for her it was a different story. After initially ignoring the issue, we finally had to complain to the police. Eventually the person responsible was found; his main objection was about how making this movie is haraam and against Islam. But he was just an individual acting alone, and we later also discovered that he was mentally ill.
Laaltain: Speaking of Saeeda Imtiaz, how was your experience with your first co-star?
Mannan: It was great. We developed an instant connection. She is a very humble person and adjusts well to her surroundings. I have worked with other women as co-actors and anchors, but I found working with Saeeda was exceptionally easy.
Laaltain: The movie’s release has been delayed already. Why?
Mannan: Money and politics. Our budget and various political reasons have been the main problem.
Laaltain: When can we expect a release?
Mannan: Insha Allah by the end of April.
Laaltain: Let’s talk about the politics now. Do you think PTI will fulfil its promises if it comes to power?
Mannan: We talked about this before. Imran Khan is a leader. He does what he says. He made it his mission to win the World Cup, and it happened. With the current situation, the change will come slowly but surely. During the course of his life, he has been shunned an ample amount of times. But he proved them all wrong. He pushed it all aside and did what he wanted to do. And to this day nothing has changed. He is still told off, and just as he has done before he will come out of the pressure and prove everyone wrong again. That is if he is given the chance.
Laaltain: You are free to stop or decline to answer if this one feels too political. But Imran Khan has been criticized for having corrupt members in PTI now. What is your take on this?
Mannan: Going back to Imran Khan’s one important skill: captaincy. He has to give everyone an equal chance and then weigh each one’s strengths and weaknesses. It is then his job to see who he wants to play and when. I think Imran is a captain in its truest sense, and knows exactly what he is doing. We need to keep in mind, though human, he is a leader. And his job is to think what everyday minds can’t.
Laaltain: Coming back to you, you have ventured into so many fields. What do you think the future holds now?
Mannan: I want to continue working on many projects, although I have learned to be selective with the passage of time.
I’m open to directing as well. Our country excels in music and fashion, but lacks in filmmaking. It needs better directors and writers who do not play the old horse background music [laughs]. I would also like to promote filmmaking amongst the youth so that more of them can study it and enter the field. Photography is also a great passion with me. I still do wedding photography.
Hopefully one day I will also fulfill my dream of starting a business.
Laaltain: Clothing line business maybe?
Mannan: Oh no, not at all. There are too many of those already. Maybe a men’s perfume line, manufactured solely in Pakistan. I think this country holds a lot of potential; people just need to go out there and explore it. On an unrelated note, I think there is also a lot of talent in Pakistan. Our whole crew was Pakistani. It was truly heartening to see.
Laaltain: And finally, any message for the youth?
Mannan: It may sound stereotypical, but do not stop studying. I have seen all these young people being charmed by the industry, but not everyone succeeds and not everyone is appreciated. I am not trying to demean anybody here. The basic truth is that some people have monopolised the field, and they don’t let newcomers in that easily or at all. It is a good industry, but it’s important not to let it cloud your other talents and ideas. There is a lot to learn and I suggest you keep exploring yourself, what you are good at or great at. If you find yourself a godfather, lucky you! Otherwise, become your own godfather. Know what people expect from you, what you can give and how you can do it.
Laaltain: Oh, and to break many hearts when are you set to tie the knot?
Mannan: [laughs shyly] well I am not engaged, I am waiting to get married. But it will happen soon Insha Allah.
Laaltain: Will it be love or arranged?
Mannan: It will be my mother’s choice, but of course it goes both ways. [smiles]