It’s 12 in the morning, you switch on your favourite radio channel, the haunting piano track plays in the background, a deep voice narrates chilling stories about supernatural entities… this can mean only one thing – the Late Night Horror Show with Minhaj Ali Askari is on! Many of us know him for his trademark show on radio, that he has much more to his credit. An actor, director, comedian, radio jockey, there isn’t much that Minhaj hasn’t done and by the looks of it, there isn’t much stopping him from exploring and growing even more. Excerpts:

We met at a café and like a perfect gentleman, Minhaj offers me a drink. He has ordered a bunch of stuff from the menu for himself and before I realise, is already half way done with the food. Among the few adjectives that describe him accurately, is foodie. He tells me that there are only two things that he and his wife, Sana, are always ready to do – “eat out” and “travel”. These interests are also a big part of his future plans, understandably. He wishes “to travel a lot with my son and wife” apart from creating “content for internet, do[ing] more radio and hopefully more acting if there are good projects out there.” Minhaj is a seemingly simple man; he has two basic motives in life. “I should be happy and I should party everyday with people I love,” he says, divulging that he is the complete opposite of Sana, who is also an actress. It doesn’t take a Sherlock to guess that he is a complete extrovert. He recalls, growing up, “I was never shy. I was very outgoing, very naughty. I hated studying, especially chemistry because I flunked in it.” The company of a 13-year-old Minhaj honed the artiste in him today. “The friends that I used to hangout with had artistic background. Some were into writing, some into painting. A few of us were into music so we would jam together. I would sing and play the guitar,” he shares. But life had a rocky path planned for him, perhaps. Minhaj’s father passed away when he was just 17 years old. Being the eldest among his siblings, he assumed many respionsibilities and decided to work towards financial independece.

“I joined a computer institute. At that time, everyone was studying computer science because internet was growing and it was prividing a degree in association with a university in England, so I went for it. Around the same time, I joined radio to earn some pocket money.” But the 33-year-old could not finish the four-year long degree out of disinterest and dropped out after just two years. His journey with FM 103, however, continued. “One of the first ideas that I had presented to them was that we should gather street musicians and pair them up with renowned musicians to let them create their own music, quite akin to Coke Studio and other similar shows you see today. May be the execution wasn’t as it should have been, so we couldn’t continue with it,” Minhaj says of his initial time as an RJ. During the same time, his life got a new direction. “I found out that a school by the name of NAPA has opened up where they are teaching filmmaking. I was very excited at the prospect of learning something I’m interested in. So I got enrolled and started a new journey from there, which included acting and film-making,” says the National Academy of Performing Arts graduate. Being true to his star sign, the hard worker didn’t just stop there. He further joined Pakistan’s first ever improvisational comedy group Light On Hai, initally called Aisa Karogay Tou Kaun Aayega?

“I got to know that Azfar Ali has this idea and he’s looking for people. I had good comic timing and I thought of giving it a try. I went for the auditions and found that there were about eight to 10 more guys there, many from my batch at NAPA. The auditions continued and in the end, including me,” reveals the Virgo. But learning improv standup was no piece of cake. “We had an acting coach, Zeeshan, another NAPA graduate. He would tell us excercises to do everyday. We rehearsed for an entire year before performing. We invested time and efforts into learning the art, so that when we perform, every word is spontaneous and not learnt beforehand,” Minhaj explains his tedious routine and continues, “We would perform at PACC and Base Rock Café that opened newly at that time. But they asked us not to return because they didn’t like our performance. It was a very dramatic moment for us, almost filmy, when we said to ourselves pretty soon they will ask us to come back and we will refuse. And that did happen.” Minhaj laughs and tells me that he has had many such filmy moments in his life. One of the firsts he remembers is how he met Sana. “She actually worked at the computer institute when I got enrolled there. When I first saw her, I liked her quite a bit,” he admits that he might sound cheesy, but is being absolutely honest, and continues, “but we had a big, ugly fight the very first day. I wanted to meet the counseller to discuss my career and she asked me to wait for a while. I ended up waiting for about 90 minutes. When I got up again, I saw that Sana is laughing at her computer screen, chatting with her friends. I got even more furious when I found out that she had forgotten to let the counsellor know that I’m waiting. Anyway, long story short, Sana left her job and I left too, but I would always wonder about her. Sometime later, I added her on messenger, as there were no social media forums back then. She reluctantly added me to her list as well and we started chatting. It’s been almost 15 years years now that we have been together. I still remember I spent Rs. 20 on our first date. We had dal, two rotis and two chai at a dhaaba.” The couple know has a beautiful son, Nyle.

For Minhaj, life is a never-ending expedition where he gets to find a new interest at every turn. “I’m still exploring new things to this day. Even currently, I am involved in mulitiple projects. I think this is one thing that irritates Sana as well; she fears that I might become the jack of all trades and master of none,” he laughs, but clarifies that film-making remains one of his “biggest passions”. The multitalented man reveals, “I have recently directed a 20-minute short film with a few of my friends as producers. This is my first official film as a director that is meant for public viewing, otherwise I have directed quite a few things that no one has ever seen.” Wanting to live life on the fast lane, the one thing that scares Minhaj the most is monotony. He shares with me the time he was working with FM 105 five days a week and was bored out of his wits with doing the same shows for two years. “One day, I decided I am not going to play any music or ads during my show. I announced that I was going to do something different even though I hadn’t thought of anything. I just started sharing stories that I knew about spirits,” he recalls of how the LNHS started and conitnues, “I got a call in the morning from the station manager. He asked me what I had done the night before because they got a tremendous response on it, hence, we decided to make it a full length show.” The monotony worked out fine it seems because the became a hit with the masses with people emailing and calling with their experiences from everywhere. He took a break from the show after two years but has been back with it since the past year on FM 103. I ask him the question everyone wants him to answer: does he get scared? “Ashraf-ul-makhlooqaat main hoon, woh nahi.” He points out that most of the fear is because we fear the unknow and these things affect those with a weak mind the most. He also tells me that people have complained about hearing noises in the background and he has experienced many other strange happenings during the show.

I finally ask him, what according to him makes a good RJ. “The content,” is the quick reply. “I don’t believe I have a very attractive voice but I have good content that is why my shows work. One should read good literature and listen to good music to become better radio broadcaster,” he suggests before signing off.