The Unfazed Performer

Imran Ashraf talks about playing a transgender, dealing with obstacles, and writing his first serial

How things have changed for you in the last two years?

Allah has bestowed on me abundantly. Some things have become easier while responsibility [of doing good work] has increased manifold. Now I know that people change their attitude towards you when you become a competition. So, I can tell the difference between genuine and fake people now.

Let’s address the elephant in the room – your character Shammo from Alif Allah Aur Insaan. 

When I got to know about the role of this transgender guy who is in love with a girl, I asked for the script before I change my mind. Then I found out that I had only 34 scenes in this 42-episode serial. As the serial had a multi-star cast and all the other actors had around 300 scenes, I got double-minded about playing Shammo. At the time when I was in a fix whether to accept the role or not, Ahsan Talish got on the director’s seat replacing someone else. This very development renewed my interest in the project because Ahsan is a brilliant director. I am his friend and a fan but this was the first time I worked with him. 

How did you prepare for the role? What was the biggest obstacle in playing a transgender?

Shammo was not a transgender, but was brought up by them which is why he had picked up peculiar nuances and didn’t know any difference. I thought if I met a transgender, I would end up doing clichéd stuff. So, I locked myself in the house for two weeks and made myself realise that I am not a guy, but a transgender. Even after I finished shooting, my mother would ask me, ‘Imran seedha tou chalo, haath seedha karo’ [laughs]. I told the make-up artist not to make me look like a transgender. This role could have ruined my career. One wrong expression and they would have made a meme on it. And getting dressed like a woman was a challenge on its own! I will never understand how girls handle the dupatta.

You will be surprised to know that I have only 34 scenes in the whole serial and yet those were enough to get me three nominations for my work.

How has been the response you are getting for your performance? What is the most surprising comment you remember?

I still can’t believe that Allah has given me so much success through such a tricky role. The first string of comments were very de-motivating. When I had first posted my picture on Instagram in Shammo’s get up, some fans messaged me saying, ‘Apko hamara khayal nahi aya? and ‘Apne hamaray baray main nahin socha?’ I had actually gotten scared, but when the serial went on-air, everything changed. I had a transit flight and was staying in Sri Lanka for a short while. There were so many Indians who came up to me and praised my work. My mother and I were at Hyperstar one day, a lady, aged between 80-85, walked towards us; despite having trouble while walking and said to my mother, ‘Thank you very much for giving our country a son like yours’. That struck me.

Do you have a dream role/team?

No! I just hope that I keep getting good roles. Whether it’s a new team or experienced, I want to rise up to everyone’s expectations.

Last time we spoke, you had talked about wanting to write for dramas but that there were hurdles from within the industry. Now that you have achieved that goal, how did you overcome those problems?

Allah has been too kind. I never wanted to be a writer. For me, it was always about acting. My first story was rejected from everywhere. Sami Khan, Sadia Khan, Faysal Qureshi, no one approved of it. They’d say it is not written well. It was my luck that it had to be aired on the best channel and under the supervision of the best director. 

Tell me about your first screenplay; the experience of writing it and working on it till the point of execution.

Angeline Malik, who is also a friend, had asked me to find a writer for the last episode of Kitni Girhein Baaki Hain. I found someone but he kept delaying the work and finally refused when there were just three days left to shoot. I went to another friend who also declined. A friend then suggested me to present my short play. It was called Daur. It was well received and now, my first drama Tabeer is also on-air and is going really well.

Now that you are also writing for screen, has your understanding of a story changed from when you were just acting?

I always treat my scripts like a writer. I think this is the reason even the smallest roles I have done get registered with people. I would find scope where I could improvise and shine through. 

What were you surprised by the most when you were working on your first script as a writer? 

As an actor, everything is so much easier. Just come to the sets, rehearse, give the shot, pack up, enjoy the praise and go home. You don’t need to worry whether a serial does well or not. As long as you have acted well, no one would hold you accountable for ratings. But the real burden lies with the director and writer. I can’t sleep before the ratings for my serial come in. Luckily, Ahsan has also directed Tabeer and the way he has treated my story is exactly how I had wanted. He has given me a lot of liberty on set also, otherwise a writer wouldn’t even be allowed on set usually. We look at the episodes together and have long discussions regarding them.

What are you working on next?

Writing wise, there is something cooking in my head. But I will write occasionally, I don’t want to do it regularly. As an actor, I am playing an extremely romantic character alongside Hira Mani in my next, Dil Mom Ka Dia. I don’t want to reveal anything here, but there is another role that I am doing with one of my favourite directors, Kashif Nisar, that might even be more difficult than doing Shammo. It has been written by Faiza Iftikhar. That is the one I’m really looking forward to.