As an aspiring bunch of ‘Media Studies’ students, we would often joke about the leading names of the industry that never allow youngsters to grow and prosper. How Shaan wants to live and die as Pakistan’s last action hero and the Lollywood machinery, in its entirety, is working to ensure that and how Humayun Saeed auditions young actors and hires those who are not a threat to his stardom and business.
In fact, Humayun’s narcissism was so popular that I remember a fellow coming up with a treatment for a short film that took place inside Humayun’s head and the plot revolved around a detective played by Humayun Saeed trying to figure out the perpetrator behind the seven deadly murders of showbiz.
Humayun v Humayun
The detective, like in all other noir films, puts his family life at risk, trying to dodge the many femme fatales that come his way. Some consume him, others not so much, and in the middle of this ‘What if or F*** it’ scenario, as Ranbir Kapoor puts it, comes the gruff voice of an old, wise and balding man, who appears like a Mahesh Bhatt hologram in Humayun’s dream and gives him the final piece of the puzzle that this murder mystery had become.
Humayun had been doing it wrong all this time.
He was looking everywhere apart from within. He was the bird he needed to catch, the reflection in the mirror, the Simorgh. He was the killer in this house of cards, not Kevin Spacey. The short film treatment was rejected after the first pitch. But Humayun’s career has come full circle and his legacy needs to be accepted with all its facts and zero fiction, something that all the critics of his recent Netflix nod as Dr Hasnat in The Crown need to bear in mind.
For the most part of his post-internet career, Humayun has managed to stay away from controversy despite a rather flowery relationship with the Urdu press. That’s a huge feat given how no boomer has been forgiven by the wrath of Gen Z Twitter or others looking for acceptance within Gen Z. So, it was clear from the beginning that the Humayun diss track would have never played on social media had some ‘influencers’ and blogs not claimed that Fawad Khan was being cast for the coveted Netflix role.
The hate towards Humayun stemmed mostly out of the fact that he wasn’t Fawad, and such a domino effect is common to all fandoms across the world, be it sports or conventional entertainment. The disappointment of an ace player leaving your favourite football club is usually directed towards the player replacing him especially when they both have different playing styles or cater to fans of different generations.
The same goes for Fawad and Humayun, but the question remains, did it really hurt Humayun’s reputation in the industry? Not at all. Did it make him any less of a creative giant? Nay. In fact, all of this has worked in his favour as anyone in Humayun’s shoes would have wanted.
Humayun v Fawad
A wrong piece of news corrected within hours of its speculative publishing brought Humayun Saeed neck to neck with an actor who made his mainstream debut at least 15 years after Humayun and is recognised by a lot more Indians across the globe. That’s a huge deal. So huge it makes one wonder why would Fawad even need another PR bump given he had confirmed his role in Ms Marvel only a few weeks back and why would he make the Marvel announcement so close to getting another crown? It makes no sense. Neither from a PR nor from a news cycle standpoint. But the fandom is based on blind faith and fans believe what you tell them to believe or, more strongly, to oppose. As Simon Firth once wrote, “Audience love hating what they hate more than loving what they love,” and no one could be more well-aware of it than our most-watched TV star, Humayun Saeed.
If Humayun is the person who shattered all previous Box Office records in Pakistan and if Meray Paas Tum Ho was really watched more than the Mohali Semi-Final in Pakistan, as some market analysts equate, then you can never know if Humayun himself was the mastermind behind this brilliant PR campaign. He deserves a separate award for breaking the news if he has anything to do with it; if he doesn’t then it’s the stars aligning in his favour once again, despite the hate brigade.
Humayun v Sakina
However, the smear campaign didn’t emerge solely due to the show not casting Fawad, although it may have been a major contributing factor. It also seemed rather personal, which is perfectly understandable in an industry driven by lobbies, if not dynasties, but ‘I am not going to watch The Crown because it has Humayun in it’ is too weird, in fact, too abstract for anyone associated with Pakistani Television. Sakina Samo, who is known for making some of the most thought-provoking content needs to contain her thoughts or explain why. We genuinely need more on what she is implying about Humayun or hiding about Humayun for that matter.
Otherwise, there won’t be much of a difference between a bunch of media graduates pitching a script about Humayun because they have heard bad things about him and a veteran who knows the business inside out. We seriously need answers, perhaps a Twitter thread from Samo. We need to know the inside story unless it is about something hidden under the deep trenches of Buckingham palace that Meghan Markle would be adamant about unearthing. If not for us, for Meghan and for disrupting the royalty of any country or industry, we need answers.
Humayun v Shaan
I know where you’re getting at. No, I don’t love Humayun Saeed and we, unfortunately, don’t share a bond that any journalist-turned-groupie would be able to relate to. For the most part of his career, Humayun has been an exceptional businessman and very ordinary actor, sometimes rightly criticised for being cast in roles that he doesn’t fit at all but he took on because he could. In fact, his acting started to grow on me after Jawani Phir Nahi Ani and more importantly after JPNA 2, where he played a rather love-struck, ageing romantic getting out of jail.
His greatest achievement is to finally get roles written that do justice to his age and allow him the little creative space his range allows and ample room for him to still be presented as a handsome romantic lead. You can choose not to romanticise him but the numbers suggest otherwise and so does the Urdu Page 3 journalism about his personal life, not all of which may be false. Whether you like him or hate him, you simply can’t ignore him, and that is not because he is standing in your way. That’s very 90s and very Shaan-esque. What Shaan couldn’t do for Lollywood, Humayun did for Pakistani TV and cinema. That chapter is closed for good.
Humayun v the system
While the producers and casting directors of The Crown can better tell why they chose Humayun to essay the role of ‘Mr Wonderful’, there are a few leaves that his contemporaries could take out of his book and none of them are related to craft. Learn to take criticism positively, if not indifferently, or at least appear to be unaffected by it if you can’t accept it in good stride.
Be self-aware of your strengths and weaknesses and then talk about your work and yourself similar to the way in which Humayun did with Yalghaar and Project Ghazi. He was the one who openly said that Project Ghazi should be shelved due to technical flaws and was open about the criticism Yalghaar might face right after the premiere in Islamabad.
This obviously doesn’t disregard his role in maintaining formulas and lobbies and in some cases exploitation of labour which is unfortunately common to all the production houses in Pakistan. He like many veterans is one of the most powerful people responsible for the way content and the TV drama industry work today, including all its strengths and Khalilur Rehman Qamars.
Neither does it divorce him from the fact that he has sometimes publicly, and more often individually advocated for reviews to be delayed, for the critique might affect the numbers.
He is very much a part of the system that the young lot of media recruits is actively trying to topple but deep down they do believe that perhaps Humayun will be leading the charge with them. That’s the image that’s the perception. Remember the young CEO of the Tech Startup who gets billions in seed funding in the name of ‘innovation’ but is equally old school about crunch hours and layoffs?
Humayun is the same CEO at a Tedtalk with more boomer energy and an empire that was not built through seed funding. His industry has been manufactured in such a manner that his inclusion as a face has become a pre-requisite of sorts; TRP goldmine for a few, an occupational necessity for many, and a necessary evil for some.
Of course, there are way more, better looking and exceptionally talented actors present in the industry but if the lesser talented and most hated guy has been given the crown then might as well let him have it. At least he is not a British or an American Pakistani who we all seem to endorse with a rather bittersweet aftertaste.
Have something to add to the story? Share it in the comments below.