Hailing from the previously Federally Administered Tribal Area of Lakki Marwat, and growing up in the capital city of Islamabad, Ali Rehman Khan has come a long way since his 2010 on-screen debut in Slackistan – a film he feels put him on the map and one that will always have a special place in his heart.
Now readying for the release of his fifth film, Heer Maan Ja a rom-com opposite Hareem Farooq, this self-proclaimed tech-geek and London School of Economics graduate, in a DESTINATIONS exclusive, tells all – from his passion for acting, his love of helping out and other things close to his heart.
What prompted you to start acting?
Superman! As a young child, I remember watching Superman and thinking, ‘when I grow up, I’m going to be just like Superman’. Ever since, I’ve just had an affinity for the arts. I’m transported to a different plain each time I see something new. For me, acting is like meditation and with each passing day I grow to love it more than the last.
Before working in television and cinema, you did a lot of theatre work – for you as an actor what has the transition been like?
Theatre has played a very important part in my life – it has made me what I am today. I believe theatre is a way of life, one that been a great inspiration in my life. It has taught me so much and made me a better person.
Despite being part of the same discipline, theatre and cinema are two completely different mediums. Initially, transitioning from theatre to television and film was quite challenging. I had to learn the subtle nuances of film and television that in theatre we are usually able to get away with. Honestly, for me, I think the transition has been a great learning experience.
I feel privileged to have been able to start my career as a theatre actor. It’s now been so long since I’ve done any theatre, I would love to get back into it. So if there is any theatre happening out there, let me know!
You worked with the World Health Organization and the International Organization for migration before moving to Vienna for a job with the International Centre for Migration Policy Development. The plight of disenfranchised seems to be close to your heart. What prompted you to start and later give up a career in the field of rights issues?
My father served at the Pakistani Embassy in Abu Dhabi and later at the Consulate in Dubai, catering to the concerns of the large Pakistani community in the UAE. I guess that was my first introduction to issues pertaining to migration. Over the years, I subconsciously developed a good understanding of the work he did and became acquainted with the kind of people he was dealing with on a day-to-day basis. My father was always concerned about the communities’ issues, and how best to solve them. That knowledge unexpectedly helped me much later when I applied for a job with IOM. To my surprise, I knew a lot more than I gave myself credit for and I got the job.
I guess if I weren’t in the arts, I would continue pursuing my career in development. I am passionate about rights based issues as well as conflict management and resolution. After joining the UN, I started working with many amazing, brilliant and dedicated people who guided me, mentored me and allowed me to grow as a person. It really gave me a platform to work with those whose policies shape the plight of the less fortunate.
During my time there, I also liaised with other UN organizations like the World Health Organization and UNICEF to name a few. The work I have done with the UN is very close to my heart and will stay with me forever. But when the opportunity came to take up acting professionally, I chose to pursue my dreams.
You spent three years in Vienna. Tell us about that.
Vienna was never a planned move. I had quit my job at the United Nations and was about to start my career as an actor when a random opportunity came by – a short term consultancy in Vienna for three months. I thought it would be a breeze and I’d be back before I knew it and get on with my acting career. That clearly wasn’t meant to be and the planned 3-month stint turned into almost four years in Vienna. I helped author the project that I continued working on. It was one of the best times of my life – both challenging and demanding but at the same time fulfilling to the core.
With your on-screen work, do you believe you have found your calling?
Absolutely, I wouldn’t have otherwise left my job and come back to pursue my career in acting. I have always known it to be my calling, one that became a reality the moment I stepped on stage and delivered my first line.
Even in your capacity as an actor, you actively campaign against social issues that need to be addressed. You were recently part of the Jahez Khori Band Karo campaign against dowry. How important is it to you to support such causes?
As an actor, I feel it has become even more important for to me to raise my voice against injustice and to support social causes that have a positive impact on society at large. I am interested in the cause of nature conservation and want to learn more about how individuals can make a positive contribution. With this in mind I have been in conversation with WWF-Pakistan and will be joining them as a Goodwill Ambassador soon to help build a future where people live in harmony with nature.
It is important to stand against what is wrong and ensure that we raise awareness on such issues. We cannot allow such things to become the norm, because it degrades a society and disrupts development.
I will keep raising my voice for issues that need attention and issues that need to be brought forward in the spotlight for as long as I can. God has given me the opportunity to reach out to so many people, it would be a shame if I didn’t take advantage of that and use it for good.
You have a close working relationship and friendship with Hareem Farooq – what makes you two click?
What makes us click, I guess is what makes any two people click – friendship. Hareem and I have known each other for really long and we understand each other very well.
I’ve been lucky to have a close friend who shares the same profession which automatically makes our equation a lot more relatable than the rest – it’s great. Hareem is someone who has always been there for me when I have needed her the most. She has always been a great help in giving the right advice and is someone whose opinion I trust.
Apart from that, professionally, I think that Hareem is a brilliant actress – one of the finest we have!
You are said to love travelling – what has so far been your favourite destination and why?
Now that’s a tough one, there’s so many that I can’t possibly choose one – I wouldn’t dare to. The trips that have stayed with me are the ones made with loved ones – close friends and family.
Having said that, I love to travel and in my head, I have a long list of places I’d like to visit – countless villages, towns, cities, countries. There are still many adventures waiting to happen.
Have you travelled extensively across Pakistan? What has been your favourite trip and why?
We have such a beautiful country – unfortunately, I haven’t yet had a chance to travel extensively through Pakistan. It’s something that’s long been on my agenda, but I just haven’t had the time to plan as such.
At the moment, of all the places I have visited thus far, my favourite has to be my trip to Khaplu, Shighar, and other northern areas. The experience was just surreal. I mean, every step you take, you look up at the sky and then look around you; it feels like one’s living in a painting. Truly magical.
This was your first visit to the Buddhist ruins of Takht Bahi, which are a UNESO World Heritage Site – what was the experience like for you?
Yes, this was my first trip to Takht Bahi and it was absolutely outstanding. I am delighted to have visited because I don’t think I would have otherwise understood the importance of it being a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
When you see the glorious Buddhist ruins still intact, one realizes how progressive these ancient people were. I feel an immense sense of pride knowing such an important site is part of Pakistan’s historical and cultural landscape and I’ll always have DESTINATIONS magazine to thank for making this trip of a lifetime possible and for choosing this incredible location.
Hailing from the province that boasts a multitude of ancient heritage sites, how important is it to you to work towards the preservation of such a wealth of culture and promote tourism in Pakistan?
It makes me immensely proud to know that our country is host to some of the most ancient heritage sites in the world. Pakistan is home to one of the oldest civilizations but owing to news based stereotypes, and the resulting lack of tourism, we are unable to show the world what all Pakistan has to offer.
It is now our collective responsibility to change that narrative and allow people to see what we as a country and a people have to offer. We really need to bring the focus back on sustainable, eco-tourism.
You are quite a fan of Takht Bahi’s legendary chapli kababs – what makes the town’s version different to others?
Takht Bahi has the best chapli kababs in the world. I have many friends who hail from Takht Bahi, so I often request them to have a batch brought over whenever I am in Islamabad. I am a huge fan. I eat as much as I can, and freeze the rest for later.
What makes these kababs so different is the kind of fats used to prepare and cook them and also the way it is made. Trust me if I knew the secret of what makes them special, I would recreate them at home. Sadly, you can’t replicate that taste anywhere else in the world, and so, I resort to ordering large amounts to eat on my own.
Upon your return from Vienna, you are said to have become a ‘great cook’ who can conjure up ‘a mean red curry’. Do you enjoy cooking? And which dish do you cook best?
I am a big foodie and when you’re living on your own, away from home, eating out every day tends to get fairly expensive. So, I started experimenting everyday with new receipes. By the end of it I can safely say, I am perfectly capable of conjuring up a mean red curry and fry up a fairly decent
What is your fitness mantra?
My fitness mantra is very simple; eat clean, eat organic, steer clear of preservatives, and exercise as much as you can – you will be fit forever.
You are said to be an avid/obsessed tea drinker, known to sip multiple cuppas even in the middle of party – what, for you, defines an ideal brew?
For me, the ideal brew is a perfect combination between doodh patti and karak chai – I don’t believe in separating the two!
Friends describe you as a great dancer – what kind of music do you enjoy dancing to?
I love dancing to Bollywood, to bhangra, to salsa, meringue, tangle and anything in between because I just love to dance! Having said that, I am also not someone who’ll break into a dance, anywhere and everywhere – it all really depends on my mood.
You are known for your sense of humour which is said to translate into your great comic timing on screen. How important is it to be able to find humour in a situation and laugh out loud?
I am lucky to have a family that has a great sense of humour and they taught me how to enjoy life and not take everything so seriously. After all, life is about love, laughter and cherishing each moment.
You are said to be extremely close to your family and friends. Usman Khalid Butt and Uzair Jaswal have long been among your closest buddies. As you gain fame and acclaim, do you feel it these relationships that help you grounded?
I always loved the company of my family and extended cousins. And spending time with old friends takes you back to a time when we were all just nobodies but a bunch of anxious teenagers trying to make our mark, doing our best and pursuing our dreams with the utmost passion. Times when we didn’t have dreams of becoming big celebrities. The days when the struggle was real. So, whenever we get to see each other, it’s like nothing has changed – just the same old friends catching up on life and having a good laugh.
As someone who has grown up in Islamabad and now spends half the time in Karachi – how is living between the two cities treating you?
It’s not so different – in certain respects it’s kind of the same. I love Islamabad because it is the city I grew up in and it will always be home. However, living between two cities is not alien to me because I have over the years often lived between two countries. I have learned to love Karachi which is a very vibrant city with wonderful people who are extremely welcoming.
From the UN to Slackistan and beyond, what has the journey been like?
It’s been one hell of a journey so far, one that I can write a book about. It’s tough to briefly explain, but all I can say is that it has been one of self-discovery, of learning and most importantly re-learning.
In the process, I have learnt to trust others, but more importantly learnt to trust myself – and take onus for the right decisions and the wrong. It has taught me the importance of family and friends and keeping them close to your heart. I have learned to be grounded, to appreciate life and not taking things for granted. I am thankful to Allah, my family and friends for being with me on this journey.
Should the opportunity arise; would you ever be open to the idea of advising/aiding the government of Pakistan on the policy or working with them on policy development?
A: I would jump to any such opportunity. In fact, policy was what I was working on with the government of Pakistan right before I moved back. Over the years, working alongside the government in coming up with practical solutions on various issues has been quite exciting and something I have been really proud of. Good work has been done, but there is so much more that needs to be done. If there was ever a need for me continue that work and serve the country, I would be very happy to play an advisory role and use my expertise to help or aid the government Pakistan on policy matters.
What’s next for Ali Rehman Khan?
For Ali Rehman Khan, it’s only just the beginning; I am going to keep my head down, continue working and leave all the noise behind.