on the actor's trail

The final word on why women love Fawad Khan

A billet doux to the 34-year-old Pakistani actor who has been creating weather disturbances across India.

Let me just say this very simply, OK, without any culture studies costume and Aman ki Asha accessories.

I love Fawad in the springtime

I love Fawad in the fall

I love Fawad when there is bin mausam barsat

And I love Fawad when there’s no weather report at all

Now write ‘want” instead of “love” and hit replace all.

For a while now, an ominous gap has been making itself felt, a tear in our love panorama that is threatening to turn into a Shah Rukh-shaped hole.

I must hasten to say that I will love Shah Rukh Khan forever – as much to console myself as him. After all he was/is that lovely thing, a feminist hero of sorts – at ease enough with himself that he could share screen space with women, and still keep it passionate. From Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge to Chennai Express, Shah Rukh films have always had female characters whose desires, emotions and quirks were strongly present along with its hero’s. Shah Rukh’s was not a masculinity that needed to be constantly inscribed across the whole narrative, taking up all the physical and emotional space available on screen. Combined with deep romantic intensity and the possibility of love and pleasure as a driving principle of life, Shah Rukh offered an optional masculinity that could love a different femininity. It is not for no reason then that he dominated the movies for such a long time.

But of late, SRK seems to have turned his gaze elsewhere, and of course we wait for him to return. But meanwhile, who is a woman to love if she wants to feel the pure pleasures of lust along with a feeling that she could actually talk to the object of lust if they were stuck on a desert island together? Enter Fawad Khan.

Fawad Khan entered our hearts through the television screen, unleashing collective sighs and creating weather disturbances across India thanks to his role in Zindagi Gulzar Hai and sweeping us up on a passionate breeze with his role as (what else?) a prince, in the film Khoobsurat. But of course, he had been there all along, we just didn’t know it, which makes this a delicious double take.

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The first episode of ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hai’ (2012).

Those of us who had gone to see the Pakistani movie Khuda Kay Liye when it was released in Indian cinemas were too busy taking in the sumptuous pleasures of Shan’s beauty to notice Fawad. That was our shallow loss, and, as my friend said with earnest devotion as we discussed these important matters “that only shows how subtle Fawad is”. Yes, behen, I cannot disagree.

A movie star has two halves that join in our minds into one synapse-galvanising, neuron-igniting, all-systems-go whole – the persona on screen and the persona off-screen. Shah Rukh was intense, boyishly charming and family-loving on screen but irreverent, sexually tongue-in-cheek and thrillingly witty off-screen. It felt as if he wanted to make us laugh just so he could see the sparkle in our eyes.

Fawad is different. On screen he is brooding, composed and quite serious. Like Shah Rukh, he is comfortable sharing space with women characters, a practice he has perhaps perfected through the novelistic narratives of Pakistani TV series, which are not so weighed down with debating tradition and so liberally tell stories, often with strong female protagonists. He comes, in fact, from a storytelling space where romance is quite an important genre, and is a hero ready-made for it. Owing something to this storytelling space, he seems comfortable being a character rather than replaying an archetype, which makes him feel accessible, touchable, real.

And, of course, he’s hot with those soft brown eyes and spiky eyelashes and slow smile. You might almost never notice His Hotness until you suddenly do and then you notice little else, kind of like how we never noticed him in Khuda Kay Liye, then went, hell-lo and kept noticing. His eyes have both mystery and mischief and many other things you could spend a while observing.

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‘Khuda Kay Liye’ (2007).

The true makings of a romantic cinema idol lie in the look in his eyes. Shah Rukh had intensity. Hrithik had sincerity. Fawad has a delicious mixture of attentiveness and curiosity.

His manner is composed, controlled as if he keeps his own counsel and is in no hurry to decide anything or show you what he’s all about. Like he’s in no hurry for you to decide and is totally secure giving you some space. If you matched with Fawad on Tinder, he would not ask you, what are you looking for on Tinder? He’ll be perfectly capable of taking his time to figure it out with you.

His delicate beauty lends vulnerability and at the same time he seems absolutely together, able to take care of himself, not asking you to be his mother or be like his mother, not blaming you for his broken heart, not trying to hard to impress – in other words, he seems grown-up. He is the male equivalent of Deepika Padukone: poised, respectful, composed, sincere without being fakely earnest, an adult.

Off-screen, Fawad is articulate and conceptual when he talks about his work. It makes a change to hear a movie star talk about their craft so seriously.

There’s an almost old-fashioned courtesy about him that is tremendously appealing. At the same time, he blushes while saying sex. He doesn’t blush like an innocent. Rather, his blushes convey a sense of intensity and privacy, which are hard to discuss in public. He says sex and blushes as if he knows he is responsible for giving us “gande gande khayal” and that sure can make your heart skip a beat.

Fawad Khan and Sonam Kapoor in ‘Khoobsurat’ (2014).
Fawad Khan and Sonam Kapoor in ‘Khoobsurat’ (2014).

The other thing about Fawad, since we’re on the topic of gande gande khayal, is that he doesn’t seem to think they’re gande, which, in a culture where women are constantly second-guessing their sexual selves and the sexually attractive but not sexually promiscuous divide continues to rule, is, well, a relief.

Check him out here discussing why he would never kiss on screen. Pragmatic, not hypocritical and not sounding like kissing is hau, chhee.

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Rajeev Masand interviewing Fawad Khan.

Now, check out Salman Khan discussing kissing and tell me how that does not sound like a boy saying, girls are yuck.

We’ve been short of grown-up male romantic idols for a bit, someone who combines the sensual, the intelligent and the emotional in one place, as Fawad does. For a long time too, we’ve been experiencing a much greater emphasis on masculine physicality. Not that it wasn’t fun – the muscular beauty of John Abraham and the goofy body building of Salman Khan and the lithe action-readiness of Akshay Kumar. But we’ve been missing the interiority, the idea of a man who has something going on in his head and who can have a conversation with a woman.

If you are an Indian woman who has ever taken a long walk on a dating app, you will know that conversation is not a handy skill for most people and eventually a quality of Fawad that earns him a million super likes.

Some people will mumble about Aamir Khan, but let’s face it: one may admire him, but he doesn’t quite inspire breathlessness in general. Well, OK, maybe if you’re vegan.

The majority of Indian male movie stars are just too laddish by far and just too only interested in other men to make it very interesting for a grown woman. They seem so uninterested in the world and in women that we can hardly feel any returning interest in them, in any sustained way. You could put them all in one movie and call it Ek Duje Ke Liye and that would be a documentary, really.

I mean, how long must we watch the self-congratulatory shenanigans of Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor so happy to show off their boy love on TV? How long are we supposed to watch male actors kiss the hems and bestow long, throbbing, public embraces on their male directors? How long must we watch these boyz well described by Santosh Desai in a recent column on Indian men at work, as they “ lean on each other, they lounge, huddle conspiratorially, sometimes they even cuddle, they crack loud jokes, ogle women, swear freely and …seem to turn into a molten, sticky glob of masculinity, that is difficult to pull apart. Asking any one of them to do something is viewed as an intrusion, and is treated as such”.

We don’t need to watch it for long at all. Finally, after two years, a new Fawad film is on the horizon. I’m going. You’re going. We’re all going for Fawad.

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Fawad Khan in ‘Humsafar’ (2011).
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