TV drama Baaghi is picking up its pace and we're seeing lots of new characters enter the frame.
One of these characters will be Osman Khalid Butt, who's said to play Fouzia's love interest in the series and will be making his appearance in the coming weeks.
Is his character based on a real-life wooer of Qandeel's? Why did he sign on to Baaghi? What does he hope to say through his latest project? OKB takes our questions:
Images: Your character on Baaghi will be introduced soon. What can you tell us about it?
Osman Khalid Butt (OKB): In a sea of angry men who wanted to manipulate this kind of headstrong but ultimately naive woman who had no idea what she was getting herself into, my character comes along as a respite.
He represents the kind of characters that I personally as an actor want to also represent, which is somebody who is not judgemental, somebody who sees beyond what's happening in front of him.
He really searches for depth and a connection with this woman, and finds it. Which to those who label her with words one should not mention, it should come as a surprise. The idea that this woman was just not only what you saw on your Facebook and social media feeds, that there was a living, breathing, thinking entity there and what caused her to do what she did and why she crossed the line that she crossed.
I don't want to put the character on any kind of pedestal, he is a human being too and goes through his own set of emotions. He's gone through heartbreak and loss himself, so maybe that helps him empathise better.
A very surprising connection is formed, which neither of the characters anticipated.
Images: When we spoke to Baaghi's writers, they made sure to say that the series is inspired by Qandeel's life but it's not, strictly speaking, an exact biographical account. But I'm wondering if your character was based off of someone from her life...
OKB: I did have a conversation and there are kind of conflicting reports. I myself was kind of unsure.
There was somebody who had promised marriage to her. But for me the character wasn't so much about picking up the characteristics of a person because obviously, that's a whole different research that goes on like the whereabouts of this alleged man that nobody knows.
So I instead chose to draw inspiration from the more reasonably minded people in our country, whether they're men or women. And I chose intentionally to be that kind of voice because there's a fine line between attempting to correct someone and attempting to condemn them. Those lines, unfortunately, get blurred in this country.
We've just recently seen one of our foremost actress' [Mahira Khan] picture being put up and everyone issuing their fatwas sitting in front of their laptops. So we don't know where that line is and I feel that this character for me represents the scores of people who were perhaps, even with the real Qandeel, kind of waiting as to what her next step would be. People who saw that this woman was taking her opportunity but there was definitely something more, which her interviews have revealed post her death.
"I'm really happy this project highlighted Qandeel's past because no matter which side you fall on, at least it corners you to think and understand the circumstances that led her to doing those things."
Those voices of reason kinda got held by this overpowering narrative that she was bad or somebody who just used her body as an asset and nothing else.
I chose to instead kind of pick up on a lot of those voices of reason and people who were not necessarily supporting her but anticipating what was next from her and were not so quick to pass judgement and who saw that beneath all the facade there is something real. I chose to represent them.
Images: Did you have any reservations about this project? Did you have any concerns about how it is ultimately a fictional account and how you may not be able to accurately portray the messier, gritty aspects of her life?
OKB: Obviously we are bound by PEMRA at the end of the day. There are certain rules and regulations as per our local authorities that we cannot bypass. I feel that the story was too important to be not spoken of in such a public way with one of our leading actresses at the helm of the project because what it intended to do it was already doing.
I actually think this is a pretty gritty project already. They've given a backstory to this very strong woman. I'm really happy this project highlighted [her past] because no matter which side you fall on, the pro-Qandeel or horribly anti-Qandeel, at least it corners you to think and understand the circumstances that led her to doing those things.
I'm sure not many people invested time into finding out her back story, even after her demise. The fact that she had a kid, the fact that she was married, people don't know all of these details.
Through a medium like this, we've drawn light to the fact that she didn't just appear out of a cave and start doing these random videos to garner public acclaim, there was a method to the madness, however crude it was.
Images: But there are aspects of her life — like her marriage — that seem to have been sanitised to make the story more palatable or relatable to viewers...
OKB: When I read the project what I liked about it was that the play does not romanticize QB. The way Saba has handled it, it's not like she's presented as some kind of saint. We haven't shown many things explicitly on screen but things have definitely been eluded to.
Images: Pakistani dramas have a tendency to resolve everything neatly and end on a happy note. How do you think we can expect the drama to handle a sad ending?
OKB: Those are episodes that I am also a part of and I feel like they've been handled beautifully.
I think that it will no less upsetting, there is no way to try to make it less of a gutpunch as it should be. I feel a project like Baaghi is now getting good ratings and it's the talk of the town but when we were shooting it, we would discuss the risks attached for such a mainstream project. It could have really gone either way and there was a huge narrative of people saying "why her?".
I feel one of the most pressing issues, as evidenced by even liberals turning against someone like Mahira Khan for what, living her life for one instance in a closely scrutinized 8-9 years of her being in the public eye, is this so-called moral outrage we have when it comes to women, how we lurk in the shadows waiting for women to do something wrong and shatter their self-worth and that of millions of other girls who will be served this as a cautionary tale.
"The idea is to question the norm that the judge, jury and executioner role is always taken up by the man whenever a woman does something that's wrong."
Obviously people know the end [of Qandeel's story], no one is changing that.
Everyone is aware that we are heading towards a tragic culmination yet they're taking the journey, we want people to see the saint, the sinner and everything in between, to see a fleshed out woman. Hopefully they'll learn to empathize with women and the double standards, hypocrisy, misogyny and sexism and God knows how many other isms women have to deal with here regardless of whether their choices are right or wrong.
The idea is to question the norm that the judge, jury and executioner role is always taken up by the man whenever a woman does something that's wrong.
It was a very bold move and I hope the ending does stir a debate, which is what we had hoped for all along because that's what projects like this are supposed to do.
Images: You posted a message on social media defending Mahira Khan after the backlash against her photo with Ranbir Kapoor, so you're using your position as a celebrity to send a message. Do you talk to men and your industry peers about equality and activism in your private life too?
OKB: Definitely. There is a great responsibility, Here I felt it's not just an actress under attack, it's the entire industry. It's the same myopic view that you enter the showbiz industry, obviously you have no morals and you're a rich person who doesn't work and lives a stupendously glam life.
There's this perception that we really need to rid this country from; we might be entertainers, but we'll never get respect. They could love you or hate you but in the back of their mind, they think we're just miraasis or kanjars, sorry to use this language but these are terms I've actually heard.
This one picture has brought so much stuff to the forefront; we're just waiting for the next woman to make a mistake. Then suddenly it's about Islam, and it's as though the yards of cloth a woman's wearing on her body can cause the destruction of the Muslim ummah.
This notion is just ridiculous. This is something that I can proudly say: I practice what I preach. Of course, everyone makes mistakes and I might have too but I'm conscious and cognitive of this. I continue to be more and more aware as I experience life in Pakistan.