Bilal Ashraf has been pushing the boundaries since forever. While working for the hedge fund in New York, with double major in finance and art, he did not think one day he would become an actor. He, then, moved to England, where he studied VFX and animation, hoping to try his luck in the visual effects direction one day.
But, life had a different plan for him and he ended up becoming an actor in his homeland, Pakistan. He was offered to do an action-filled cameo in spy-thriller O21, opposite Shaan Shahid. Having a knack for action films, he thought it would be his forte, but as an unexpected turn of events, he was offered to play an angry-man-cum-romantic-hero in Janaan, released last year.
This was the new beginning for the budding star. Now, he is taking it to next level by playing a rockstar in upcoming musical-romance Rangreza, releasing on 21st December. There is a lot to do and achieve for the young actor and he is keeping his eyes on what is attainable and beyond that.
Bilal Ashraf sat down with Galaxy Lollywood to share his experience of working with the amazing crew of Rangreza, international response he has been receiving for the film and what is next in the pipeline. Read this interesting discussion with the heartthrob below.
How was the experience of working in Rangreza?
It was very good experience. It was a very different and challenging role for me to play. I worked with amazing co-stars, who are pure actors, like Akbar Subhani, Taveer Jamal, Shahid Naqvi, Humaira Bano, and Seemi Pasha. In the younger lot there is Gohar Rasheed, who is a fantastic actor. I initially refused when the script was offered to me, as I thought military roles suited me more. Then the filmmakers convinced me that I could do this role and showed faith in me. It’s been a very beautiful journey. It’s been a journey of good intention and love which we want to share with everyone on 21st of December.
Tell us about your character and how did you prepare for it?
Name of my character in the film in Ali Zain. He takes a magical musical journey in the film. Regarding playing this character, it’s been a fantastic journey. I did not know how to play guitar. I learned playing it for the film. Hamza Akram Kamal taught me playing piano. I actually learned many things for it and spent time on them. I researched a lot of vocalists. I watched 6 to 7 thousand videos of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Junoon. I dedicate my concert song in the film to Junaid Jamshed who is a legend. There are a lot of different inspirations which I took while preparing for this character. I added some of my own personality traits in it as well.
How was it working with the team and your co-stars, Urwa and Gohar?
I got very good support from the team, especially from my director Aamir. I have not put this much hard work in any other film before and it is due to the faith they showed in me. I received a lot of help from the entire team. Gohar used to come to my scenes even when he was not shooting. Urwa is the perfectionist. She does every scene after doing the drill and wants to give her best to it. I am very lucky that I got a chance to work with such a wonderful team.
How would you compare your experience of Janaan with that of Rangreza?
Janaan was the start for me. I did it playfully. I was not at all serious for it. I used to come to the sets, read script and act as it goes. I think my actual journey started with Janaan. I had predilection for action films but Janaan opened another avenue of romantic films for me. Rangreza is also a romantic film but it’s a completely different experience. My character in Janaan was one-dimensional and dry. Whereas, the character I played in Rangreza is multi-dimensional and layered. It was a very different film.
You and Gohar gave special appearances in Shaan Shahid’s O21 in 2014. Now, your film is releasing along with Shaan’s Arth. How do you take it?
It’s a moment of pride. I am feeling lucky that my film is releasing along with films of big stars. Locally, it is opening with Shaan’s Arth and internationally it is releasing along with Salman Khan’s Tiger Zinda Hai. I wish all the films best of luck. Shaan’s film looks great. The trailer looks great. He is a legend. I will not use the word of competition as I have no competition with him. I am a beginner. I have nothing to lose. I have everything to gain. I feel that we will gain from Rangreza. Pakistan cinema will gain from it. Janaan opened up doors internationally, which Punjab Nahi Jaungi capitalized on. Now, we are trying to do the same with Rangreza. We don’t want to limit ourselves to labels. We are ambassadors of Pakistan, who want to represent Pakistan internationally. That is what we are trying to do through cinema and through our work.
Rangreza and Arth are releasing the same day on 21st December. How do you see this box office clash of two Pakistani films?
It is brilliant that two Pakistani films are releasing domestically and internationally. It is even better that two Pakistani films are coming out together on a date which is not Eid. Before this everyone was releasing films on Eid. This has changed with these two releases now. The content of the film should be good. Ours is a humble effort. We are not Shaan Shahid or Salman Khan. We have made a very small humble effort with new people. We have a new director, new DOP and several new actors, like Ghana and Aleezay. Many veteran actors, like Akbar Subhani and Tanvir Jamal, are doing cinema for the first time. It’s a new effort. It’s a brave effort. It’s a humbler effort. I would say that you cannot compare apples and oranges. It is a different product than Arth. But we are very happy that two Pakistani films are coming together.
How is the response of Rangreza in the international market?
It’s the next level. I am receiving messages internationally which are remarkable. I would like to give credit to our producer Munir Hussain and international distributor B4U because they have a huge contribution in giving global recognition to Pakistani cinema. They made Janaan a success and even Punjab Nahi Jaungi. I introduced Munir to Gohar and then Gohar introduced Humayun Saeed to him. Punjab Nahi Jaungi earned 17 to 18 crore internationally, which is also distributed by them. They are taking Pakistani cinema to the international platforms. The change comes by supporting each other. Rangreza is based on good intention. So, we hope for good.
You started your career as a film actor. You have not done TV. What things are needed to become a film star?
I don’t do TV as I don’t have an aptitude for it. Star is a very relative term. I don’t consider myself a star. I am doing my job. I would say that follow your dreams, no matter which profession you join. I was a double major in finance and art and a psychology minor and working as a hedge fund consultant. Did I think while working as a hedge fund consultant in New York I would work in a film? No. I again went to England and studied animation and visual effects and I became visual effects director. Did I still think I am going to be an actor? No. You, me and we all have the ability to change our lives at any second. How we change them depends on us. So, believe in yourself and follow your dreams. And that’s the message I give to everyone. If someone says that something cannot be done then prove them wrong. Its very easy to point fingers and its very difficult to bring change. Be part of the change.
Do you think critics are harsh towards Pakistani films?
I will not say that you support bad things and write good about them. It is your viewpoint. But, appreciate every humble effort. It’s very easy to watch a two hours movie and then write off someone as a bad actor or someone will eat up the other. It’s your responsibility. Use your words appropriately. The world reads them and they will laugh that you fight with each other. The most important thing is the pen which you have in your hands. Use it creatively and constructively. All five fingers are not equal. Everyone does not like everyone. The idea is to put forward things in a positive way.
What is next for Bilal Ashraf?
We have several films in the pipeline. I and Gohar are being offered films together. We are working on couple of projects. There is a comedy one and an action one as well. Let’s see where we go. I have a couple of other offers as well.