ISLAMABAD: After a phenomenal stint in 2012, at Coke Studio’s second season, (not-so) former singing sensation, Bilal Khan decided to appear for the GRE examination and made his way to VCU’s Brandcenter’s Master’s Programme in Virginia. He has since been out of the limelight, until he reoccurred with a leading role in the recently-concluded serial Sammi.
In an exclusive heart-to-heart with The Express Tribune, the passé prodigy opens up about his five-year-long sabbatical and return to acting as he hopes to reinstate himself.
“I always had this burning desire to study in the US, so the idea was to pursue that dream of mine. I applied just for the sake of it, and actually got in,” he recalled. “I spoke to my manager and my family, and the general consensus was that it wasn’t the best time for me to leave. I’m still young enough, and I feel I may have regretted it for the rest of my life, had I not enrolled myself in what is the best advertising institute.”
The only song that Bilal put out during his hiatus was Do Ghari that he shot with director Mehreen Jabbar against the New York subway and its panoramic skyline. It is often believed that once you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind, but Bilal breaks out of that notion and sees his departure from the fore as a voyage of self-discovery. He sees a virtuoso of sorts in himself and attributes that to his instructive expedition.
“I’m very realistic, and I mean it when I say that going to the US was my best decision. I’ve grown as a person and that’s lead me to explore myself as an actor and what I had to do musically,” he opened up of his evolution. “I experienced being a normal person all over again and as much as I appreciated everything I had and still have, I never believed when people told me I’d lose my memento. If you continue to do good work, it doesn’t go away.”
On a rather pragmatic note, the industry has welcomed budding pop sensations with open arms. Asim Azhar and Uzair Jaswal, amongst others have swiftly carved their own niche. It’s stimulating to see Bilal least bothered. “I am only in competition with the person I was,” he is quick to respond.
“I can’t control who enters the industry, and yes, it was difficult for me to accept the fact that when I return, all of what I had won’t be there. And now, I do see a very different landscape, but I feel, internally, as an artist, I wouldn’t have existed, had I been here in Pakistan all these years.”
And he doesn’t see his contemporary peers affecting his once-massive fan following either.
“I think my fans never stopped growing, in fact they grew very organically. I remember when I was performing all over Pakistan when I came back and even during my shows in the UK, I saw kids, who were probably toddlers when I began, singing my track Bachana with me,” he expresses with great joy, adding, “It gives me great pleasure to see people still discovering my old music. I firmly believe that I continue to get projects only because they respect the work I’ve done.”
Known for his bluesy voice, Bilal’s claim-to-fame is naturally his music, but he re-launched himself, taking a leap into acting. The musician-turned-actor shared the screen with Mawra Hocane, Adnan Siddiqui and Ahad Raza Mir in Saife Hasan’s social commentary, Sammi. “When I came back, I had very low expectations. I knew I would have to struggle to reach out to people who I had known at one point in time, or maybe they wouldn’t take me seriously for the lack of consistency.”
He continued, “But what I had done previously was purely my talent and that’s not enough, so I applied skill to it, and now with this mindset, new doors have started to open. I received such great feedback for Sammi from within the industry, and by critics and people in general. Even though I’ve lost on a lot of great projects, I just feel you lose something to gain something better.”
Bilal reveals that his initial objective was and is to pursue music, but landed himself with acting endeavours.
“I think TV is a great distribution medium, I get a lot of opportunities, musically, because of that too. I just did the OST of my next serial, Khamoshi and shot a separate video for it as well,” he said of taking both, acting and singing side by side. “I will continue to release my music, because that has paid my bills and it’s connected me to people. I have so much stored, and now I want to get all of it recorded.”
Speaking of Khan’s next small-screen outing, MD Productions’ Khamoshi, Bilal seems nothing short of ecstatic to have been directed by the much-acclaimed Ilyas Kashmiri and starred against the younger lot of talent, Zara Noor Abbas, Iqra Aziz and Affan Waheed.
“I found it to be very relatable and had this freshness that got me excited,” he says of what made him take it up. “I was offered serials from almost every channel after Sammi, however; Khamoshi was one project I knew I had to do.”
Not only is Bilal considering acting, but is also delving into the world of web by v-logging through his already-established YouTube channel. His videos spin around his life as a celebrity, taking his viewers behind the scenes of dramas, talk shows, concerts and casual jamming sessions with fellow personages such as Sajal Aly and Kubra Khan amongst others. He says he enjoys documenting his journey, even though he thinks he isn’t cut-out for the job.
“I didn’t understand why anybody would watch a v-log until I watched one myself. It’s something new to Pakistan and I see it as a medium of storytelling. I was in Canada when I bought a camera and I’m literally the last person I thought would become a v-logger,” he chuckled.
“I don’t think I have the personality to v-log, but it’s connected to the skills I’ve learnt, which include storytelling. It also gives me a chance to connect with myself on a deeper level, and I get to cater to the younger audience, who respond to content very differently,” he stated.
Away from Pakistan and close to the original tinsel town, Bilal did experience international avenues and sealed a deal with British composer Nitin Sawhny who has famously collaborated with Paul McCartney of the Beatles.
Locally, he plans to release a number of Urdu singles, starting with Chor Day that he is currently working on and describes it as a “similar, but musically superior and mature” sound that to him is a potential hit.
Bilal claims he gives every project his fullest, regardless of how it does commercially; he feels he has the leverage to be exclusive to acting assignments since he has music to depend on. He thoroughly relishes filming his everyday life and simply hopes to make the most out of it all.
Bilal Khan is back to restore his footing, and he’s definitely a better version of his own self. Here’s one talent we must keep an eye out for – again that is.
Have something to add to the story? Share it in the comments below.