They are talented, driven and ready to give it their all. And age is not a barrier. This is the new lot of Pakistan’s entertainment industry and they now have an outlet that can take them from struggler to star: Phegency, the talent house that can boast of launching gifted individuals who form an incredibly wide array of career choices.
“I felt that it would be interesting to set up a talent agency that caters not just to actors and models but to virtually every genre of art and to every talented individual there is in Pakistan,” says Pheby Haroon, the young and dynamic owner and CEO of Phegency who is just in her 20s.
The agency, based in Karachi, has a clientele that includes actors, models, dancers, writers and musicians. It has worked with budding photographers, videographers, graphic designers, apparel and textile designers, and artists. Furthermore, its portfolio includes event planners, set designers, art directors, public relations managers, interior designers, and hair and makeup stylists. “This makes us truly one of a kind,” says Pheby proudly.
Their target market clearly agrees with that assertion. “We have heard from over 1,000 people in the past six months,” she says, when asked about the public response to her company since its launch in September 2011.
The reaction is not entirely unexpected given the phenomenal popularity of television shows like ‘Maat’ and ‘Humsafar’ and Shoaib Mansoor’s recent films Khuda Kay Liyay and Bol. Of late, Pakistani television and print advertisements have also transformed, constantly requiring unique talent and faces, and theatre plays such as Anwer Maqsood’s “Pawnay 14 August” and “Mamma Mia” have been very well received. Over the last decade, the revenues for Pakistan’s media business are estimated to have grown at 20.4%. Recognising this pattern, not just Phegency but talent agencies across Pakistan have taken advantage of it.
“I think it is a great thing to happen for the country. It is nice to see a dying art finally coming to life again with new faces such as Naveen [Waqar], Mahira [Khan] and of course Fawad [Khan],” says Frieha Altaf, a pioneer and veteran in the agency business. “One can see that advertisers were starved for new faces.”
A popular yesteryear model herself, Frieha owns and runs a modelling agency through her company Catwalk Productions that she founded in 1989 in Karachi. Seeing the lack of a platform for models, Unilever persuaded her to start an agency a few years after she established her company. People like stylists Khawar Riaz and Tariq Amin and photography and make-up duo Ather-Shehzad, who had already established themselves in the business, came to her with their models. The idea behind this was to ensure that advertising agencies do not exploit people.
Today, young models seek out Frieha’s agency as their introduction into the world of entertainment. “I feel very proud that I am the pioneer of the trend of talent agencies in Pakistan,” says Frieha.
The industry, it seems, is in a bit of a hurry to find fresh faces as Phegency’s youngest talent is only eight months old!
“Casting agencies are a very good idea, provided they work professionally,” says Rashna Abidi, from IAL Saatchi & Saatchi, one of Pakistan’s premier advertising agencies that provides services to immensely popular brands like Mobilink Jazz, Engro Foods’ Omore and Procter & Gamble’s Ariel.
“We don’t mind well-known or unknown talent. It depends on the requirement,” Rashna explains, when asked what casting brief they provide to agencies they work with. “For Jazz Budget a few years ago, we opted for a ghazal singer named Ghulam Abbas, who was relatively unknown in mainstream circles but perfect to bring depth to Khul Ke Bolay Pakistan [the campaign name].”
Pheby understands this line of reasoning very well and has consciously steered her company towards finding more and more new people. “The future is here. Demand for fresh, young talent has gone up without a doubt. And why not? Pakistan is a very talented country. We have amazingly talented people in every city and tremendous creativity among us all,” says Pheby.
Her enthusiasm and excitement is contagious for all those who work with her and her agency. “Phegency is itself a talent that is giving other talents a platform to grow,” says Mustafa Changezi, a student who works for the company.
Newcomers aside, Phegency has also become the toast of industry insiders who are beginning to approach the agency for more and more work.
“The Phegency team is young and experimental. In the years to come, I expect them to become a creative force in the area of talent management,” says music video director Baber Sheikh.
For Hasan Rizvi, founder of the BodyBeat Recreational Center, it is Pheby’s own personality that should be credited for Phegency’s quick ascent. “Pheby excels in coordination and communication skills — the two elements that are vital to the success of a talent agency,” he says.
But what gives Pheby the encouragement to continue helping others achieve their goals, no matter how difficult they appear to be? Perhaps, it was her own family’s reaction to her decision. “It was near impossible to stand up and tell my parents that I want to start my own company that will mostly deal with complete strangers from all over the country.”
Her brother Haaris also jokingly mocked her decision, but in between all that she found the name for her company. “My brother came up with numerous names to mock me and, amongst the many possibilities, he combined my name with the word ‘agency’, forming Phegency. We went ahead with it,” she says, laughing.
Not even a year into the business, Pheby’s company has managed to make its mark despite stiff competition in the market. So far, they have worked on many successful projects such as Pixarch, Daaman, Snog, ColorStudio, and were recently seen conducting auditions for “Pawnay 14 August” as it makes its way to Dubai.
At Phegency’s office, one sees young, eager people hurrying in and out between portfolio shoots and auditions. There is an energy that is unique to this place, one that is a hybrid of optimism and ambition. Their journey isn’t easy, but in Pheby they have a role model to look up to. “Many obstructions came my way [when starting out on my own], many I still stand before. But every obstruction comes with a challenge but making your way through challenges only makes you stronger,” she says.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, July 1st, 2012.
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