Internationally acclaimed filmmaker, singer, actor director, songwriter and producer, Yasir Akhtar, began his career as a child artist in a cookie commercial for Pakistan’s state channel (PTV). Akhtar in his teens ventured out into singing, acting and production. One after another, as a singer and songwriter Akhtar produced groundbreaking music and songs. Besides giving a countless chart toppers as a solo artist, Yasir was the lead vocalist of one of most popular musical groups of Pakistan ‘The Arid Zone’. Not just he made a name for himself as a singer, actor, producer and director but has launched the careers of numerous artists to our industry. Akhtar’s film production company Pegasus Productions has created iconic productions in the Pakistan and abroad. Yasir Akhtar’s recently released movie ‘Azaad’ has captured the hearts all across the world and film has received raving reviews. Social Diary contacted the multifaceted superstar, Yasir Akhtar, to find out that what makes him an unstoppable icon.
Tell us about your family and education.
I did my Bachelors from Government Commerce College in Karachi. My grandfather Ahmed Abdul Jabbar was a High Commissioner in Hyderabad Deccan in undivided India. He left all his wealth and property in India and migrated to Pakistan in 1947 with my mother Mrs. Rizwana Jabbar and her younger brother Javed Jabbar (advertising executive, politician, intellectual, former Senator, Information Minister and Advisor to Prime Minister). My grandfather, Mohammad Shafi was a pioneer in men’s fashion and clothing. He established an outlet in Saddar Karachi by the name of Shafi & Sons, this was just after partition. My dad Mohammad Akhtar and his other four brothers used to work together at my grandfather’s clothing that’s where my beautiful mother Rizwana Akhtar met my handsome father for the first time and they got married in early 60s. My sister, Shazia Akhtar was 16 years old when she when she appeared in PTV’s iconic drama serial ‘Dastak’ by veteran producer l, Shehzad Khalil. Shazia was starred as a heroine opposite my second cousin Ayaz Naik (Filmstar). The renowned actress and standup comedian Beo Rana Zafar is my aunty. My first cousin, Mehreen Jabbar is a filmmaker. I have spent most of my childhood and teenage days at my uncle’s (Javed Jabbar) advertising agency, MNJ with Mehreen, observing and learning filmmaking, developing ideas, storyboards and how to deal with clients. I have two elder brothers, Zubair Akhtar and Aamir Akhtar(late) and a younger sister Shazia Akhtar.
How did you enter the field of media, music and production? What motivated you? Prior successes?
I started my career as a four years old child artist from a Peek Frean’s TV commercial. As a kid, I appeared in Pakistan’s first ever English feature film called ‘Beyond the Last Mountain – Musafir’. I kept on appearing in hi-fi tv adverts and performing in school farewells as a singer. My teachers and colleagues were my favourite audience???? In my teens, I landed up with major roles in drama serials like Dastak, Tapish, Khawab Suhanay, Yeh Jahan, Kallo by veteran PTV producers Shehzad Khalil, Sahira Kazmi, Shahid Iqbal Pasha, Sultana Siddiqui, Haroon Rind and more. When I was 16 years old, I started performing as a lead vocalist in one of the most popular musical groups of Pakistan ‘The Arid Zone’. When I was 19 years old, senior Executive Producer, Ghazanfer Ali gave me chance to direct and produce the first ever pop chart show of Pakistan ‘Music Chanel Charts’. I also launched the first ever drama serial on a musical band’s journey ‘French Toast’ in 1995. In 2001, I started my solo career as a singer and launched a musical album Yasir – My Love, the first ever musical album sponsored by a cellular company Jazz – Mobilink. I performed one of the most iconic musical albums of Pakistan with popular songs like Kabhi Tu Hoga Mera Milan, Chandni, Teray Naal Dil Milea, Zara Mun Ko Dekhna, Sohni Mitti, My Love, Chan Mai, Aey Sanam. My singles Sansani, Take it Easy and Saiyaan released in the recent years have added my profile to BBC Music.
Have you taken any professional training?
I have been on training since my childhood and I will keep learning through my experiences. Learnt through jamming sessions of our musical group ‘The Arid Zone’ and later kept on learning as solo artist with finest names in the industry. In acting and production work, the time I spent at my uncle’s advertising agency in childhood was valuable it self. As mentioned before I got the chance to act and work under the direction of PTV’s veteran producers like Shehzad Khalil, Sahira Kazmi, Shahid Iqbal Pasha, Haroon Rind, Tajdar Alam, Khawaja Najmul Hasan, Kazim Pasha and many. Working with these professionals and seniors on is itself is a training.
What were the most horrible odds you have fought with, to enter the industry?
A true and a real artist always face various hurdles, barriers and difficulties in their careers. Our history is full of them. These odds are fuel for my passion. I face them with every project with a smile on my face. With every new project and performance, I receive immense love and praises from my fans all across the world, these Oscars are like fuel for me. I have learnt to jump over the rocks in my passage way and be fighter. Music and entertainment are my passion and nothing can get in the way.
How did the idea of movie ‘Azaad’ came to you? Will you be making more movies after the success of ‘Azaad’?
Movie ‘Azaad’ is all about identity. I always wanted to make a film on this topic. After making several productions in the United Kingdom I thought of making multicultural films named ‘Multinational Films’. These films will engage audiences other than Pakistanis and will also portray a softer image of our nation throughout the world. Each film will have a different storyline and characters. Movie ‘Azaad’ is the first film of the series. After the success of film ‘Azaad’, the next one is filmed in London called ‘Mujh Ko Pata Hai (I know). MKPH stars Nimra Khan, Manorma Joisi, Yasir Abbas and myself.
You have launched the careers of many artists, share some names.
As a producer and director, I launched the careers and given breaks to FakhreAlam, Shehzad Roy, Humayun Saeed, Komal Rizvi, Najam Sheraz, Nadeem Jafri, Juveria Abbasi, Shamoon Abbasi, Armeena Rana Khan, Zubair Abbasi (writer), Benita David, Tooba Siddiqui, Zara Sheikh, Salman Saqib (Mani) and the list goes on.
Your production company ‘Pegasus Productions’ has created some of the iconic productions in Pakistan and the United Kingdom, please share some of the details and the affiliations.
Our film and television company ‘Pegasus Productions’ has started new trends in Pakistan as well as in England and other countries as well. We have produced the first ever series of telefilms in Pakistan called ‘Tapal Cinema’, Mera Ghar Aik Whirpool, Jayen Kahan Armaan, Sard Aag and many more. We have collaborated with the top musical British Asian acts like Apache Indian, Stereo Nation, Sahara musical group and others. We also organised the first ever Pakistan Parade in England in 2014 and continued it for three consecutive years. My recently released successful movie ‘Azaad’ has been filmed in London and jointly produced by world’s leading organisation Group M and Motion Content Group. Movie ‘Azaad’ has captured the hearts all across the world.
It’s common for musicians to be out of work for long periods of time. How can you supplement this time without work? How can you transition out of this period as quickly as possible?
Shukaran Allah. I was never out of work because mostly I produce my own projects as a producer and director. There’s always something in the pipeline if not in Pakistan then in England. If you look at my career graph I am not into run of the mill work. I have refused many projects because I thought I will be repeating myself as an artist, I would rather give a chance to a newcomer to do that project then to repeat myself as an artist. As an artist, my mission was always to pave a difference in the industry and society not just to make money. It was always my passion.
What are your fondest musical memories? In your house, in your neighborhood or town?
When I was kid and my mother and father (late) used to hug me after every singing performance in family gatherings. My participation as a child actor in the first ever English feature film of Pakistan ‘Beyond the Last Mountain’When my son Zaryab Akhtar and daughter Alizeh Akhtar were born. I receive an award of ‘One Man Industry’ in Washington D.C. In 2004 in front of more than 30 thousand Pakistanis in the U.S. Besides that I have loads of memories of each and every production I have filmed across Pakistan and the UK. I had a fantastic musical concert tour in 2017 in the US. This year on the release of Movie ‘Azaad’, Pakistanis and people from other cultures congratulated me from across the world for making a production which touched their hearts and souls.
Do you think there are next to no singing/music academies in Pakistan? Are they important? Give your stance on it.
NAPA and some others are doing it but we need more academies and government should help. I have opinion that there should be academy of film and music in every area; just like we have parks. It will bring so much talent.
How do you balance your music with other obligations – family, travel and job?
I must give full credit to my better half, Lubna Akhtar by taking off the burden of many things charge and management of so many other responsibilities. Not just she’s a successful teacher in England but she makes life easier for me and my kids. She also has a cake business. Mostly, I take projects one at a time and give my best.
What skills/personal attributes are most important to being successful?
There’s no formula for success. Self awareness is very important. Recognizing your skill set and your drawbacks is needed. You must have clean intentions. Don’t rush after money. Some projects give you name and others money. You must have manners and etiquettes to deal with the seniors. No project is small or big. Fulfill your commitments on time. Keep this thing in mind there are brilliantly skilled people in this world who are looking for work so value what you have. Always remember that a true artist suffers, Bulleh Shah, Shakespeare and countless others suffered a lot in their lifetime.
Is there growth in this field? How do things generally look for new musicians entering the field?
Yes, our industry has come long way but there are certain areas we have to take care of. We must have genuine training academies and institutions, a producers and artists association. The channels should not only look at the money factor, they should promote talent without sponsorships too. There should be check on people who are sitting on key positions who only allow certain groups and production houses. Most of the channels have same kind of treatment for productions. If you look at most of our channels there are certain faces and artists whom we watch after every few minutes in most of the programs. Overexposure kills an artist and the channel’s look. There’s a rat race. There is a need to welcome new talent and give chance to artists equally.
What message would you like to give to your fans through the platform of Social Diary Magazine?
Offer your prayers as much as you can. Work hard. Be honest with your profession. Care for people who care for you. Learn from your mistakes. Keep your intentions clean. Love your parents and family and give time to them because nothing can replace them. Ignore the critiques because no one can please everyone. If you have the passion and the talent for anything; keep going positively and firmly; you will achieve the goal.