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Journey From A Cameo To Superstar



Bilal Ashraf has got his dream place in the industry after the release of his recent flick Superstar opposite to real life super star Mahira Khan. Getting both critical and box office claims, Superstar has become a milestone in Bilal Ashraf’s career and the dimpled boy of Pakistan film Industry is adamant to stay here with more confidence and vigour. And yes, he is in the news for his nerve wracking job on his body to be in the league of six-packed stars of region.

Born in a Karachi, Ashraf received his early education at his base city, and then studied visual effects direction from United States. He claims to have ten years of experience behind the camera.

Bilal Ashraf came into the field of acting by doing a cameo in 2014 thriller O21. In 2016, Ashraf played an angry young man in Janaan, which was appreciated by both critics and the audiences. Next year he appeared in an army office role in a war film Yalghaar, and later as a musician in Rangreza.

Here, Bilal openly shares about his journey to Superstar that how did he worked hard on his new looks and acting skills.

What is Superstar for you?

I have put my heart and soul in this project, which gives me a sense of satisfaction. Working with this team was a total excitement which led to happiness and the desired result. Superstar is the best journey of my career so far and we have shared this wonderful experience with everyone in cinemas on this eid. 

We see you in Superstar as a typical sub-continental hero, who do romance, flirts and dances as well. How did you turn yourself into this role?  

I have worked really hard for this role. I was put into theatre and dance classes for training. After training, we did a lot of rehearsals before getting on to the floor. I actually shut down my personal life for this film and there were so many days when I could not meet my parents because of the constricted schedule of my film. I believe to achieve whatever you want to do in your life, you have to sacrifice something and give its due time to it. 

When you were asked to romance with Mahira Khan in the film, did you get excited or nervous?

At first, I thought how Mahira’s fans would curse me when I romance with her (laughing). Honestly speaking, it was a great excitement that I was going to work with such a big star and it was more relaxing for me when we quickly developed a bond at work.

We see a strong chemistry between you and Mahira on screen. How you build that chemistry?

I think this is something which Monina Duraid had foreseen. Then Ehtishamuddin put me in theatrical environment with Mahira for good 20 to 25 days as he thought it was necessary for our roles in the film. Then there were a lot of rehearsals. That whole process definitely helped us not only in learning things but to develop a trust and comfort level. That comfort level and trust has come out as a strong chemistry on screen. 

How is Mahira Khan as a co-star?

She is perfectionist but a very commendable person at the same time. She used to come before call time and leave in the end. I must say that she is one of my best co-stars. She is literally a very lively person. We sometimes felt down due to the hectic schedule of shoot but she was always there to cheer us up with her energetic attitude like playing music and fun dancing.

You are getting mixed comments on your dance on dharak bharak. But tell us how much you worked hard to put this together?  

We wanted dharak bharak to be viral like this and to get these types of comments on it. This typical chichora song is an inspiration from all the chichora songs that have been made till today. Why we have included this song in Superstar because that was required at a particular situation. It meant to be like this and is perfectly gelled in the film. I am so happy that people are calling it the way it looks like because it serves the purpose.

How the idea to include a shirtless dance in the film came?  

Actually, to include this song in the film was a collective decision of three of us. It was initially my idea but Muhammad Ehteshamuddin and Momina Duraid encouraged me to it like this. If we had recorded this song in normal clothing, believe me that impact would have never been come.

Was that transformation for the film particularly?  

I myself recommended it to make that particular body for that particular song but the belief of my director and producer in me made it possible.

How it took to transform your body into this physique?

It took almost a year because I did it in complete natural way. I didn’t take any injections or protein shake. It was very tough task but I must thank to my trainer Faisal Shafi, without whom it was not possible. He remained with me on shoots even.

How was the process of all this transformation?

I did it specifically for superstar but much else was transformed as well in the whole process. I think my mental approach is changed. Believe me to resist the food you like is not an easy task. It sometimes makes you cranky, but mentally this practice makes you stronger. It is all the game of belief in yourself and in that game; don’t let anyone put you down. Set a goal, and belief in yourself to achieve it. 

What did you eat?

I had to eat clean food. It means lots of vegetables, boiled food and proteins and sometimes a little carbohydrate like roti. There was a complete ban on soft drinks and extra sugar. But yes, there were occasionally some cheat days.

What about workout.

Six days a week. It was twice or sometimes thrice a day. The routine was to run early in the morning, then a heavy weight session and in the evening, the light cross fix session.

After Superstar, would we watch Bilal Ashraf in a new avatar as an actor (in your next film)?

I like challenges. Let’s see what is next. It can be an action comedy film, which is still in pipeline. But before doing anything, I would give some time to myself.

How many your female fans have contacted you for personal numbers after this dashing looks of you in Superstar?

Actually, messages are flooded from both female and male fans. Appreciation is fantastic wherever it comes from.

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Raaz-e-Ulfat Very Well Relates to a Pakistani Girl Living in a Strict Household



Raaz-e-Ulfat is one of the latest dramas that has instantly struck a chord with masses owing to its relatable story-line and amazing performances by the remarkable cast. For the uninitiated, what exactly is the plot?

Putting it briefly, Mushk Iftikhar dreams of exploring the world outside her conservative house. She accomplishes her dream life to some extent when she comes across a friend in her university who introduces her to the colours of life. Though, little does Mushk know that Sehba secretly envies her simplicity and innocence and wishes to ruin her life.

Mushk’s life is somewhat a true depiction of most Pakistani girls belonging to strict households, and hence the show has become more interesting and connecting for the younger lot in Pakistan.

You can’t move a bone without your parent’s permission

Yes! Parent’s approval is mandatory in everything you do. You can’t study, sleep, eat, choose a career, go out, come late, etc. as per your own will. You can only breathe on your own… rest will depend on your parents’ will. Poor Mushk is in the same boat.

Privacy is a luxury you can never afford.

Mushk has got no private space in her house. She shares a room with her sister, like how it is usually in most households. Even when she is on a call with a friend, someone comes to inquire about the whereabouts of the caller. Privacy is indeed an out of the world thing for Mushk and others like her.

You have to be responsible like a grown-up, but you can never act like one.

Like Mushk, most Pakistani youth, particularly girls, are expected to grow up and take responsibilities but are not allowed to think that they have grown up in a literal way. Hence, you are always a bachi/ bacha who is bound to live by what your parents say.

Marriage is your ultimate goal in life

You dream about marriage and your khuwabon ka shehzada because that’s what your parents aim for you on completing your studies.


Modern Friends Are A Big No!

You cannot stay in touch with rich and modern friends as they are supposedly some spoilt kids who will definitely leave a bad influence on you.


 Dating someone is a big struggle!

Going out on a date is a real struggle yet you want to experience it despite knowing that if your parents find out, you are gone for life.


Since the very first episode, Raaz e Ulfat has turned every local TV drama trope on its head to offer a refreshingly new insight by subverting all the typical clichéd plot-lines of most local dramas, bringing forth such nuances that make the entire watching experience oh so relatable and befitting for people around us.


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Bunyad Foundation: Countering cerebral health issues with Mindcamp



Mental health, despite holding paramount significance, is largely ignored in third world countries. With societal progression, the rise of the middle class, and a certain ‘tilt’ or ‘shift’ towards westernization, issues associated with mental health have started to exacerbate. According to recent studies, one of the biggest reasons behind suicidal tendencies or suicide itself is mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD and other traumas, different phobias, bipolar disorder, personality disorder and other related disorders.

If we travel a few years back in time, mental health issues were unheard of in Pakistan, in fact, someone found complaining or discussing a mental health issue was either given a particular look or called out for being ‘overly-sensitive’. But over the past few years, things have changed drastically. Now, there are more and more people suffering from mental disorders and psychiatric consultations have increased considerably over time, but even now, a certain amount of people hesitate to seek psychiatric consultation.

The onslaught of Covid-19 has further aggravated the situation throughout the country, with people reporting severe cases of depression and anxiety amid continued lockdowns. It is pertinent to mention here that, although, the issues mentioned are usually associated with urban areas, but the situation in rural areas of Pakistan isn’t much different. Alarmingly, unlike popular opinion, that villages are happy-go-lucky people, even the village dwellers are unknowingly harnessing several mental disorders in this modern age.

In order to facilitate the underprivileged living in less developed, far-flung areas, the Bunyad Foundation in collaboration with Mind organization, has started organizing bi-monthly mind-camps in Hafizabad. The purpose of these camps is to provide free-of-cost facilities to underserved communities. Under these free camps, patients are provided free consultation, medicine and an intervention plan; that too free of cost.

Shaheen Attiq-ur-Rahman, Project Lead and founder of Mind Camp Bunyad, told us that, ‘rural folk suffers from the same mental disorders as more privileged people but often the intensity is greater. Most of the people do not have access to basic medication for relief. Since a lot of unhealed psychiatric disorders can lead to physical ill-health, rural folk face a double burden. At Mindcamp Bunyad, our mission is to give suffering villagers a chance at peace and to ease their task in life’.

It took some time, the involvement of Key Opinion leaders and sustained efforts to convince people to seek help for mental disorders and now there’s better awareness about these issues. In addition, the organization has been carrying out these activities for the past 9 years, by engaging experienced and trained mental health professionals, even in extreme weather, just for the betterment of the society. However, now, the number of mental health professionals offering services has dwindled, in fact, the patient-to-doctor/mental health professional ratio is discouraging.

In order for the unabated and unrestricted continuation of these services, and in order for better, sustained facility provision to the patients; financial backing is imminent, without which such a great initiative gradually might have to retreat. To facilitate the imperative service, Bunyad Foundation is playing a major role.

Get in touch with them to see how you can help.

For donations, please donate here.

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Quiet Women: on Surrealism, Beauty and the Female Voice



Lahore based poet, editor and columnist, Afshan Shafi launched her first full-length poetry collection, ‘Quiet Women’ last month. Stocked at Readings, the collection is a unique all-female collaboration featuring the illustrations of acclaimed artists, Samya Arif (Pakistan), Marjan Baniasadi (Iran) and Ishita Basu Mallik (India).

TS Eliot award nominee and winner of the Forward Prize for Poetry, Vahni Capildeo termed ‘Quiet Women’ as one of the ‘new poetries emerging in the twenty-first century which are characterized by a ferocity that spans yet exceeds love and outrage, involvement and observation’.



‘Quiet Women’ is an exploration of form and linguistic artistry, propelled by a sense of creative freedom espoused by the surrealists and abstract artists. Inspired by the creations of both Eastern and Western female artists and writers this book is a tribute to women and the power of their collective voices. Afshan Shafi has studied English Literature and International Relations at The University of Buckingham and Webster Graduate School London. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Blackbox Manifold, Poetry Wales, Flag + Void, Luna Luna, Clinic, 3 am magazine, Ala Champ Magazine, and others. Her poems have also appeared in the anthologies, Smear (edited by Greta Bellamacina), The New River Press Yearbook and Halal if you hear me ( edited by Fatima Asghar and Salma Elhilo). Her debut chapbook of poems ‘Odd Circles’ was published by Readings (Pakistan) in 2014. For her work as a poet, she has been interviewed by Arte Tv (France) and Words Without Borders. As part of the Jane Austen Society of Pakistan she has appeared on BBC (World), The Times (UK), and in The Economist’s culture magazine. She has also served as a poetry editor for “The Missing Slate” and is currently a senior contributing editor at Pakistan’s leading literary journal “The Aleph Review”. She also serves as an editor-in-chief for the online Pandemonium Journal, which is a platform for emerging creatives from Pakistan and abroad.


Inspiration to write this book: 

This is my first full-length collection and is a tribute to the panoply of female artists that continue to inspire me. From the creations of Iranian artist Farideh Lashai to the work of lesser-known poets like Veronica Forrest, there is a rich engagement with the work of these female trailblazers in ‘Quiet Women’. What makes the book different is its collaborative nature. Each artist I have collaborated with in ‘Quiet Women’ possesses something unique to their perspective. Samya Arif’s illustrations are defined by their bold and stylized detail. She thinks in an opulent manner. Marjan Baniasadi, hails from Iran and has studied at the NCA and her paintings are elegant, deeply intelligent and beautiful. Ishita Basu who lives in Calcutta, India, is a poet as well as an artist and there is such a yearning and melancholy to her creations. Their art complements my writing seamlessly in the book.



On how ‘Quiet Women’ came together


‘Quiet Women came together over a period of two years, where my poems were being frequently accepted by European magazines for publication. I decided to put together a collection of these poems with some newer verses with the intention to collaborate with artists for the final product. The titular poem of the collection ‘Quiet Women’ deals with the notion of female silence and the policing of a women’s language and her personal choices. For one reason or the other, this notion of ‘quietude’ had been drilled into me from an early age, and as I grew as a writer I started questioning all kinds of enforced silences, which in turn led me to critically examining all kinds of oppressive practices aimed at ‘containing’ the very agency of a woman. ‘Quiet Women’ as a book, functions for me as a bridge across a myriad number of fears; these verses are bridges across patriarchal structures, restrictive artistic ideologies, and perhaps purely existential concerns


On the collaboration with artists for ‘Quiet Women’


I would say that I have been a student of the Surrealists my whole life, as I have often been drawn to the interplay of artist mediums, in which they reveled. Surreal output has always been concerned with juxtapositions and techniques like ‘collage’ and ‘frottage’, and indulgence in hybridity. For example, Surrealist collaborations include films based on poems, in the way that the filmmaker Man Ray adapted poems by Robert Desnos to his medium. Since my poems are often initiated by visual ephemera, and my imaginative focus is on delineating these visuals (triggered of course by emotion or artistic curiosity), I found collaboration with these artists to be a natural progression. Each artist was sent the poem to illustrate without any instructions, the idea was for there to be a fluidity of connection, one derived purely by imaginative means, and for the artworks to be instinctual and primal.


Creative influences and the impact of Surrealism on my work


Each poem in ‘Quiet Women’ is a tribute to the marginalised, whether that figure be that of a woman or an artist or poet. Each poem aims to counter reality with the dream and to re-engineer the accepted image of the creative as ‘outlier’. Whether in terms of stylistic experimentation, influence or tribute, this book aims to upset normative modes of thought and glorify one’s creative faculty. The founder of Surrealism, Andre Breton, spoke much of how the imagination is seen as a threat to all dimensions of order, similarly, much of my work is concerned with consistently upending language, mass-perspective and received ideas.


On why I enjoy poetry as a genre and as my chosen form


A poet often writes a poem as a postscript to an emotion. ‘High tragedy’ or ‘wondrous joy’ need not compel the writing of verse, it could be a retained sense of childlike wonder for say an owl or the precise engineering of a pistol. I feel that I write primarily to escape a powerful inborn reticence. In that vein these words by the great James Joyce encapsulate perfectly the retaliatory bent of my mind as it stitches a sentence together; ‘poetry even when apparently most fantastic is always a revolt against artifice, a revolt, in a sense, against actuality’.

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