Ahsan Khan: 11 questions

Film and TV star Ahsan Khan tells us about swapping the screen for the stage with new musical Ishq.

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Ahsan Khan breaks new ground in musical romance Ishq, which is itself a groundbreaking production. For Khan, the show at Sadler’s Wells is the first stage show in a career that has made him a star of Pakistani film and television. It is also London’s first-ever Anglo-Punjabi-Sufi musical.

Mixing classic and modern dance, multimedia, live music and effects, Ishq tells a centuries-old story about a woman battling against a patriarchal society. Ahsan Khan tells us more:

Ahsan Khan and Fahad Mirza in rehearsals for Ishq (Image: Lidia Crisafulli)
Ahsan Khan and Fahad Mirza in rehearsals for Ishq (Image: Lidia Crisafulli)

How would you describe Ishq?

Ishq is a musical that presents an epic love story in a contemporary setting and deals with universal themes of love, sacrifice, patriarchy, women’s rights and friendship.

Why did you want to appear in it?

I am hopelessly romantic. I believe that love is the most powerful emotion in the world and the one force that can solve all problems of mankind. The epic romances of India and Pakistan have always held great attraction for me. Sassi Punnu, Sehti Murad, Momal Rano, Sohni Mahiwal, Dhola Maru, Umar Marvi and Noori Jam Tamachi are enormously rich tales that deal with love, romance and sacrifice in the most intelligent of manners. They also have underlying themes as varied and diverse as patriarchy, sibling rivalry, political intrigue, women’s rights, theocracy, classism and religious divide.

Heer Ranjha is my favourite story amongst all the romance of the region. It is one of the most intelligent works of poetry that I have ever read. I have appeared in an adaptation of the poem in the past on television and enjoyed playing the main character – Deedho Ranjha – immensely. I jumped at the opportunity of playing the role on stage because of the affinity, understanding and admiration I have for the character. I’m hoping I will get to play Deedho Ranjha in the future as well.

How would you describe Deedho Ranjha?

Ranjha is spoilt, headstrong and immature. But he is also deeply endearing because he is simultaneously honest, pure and loving. He believes in friendship, love and religion. He is a true romantic, if ever there was one, and believes that sacrificing anything and everything in the pursuit of love is a small price to pay for romantic bliss. As he comes of age during the story, he also gains incredible spiritual, religious and mystical insight and understanding. His passion becomes a veritable display of what is known as Sufi Love. Ranjha is simple but has a deep understanding of love. A true lover for all times.

Is there an audience you think would particularly enjoy this show?

I think Ishq has universal appeal. It will appeal to people interested in spiritualism, love and romance.

What has surprised you during the rehearsal process?

Two things. Firstly, acting on stage is totally different to acting in films and on television. Secondly, the amount of work that goes into preparing a play for the stage is enormous. A lot of people put their heart and soul, along with time, hard work and energy, into making a play happen on stage.

You’re best known for your screen work. How do you feel about performing live?

It is a change of pace for me. It is energetic, exhilarating and exciting. And, to be honest, it is frightening. I believe that I am growing as an actor by performing on stage. I plan to do more theatre in the future.

Ahsan Khan in rehearsals for Ishq (Image: Lidia Crisafulli)
Ahsan Khan in rehearsals for Ishq (Image: Lidia Crisafulli)

What was your first experience of seeing theatre?

It was watching Terry Johnson’s The Graduate at the Gielgud Theatre in London in the year 2000. I had watched the wonderful 1967 film in the past but the stage production had far more energy, electricity and oomph. Kathleen Turner was magnificent as Mrs. Robinson. I loved her re-creation of the character of a bored seductress as a fiery vixen with a lot of spunk, energy and sizzle. The stage production left me spellbound.

What makes live performance so special?

Live performance has a lot of energy. It is open, candid and earnest. It affords an intimate and exclusive relationship between the performer and the viewer. Long, medium and close-up shots, different shooting angles and other cinematic devices are not available to guide the viewer to see what the filmmaker wants to be seen. The viewer sees what they see based on their own sensibility, vantage point, intellect, interest and inclination. The deeply personal relationship between the performer and the viewer is the most special thing about live performance.

Apart from Sadler’s Wells, what is your favourite London theatre?

It is, hands down, the candlelit indoor theatre Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe. The theatre was built using the plans that were discovered in the 1960s when detailed 17th-century drawings fell out of a book at the Worcester College, Oxford. I find it very charming and authentic. It is a lovely piece.

What one piece of advice would you give aspiring performers?

It would be to learn their craft seriously and formally at a well-regarded institution. And also to feed their passion and love the job they choose.

What’s your top tip for a trip to the theatre?

I’ve seen The Phantom Of The Opera and Les Misérables whilst I’ve been in London and loved both of them. I also saw The Mousetrap last year. The acting is Les Misérables was excellent and I really liked the stage set-up and atmosphere. It took me to a very real place. I’d certainly recommend Les Misérables for anyone looking to watch a quality show!

Ahsan Khan stars in Ishq at Sadler’s Wells from 7 to 9 September.