Editor: Marylou Andrew First published in Aurora, Sept/Oct 2005 issue
Seductive and flirty on a Sunday, racy and energetic on weekday, expressive, dramatic yet always incredibly positive and calming, the most discernible voice on FM radio in Pakistan is as multifaceted as the man himself. Meet Sohail Hashmi, an oddball mix of actor, director, producer, marketing expert and radio show host, all rolled up into one rather curiously charming package.
Much has been written about Hashmi since he sashayed into the limelight as the host of the popular ‘The Breakfast Show’ on City FM89, a little over a year ago. Portrayed by some as excessively serious about himself and his work, and by others as an over the top, rather eccentric individual, the real Sohail Hashmi is perhaps a bit of both or possibly none of the above. In essence, the real Hashmi is a real enigma.
Born and brought up in the UK, he seems almost reluctant to talk about his early life, merely saying that he was “rather young” at the time and making some reference to his grandfather, Hafiz Jallandari, who penned the national anthem of Pakistan.
Frequent trip to Pakistan as a child and visits with his grandfather, recalls Hashmi, instilled in him some sense of patriotism towards Pakistan. However, this instinct didn’t really kick in until much later in life.
Hashmi spent a good life in UK, with brief stints in exotic locations like the Canary Islands and Denmark. When it came to education, this seemingly quintessential dreamer shoved aside his artistic inclinations in favor of a more practical pursuit, a BA in business a move that would prove to be driving force behind his return to Pakistan.
After high profile jobs with The Khaleej Times, Libas International and British Telecom, the ambitious Hashmi surprised friends and family by accepting a position as Director Marketing of PTV at the behest of the Pakistan government. I find it hard to reconcile the fact that the constantly exuberant denim clad, orange T- shirted man sitting in front of me could have ever worked in the static, government controlled environment of PTV.
“Part of my job was to make sure that it was to make sure that it was not static and we had something sexy going on at PTV. “He chuckles and explains in a decisions in his life with a hint of irony is typical of him, a way, perhaps, of not taking himself too seriously. But this is merely a retrospective attitude. Marketing at PTV was a serious responsibility and one that Hashmi took to with great aplomb, whipping the channel’s flailing marketing department into shape and revising long established advertising policies. Two years later, he moved to the US to set up PTV Prime but did not stay there long enough to enjoy the fruits of his success.
A year after 9/11, the restless Hashmi was back in Pakistan only this time, he was ready to pursue his long suppressed artistic inclinations.
Real- Eyes production, established in 2003, has produced eight telefilms to date, all of which focus on women’s issues. Hashmi is particularly proud of Natalya the Russian Girl, reasoning rather sensibly that it was a labor of love by virtue of being the first of the lot. Working closely with veteran producer Sultana Siddique, renowned for her interest in portraying women’s issues with great realism, he produced five more telefilms. Admitting that he has been labeled the ‘taboo’ director with good reason, Hashmi clarifies that he believes in sensuality not sexuality.
“The touching of the hands, the closeness of the face and the lips_ is all part of life.” Such a blatant display caused the more conservative Siddiqui a few sleepless nights but her decision to trust Hashmi’s judgment in the matter paid off as the telefilms ushered in a fresh phase for television in Pakistan.
Grateful for the leeway given to him old friend and colleague, a suddenly serious Hashmi says:
“With freedom comes responsibility. You have to be responsible for the freedom you create. That means you don’t go overboard and upset someone else’s sensitivities.” This prudent formula has obviously worked for him and more telefilms of the same like are planned.
Producing eight telefilms in one and a half years may have been “bloody good” but was obviously not enough to consume the energies of this dynamic individual who seems to be bouncing off the walls with barely concealed excitement. An excitement that seems to emanate more than anything else, from his recent success as a radio show host on City FM89.
One of the few RJs to take radio just as seriously as regular nine to five job, Hashmi proudly says that he is up at the crack of dawn every day and ready to assume his role as the voice of The Breakfast Show with as much enthusiasm as the day before. Inclined to be skeptical of this constantly positive attitude, I ask whether he has morning when getting out of bed seems. Irritatingly impossible. This is obviously a view he has encountered quite often because his response seems mechanical albeit enthusiastic.
“After doing my tenth show I realized that I have a tremendous responsibility towards the people who listen to The Breakfast Show across the country. Something I say could make or break someone’s day so there is a need to be extremely positive and motivate people.” Generating this positive mood necessitates that he start the day on an optimistic and upbeat note and Hashmi often looks to James Brown for the requisite inspiration. “He screams and while you may not always get the words, he is always get the words, he is always entertaining and really wakes you up in the morning.”
From James Brown to Barry white, Hashmi is renowned for his eclectic musical tastes and says that his vast musical collection, most of which was assembled abroad, contains genres such as funk, jazz funk and soul that are still relatively new to Pakistan ears. Although his nations about Pakistani listeners may seem slightly preconceived, it is easy to forgive such a judgment when he talks about the genuine high he gets when “callers from Nazimabad request a Luther Van dross number.”
With radio, direction, production and even acting taking so much of his time, does he have time for a personal life?
“I am living in the moment, doing things that I really enjoy and it is real blessing.”
Once again he has successfully dodged the question with an incredibly practiced skill of saying a great deal without really saying anything at all.
After the tape recorder is switched off, my conversation with Hashmi continues over lunch and I realize that even though he loves talking, communicating and expressing himself, many facets of his personality still remain shrouded in mystery, many questions remain unanswered and many facts remain unexplained. Somewhere in this confused layering of questions lies the real Sohail Hashmi, waiting to be discovered, but not quite yet.