How did you get started in your career?
Wow, ok, let me see…..which career shall I start with?! I think when I look back I actually started acting at a very early age, actors are spontaneous and have to be able to adjust to situations quickly and I used those skills to get me out of trouble quite a few times. I was very mischievous as a young boy. My favourite phrase was ‘but why’, always questioning, rebelling and just not settling for something that didn’t feel right.
I worked professionally as an actor in film, television & theatre for about 15 years and was extremely successful at a very young age. I was fortunate enough to be part of some of the most iconic and controversial films in British television and cinema over the last 25 years. I got to be part of films like ‘Bradford Riots,’ Peter Kosminsky’s Bafta Award winning drama ‘Britz’ as well as Chris Morris’s first feature film the hilariously controversial ‘Four Lions,’ which also won a Bafta Award.
Being part of these really high-profile political dramas, and working as an actor, allowed me the social mobility to experience a life that a guy from Old Trafford wouldn’t always get.
I suppose to answer your question it was really after I came back from touring around Europe as part of a street theatre company in Germany that the seeds of my current career were sown.
I came back to Manchester, and I found that a lot of my community still had the same difficulties and problems that were happening when I was growing up as a kid. Issues around health and equalities, issues around violence, drugs, education, youth activity, and antisocial behaviour.
That’s when I really started to think about what I now identify as ‘my career’, which involves being not just an actor but also the CEO & Artistic Director of Alchemy Arts, a workshop facilitator, an artist, scriptwriter, researcher, social entrepreneur, film maker – the list goes on and on.
I remember thinking, what’s the point of me being part of this limelight? This temporary high profile young Asian actor label and asking myself ‘well, what else do I want do, what’s my meaning, my calling? And how can I be part of the change I want to see?’
I knew I wanted to use innovation and creativity to bring about social change and so it was important that I started something that could be part of the solution, this led to the birth of Alchemy Arts.
What is a highlight of your career?
There have been so many highlights, I can’t really pick one and to be honest one of my weaknesses I suppose is that I don’t really take the time to take stock, look back and actually appreciate what I’ve achieved so far. I guess part of me doesn’t allow that because I feel the highlights are still to come and I’m still striving to achieve better outcomes for my community and the people that live in it. I suppose looking at it from another perspective I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved with Alchemy over the last 6 years.
In 2013 I was awarded a placement on The School of Social Entrepreneurs Program and in 2014 I was chosen from over 300 students nationally as the “PR Star of the Year”.
In 2015 I was nominated for the British Asian Business Awards, and awarded a place on the SSE Scale Up Programme a year later. In 2017 I was nominated for Social Enterprise Of The Year Award and in 2018 for the UK Private Business Award.
What I’m most proud of are the projects that I’ve set up using innovative delivery methods to reach people who otherwise might have had many obstacles in gaining support. This was achieved because of my understanding of the cultural awareness of the barriers that may come into play, the taboos and stigmas with the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in our community, providing them with a resource that they could tap into. We’ve developed projects around dementia, mental health, community cohesion supporting young people, South Asian women and the elderly. This work will have a bigger impact then I can ever imagine so I’m immensely proud of that.
How do you unwind?
Besides sleeping!? I love spending time with family and friends. I also enjoy exercising as it gives me a chance to reflect, so I like going for jogs or long walks, parks are amazing such relaxing atmospheres. I’ve recently developed an unhealthy obsession with watching YouTube, especially after discovering the speed x2 button! Now I can gain double the knowledge in half the time! I do think the internet is an amazing tool though and I like to read about historical figures especially from my heritage, but also listening to Islamic speeches as I find they’re like food for my soul.
What has been the greatest hurdle for you to overcome in your career?
Without a shadow of a doubt my greatest hurdle that I’ve overcome has been what I call my “reinvention”, now it sounds very dramatic, but that’s because we as humans make it that way. We pigeon hole each other into categories and then don’t allow anyone to drift from that career path and if they do it’s some sort of failure. It’s not, it’s your life’s way of saying there’s something better for you out there. We need to start telling our children – and ourselves – “that what we’re seeking is also seeking us, go out and be free”, allow yourself to free fall for a bit, it’s ok. I saw the greatest example of this in my father in the late 90’s/early 00’s when the Market Trade was basically disappearing. I saw him go on this journey, a man who had been a market trader for almost 30 years finding himself unemployed and the job centre deskilling him, making him feel inadequate and basically failing him. He was never an academic or good with computers and filling in a CV online or on a computer was very very scary. I can’t imagine what that time was like for him, a father of 4 and the sole provider for the family, but this is why he is my hero – a giant of a man that refused to allow society to tell him that he couldn’t go again. Fighting against the institutionalising narrative that surrounded him he set up his own business and never allowed us to feel we ever went without anything. He instilled that passion in me when I came back from spending 15 years as an actor on the road. Theatre, film and television were amazing experiences but I was close to burn out and in times of solace the reflection and silence were sometimes unbearable. I got up though, I got up and crawled through that darkness of uncertainty and focussed on the light and then I found Alchemy and began my journey of transformation, reinvention and overcame that particular obstacle. There will be others but thanks to my heroes, my family and support structure, I am in a better way to deal with it.
What is the best thing about your job?
Every day I wake up doing the job that I love. I used to wake up not knowing my purpose, my meaning in life or my place in this world. It can be a very lonely place, it can have a debilitating effect on your mental health and wellbeing. Even when you’re a so-called celebrity, have tasted fame or are successful in your field it might not be where you’re happiest! For me the best thing about life not just my job, but being happy, and if you’re happy you’re winning.
How would you describe the type of work that you do each day?
I wake up each morning with a mission to live out my dreams. I implement three ways of thinking or approaches, philosophies, whatever you want to call them – and that is to use innovation and creativity to bring about social change! I want to spark that desire, passion or inspiration in someone who can then take on the baton and change the world. That has to be the ambition.
I think this quote sums up my day and desire best: “You were born with potential. You were born with goodness and trust. You were born with ideals and dreams. You were born with greatness. You were born with wings. You are not meant for crawling, so don’t. You have wings. Learn to use them and fly” – Rumi
What are your plans for the future?
I really just want to be part of as many projects that can make a real difference to the world we’re living in. I want to continue doing the things I love in partnership with like-minded people because the journey is so much more fun when you’re surrounded by cool people who share your vision.
Ultimately, I want to leave a legacy in the world that I live in, so I’m working towards numerous passion projects. I’m a film maker so developing my own documentary films would be amazing. I’m really passionate about history but also my faith and spirituality so films about historical sights and their significance in our history as Pakistanis would be amazing.
Oh and on a personal level I’d also like to learn to play the guitar and speak Arabic!! Now I just need to figure out a good time to fit that in.