“Two years ago, people laughed at me when I said I wanted to be an actor,” said Azaan Sami Khan, who has undergone an incredible physical transformation in the recent past. He shared how a friend sent him a message of their conversation from two and a half years ago, recalling “how I had texted saying ‘in two years, my aim is to be in a major magazine for the way I look’.”
In a similar situation as his father Adnan Sami, the up-and-coming music composer has struggled with being overweight all his life. The condition not only gave rise to multiple health problems, but also hindered his dream of becoming an actor. So, for the past two and a half years, Azaan has worked hard to get in shape, in hopes of looking good and eyeing acting as a career option.
“When my daughter was born, my mom (Zeba Bakhtiar) reminded me how it’s always been my dream to be in front of the camera and be a part of the more performance side of film-making,” he told The Express Tribune. “She said this was the time. It’s now or never. And that ‘the greatest gift you can give to your children is if they know that their father has achieved something he dreamt of’.”
While his mother’s words were a turning point for him, Azaan took inspiration from his parents to dedicate himself to this new lifestyle.
“I know what both my parents went through to be where they are. My father has had his own struggle. His case was different but he was physically in a very bad condition. He performed at Madison Square Garden in 2006 in a wheelchair. He had no choice and was given six months to live. So of course, it served as an inspiration,” he said.
“My mother has had her own big struggle. And yet, she is the most disciplined person I know.”
Azaan is quite aware of his privileged background but hopes his story would encourage others to tackle their problems in whatever aspect of life. “Of course, we are all inspired by the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Muhammad Ali and now Connor McGregor. Even in India and Pakistan, we have so many examples. People used to say Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sahab couldn’t sing. My dad’s album Tera Chehra was thrown in his face. He was told this kind of music won’t sell here.”
He continued, “They came from extreme adversity and were able to do what everyone told them they couldn’t. So there is a part of me that wishes that if I can achieve what I want to achieve coming from where I was, it can serve as an encouragement for people struggling with their own problems, whatever they may be.”
But Azaan knows he couldn’t have done countered his weight problems on his own. He credits his personal trainer Pervez Rayani for the success. “If a film is successful, people praise actors. But actors know that it’s the director’s vision. It’s the same in fitness,” he said.
“I feel as if I didn’t do it. I only followed a plan and I also messed up in that plan at times. I had my ups and downs where old habits almost came back. It’s been two and a half years since we started and till now, Pervez is my go-to person because it requires someone with immense patience to work with you on this.”
He noted he had to be extra careful because of his other health concerns including heart problems because of obesity, detox issues, environmental and food allergies and borderline diabetes at the age of 22.
Pervez shared he has been training Azaan since 2013 but they began a serious round-the-clock plan in 2016. “In 2015 December, Azaan asked me if it was possible for him to have six packs. He weighed around 120kg to 125kg at the time. No muscle, only fat. So he suggested I take care of everything, from his nutrition to training,” he said.
“So I gave him an ultimatum: Show me your commitment for two months and then we’ll start. And he did. He came to the gym every day. And in February 2016, we started on our plan, which evolved from focusing on losing weight to gaining muscle as time progressed.”
Azaan’s routine consisted of weighed and calculated meals and intense workouts. Every morning, they walked for an hour, had breakfast and then worked out for one hour. His meals mostly consisted of white rice, chicken, beef, nuts and “a lot of peanut butter.” The Parwaaz Hai Junoon composer claims to love peanut butter so much that “at one point, I would eat an almost entire jar of peanut butter in a day.”
Today, 80% of Azaan’s diet consists of healthier foods. He even admits food addiction is a rather emotional problem. “It’s at the same level of addiction as any drug is. The other day, a friend said, ‘Yaar aik bite le lo, kya hojayega’ (one bite won’t hurt),” he said.
“But we wouldn’t say that to an alcoholic who is trying to quit. It’s twice as bad when you do this. And this attitude prevails because food is not looked at seriously, and it’s a socially accepted addiction.”
Therefore, Azaan’s biggest obstacle wasn’t losing weight but getting the right mindset. “You can lose weight in a hundred different ways. But I wanted a physique that looks good if I take my shirt off.”
Pervez iterated that people have to stop considering fitness as a mere project. “You have to be consistent at it and work out every day and create an environment for yourself where these activities become part of the routine,” he said. The now 25-year-old music producer adopted the lifestyle successfully and has come a long way since. But he is not done yet. So what’s next?
“The aim is to be, in terms of physique, aesthetically pleasing and also it’s important for me to be able to adapt to different roles,” Azaan added. He knows well a good physique won’t make him a good actor but it will help him perform to his fullest. “Steroids don’t replace the hard work in the gym. And plastic surgery doesn’t make anyone a good actor.”
Azaan is currently composing music for the Maya Ali and Sheheryar Munawar-starrer Paray Hut Love as well as Mahira Khan and Bilal Ashraf’s upcoming film Superstar. There is one more project he was hesitant to talk about yet, which he confirmed will be his acting debut.
Azaan’s story is different from his father’s but there are several parallels, the most obvious one being music. Reflecting on the state of Pakistani music industry, the young artist said the big leap was coming up, thanks to solo artists. “That’s been our identity in the past too. And I hope it picks up again.”
He spoke in favour of branded music shows and platforms that are now giving artists a stage and opportunity. However, he isn’t in support of musicians who rely on covers instead of producing originals.
“I won’t name anyone in particular but if there is a classic song that’s part of our lives, something you heard when you grew up listening to or heard when you fell in love for the first time, and I cover that song and make you listen to it. If it’s not as great as the original, of course you would criticise me. There are going to be comparisons so we have to think before we do it. We shouldn’t just do covers because we don’t want to take risks. That shouldn’t be the reason to do it,” he remarked.
He said he also understood the artists’ circumstances where they sell their best works to films and TV dramas because they think their solo tracks won’t have a good reach. “Honestly, artists are afraid to put out their solo music because they think if they put it online, it’ll be lost in the shuffle. And that’s fair. But someone will have to make a sacrifice and set a precedent for change to happen.” And it might just be Azaan himself, as he is planning to release singles in the future.
Note: This article was originally published in The Express Tribune (by the same author).