By Maliha Rehman
Actor Imran Ashraf Awan posted a Tweet on Tuesday, July 13th. His drama Raqs-e-Bismil had just wrapped up that weekend on the HUM TV Network – on Friday – and he asked his fans if they would like to watch a sequel.
#raqsebismil2 tweet karein ❣
— Imran Ashraf (@IamImranAshraf) July 13, 2021
The response was immediate, very organic and eye-opening. #RaqseBismil2 climbed all the way up to no. 4 on Twitter. #KashmirMartyrsDay was at no. 1, a hashtag replete with emotion and recollections of the turmoil that Kashmir continues to endure. On any other day, though, #RaqseBismil2 may just have managed to climb to an even higher rating.
All through the weekend, after all, the drama had been topping Twitter charts. For more than 24 hours following the airing of the last episode, #RaqseBismil had trended on Twitter, even climbing to a lofty number 1. Other related hashtags also remained consistent: #ImranAshraf, #SarahKhan, #acting and even the characters’ names #Moosa and #Zohra. Making a nearly 36 hour run, #ImranAshraf persisted as a Twitter trend.
In an age when millions are spent in purchasing Twitter trends and power players in TV channels devise marketing strategies to entice audiences, Raqs e Bismil’s meteoric success has been phenomenal. “Not a penny has been spent on marketing,” the drama’s director Wajahat Rauf said to me.
Then again, with Imran Ashraf on board, did the drama even need a PR company? The actor has now become renowned for being strongly committed to his roles and the dramas that he works in. When he won the audience over as the mentally impaired Bhola in 2019’s Ranjha Ranjha Kardi, Imran began repeating his character’s lines when he came on stage. The audience cheered. The photographers on the red carpet called him ‘Bhola Bhai’. He became known by his character’s name, easily passing the litmus test of having done justice to the befuddled ‘Bhola’.
Then, last year, Imran acted in ‘Mushk’ which was also written by him. He became the moralistic ‘Adam’. Following the airing of an episode, Imran would come online and ask his social media followers what they had thought of Adam that day. Or he would make a poetic statement on Instagram alluding to a particularly gripping turn of events in an upcoming episode. He would want to discuss the various intricacies of the plot.
Following the same tradition, Imran became ‘Moosa’ when Raqs e Bismil began to air. “What did you think of today’s episode” he would ask his social media followers. Another popular question was along the lines of ‘Will Moosa win Zohra?’, referring to the star-crossed romance between the two main leads. The drama’s audience – and Imran’s massive fanbase – responded eagerly.
Of course, focusing beyond the social media mileage, Raqs e Bismil was not a lackluster drama. Director Wajahat Rauf and producer Shazia Wajahat gave the story a cinematic feel, the dialogues were dramatic and aside from the two main leads, Imran Ashraf and Sarah Khan, the rest of the ensemble cast was also a very strong one, including Momin Saqib, Zara Sheikh, Saleem Mairaj, Mehmood Aslam and Gul-e-Rana. Some of the cast and crew would occasionally celebrate an episode’s success with social media testimonials.
Imran’s love for Moosa was more consistent.
And the fact that a Tweet from him resulted in #RaqseBismil2 trending, three days after the drama had ended, is testament to the power of his fandom and his strong social media presence.
“Questions posed on social media can always backfire but Imran decided to take that risk every time he asked his followers for their opinions about an episode,” observes Wajahat. “He is extremely passionate about his work and doesn’t let his ego come into play when he is connecting with his fans.”
Wajahat continues, “A lot of factors have come into play to make Raqs e Bismil such an unprecedented success. A lot of research was done to portray the inner workings of a pir’s family. The scenes from Imran’s home alone were shot in four different homes. I needed the driveway of one, the rooms of another and so on. The audience naturally gravitated towards the drama’s overall theme, where the two main leads are trying to follow a straight path and have strong moral and religious beliefs.”
“I also think that people love to cheer for the underdog; you know, the player who is known to be good but then, who comes on to the field and just takes over. Imran was already known as a great actor but he has proven himself all over again with Raqs e Bismil. And people love how he has worked hard, becoming hugely popular and always including his fans in his success.”
Imran’s way of connecting with his audience constantly sets him apart from how most stars tend to be: slightly reticent and not always open to fans’ comments, perhaps from the fear that they may get trolled. Most stars also shy away from public places because fans throng them, asking for selfies, making it difficult for them to have a normal conversation with their families or friends. Imran, also, gets crowded. I have seen motorbikes stop on roads, the passengers getting off to take selfies with him. I have even seen him get crowded in the early hours of the morning in a hotel lobby.
I mention this to Imran and I can hear him grinning across the phone line. “I am not afraid of trolling. I believe in God and I believe in my fans. And the day that I don’t get crowded by fans in public places, that’s the day that I’ll be upset. I am here because of them.”
This, I feel, defines Imran Ashraf’s success as an actor. He loves his audience wholeheartedly and the feelings are reciprocated. No drama of his is probably going to ever need a PR company to raise hype. Then again, knowing Imran, he probably doesn’t even consider what he’s doing as PR. This is just the way he is.