ISLAMABAD: Young Pashtun men working at tea stalls and dhabas have been in a mad rush to find style consultants and publicists since yesterday, each hoping to become the next Arshad Khan.
Arshad, the handsomest and bluest-eyed chaiwalla in the land, achieved instant stardom this week when a picture of him seductively brewing tea went viral around the world.
Pashtun stall workers have begun auditioning at their workplaces, incorporating a number of sensual flourishes and poses into their usual routines...
Since then, he has been told by Karan Johar that the ban on Pakistani performers in Bollywood may be lifted especially for him. He has also been flooded with television offers, sponsorship contracts and book deals from around the world, and seems to be taking to his newfound stardom like a pro. "Fawad Khan, who?" he said during a television interview, when asked about the now out-of-business star he has replaced.
These developments have led many observers to begin counting down to the arrival of the next blue-eyed, blue-collar star. Selfie-obsessed teenagers, talent scouts and lonely housewives looking for a bit of excitement on the way back from dars* have also begun prowling the streets in anticipation.
Meanwhile, young Pashtun stall workers have begun auditioning at their workplaces, incorporating a number of sensual flourishes and poses into their usual routines in a bid to catch the eye of someone in the crowd. "I never thought tea could make me feel so thirsty," says one gushing onlooker, describing a barrel-chested Afghan man taking tantalizingly long sips from each steaming cup of chai that he served.
One industry insider told us, on the condition of anonymity, that many young stall workers, including him, were beginning to buckle under the weight of expectations. "If another person asks me to turn them into paani with my blue eyes while stirring their chai, I swear I'll lose it!" Others complain that friendships have come undone due to the intense competition. "After receiving my first casting call, I overheard my best friend saying that he wouldn't even taste my teabag walli chai, let alone my doodhpatti," says one stall worker, still in obvious shock.
Men's rights activists have raised concerns about the industry's exploitation of young Pashtun men. But observers believe the recent mushrooming of specialized modelling agencies will help those finding it hard to break through. Zubeida Aapa, of "Ab Gora Hoga Pakistan!" fame, was among the first to launch an agency that specializes in finding blue-collar models out of an "Aryan's wet dream," as described by one observer.
She said that over and above fair skin and blue eyes, her agency—Khoobsurat Khidmatgaar—was really looking for "that internally displaced, evicted slum-dweller look" that is currently in style among Pashtuns nowadays. "Something you can't get with a Snapchat filter," she adds. Only a few hours later, major social media apps launched a range of filters promising the effect she spoke of.
Over and above fair skin and blue eyes, her agency—Khoobsurat Khidmatgaar—was really looking for "that internally displaced, evicted slum-dweller look"...
Zubeida laments that for every "gem" like Arshad Khan, there are thousands who don't make the cut despite their best efforts. "Since Arshad made it big, my agency has been swarmed by men wearing coloured contact lenses, faces slathered in talcum powder."
Others who have the necessary looks are sometimes lacking in other respects, she says. "A group of Delhiwalla Khans—you know, the silent 'N' wallay Khans—asked yesterday if they would be considered Pathans," she says scathingly. "Do I even need to answer that?"
But as young stall workers are still vying to enter the fray, it seems the market has already moved on. A media house that had earlier announced the launch of a televised model hunt called Pakistan's Next Hot Chaiwalla has now scrapped the idea. On the other hand, blue-collar modelling agencies are now looking to expand their portfolios to include more construction workers, mechanics and bus drivers.
But Arshad Khan is far from concerned about the future. "I'm not going anywhere," he says, squeezing the last few drops from a teabag into the cup before him.
* Group Quran recital, often for women only.