In Conversation with Khalid Malik

He was one of the biggest headlines in pop culture news this year when he bid farewell to his morning show on FM 89 to switch to FM 91. His shows, old and new have captured the hearts and minds of countless listeners and he has become the defining voice of mornings in so many homes, offices and cars. Recently, his role in Baaghi has gotten a tremendous amount of buzz. FYI’s Editor-in-Chief, Batool Mehdi sat down with Khalid Malik to talk work, life and what it takes to stay grounded in a field as challenging as the media.

Khalid Malik is an interesting amalgamation of someone who knows exactly what he wants, yet he isn’t fussed about accelerating his journey any quicker than it’s already going. One of the first things we talk about as we sit down for the interview is the concept of ‘settling in and finding your way’ and it all began with Careem. “Sorry I’m late”, Khalid apologizes as he squeezes into his chair in front of me. He informs me his Careem driver was late in collecting him. As I assure him that it’s not a problem, he makes a really interesting observation. “A few minutes late here or there, the journey sill got me to where I needed to be.” In a way, this one line set the tone for our conversation to come as it said so much about Khalid’s views on life and career and the individual trajectory we all happen to find ourselves on.

The first couple of months at the new station were just feeling my way in, really,” he begins, about his experience at FM 91. “The people were new, equipment was new. Took me a couple of months to get into the groove, to understand the people working with me. Now it’s become second nature,” he says.

I ask him about 91 On Wheels and he lights up. “Oh, it was my dream for the longest time. To take it out on the streets. It had never been done before, to take radio out of the confines of the studio like this,” he explains. “Like theatre, it was breaking the fourth wall, but in radio.” What has he enjoyed most about the experience? “It’s completely interactive,” comes the ready reply. “As excited as people might be to meet me, I am to meet them. too This allows me to be with them and really connect on a whole other level. From school kids to older ladies, it has been amazing. Just people coming up and saying hello even sometimes makes you realize just how many people you get through to, on a daily basis.”

There’s no doubt that Khalid has a unique connection with his listeners. What does he make of it? “I’m energetic , sure, but I don’t think that’s just it,” he muses. “I don’t pretend to be someone else. I’ve always made it a point to share my life, my experiences. Initially, that was difficult, because of certain societal norms. But the more I talked about my personal life, relationships, both, the ones that worked out and those that didn’t, the heartbreaks, the ups and downs – the more I discovered that people opened up. I think people found it refreshing, to realize that hey, we’re all flawed in some way or the other.”

He continues with one particularly inspiring story. “A woman called in one day. She told me was going through Chemotherapy and how the show was helping her get through Chemo.” I can tell he’s clearly affected by this. “I would like to think it’s the honesty I bring to the show and that translates through the airwaves and resonates with people. It makes the whole thing more relatable.”

I point out his wide demographic of listeners. “Exactly,” he replies. “It’s that big range of anywhere between 3 years of age to 60 years old.” Is it difficult to cater to that vast a demographic though, I ask. “Not really. It’s about switching things up constantly though. This helps keeps me in tuned in their lives as well.”

Khalid’s excitement about his work is clear as day. For someone who has been doing this for a while, does the process ever get stagnant, I ask him. “No, because each day is a totally new one. The process is daily and it evolves,” he replies. “Sometimes, I’ll have an idea and we’ll just run with it. Sometimes it’s even just a conversation you have with someone that triggers a series of ideas.” He goes on to tell me about a conversation he recently had with someone with the concept of luck, or as the gentleman in question put it, ‘lady luck.’ “I don’t believe in lady luck,” Khalid is emphatic. “You have to work for things and I feel with luck, we shed some of that responsibility. Even with relationships, when the right person comes around, it’s not so much luck, as the right energy attracting someone else with a similar energy. With the right person, something inherently good awakens within you, you feel content and just want to be a better person, generally. That’s not you lucking out. That’s you actively working towards something.”

I can’t help but interject about destiny and what his thoughts are on that subject. “Some things are predestined, sure. If it’s meant to be, the universe will conspire for you to get it and if something is not meant to be, then the universe will conspire against you. Ultimately, you’ve just got to do the best with what you’ve got.”

From keeping the balance on radio, we talk next about the balance in one’s public and private persona. For someone as grounded and unpretentious as Khalid, does that balance come easy? “Not always, no,” he admits. “Plastering myself on red carpets isn’t something that comes naturally,” he laughs. “But it is something I’m realizing with time, that has to be done. It’s just about keeping that balance by staying grounded.” And how does he achieve that? He thinks about this one. “I think for me, it helps that I came late, in a way, to this career. When I was in Australia, I went through my fair share of struggles. You really have to go through the ranks there. So any failures along the way, they really ground you,” he offers. “It’s also my family,” he continues. “My mother in particular, has been absolutely fantastic in this regard. I come from a normal middle class family. It’s so important to have people around you that remind you that at the end of the day, despite the celebrity of it all, you’re still just Khalid. That helps keep your head where it ought to be.”

As we talk about our own respective experiences at universities and life abroad in general, I ask him if living abroad has helped shape him in any way? “Definitely. I mean, it’s a real life lesson,” Khalid thinks. “Your time at Uni, is wonderful and fun on one hand, while challenging on the other because you have to learn to maneuver life without your usual anchors. Similarly in the real world, the ups and downs of life on your own abroad, it changes your world view and perspectives.” His passion on the subject is infectious. “I’d recommend to everyone who has the means and opportunity to go and live a while abroad. Travel. See and experience different cultures and mindsets. They will probably change yours too.”

Khalid’s way with words and ability to reach out to people seems to make him a natural fit for one of his other current projects, as a life coach. I wonder if people are ready for that concept here in Pakistan though. “They’re not completely,” he agrees. “But at the same time, I think they should be. I needed to train myself for this, because I didn’t think I had the right tools. But now that I feel I do, I want to help people by connecting with them and making them realize that there are ways to further your goals and make your life better in pursuit of the happiness that may come with those goals. We don’t talk enough. We should reach out,” he concludes.

We shift our conversation to television next and talk about Baaghi and what a refreshingly different serial it is on TV these days. Khalid is all praises for the team. “I’ve loved doing this project.  It has been a challenging role but worth it. It’s a great role and great team. And I can’t praise Saba Qamar enough. She sets the tone and that energy and commitment to bring out the best work, and that gets in all of us.” He continues with his thoughts on the source material itself. “It’s not just one girls’ story. It’s so many girls’ stories. Who’s the villain here? The casting couch does exist. We seem to be failing collectively. Maybe something within our attitudes needs to change.”

What’s his take on the general misogyny that so much of our media narrative thrives on? Just one look at the near constant topics of marriage, divorce, dukhyari larki and saas bahu sagas on television will show how far too many of our serials continue to portray women’s lives. “It’s a collective consciousness issue,” Khalid says. “As a nation, it will take years for us to change because certain things are so ingrained within our consciousness.” He does believe the media has a role to play. “It has to play a more responsible role in changing societal narratives and opening up people’s minds. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

What about change within the socio-political sphere? Khalid tells me although he isn’t very politically minded himself – he tends to avoid current affairs and political shows, he does nevertheless feel very strongly about certain issues like sanitation and healthcare. “It’s ridiculous that people don’t have access to clean environs and health care facilities the way they should. When this should not be a privilege. It should be a right.” Can he see himself ever entering the world of politics? I point out that because perhaps he’s so far removed from it all, and not as jaded as some others, maybe he’s a better fit to enter the political fray than he realizes. Khalid doesn’t rule out the possibility. “You never know and I can see your point. I do think if I feel passionately enough and the opportunity ever arises, one never knows. The right motivation to help others needs to be there though.”

Getting back to the media, Khalid talks about an upcoming project he’s quite excited about. “It’s called Masoom, a remake of the terrific Indian film of the same name.” I’m intrigued by this project myself as I tell him that the Shekar Kapur film is one of my all time favourites. Khalid shares more by adding that Yasir Nawaz is the director and that the serial should be hitting the screens sometime in November.

He’s also open to films. Having done a few film projects already, like Josh and Good Morning Karachi, Khalid does see the appeal of pursuing the cinematic dream. “It’s the ultimate pinnacle,” he suggests. “I’m not necessarily looking for the typical traditional hero role. I’m not hero material in that sense. But the great thing is that our cinema is offering all sorts of roles these days. There’s a lot of scope for growth and experimentation.”

So what have been his film favourites so far, in this new rebirth of Pakistani cinema. “I think Punjab Nahi Jaongi was just the ultimate cinema experience. I loved it. Na Maloom Afraad is another favourite, Absolutely wonderful film and I’m looking forward to watching the sequel too.”

We go on to talk about music our shared love for Patari, next. “Special shoutout to the Patari team,’ he says enthusiastically. “They’re doing such a fabulous job.” He also tells me how much he enjoyed the band, Badnaam on this year’s Pepsi Battle of the Bands. “Artists need a platform here. It’s unfortunate that they don’t have too many of those.”

As we begin to wrap up our talk, I tell him that he’s one of the few celebrities that have proven that you don’t necessarily have to be part of any kind of lobby to succeed. “Success is fluid,” Khalid says with a laugh. “You’ve just got to remember that there are struggles on every tier of success. Even at the top there’s the struggle to stay there. If that doesn’t keep one grounded, what will?” I couldn’t agree more.

Here’s hoping Khalid can continue to pave his own unique path to success in the future, just the way he has been, so far.