How Wahaj Ali’s portrayal of Murtasim Khan in Tere Bin made him an overnight star across borders, even here in India
Unless you live under a rock, chances are you have already seen and heard Wahaj Ali’s name flying around. It could be in the virtual world, through a random person you follow, suddenly going crazy over a fictional character played by him, or it could be through your childhood best friend, calling you to share their biggest discovery of 2023: An actor from Pakistan, Wahaj Ali.
The meteoric rise of Wahaj from being a Pakistani TV actor to the constantly trending heartthrob of the entire TV-watching population of South Asia is fascinating and is in its entirety, due to the unprecedented popularity of his stellar portrayal of Murtasim Khan in the revenge/romance saga Tere Bin.
Tere Bin, which is breaking records since the time it aired in December 2022, has been an instant hit due to a catchy script that relies on the classic formula of Mills & Boon: A rich powerful and sexy hero, with a toxic notion of masculinity, is pitted against a pretty feisty damsel who gets on his nerves and yet he can’t get enough of her.Having grown up with these paperback novels, I am no stranger to the appeal of these stories, even though they sometimes encourage unhealthy relationship goals and play into the eternal feminine complex of fixing a toxic man into loving them and making it into an achievement.
However, Tere Bin’s Murtasim Khan, who fits the bill perfectly for all the traits described above, delivers surprise after surprise for even the most veteran viewers of the enemies-to-lovers genre and beguiles them into falling in love with him when they least suspect it. And this unexpected bowling over seems to be more of a Wahaj Ali achievement than Murtasim’s scripting. The key to the actor’s overnight success and popularity is not just the way he looks (although difficult not to notice the oh-so-hot screen presence) but his ability to introduce extraordinary nuances in a character who has been otherwise given just a black-and-white palette.
Yes, Murtasim is a feudal lord who hunts as a sport and wields a gun in the faces of people who dare to cross him. He is unaccustomed to being questioned and believes women are assets that need to be protected because they are the proverbial “izzat” of the household. He can get angry, he has the power to hurt and he is a man that can go to extremes. To this landscape of passion and fury, Wahaj brings a subtle but striking beauty. He turns anger to angst with eyes so eloquent that words don’t matter. Any stretch of the imagination could not have done more justice to Murtasim’s aura, than the body language Ali applies to his character. From the most casual posture while sitting on a sofa to the lion walk when angry, Wahaj’s Murtasim is always oozing power, surprisingly even when he is humbling himself to woo his wife. While a nod is definitely due to the dialogue writing, it’s the dialogue delivery that takes the cake. Sprinkled here and there with casual English, his conversations make him seem modern in spite of being the pallbearer of medieval value systems, introducing a contrast that is intriguing and irresistible. He does the same with his wardrobe, making a shawl as sexy as the polo neck tee he adorns with effortless oomph.
While in this classic trope , the male is typically all muscles and brawn, Wahaj makes Murtasim sensitive and vulnerable without compromising on the brawn. He brings a rawness to his feelings through melancholic moods and stolen looks , thereby giving this character depth. Somewhere between playful taunts and unabashed confessions to his wife, he disarms the audience because his portrayal of love is not obsessive and sexual. It’s the patient and generous kind- the kind women dream about.
His mastery of the craft of acting is very rightly being lauded because he seems to be one of those few artists with the capacity for complete metamorphosis. Just watching a few videos of him off-screen is enough to get to know that Wahaj Ali and Murtasim have nothing in common. In an era, where we have to adjust to stars bringing their overbearing personalities to characters, it’s a rare feat for an actor to leave his personality at the door to create something real out of mere words on paper. Disappointment, relief, humour and fury: He seems to have aced expressing every emotion on screen by getting into the character’s skin. Murtasim Khan’s journey from being a domineering old-fashioned man to the world’s best husband and then back to being the jilted, angsty and heartbroken lover, has sailed spectacularly well on the shoulders of Wahaj, who has transferred everything Murtasim is supposed to feel, with or without words, directly into the heart of all his viewers. Time and again, the viewers get to know Murtasim’s state before he even turns or speaks to the camera, because the broad shoulders droop, the smile in the eyes disappears, and the cheerful frame gets broody just when the story demands it.
The central theme of the script, which is the passion and love he feels towards his wife, who fights hard against reciprocating it, gives Wahaj a wonderful opportunity to showcase his emotiveness. The eyes that communicate absolute adoration, acceptance, forgiveness and love during their marriage, turn cold and blank when Murtasim gives up on her. The subtle undercurrent that separates the happy days from the intense days leading to separation plays mostly through an emotive silence that makes this portrayal a class apart. While the show is not without flaws, the sizzling chemistry owing to superlative acting from both leads more than makes up for anything lacking.
It’s always heartwarming to witness the power of sincere art. Wahaj Ali’s love for his art has, in turn, transpired a love that has crossed political borders yet again, uniting people to laud, love and congratulate this “star” for bringing them joy by turning a piece of fantasy into something seemingly tangible, by his realistic portrayal of a fictional man that could otherwise only have been a part of their innermost dreams.
Written by Tulika Dubey