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Hot Stuff: Pakistan's Tea-Selling Hunk Brews Up A Movie Career

  • Frud Bezhan

"My mother often used to tell me that one day you will become a famous man,” Arshad Khan told The National in late October.

Had he read his tea leaves, Arshad Khan could not have foreseen the drastic turn his life would take in 2016.

The teenager entered the year manning a tea stall at a market in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. Today, he is still affectionately known as Chaiwala, or Tea Seller, but he has evolved into one of the country's most recognizable personalities and a budding film star.

He shot to fame in October when a freelance photographer, Jiah Ali, snapped the blue-eyed Khan serving tea. She posted the photo on Instagram with a caption reading "hot-tea" and signed off with a wink. Within hours, Khan was an instant Internet sensation.

Within four days, he held a sponsorship contract with a major online retailer. Leading brands showered him with modeling offers. His burgeoning career led to appearances in two music videos and on the catwalk of a bridal show featuring some of Pakistan's top models.

Now 18, Khan was ranked among "Asia's sexiest men" by a British newspaper and is set to embark on a film career.

"Khan has signed a film and shooting will start in January," his media manager Malik Faheem announced on December 29. The film is expected to hit cinemas in September, in time for Eid al-Adha, the Islamic holiday celebrated at the end of the hajj.

Faheem said Khan will head to Dubai in January to begin shooting the film, which will also take the phenom to London.

The movie -- Kabeer -- is about a man from humble beginnings who takes on a life of crime but redeems himself to become good again. Khan plays a prominent role as the hero's younger brother.

Khan's foray into the film industry is somewhat surprising, considering his conservative Pashtun background and his earlier rejection of the idea.

"It is not honorable work. Pashtuns always look for work that is honorable," he told Pakistan's Express Tribune in October. "If I can find some clean, honorable work, I will certainly do it."

In November, Khan appeared in a rap video titled Chaiwala. The song charts the teenager's journey to stardom and how his good looks and blue eyes made him popular with girls:

His prospects looked bleak before his discovery.

The illiterate Khan moved from his native city of Mardan, near the Afghan border, years ago. He first sold fruit, vegetables, and used clothes at a flea market in the capital.

He went on to join the ranks of Islamabad's ubiquitous tea sellers, manning a stall in Itwar Bazaar for four months. A typical day, working from early morning to sunset, earned him about $4.

Khan has said he never went to school because he needed to financially support his large family. Khan is one of 17 siblings.

"My mother often used to tell me that one day you will become a famous man,” Khan told The National in late October. "I always thought it was a wish and nothing else. But now I feel it is due to my mother's prayers that I have become a model from a tea seller."

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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan covers Afghanistan and the broader South Asia and Middle East region. Send story tips to bezhanf@rferl.org

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