Until a few days ago, 18-year-old Arshad Khan was just another face in the crowded Itwar Bazaar, or Sunday market, in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, where he manned a tea stall. Since then, he has turned into a social media sensation. And that was just the start of his odyssey.
A blue-eyed tea-seller from Islamabad has scored a modelling contract after featuring in an Instagram post that went viral.
Even more unlikely, the 18-year-old’s picture topped trending lists across Indian social media, warming an icy patch between the neighbours that has included calls for Pakistani actors to be banned from the Indian film industry.
Photographer Jiah Ali snapped the chai-wallah at a bazaar in the Pakistani capital on Sunday. Her Instagram post spread to Twitter and Facebook and kicked off a search for the name of the vendor.
He was identified on Tuesday as Arshad Khan, a teenager from Kohat district, who had been making tea at the Itwar Bazaar for three months.
Khan told the Dawn newspaper his first inkling of the scale of his fame was when he spotted local boys with flyers depicting his face. He was also mobbed by media outlets clamouring for an interview.
He told local media he was flattered by the attention but, ever the professional, said he preferred people not to shoot his picture while he worked.
On Wednesday a savvy online retailer, Fitin.Pk, seized on Khan’s sudden fame tosign him up to model a range of its clothes.
His picture – and posts swooning over it – were shared worldwide across social media, including in India, where ire towards the Pakistani government is running high after militants in Kashmir killed 19 Indian troops last month.
India has blamed Pakistan for harbouring the militants, a charge Islamabad denies. The tension has spilled over into Bollywood, with rightwing Hindu groups threatening to disrupt the debut of an upcoming romantic comedy starring the Pakistani actor Fawad Khan.
A Mumbai-based union for actors and film technicians has also banned any production houses in the city from employing Pakistani staff, and called for any who remained in the country to be deported.
Arshad Khan has reportedly said he would be willing to make the jump into film or television. The union may want to consider making an exception.