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Rag To Riches: Viral Photo Changes The Life Of A Tea Maker

Arshad Khan

Arshad Khan

As of 2016, Arshad Khan was but a simple “chaiwala” (tea maker) in Pakistan but thanks to a single photo captured at the right moment, his life was transformed.

The tea maker who plied his trade on the streets of Islamabad looked into a stranger’s camera at exactly the right moment and that photo catapulted him to stardom.

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The tea maker whose family has been in the tea making business in Islamabad for almost 30 years had only joined the family trade a few months before luck shone on him.

He was spotted by professional photographer Javeria Ali in September of 2016. Just as Ali was about to take a photo of Arshad, he looked into Ali’s camera at just the right moment. His striking blue eyes were caught on camera and hours after the photo was shared on Twitter, it went viral.

Everyone wanted to know who the young and handsome chaiwala is. The hashtag #ChaiWala started trending on Twitter and companies wanted him to promote their products.

He was only 17 at the time and soon after he went viral, he appeared as a model for a Pakistani clothing brand. That was only the beginning, websites and newspapers scurried Islamabad’s bazaar for him.

Before 2016 was over, Arshad Khan had been on all the major variety shows in Pakistan, he had done several modelling gigs.

Although chaiwalas have been a part of Pakistani culture for centuries, in the fall of 2016 the term became synonymous with Arshad Khan. It was as if he was the one and only chaiwala.

“I didn’t know that my looks were out of the ordinary,” Arshad said in 2016. “I think all Pashtun people are good-looking, so I didn’t think of myself as being special. My older brother says he is much more handsome than me.”

The young star even appeared in the music video of famous Pakistani singer Muskan Jay, where he got a bit too close to the female artist.

That didn’t sit too well with his conservative family and after declaring himself overwhelmed by all the attention, the famous chaiwala took a break from life in the limelight.

With his sudden disappearance from the spotlight came rumors that his family had forbidden him from working in the entertainment industry, but in 2017 his new manager, Kazim Hasan, explained that things were a bit complicated. His family had indeed been upset about certain aspects of his new-found fame, but he had also been overwhelmed by all the attention, and his former managers hadn’t had his best interests in mind…

Arshad’s 18th birthday in 2017 marked his return, and although it didn’t have the same impact as his discovery, it proved that he was still in demand. He started doing modelling gigs again, became the face Pehchan Mall, a popular shopping destination in Islamabad, and in 2018 he started shooting a TV and internet series called Chaiwala & Friends, which also stars Ali Fateh, Malik Aqeel and TV host and actor Mariam Salman.

In September 2019 the handsome chaiwala appeared on a TV show to announce that despite having a modelling and acting career, he had returned to making chai again and planned to open his own cafe. In the meantime, he is keeping busy on social media, especially Instagram.

Arshad’s story is not very different from that of Rita Gaviola the street beggar who became an internationally recognised celebrity thanks to a photo as well.

Like Arshad, Rita’s story began in 2016 when she was spotted by Filipino photographer Topher Quinto Burgos, who happened to be attending the Pahiyas Festival in Lucban, in May 2016.

Attracted by her natural beauty, Burgos posted some of the teenager’s photos on the internet and her life was completely changed.

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