Ali Zafar and the art of charming a neighbouring country
Pakistani superstar Ali Zafar boasts an incredibly vociferous following amongst the youth of India, at least that’s the indication from his presentation at India Today’s Mind Rocks Youth Summit.
The handsome and talented young man presented a self-deprecating and humble exposition of his road to success and the decisions he took which shaped his life. The dreams of so many of today’s youth are to find fame and success so they had no trouble adopting his story as goal.
Zafar began by tracing his roots as the son of two very accomplished teachers. His mother was a Fulbright scholar and his father was an eminent director at a reputed institution. This didn’t mean he had it easy, though. “We could only eat ice-cream maybe once or twice a month,” he stated matter of factly. But they imbued in him a sense of respect and appreciation for art and education which has held throughout his life.
When he turned 16, he said he learned that girls like boys who can sing, so he decided to learn to sing. He joined a music society in college which had a run-down harmonium on which he took his first steps in finding a tune. While sheepishly calling his early efforts as completely cacophonic, he was shouted down by a gaggle of screaming girls who swore it could not be true.
When he turned 18, he began his first job as a 30-minute sketch artist at a five-star hotel. On his first day, he met three beautiful foreigners who let him draw their portraits and made a big amount. By the first month, he had made Rs 25,000, a huge amount, which he invested in a Yamaha keyboard. He then spent between 3 and 4 years working on his first song, trying to get producers and directors to listen to his song and sign him to a label. He described those as the toughest years of his life.
But when that song Channo released on Eid, it was as if overnight success had arrived. He started getting constant requests to perform at weddings and everyone wanting to know how much he would charge. He didn’t know what to charge, so he played it by ear making enough for his next song. The next song catapulted him onto concert stages and he could start making a decent living by performing. The success delivered on the promise of his abilities and was reward for his effort and patience.
But then, after completing two albums, he recalled a performance in Norway. In front of a jostling crowd of 50,000, he found himself bored, repetitive and unable to fathom why he had been doing this in the first place. That’s when he decided to challenge himself again. He had always prioritised fulfilling his dreams over making money so he could manage the pressure that was thrust upon to turn him into either a romantic hero or a singing star. That’s when Tere Bin Laden came into his life.
It wasn’t just the fight against a preconceived image, but also the beliefs of his countrymen that no one in India would be interested in a Pakistani star for their country. He decided to focus his attention on doing a sincere job, to challenge himself in a field he knew nothing about, and let fate take its own path. The success of Tere Bin Laden made his countrymen ask him again about how he was being treated in India.
Zafar made the most of the opportunity of speaking to India’s future to illustrate that a peaceful path forward could only be walked if we can all balance the weight of our past while looking straight into what we have ahead of us. Forgiveness and understanding will lead us ahead together.
The well-spoken singer and actor completed his presentation with a beautiful deflection of a good question. Asked how much his good looks had contributed to the advancement of his success he replied, “As much as this microphone contributed to the advancement of your question.”