Ali Zafar on Music, Movies & Marriage
Interview by By Anuradha Choudhary
It’s lunch time. He’s tucking into Penne Arabiata and sipping green tea with lemon and honey. The room at the suburban hotel where he’s put up looks lived in. The actor looks extremely comfortable in his surroundings. Just as he looks in front of the camera. There’s a sense of peace around him. He could be sitting on the edge of a mountain cliff and I doubt if his calm would be disturbed. Sitting at the dining table, he looks as if he belongs here. This is the aura he carries to the movies.
Three years ago Ali Zafar was an unknown element. Today, he’s a household name in India. Some say he’s Pakistan’s most famous export to India. He hasn’t made a misstep since he sidled up on screen with Tere Bin Laden three years ago. He may be a beginner but he’s fast entrenching himself on the showbiz terra firma.
London Paris New York (LPNY) has ratcheted his career up another notch. Okay, so the movie didn’t do too well. But it did well enough for Ali Zafar. He insists there’s a huge populace that loved the film. If the messages he received on Twitter are anything to go by. He smiles, “It was heartwarming when people appreciated the film, my performance and my music. It was an experimental film. It was risky to make a film with only two people.”
But the risk seems to have paid off. LPNY did phenomenally well in Pakistan, he claims. It ran for four solid weeks there. The actor is buoyant at the turn of events, naturally. He seems to have tasted blood with his modest success. For now he wants to go commercial with a vengeance. “That’s the way to go,” he says. “I want to do different kinds of movies. I believe in the commercial aspect of cinema.”
Well, you can’t get more commercial than David Dhawan. His next film Chashme Buddoor, a remake of Sai Paranjpe’s 1983 classic is being directed by none other than David Dhawan himself. He’s just back from Mauritius after completing a schedule of the movie and he can’t stop grinning at the experience. He’s had the time of his life especially since he took his family along with him. “A mini vacation,” is how he describes his experience on the beach island. This is the first time he’s working with an experienced director like David Dhawan and he can’t stop singing his praises. “David Dhawan is a gem of a person. He’s sweet, fun and entertaining. I really enjoy working with him. And it’s easy working with him because he’s so experienced. Having said that, I’ve been lucky to have worked with first time directors who are so good at the craft. But again, there’s no substitute to experience.”
The actor, who has just finished dubbing for the film, is well aware of the downside of touching a classic. He’s seen the original and tells you at the outset that the newer version is so much different from the original. And there was no question about copying Farookh Sheikh’s style. Says he, “Farookh Sheikh is a class part. There was no way I could have done what he’s done. So, I didn’t take that route at all. I’ve given the character my own style and treatment. The film has been changed keeping the modern times in mind. It’s definitely more fun but at the same time we’ve kept the soul of the original intact. We’ve retained its earthiness.”
The actor who’s also a singer, composer, painter seems to be minted with a special lustre. He started out by painting portraits in a 5 star lobby in Pakistan. His good looks caught the eye of girls who’d come to get their portraits done just so that they could chat him up. He smiles at the memory. Soon he hit the music scene with his compositions. As a singer-composer, he hit the charts regularly. He composed the music of LPNY. As we talk about his music he says some of his songs became popular even before his movies released. He discusses his love for music with giddy excitement. “In a day and age where music albums don’t make the cut, my song Jhoom zoomed to popularity heights. It had 15 lakh hits on YouTube. That’s no mean achievement.” He says he’s been welcomed warmly by the Indian music maestros. There’s no bad blood, or competitive spirit. “I’ve sung with Shankar Ehsaan Loy. And then I composed music for LPNY. Now, in Chashme Buddoor, I’m singing with Sajid-Wajid. Everyone’s treated me well. I’m a singing actor. I don’t need a separate career as a singer. So there’s no question about competition. Bollywood gives me a good chance in music.”
There were talks that Katrina Kaif, who became friends with him on the sets of Mere Brother Ki Dulhan would feature in one of his music albums. He avers that Katrina is a good friend. But somehow he shies away from asking her to appear in his music video. “I won’t ask her to do it. If she feels like doing it, I’ll be happy,” he says shyly.
Clearly, he’s learnt the showbiz natter. He’s learnt to weigh his word before speaking. I pull his leg and he denies that he’s diplomatic. But yes there has to be temperance of some sort. “I don’t fake things. Let’s just say I filter out a few truths which people don’t need to know,” he smiles. Our conversation then swings to his homeland Pakistan. That he’s the first Pakistani to actually make it here in India hasn’t escaped him. But it doesn’t surprise him. “I think the time was ripe for me,” he points out.
Back home his success on Indian ground is a matter of pride for the people. He gives that trademark lopsided smile, “They like the way I have conducted my career out here. They only have good things to say about me. People have been accepting of my success here. Somehow my success here has given hope to many more there. Someone was telling me the other day how some artistes back home were discussing how I have broken a myth that a Pakistani can’t make it big in Bollywood. They were saying that if one works with good intentions, there’s room for everyone. Bollywood as an industry is huge. It needs more faces, more talents.”
Train the floodlight on his personal life and he cringes. His friendship with co-star Aditi Rao Hydari has been under the scanner. He chuckles at that. “You’re the first person I’m hearing this from. You should just spend some time with Aditi and me and then you’ll get a clear picture. She’s a nice girl but she’s just a professional friend.” Not again. The ‘we’re friends’ bit is seriously being over done. He shrugs his shoulder, “What can I say? When two people work together, they get linked. It’s a professional hazard.” Then he says seriously, “I’m a married man with a child. I can’t afford to have affairs. I believe in constants. I know my family is the biggest constant in my life. If in future, I don’t do well and I’m no longer famous, I know my family is going to be there for me. I’m scared to lose them. It will be really stupid to have any affair.”
He’s married to his childhood sweetheart Ayesha. And he says she trusts him completely. Quiz him about the kissing scene in LPNY and he says his wife has no issues with it. “I had discussed the scene with her. So she knew. But I didn’t actually kiss Aditi. A body double was used.” The actor says he isn’t comfortable doing intimate scenes on the screen.