Ali Zafar: Collaborations great for both countries
His production Teefa In Trouble marking an association with Yash Raj Films, Ali Zafar on cultural exchanges between India and Pakistan
Stating that he’s “always in pursuit of wisdom,” Ali Zafar effortlessly quotes the likes of Rumi and Bulleh Shah, whose words have been guiding lights for many. Unshaken after a controversy of sexual harassment involving him shook the Pakistan entertainment industry, Zafar, in an exclusive chat with mid-day, says “Truth shall prevail eventually.”
His first home production, Teefa In Trouble, which released last Friday, marks “a historic partnership” with Yash Raj Films. He discusses what collaborations across the border signify.
Can you tell us how did a collaboration with YashRaj Films come about?
When I was working with Yash Raj Films on their projects, I shared a rapport with Aditya Chopra. We’d often discuss cinema, apart from talking about his works and how he created Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. He’s an inspiring person, and also among the most respected in the industry. So, when I was working on Teefa In Trouble, I told him that I wanted his company to release the film. He was forthcoming. [Once completed], I showed the final cut to YRF’s international team in London. They saw it and said, 'This is going to be the game-changer for Pakistani cinema.' Adi also told me that when he saw Munnabhai MBBS the first time, he said the same thing to Rajkumar Hirani. Indeed, the film did turn out to be a game-changer. That was a compliment for me. He also said, 'YRF is choosy when it comes to film distribution. Besides, we’ve never picked a Pakistani motion picture. But this one is an exception because of you as well as the quality of the film.”
Was it YRF’s plan to showcase Teefa’s trailer in 1,200-odd screens worldwide?
Yes. The film has been released in 25 countries, which is a first for a Pakistani feature. Although our films are regularly screened in cinemas abroad, with Teefa we are exploring new territories like Russia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Fiji, Poland and Indonesia.
What kind of response are you expecting from countries like Russia, where Pakistani entertainment stars might not be well known? Or, are you only targeting the desi diaspora?
Not necessarily. I was in Turkey recently, and happened to show the rushes to natives; they loved it. I was pleasantly surprised by their reaction. So, it’s not just the desi diaspora that we are targeting. We are going to dub or add subtitles to the film so that it is consumable for the non-Urdu and non-Hindi speakers.
Does being a producer, writer and musician on Teefa give you more control over the project?
We were conscious of the fact that we must give every actor his/her due, which is why each character's look had been revealed properly. So, it’s not just about Teefa [Zafar's character]. In fact, if I were to use the word ‘protagonist’ for a character, it would be Billu Butt. Sometimes actors try to make a film about their characters, which is where they go wrong. It often doesn’t work for the film. My philosophy is that jitna dau ge, utna milay ga.
Can you talk about the film’s music, and how similar or distinct it is when compared to your previous work?
The music has been created to suit the film’s varied emotional palette. This was challenging because I was creating music after a long time. Jhoom (2011) was my last album that released in Pakistan. Also, when creating music, it must be noted that the scale of cinema is different from that of a pop album. We tried to make the music sound suitable for the big screen. Also, the songs are catchy. I’m glad that Chan Ve crossed 8 million views on YouTube. I don’t think a Pakistani film track has done this well.
You invited your Kill Dil director Shaad Ali to attend Teefa In Trouble’s music launch in Lahore. Are you in touch with your former colleagues in Bollywood?
Yes, I am. In the film, there’s also a surprise appearance, if I may call it so, by Ranveer Singh.
How was it to work on Dear Zindagi?
I am not sure how many people know this, but my scenes had been shot and we were ready to start promotions when relations between India and Pakistan soured. So, my portions were re-shot with another actor. But, Shah Rukh [Khan] and Gauri [Khan] took stood up for me. I had a great time working with them.
Your last few acting projects in Bollywood didn’t see you play the lead character. What prompted those career choices?
I believe that if you are a good actor, you’ll leave an impact even with one scene. Screen time or solo-hero projects aren’t important. Look at Fawad [Khan] in Kapoor & Sons! He makes his presence felt every time he appears on screen. Aap apni cheez theek kar lo, that should be your aim.
Will you take your association with YRF forward, co-producing films with Indian companies?
I have always maintained that co-productions should happen; they’ll do wonders for both countries. I stand with those who favour peace and collaborations.
Do you think the film fraternity in India is open to the idea?
It has to do with the political climate. Having said that, I believe that there are all kinds of people in the world; some will oppose you, some won’t. You have to see which side you are on. I would like to stand with those who are in favour of love and peace, and collaborations. I’m sure there are many out there on both sides [of the border] who think the same way.
Your brother was supposed to debut in a YashRaj production.
Yes. In fact, his film was about to go on floors. But, it depends on destiny. There is only so much that you can do; you can’t alter God’s plans. Whatever happens, happens for good. That’s the way to deal with it.
You’ve been through the mill in your struggling days and then saw immense success. Lately, again, you faced distress following the sexual harassment claim by Meesha Shafi. How do you look back at your journey?
I look at my life as a cumulative experience of various emotions. It’s about being aware of why you experienced them, and knowing that if you embrace each emotion with grace, then it’s only meant to make you stronger and show you something you’d never otherwise understand. Once you know why it is happening, you have nothing to worry about.
On a serious note, I’d say that I am always in pursuance of wisdom; all I know is that I don’t know everything. Bullah ki jaanan main kaun.
You often share your free verses on social media, where you come across as a sensitive and vulnerable person; somebody who was wronged by those you trusted. How fair is this analysis?
In the words of Rumi, “The wound is where the light enters you.” The world is a reflection of how you are from the inside. My problem is that I can’t judge anyone, because I am constantly reminding myself that the other person is also a product of his/her own environment, upbringing, gene pool etc.
Do you believe people are generally harsher towards men in sexual harassment cases?
Till there is a balance, things remain good. The minute the balance swings one way or the other, nature’s system causes disruption. Unfortunately, instead of doing research, we followed trends and hashtags. We think that if we join in [the voices on social media], we’ll become cool. We shouldn’t see things in binaries.
What are your views on social-media propelled feminist movements like #MeToo?
Everything boils down to intention. The movement has a certain sanctity that must be maintained. People are intelligent enough to understand things. They just need to be given time. Truth does prevail. I have taken the course of law; things shall become clear in time. I just have to be patient.
Do you resent the fact that media starts its own trial?
The media has always done that. Not just in Pakistan, but everywhere in the world. If a case is sub judice, they should ethically not discuss it.
How do you deal with trolls?
If you are a public figure, you should be prepared for trolling. But for somebody like me, it takes a lot. That’s where your inner strength comes into play. You can’t let it pull you down or affect your work, because then the evil wins. As the old sages said, “Forgive them, for they do not know!”
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