Instep: Is it true you’ve been shot at by the Taliban, and keeping that in mind, what is your go-to outfit when you’re shooting?
Mobeen Azhar: It is true I was shot by the Taliban and during a night raid in Karachi when I was working with the police, for a program called Frontline for PBS in the States and Panorama in the UK. It was a program called The Taliban Hunters.
To be fair, the Taliban just kind of shot in the general direction of the police who I was working with. I’m not sure they were shooting at, you know, me personally, but they missed and no one was hurt.
When I’m filming, it depends on what I’m doing. So for the night raid, I wore a bulletproof vest which was probably the most important piece of clothing in that context. Generally, I have been told to wear clothes that are not distracting so I try to live by that rule. My hair is quite distracting because it’s huge, I have a very large quiff. So I have to steer clear of wearing clothes that are too ridiculous. So off-camera, I often wear ridiculous clothes.
On-camera, I try to pick fairly neutral clothes. I like white a lot and I like black a lot. And just the fit is kind of more important than anything else because that’s the only way I can kind of really express myself in clothing on-camera. But I still wear some silly things sometimes.
So recently I wore a Ralph Lauren denim jacket with kind of South American patterns all over it and I got lots of messages on social media asking where it was from. I wore a sweater with little cartoon fox heads all over it. I always get messages asking where I get these clothes from, but I try to make this stuff kind of not too distracting.
Instep: Which designers would you wear: To a first date/ A job interview/ Undercover as a law enforcer gone rogue/ At your wedding/ On the red carpet?
Mobeen: So designers, this is an interesting question because I – and this might not be what you want to hear – I really have an issue with the culture of designers. Even when I have designer clothing, I know some people might want to punch me in the head for saying this, I cut the labels out.
I would never wear anything with a recognizable designer logo. I just don’t like it, and I do have designer clothes, but it tends to be vintage-bought and I cut the labels out. I just don’t like the idea of wearing things with someone else’s name on it; I’d prefer my name to be on it!
At my wedding, I actually wore clothes that were tailored in Karachi. Whenever I’m in Karachi, I buy a bunch of clothes. I had stuff dyed, I had it embroidered, had it tailored, and it wasn’t a particular label and I was very happy with it.
Similarly, on the red carpet at the BAFTAs, I wore a black sherwani that I think was from a tailor called Alam, in Zainab Market, which most people might think is ridiculous, but I wore it on the red carpet at the BAFTAs. I won the BAFTA, and everyone like the outfit. So there you go.
Instep: How do you make sure you’re healthy and fit enough to work as strenuously as you do?
Mobeen: I do yoga, may be twice a week and I got to the gym maybe three times a week in addition to that. So a bad week would be if I’m too, too busy, the gym twice and yoga once. I try to do something every day. The other thing I like to do is walk and that’s kind of more for my own sanity And my mental health, than anything else. I like to walk, I like to drink a lot of tea. I like to look out of the window, I live in an apartment in London, which is very high up. So, out of the window, you can see The London Eye and the Gherkin and the Shard and all that kind of stuff. So, if I’m ever stressed, which I am often, I like to spend time looking at the window, which is very good for my health.
Instep: What would you say you’re trying to achieve with the work that you do, given how diverse the topics are?
Mobeen: I think a lot of my work is kind of unified by this idea of starting a conversation or fueling a conversation that has a kind of semblance of shifting morality, that where are we morally? Where do we stand with this? If someone is being scammed out of money, for example - there’s a series [I did] last year about an Instagram scammer and it was really looking at the shifting movement in how we judge morality and what is moral, and what is good. And, how we love the online world, is essentially full of s**t. And how duping people and creating a world online, which isn’t real has a manifest effect and how it’s not good thing. And so I think that contributed to this question about the internet and how we use it.
Similarly, more recently, I did a project called Predator: The Secret Scandal of J-pop which was about Johnny Kitagawa, a media mogul in Tokyo Japan who was a pedophile, and that started a massive discussion, which is kind of raging at the moment within Japanese culture, about politeness in Japanese society and how that can stop wrongdoing being called out. So, I think all my projects, certainly, the projects that I’m proudest of have contributed to this discussion or fueled the discussion about how we change, and how we adapt to the world we’re living in. Yeah, so they’re kind of moral and ethical questions.
Instep: If you were a slogan t-shirt, what would it say?
Mobeen: I have two very stupid slogan t-shirts. They’re so stupid. So one is a kind of neon pink T-shirt, And it has the words ‘I only wear black’ on it, which is obviously completely stupid but I just like it. The other I got for my birthday a few years ago and it has a big picture of my own face on it. And underneath it, it has the word ‘Missing’.
Which is so stupid, I know, because obviously I’m not missing because I’m wearing the t-shirt and I wear both of those things fairly regularly (thank you, Lily) and I think they’re both stupid. So the kind of slogan t-shirts that I like are stupid. That is the word.
Instep: List your works we must watch listen to or read to get a feel of your style and genre.
Mobeen: Okay, so I wo-uld say, listen to the podcast called Hometown: A Killing. It’s about drugs and the Pakistani community in Yorkshire which is where I grew up. This is a quintessentially Mobeen Azhar story that I’m personally invested in. It’s also just mad and It raises lots of moral and ethical questions. So that’s one, I would also watch Scamland, a five-part series on IPlay in the UK. I think all these things are end up on YouTube, so you can probably get this on YouTube. It’s kind of a true crime series, and it’s quintessentially me because I like chasing down baddies and holding them to account.
In the next few weeks a doc is coming out called We Need To Talk About Kanye. That’s the working title and it’s the story of Kanye West’s politics. I think it’s quintessentially me because you might look at that and think, oh, it’s just a simple celebrity story but it’s really not. It’s the story of American politics in 2016 and beyond and how that’s manifested in the life of a pop star with huge influence.
You should also read Prince: Stories From The Purple Underground, because I’m a Prince-obsessive, and it’s a good book.
– Mobeen Azhar was
talking to Amina Baig
A lot of my work is unified by this idea of starting a
conversation or fueling a conversation that has a kind of
semblance of shifting morality, that where are we morally? Where do we stand with this? So, I think all my projects,
certainly, the projects that I'm proudest of have contributed to this discussion or fueled the discussion about how we change, and how we adapt to the world we’re living in.
Mobeen Azhar chooses to cut out labels from his vintage designer clothes, wear a sherwani tailored in Karachi's Zainab Market to the BAFTAs, and throw the moral issues that go unnoticed because of culture at large into high relief.