Ali Zafar speaks to Instep about 2018 and his take on the growth of Pakistani cinema.
Musician, actor and filmmaker, Ali Zafar, marked his entrance into the local film scene in 2018 - after having worked in several Bollywood films.
Teefa in Trouble, a romantic comedy - with elements of high-voltage action, shot across Lahore and Warsaw, Poland - narrated the journey of a small-time crook assigned to kidnap a girl before she’s married, only to fall deeply in love with her.
Commercially, the film scored big at the box office, earning over 40 crore rupees and becoming the highest grossing non-holiday Pakistani film release to do so.
However, before the release, musician, singer and songwriter Meesha Shafi called him out for sexual misconduct. Zafar denied all allegations and filed a counter suit for defamation against Meesha Shafi. In the meantime, his film released and still managed to make money. On the other hand, several protestors demanded the film be stopped from screening and gathered at the premieres, in Lahore and Karachi.
As the New Year began, Ali Zafar sat down with Instep, before getting onstage - after a while.
Addressing the elephant in the room, the interview began with the question of apprehensions and whether Zafar had any on releasing his film at a time when he had been accused of sexual impropriety.
“No, as I keep saying, when you feel hampered or nervous is when you’re guilty of something. When you know the truth and why all this is being done, your resolve gets stronger; to fight it and face it. And, in time show people the truth. I think such things reveal themselves and people are not stupid. They understand by and large, eventually,” he told Instep.
When asked about the protests, Ali added, “I just felt a little bad for the other actors that starred in the film, and especially the director (Ahsan Rahim) and his family. If all of it was restricted to me, I would’ve been okay but when Ahsan’s family was coming up at the Karachi premiere and his kids had to hear all of that, it really made my resolve strong - to not let go of this easily because it’s not something, which is humane on any level.”
Did he expect the film to still receive an overwhelming response under such circumstances?
“I do keep my expectations higher so you can at least meet half way somewhere,” he said. “But the goals are that once you give yourself a target and in a manner achieve it, by which I mean, when people validate your creative product with their love, that is the ultimate form of success. An artist creates from his own capability, but it’s when the audience accepts it, that’s when it becomes something more; it gives you that feeling of satisfaction and success.”
Going forward, Ali Zafar’s pursuit now is to make quality cinema. From once dreaming of performing to a live audience that recognized him to being a film star and working in Bollywood for about half a decade (before a ban was placed on Pakistani talent), he now has his eyes set on contributing to the cause of the domestic film industry and give back, which is why he set up his very own banner, Lightingale Productions. He has begun scripting his next project alongside Teefa in Trouble director Ahsan Rahim.
“The production house was founded to produce movies, so we’re doing just that, hoping to make good cinema. We’re happy that it started with Teefa in Trouble and the idea is to carry it forward, in the best possible manner,” he maintained. “Keep giving people of Pakistan and people all over the world great entertainment. With cinema, the beauty is that it covers a wide range, so people can’t really complain that I’m not doing music. Teefa allowed me to compose and sing on the soundtrack as well. So it gives me margin to cover everything I love.”
As an influential voice in cinema now, commercially, Zafar noted that the way forward is to empower writers and be able to appreciate creative minds. “It’s all a part of evolution and the good thing is that everybody is making films. We’ll all make mistakes, but the process has started, which will nurture talent and creativity. And when there will be greater demand, we’ll have the right people. For now, I do see a misbalance. We don’t have too many creative minds, especially writers. That’s where it all starts and I don’t think we’re able to understand their importance.”
Zafar had originally announced his debut as a producer with a feature called Deosai but he admitted he doesn’t plan on revisiting the project now. The Tere Bin Laden actor said that in the process of entertaining viewers, he has plans to weave scripts on substantial and meaningful takeaway(s) like how the value of earning respect took centre stage in Teefa in Trouble.