Ali Zafar has been called a number of things over the years — talented singer, versatile actor, noted humanitarian, with several colourful descriptions latching on following a terrorist attack on a army camp in Uri, India in 2016. The incident resulted in the death of 18 soldiers, and the banning of Pakistani artists in India in the immediate fallout.
A year has passed since tensions escalated, but far from licking his wounds, Zafar’s forced retreat from a lucrative Bollywood career only saw his focus turn elsewhere. Pakistan’s organic creative arts scene was seeing the dawn of a new renaissance and Zafar was there riding the wave.
Speaking to Gulf News tabloid! ahead of his MTV Unplugged concert in Dubai on October 27, where he would share the stage with Bollywood actor-singer Ayushmann Khurrana, Zafar spoke about his vision for Pakistan’s creative industries, his work on Coke Studio and why it was important to come to the defence of Mahira Khan.
You’ve just completed another successful run with Coke Studio, which is often cited as the force that single-handedly revived Pakistan’s flagging music industry. Are you of the same opinion?
For sure; it is a game changer for the Pakistani music industry. We’ve had tremendous years in the early 2000s regarding music. But then a lull came and a lot of news channels started to mushroom and the political situation worsened.
We did not have a film industry or a music industry in existence anymore. So this country had no idea what to do or how to showcase their talent. And then Coke Studio came along. I remember in season one when Rohail Hyatt [the brainchild behind the show] and I spoke about this, his initial plan was to simply redo some of my songs and get some of the other artists together to redo their own songs as well.
But then Allah Hu came along in season one, which was a fusion track and it was also the first time I had attempted something like this without any practice. It was totally experimental, and it turned out to be something magical. It was at that moment we felt that something big may just come out from all of this.
Music doesn’t seem to be your only focus these days, does it? We hear your first Pakistani film, Teefa in Trouble, is also in the works.
I wish to play my part in rebuilding the industry, be it music or film. So with this in mind, I ventured out into making my own first feature film, Teefa in Trouble, which we have already shot and completed.
I saw the first cut just a few days ago and I have no words to describe my anxiousness, my fear and the delight. Because I believe is going to be something. I have a strong feeling that it’s going to be a part of something big and lot of people are going to love for a long time.
Do you think this is a golden age of sorts for the creative arts scene in Pakistan today?
There is definitely [a revival of the arts]. There hasn’t been any medium for artistic expression at the level it is meant to be. People have so much angst in them, aside from raw talent, who are itching to do something.
As soon as cinemas starting mushrooming in Pakistan, as soon as opportunities started to be created, people started to give their best into developing this new age. Although the shift is in stages, I think we are on the right path.
In the midst of this, you also felt the need to launch the Ali Zafar Foundation, which aims at fulfilling the health and educational needs of women in Pakistan.
I feel there comes a time when consciousness takes root. I have been thinking about it for a very long time… knowing that I have received more than I could have ever dreamed. I think the least you can do is give back to the people have made you who you are today.
And not just the people but to the universe; leave that mark before you go. The the need of the hour is a shift in human consciousness all over the world because what you see around you today is not very pleasant. We are destroying the planet, our bodies, our minds by spending time over things that shouldn’t matter.
Was this the reasoning that prompted you to come out and defend Mahira Khan after social media trolls slammed her for smoking with Bollywood actor Ranbir Kapoor in New York?
Every day you see people investing so much into negativity and spreading that negative energy just by judging somebody else, talking about somebody behind their back, assuming things.
For so long in this part of the world we have suppressed women in general — especially us men who think that we are superior and women are our slaves. We feel we can do whatever we want them. We own them.
Ultimately, it’s her [Mahira Khan’s] life. I do understand that when being in the limelight one needs to be more careful about various things. But at the end of the day we are all humans. We all make mistakes and we need to be more compassionate and forgiving towards one another.
I don’t think this is something great that I have done. These are just the basics. Our fundamentals and our basics are so wrongly placed that its taking time for us to get back to the right.
Jamming for UAE fans
Singer-actor Ali Zafar spoke about his MTV Unplugged concert on Friday, saying: “I will be performing in Dubai after quite some time now with a great line-up of songs that I have sung over the years from my movies, from Coke Studio and from my album. We will have some fun on stage. And off stage.”
Speaking about a possible jam session with Bollywood star Ayushmann Khurrana, who will be heading the concert with Zafar, the Pakistani singer said: “That is the plan so far. Once we get to Dubai and get on stage, we will jam together and do something together.
“I’ve known Ayushmann for years. We even hosted an awards show together. He’s extremely talented and humble person to know and work with.”
Fans hoping to catch a glimpse of Zafar’s talented brother Danyal Zafar in Dubai, who is also a singer and bass guitarist, will have to wait a while.
“Danyal is not coming with me this time around. He has a while to go before his career takes off. But the Coke Studio debut was a definitive start,” said the older brother.
Don’t miss it!
MTV India Unplugged presents Ayushmann Khurrana and Ali Zafar live at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, with tickets starting at Dh49. Show starts at 8pm on October 27.