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I thought PSL was a great way of promoting Teefa In Trouble, says Ali Zafar

As Teefa is set to release on July 20, Ali Zafar tells us what else to expect from him in the coming year
Updated Apr 07, 2018 12:23pm


Ali Zafar has been flying his way into crowded stadiums. He’s been singing, dancing, winning awards and by night, suiting up and attending a plethora of parties, dinners and weddings. Needless to say, it was difficult coordinating with him for an interview.

This also meant that when I did finally get to meet Ali, during one of his frequent trips to Karachi, there was so much to talk about. The conversation often moved, of course, towards Teefa In Trouble (Teefa), his upcoming movie, slotted for a summer release. He also had much to say about the recently culminated Pakistan International Film Festival (PIFF), the latest in Bollywood and his long tryst with Coke Studio.

There may also be a big surprise afoot concerning the coveted position of a judge in the second Pepsi Battle Of The Bands – something that Ali smilingly refused to comment on although the smile itself was entirely revealing!

From his career graph to his relationship with his peers to a surprising penchant for spiritualism, here’s a candid look at Ali Zafar, the man, the artiste, the philosopher…

Images: Let’s start off with your recent stunt at the PSL opening ceremony where you flew into the stadium from a great height. What prompted you to try out something so risky?

Ali Zafar: I actually didn’t realise the height from which I would be flying into the stadium until I got to Dubai. They made me sign a contract that said that they would not be held responsible if anything happened to me. I just decided to go ahead with it because I like to do things differently.

There are a lot of stunts in Teefa and I have done most of them myself. I trained for three months before shooting the movie, bringing in instructors from abroad.

While we will also be going the usual route in promoting the movie, I thought this would be a great way of getting people’s attention. The PSL is a huge platform, watched by Pakistanis all over the world. And the stunt did reflect on the kind of action people will be seeing in the movie.

Ali Zafar's PSL performance in Dubai was a hint at what to expect from Teefa In Trouble
Ali Zafar's PSL performance in Dubai was a hint at what to expect from Teefa In Trouble

Images: Considering the amount of effort you’ve apparently put into the movie, are you worried about how it will fare at the box office?

Ali: Of course I am. The whole team has worked very hard and the focus groups that have seen it so far have come back with positive comments. It’s an action-packed movie with a lot of humour and a strong, intelligent plot backing it up. Maya Ali is great as the female lead and I have complete faith in my director Ahsan Rahim.

At my own end, I have worked hard on the screenplay, the music, the production, every aspect of it. While I was working in India, I read about 150 scripts. I ended up signing on to seven movies out of which three were successful, three weren’t and one met a lukewarm response.

I actually learnt a lot about what audiences liked from the movies that didn’t work and I applied all this knowledge while writing Teefa. Also, my director Ahsan Rahim has snipped it down to two and a half hours so that it doesn’t drag.

Images: You’re also playing the male lead. Perhaps it is your extreme involvement in Teefa that has lead to people conjecturing that the movie will be far too focused on you with all other characters being given nominal screen time?

Ali: No, I have made sure that it isn’t self-indulgent because that would be bad for the movie. It’s why I opted not to direct. There have been so many times when I have asked Ahsan to cut my scenes when I felt that they were unnecessary.

Images: You’ve poured so much effort into Teefa and yet, you are opting to release it on July 20 rather than the more lucrative Eid season. Why did you choose to take such a risk with your first cinematic venture?

Ali: We had originally been considering releasing Teefa on Bakra Eid but then two other major movies, Jawani Phir Nahin Ani 2 and Load Wedding, also announced their release dates for the same time. I told Humayun that I wouldn’t slot Teefa for the same time and I like to keep my word.

Even on Eid-ul-Fitr, movies like Saat Din Mohabbat In and Parwaz-e-Junoon will be releasing. Also, mainstream commercial Bollywood and Hollywood movies are targeted for the same dates.

I thought that it would be prudent to select a date which wasn’t as crowded and besides, I don’t like to be in conflict with anyone.

Ali Zafar as the titular Teefa
Ali Zafar as the titular Teefa

Images: Yes, you’re diplomatic to the core. Even on Twitter, a social media platform often used by celebrities for airing out criticism, you have always maintained a positive stance. Don’t you ever get angry?

Ali: I do but in that case, I’d rather just call the person that I am angry with rather than create controversy via social media. Water can be used for cleansing someone and it can also be used to drown a person. Like everything else, social media has its pros and cons. It can be used for promoting a person’s work and sending out positive messages or it can be misused for negative propaganda.

Why do we all have to be part of a moral brigade? Why does a filmmaker have to pass judgement on others’ films? Why can’t every person be allowed to do what he or she wants to do, make an action film, a comedy, a drama, put in an item song, whatever they please?

I feel that I can try my best at making my own projects a success but I don’t have the authority to critique others. Rumi said, “Yesterday I was clever and I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise and I will change myself.”

Images: That’s very philosophical of you. Do you truly always stay in this zen state, doing your own thing and not bothered with others?

Ali: I try to be like this. If I focus on what others are doing or saying against me, how will I work? There is no point in constantly attacking each other because for one, there is plenty of work for everyone to go around and secondly, eventually we all have to die. Will we be taking back this negativity with us or will we take back memories and the love of our families and friends?

Images: And will you remain as relaxed if Teefa gets attacked by critics? Of late, filmmakers have been complaining about how local critics hurt a film's box office prospects by bashing a movie after its premiere...

Ali: I hope that that doesn’t happen. We need to have more checks and balances with regards to movie reviews. I once asked one of India’s most major film critics, Taran Adarsh, how they went about reviewing movies. He told me that if a movie was good, they released the review prior to its release, encouraging people to go and see it. If it was bad, they released the review after the movie had had its first few days in cinemas. We need to be ethical with our reviews also.

True to his word, Ali Zafar has timed Teefa's release such that it doesn't — Photo: Abdullah Harris
True to his word, Ali Zafar has timed Teefa's release such that it doesn't — Photo: Abdullah Harris

Images: You worked in India for several years and returned quite some time before the ban on Pakistani artistes was implemented. If you were to return to India now, would you feel scared?

Ali: I remember feeling anxious when I made my first trip to India back in 2004. It was when my album Huqa Pani had released and I wondered how I would be treated in India. But they gave me a lot of respect. I haven’t been there for a long time now so I don’t know how I would feel about it but the cordiality I share with Bollywood continues to this date.

At the recent PIFF, I met Subhash Kapoor, the director of Jolly LLB. We had last met five years ago in India when he had pitched a movie to me that I didn’t end up doing. He told me that it had been his dream to meet me in Pakistan. It was a good feeling to be standing in my own country, hosting major Bollywood personalities in a well-organised film festival. All the antagonism between India and Pakistan is primarily political.

Images: Do you think that PIFF was a step towards reestablishing relations between Pakistan’s film fraternity and Bollywood?

Ali: It was a step in the right direction but it will take many such small steps to bring things back to what they were. And even then, one single move could tarnish Pak-India relations once again. It’s a very sensitive situation and it will take a lot of effort to change the narrative between the two countries.

Images: But you actually think that it’s possible for the narrative to eventually change?

Ali: I think so. You look at countries like North Korea and South Korea and East Germany and West Germany and how they were perpetually in conflict and you thought that things would never get resolved between them. But eventually, things do get better because governments realise that all the energy and investment wasted on war can be used for more productive gains should there be peace. It may take a long time for the same realisation to hit India and Pakistan but one day it will.

Images: Your ties with India continue to remain strong and you were recently invited to the relaunch event of Flimfare Middle East in Dubai. Why didn’t you go?

Ali: I would have perhaps gone had PIFF not have been taking place at the same time. It’s important now that we work our own platforms and make them stronger. When I was back in India, I remember often thinking why we didn’t make similar all-out entertainers in Pakistan. Then, I decided that I didn’t need to wait for anyone to make such a movie and I would just make it myself. I take pride in working towards building Pakistan’s film industry and have enjoyed working on a project that I believe in without having to worry about political climates.

There may also be a big surprise afoot concerning the coveted position of a judge in the second Pepsi Battle Of The Bands – something that Ali smilingly refused to comment on although the smile itself was entirely revealing!

The PIFF was a very good effort. It was an event that took place for the first time, focused on the betterment of our industry and I felt that I needed to give it precedence over other events.

Images: Moving on, will we be seeing you in Coke Studio this year?

Ali: No…

Images: But you’re an absolute Coke Studio veteran! You sang ‘Allah Hu’ in the very first season back when Rohail Hyatt was helming the show and have been part of it ever since, with ‘Rockstar’ and ‘Julie’ becoming big hits in the last two seasons being directed by Strings. Who, amongst the two directors, did you like better?

Ali: Rohail and Strings were completely different in their treatment of the show. Rohail was a free soul, he let you do your own thing and then eventually put it all together. With Strings, there was a greater focus on formatting the show, the song structure and the arrangements. The tonality was completely different in both cases. And now, I think Ali Hamza can possibly inject new energy into Coke Studio.

Images: And yet you’re not part of it…

Ali: Not this time. And till Teefa releases, my attention is primarily be directed towards it. It’s probably the most expensive movie to have been created in Pakistani cinema to date with a budget of about $1.5 million. For a boy who started off creating art sketches at Rs500 apiece, I think that to produce a movie that ambitious is an achievement in itself.