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Making the right creative moves



IT IS a cold afternoon in London and Ali Zafar is sitting in a secluded corner of a five-star Mayfair hotel planning his next creative moves.
With his first studio album in nine years, multiple film projects and live tour dates scheduled, this will be one of the few breaks he gets this year.

The multi-talented star hasn’t been defeated by challenges and plans to do more despite having an impressive career that has won him fans globally.

When Eastern Eye caught up with the softly spoken superstar for afternoon tea, he was friendly, down to earth and answered questions with genuine passion about his forthcoming plans. He also spoke fondly about his talented brother Danyal Zafar, fans, inspirations and more.


You have achieved a lot, but creatively what is your greatest career motivation today?
For any creative person, the greatest motivation is to always create something that is avant-garde, new and not done before, and to also satisfy your own creative hunger and thirst. For me, it is always about challenging myself into new arenas and realms nobody else, including myself, has done before. I want to make movies nationally and internationally. So it’s to be a part of the international cinema and music scene, alongside giving movies and music to my own country.

What is the priority, film or music?
It has always been difficult for me to compartmentalise both and pick just one. Now with my studio Lightingale Productions, we have opened up a record label. I also want to mentor and launch newcomers because there is a lot of talent in Pakistan. So with Lightingale Productions, we are producing more movies and also more music in Pakistan.

I guess the main complaint people have with you is that you don’t do enough music?
(Laughs) Yes, I take my time. I have been trending on Twitter for the last three days for not doing the new PSL song, but I am going to be coming back with a new album after nine years. Jhoom was the last one and after that all my music has been for my movies. I scored for Teefa In Trouble and those songs became huge hits. But now, I will be coming up with an album after a long time. It will be a Sufi album because there are things I have experienced that I want to share with the world.

For me, you are at your best producing music. When you are creating a song, is there is a set process that you follow?
There is no set process, Asjad. Sometimes, a melody will come with the lyrics, other times a melody comes first and I will finalise the lyrics later. Other times, the poetry comes first, and I would compose a melody. Sometimes, there is a beat or a groove that plays and a melody will come on. Whether it is (my songs) Jhoom, Rock Star, Masti Ke Din or a Sufi song like Yar Dadhi Ishq, for me it is about expressing yourself and your feelings through music, in whatever genre. The process is similar, except when you sing something spiritual, where there is a certain space you have to get into to write, compose and sing it.

What is the secret of the fact Pakistan produces so many world-class singers?
It is strangely pleasant. Look at the land and the troubles it has gone through, the censorships and bans, political conditions and everything. I think for some reason that is what brings the angst and the vigour in the youth. Also, they want to express themselves and when that comes out, it does so with force and resonates in a louder manner.
What is dominating your own musical playlist right now?
I am listening to Coldplay’s new album, Everyday Life, and I am listening to this new band I have discovered called Tender.

Would you comment on your incredibly talented brother Danyal Zafar, who has made a great entry into music?
I was reading a comment on Twitter, where someone said it was some of the best music to come out of Pakistan. I think once his album is out, people will be blown away. I was blown away when I heard the album. It is an international album for a global audience. And just the way he has put it together is fantastic.

I had written in my newspaper column that I think Danyal will outdo you. What do you think?
That is what I have said and believed in! Ever since he has started playing music, I have always said he is more talented than I am musically. He is 15 years younger than me, and I gave him my iPod back then with Pink Floyd and all these surreal alternative bands. So, he has grown up listening to those sounds. His songwriting and production is very mature.

How do you look back on the remarkable journey of your hit film Teefa In Trouble?
I think Teefa In Trouble will always be like a sort of miracle in my life, especially how that movie came about. I mean I had never written a film before and never produced anything. It was my first Pakistani film, the first of its kind in terms of action and money that went into it. I financed it myself because I didn’t want to put anyone else’s money at stake. Despite all the adversity it faced, it broke records and did so well, I couldn’t have asked for anything better, which is why I want to keep on making more movies for Pakistan.

Why are you waiting so long to do the next film?
By nature, I just can’t get into a project unless it really appeals to me, and I have not come across something like that before. If I have to create something for myself then I need time. Teefa In Trouble took about one to two years, so if I have to create the movie then I need that time.

You have done Bollywood and Lollywood. Is Hollywood on the radar?
I would love to represent my country and be a voice for our people in international forums because I don’t think the east has a voice. I was having this conversation with Matthew McConaughey after a ceremony in Dubai – he is a very humble and kind man. What he said really struck me, which was, ‘you guys don’t really have a voice that is heard over here and you need to have that voice’. So, I would love to work internationally and change the image and perception of Pakistan.

What about web serials?
I think that is the new thing and I wouldn’t mind working for something like Netflix if a good series comes my way.

Today, what inspires you?
Life in general has always inspired me. You learn a lot more from hardships than the ease, and it just makes you stronger. What inspires me today is to be able to manifest all the thoughts and dreams I have had about me and life, and to achieve them. To make the best out of this world and life.

What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Just don’t think about who is saying what or doing what, just focus on your own work. Quietly and silently, just keep doing the best that you can.

How much do your fans mean to you?
They mean the world to me. I am who I am because of my fans. The kind of love they shower on me and my work is just amazing. It is growing and has been there for almost two decades. I think the best of me is still to come.

You are a hero to the younger generation. What advice would you give them?
There are no short cuts to success. You see a lot of youngsters on social media, trying out different things to have a following on the virtual world. That is nothing. Just be in the real world, doing real stuff – real activism, real humanitarian work on the ground. You don’t need validation online. Be creative, read books and write, rather than writing social media posts and reading them online. That will give you the depth and grounding you need in order to live a more satisfied, content and evolved life.

You have mastered so many things, is there something you want to master?
I would love to master the art of Kung Fu. Also, deep breathing and meditation techniques, especially the Wim Hof method of breathing; climbing mountains without losing your breath, being underwater longer and being in the cold without feeling cold.

Finally, what is your idea of happiness?
Family, friends, human relationships and just being real with yourself.