Ali Zafar fine tunes himself for Bollywood

The singer/actor talks biases against cross-border talent

Pakistani singer-actor Ali Zafar is hopeful that A-lister Katrina Kaif would soon shake a hip in one of his pop videos.

"We have a bet you see. If the numbers of "Mere Brother Ki Dulhan" (box office receipts)  exceed a certain mark, then Katrina is honour bound to star in one of my songs," quipped Zafar.

The lady in question looked on and giggled on cue, confirming the news with a coy smile.

For Zafar, a once virtually unknown name in the Bollywood circles up until a few years ago, the celeb is now seeing his name shining up in the limelight alongside the likes of Kaif and signing on films with prestigious production houses such as Yash Raj Films.

Yet, for Zafar, who was in Abu Dhabi yesterday to walk the red carpet for the world premiere of his film "Mere Brother Ki Dulhan" (currently playing in UAE cinemas) alongside Kaif and co-star Imran Khan, the spotlight seemed a perfectly comfortable setup, considering his celeb status in Pakistan has seen him rule the popularity charts as a national heartthrob.

But quiz the talented artist and he claims he isn't looking to earn brownie points in the sex appeal department in Bollywood, but rather a chance to sign on some meaty films and prove his talent as a performer to reckon with.

"My three idols have been Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Kishore Kumar. Here were three powerhouses, who not only excelled as singers but also carved a niche for themselves as talented actors. If I can match even a patch of that, my work is done here," he confessed.

Few know that the star actually graduated as a painter but turned to music and acting in the corresponding years.

"I'm a creative person at the end of the day and I pursue avenues that allow me to satisfy those juices," he said. "First it was painting, then came my music and finally, acting with "Tere Bin Ladin".

"But the buck doesn't stop there. You always have to challenge yourself and conquer the next milestone, so in this instance my next film, "London Paris New York", I am not only acting and singing but also composing the music and writing some of the songs."

The film in question sees Zafar experiment once again with a band a of relative newcomers in the industry, which few would risk at this precocious stage in the career, but the Pakistani powerhouse refuses to see this as a negative career path.

"I did "Tere Bin Ladin" a few years ago with virtual unknowns and the film became a cult hit," he stated. "Following that success, I was inundated with offers, having to sift through 60 to 70 scripts in a few short months.

"Some were prestigious banners, some virtual unknowns. But ultimately, I only picked up a handful of scripts that appealed to my sensibility.

"The thing is, in India there is a lot of untapped talent and hundreds holding a script that is worthy of a film. My rule is simple: if you can get me to read beyond the first few pages of the script and manage to hook me in then I am willing to discuss a film with you."

Having said that, it surely wouldn't be easy for a Pakistani to break into the Indian film industry, what with three wars and prejudices that have defined both nations.

In fact, recent history has also revealed with talented artists such as Ustaad Rahaat Fateh Ali Khan, Ustaad Ghulam Ali, Adnan Sami and Atif Aslam, all of whom having gone on record saying that biases against Pakistanis does exist in the Indian entertainment industry, despite all four of them having found success there.

"I don't disagree that prejudices are still very much a part of the mindset, both in India and in Paksitan," said Zafar. "I'm sure all four of them have seen this up close and personal, but such biases are held by just a few close-minded people.

"I've thus so far been lucky in this aspect; but who knows what the future holds."

He added: "I am here to do a job, and agreed that being a Pakistani in India comes with its own sense of responsibility, but I am willing to rise to the challenge because ultimately, it's not your nationality that defines your talent."

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