Singer-actor Ali Zafar on not wanting to become the Number One star in Bollywood, bridging the Indo-Pak divide with Total Siyappa.
When you first heard the script of Total Siyappa, what drew you to it?
I instantly loved it. The film is a remake of a Spanish-Argentine film called Only Human, in which the boy is Palestinian and the girl is Israeli. (Filmmaker) Neeraj Pandey told me that they would only develop the script if I’m on board because they saw the film only with me. The film looks like a light-hearted comedy but it also examines the equation that people of India and Pakistan share. That is the scenario of the film. And in a sense that is the siyappa (chaos) that exists. It has been tackled in a feel-good manner, which has not been done before. Also, the discrimination that my character faces is somewhere reflective of this perception we have about each other due to the lack of interaction and cultural exchange between our countries. This perception largely exists in the older generation. The new generation wants to make peace and that is what the film talks about.
Did you ever chat with the scriptwriter and producer, Neeraj Pandey, about the kind of dialogues for the film?
Of course. I would not want to say something controversial that would offend people back home. They are very important to me. Not even (Shahid) Afridi because if you will see the dialogue in the context of the film you will understand there is nothing offensive being said about him.
As an outsider, you have made a mark in Bollywood in a short time. Who advises you about script selection and the kind of roles to play?
I’m just going by instincts. But I like stories that are not conventional, subjects that are challenging and are somewhere thought provoking. I have nothing against entertainment and commercial cinema, but I’m more attracted to subjects that are deeper and edgier. For instance, when I was making my acting debut in Bollywood, I had a choice of doing a romcom or a musical film, but I chose Tere Bin Laden because it allowed me a chance to surprise myself. Total Siyappa is comedy with a cause. It is not just a mad, senseless comedy. I do bounce off ideas with friends in the industry. When I came to Mumbai, I did not know anyone. Even back in Pakistan — my parents being professors — I did not know anyone. So I had to make my own way.
Aren’t you afraid of being typecast in Pakistani characters? How similar are you in real life to the characters you portray?
I’m doing a film called Kill Dill where I play a guy from Kanpur. It’s an action-drama. I don’t want to be typecast, I want to be known as a versatile continued…