Whenever a Pakistani entertainer makes it to an international industry, we feel immensely proud. Whether it’s the news of Atif Aslam singing songs for Hollywood production Man Push Cart or reports of Shafqat Amanat Ali extending his classical vocals for a Bollywood film they all bring forth a lot of positive recognition for the nation. However, there is no celebrity who Pakistanis are more proud of than the prodigal singer and actor Ali Zafar.
After a successful singing career in Pakistan, he stepped into Bollywood with a lead role in Tere Bin Laden, a performance which was lauded by critics. Zafar followed it up with a role in Mere Brother Ki Dulhan. However, while the actor was sharing screen time with Katrina Kaif, he still required another Bollywood leading man Imran Khan to make the frame look picture-perfect.
Although there’s been plenty of attention and buzz about the star, it seems that Zafar is still searching for the right place in Bollywood. This is best demonstrated by the trailer of his latest venture London, Paris, New York (LPNY) which looks good on the screen but really isn’t the holy grail of all acting gigs. Directed by Anu Menon, produced by Shrishti Arya and Goldie Behl, the production stars Zafar with actor Aditi Rao Hydari.
LPNY’s story is centered on Lalitha and Nikhil. Lalitha is a middle class south Indian girl from Chembur (a Mumbai suburb) who is on her way to New York to study politics with a full scholarship and Nikhil is a rich Punjabi kid from Bandra (a posh Mumbai suburb) who is headed for London to study film-making. From the trailer, the film has the makings of an average romantic comedy, something similar to the Kareena Kapoor and Imran Khan starrer Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu.
Although Zafar doesn’t look out of place, the important question to ask is if these are the kinds of films and roles which should form the benchmark for Zafar’s success. Certainly not! Playing the standard chocolate hero might be a dream com true for typical Bollywood newcomers but this shouldn’t be the end-all for someone as gifted as him.
Even Zafar’s latest film, David Dhawan’s remake of the 1981 classic Chashme Buddoor, is once again a romantic film where he plays a comic role. It’s important for the talented actor to break free from the standard mould as the days of being a chocolate hero are over. The audience is maturing with every film and so should Zafar.
Considered one of the best looking men in Bollywood and extremely gifted in own right, Zafar has all it takes to rule Bollywood. But he continues to bank on his good looks and star quality instead of displaying versatility and depth in his roles.
If the star integrates his singing and acting talents, he can become a dual threat in Bollywood. The last person to perfectly pull this combination off was Kishore Kumar, whose voice bears a resemblance to Zafar.
The problem also lies with directors across the border who have failed to capitalise on his talent by typecasting him in certain kinds of roles only. If Zafar gets the right mentorship and direction from directors like Vishal Bhardwaj, we may see a drastic change in his positioning. Currently, there are rumours of him considering signing on to a Hollywood project. We hope that this new project will focus on another side of Zafar and captilise on the star’s versatility and adaptability.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 18th, 2012.