Just when his career started to pick up steam, he made the decision to move halfway across the world. That hardly stopped him though, as Ali Kazmi continued to act in both countries —as the son of veteran actors Rahat and Sahira Kazmi in Pakistan and as the struggling actor who moved to Canada. He speaks to The Express Tribune about building a career from scratch away from home.
Kazmi is currently shooting for the television prequel of The Taken trilogy by Liam Neeson. “It was a coveted role to bag. I returned from working on Dobara Phir Se and sent my tapes and they loved it. The director, Alex Graves has previously worked on The Newsroom, West Wing and Game of Thrones. For him to choose me for the role was a big deal.”
However, his new beginning in Canada was not as full of glitz and glamour as it may seem now. “Honestly, going from being a chocolate hero to nothing at all is a big blow especially because I hadn’t auditioned in a decade,” says Kazmi. But, he was determined to make a career in acting soon after he joined the Toronto Film School. Even after graduation, he did his share of commercials and finally got his break in Canadian TV with The Border in 2009.
Following that, a stage play called The Indian Wants the Bronx truly changed his life. Produced by an Indian theatre company, the lead role of Gupta that Kazmi essayed was originally done by Al Pacino. “He is one of my favourites and so I made my way to the auditions. They had no idea where I had come from because brown actors have a small pool and are known to each other. I gave the audition but they told me that they were looking for an older person so I left.” Few days into the auditions, Kazmi received a call that he was chosen for the role. “Luckily, they called a week later and told me that they looked through the tapes and I was the best. I dyed my hair white, did a particular walk for the older character I was playing. The first three days were lukewarm, then reviews came and finally we got a full house.”
Kazmi recollects, “I got a call from the person, who is now my agent, asking if I have one and I said ‘We Pakistani actors don’t have agents’ and he said well now you do.” That was the outset of a prolific career and thereafter Kazmi continued working in Canada for six years until Mehreen Jabbar’s Jackson Heights came up. “I wanted to solidify my status in Canada before acting in Pakistan again because I didn’t want people to think I’ve come back because I gave up on finding work there.”
Comparing Pakistan’s film industry with that of Canada and even Bollywood and Hollywood Kazmi explains, “The process is the same, so is the talent. The only difference is the efficiency with which things are done.” At the same time he feels it’s not fair to draw comparisons because our industry is much smaller. “The best part is that because we’re almost starting from scratch we have a leeway to do so many different things. Bollywood has been categorised and is known to release certain kinds of films. Even though they are now doing indie films, they still have to do what they are best known for.”
Of late Kazmi has worked on a number of films that are running at festival circuits and are being released online. “The last film I did was Deepa Mehta’s Beeba Boys which has been released all over Canada but I am still trying to get it distributed in Pakistan.” He also worked on Punjabi rom-com Sardarji directed by Rohit Jugraj. Speaking about it, he shares “I’d never done a Punjabi film let alone an Indian Punjabi film but it became the number one film in Punjab.”
He also starred in the lead role of a Canadian short film titled Coffee at Laundromat, which has been selected for the Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner. “I really liked the topic of identity and human rights for immigrants in countries like Canada.” Kazmi has also done a voiceover for The Breadwinner, an animated film being co-produced by Angelina Jolie. “It’s based on a book about a little girl in Afghanistan who needs to dress up as a boy to provide for her family.” The film is set for a 2017 release. “I am also starring in Sedare, Pakistan’s first sci-fi flick, along with Canadian actor Robbin Dunne, Juggan Kazim, Salman Shahid, Aamir Qureshi and Deepak Perwani. My favourite part of the film is that it’s completely set in Karachi,” he says.
Kazmi recently shot for Mehreen Jabbar’s Dobara Phir Se also set to release later this year .“You don’t say no to Mehreen,” he laughs adding that he was on board immediately after she offered him the role. With the exception of Adeel Hussain who Kazmi had worked with in Jackson Heights, it was an entirely new cast. “It was like we had known each other all our lives. That is the magic that Mehreen creates as the captain of the ship.” He is also in talks with Azaan Sami Khan to star his next feature film.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 8th, 2016.