ISLAMABAD: Mikaal Zulfiqar has been there done that. For almost two decades now, the model-turned-actor-turned-producer has ventured into several capacities of the showbiz industry, while 2018 happens to be his year at the cinemas. He surprised the viewers with his short, yet nuanced performance in the recent high-voltage Asim Abbasi drama, Cake and there seems to be no stopping to his silver screen advents since.
Zulfiqar forays into mainstream local cinema with a romantic-comedy, Na Band Na Baraati, alongside three major releases such as 7 Din Mohabbat In, Wajood and Azaadi. Yet, he seems unfazed and rather sanguine with the much-hyped cinema screens and box office struggles. Days before the release of the film, he talked to The Express Tribune about his take on the Pakistani celluloid.
While the film’s backed up with a strong music album comprising tracks by Shafqat Amanat Ali and Aima Baig, the Mehmood Akhtar directorial has been shot entirely in Canada. “Shooting in a foreign county is naturally a new territory for you to step into, but things should be challenging otherwise it can get too comfortable for your own good,” he says, while speaking of his experience filming in the City of Dreams.
Attempting at taking local cinema to a global level with Na Band Na Baraati, the Sang-e-Mar Mar actor discusses what audiences can expect from his latest offering.
Express Tribune (ET): Your first Pakistani film as its lead, ‘Na Band Na Baraati’ is set to release after a turbulent making. How does it feel?
Mikaal Zulfiqar (MZ): I’ve been waiting for about two years for Na Band Na Baraati to come out. Unfortunately, the producer’s (and second lead, Shayan Khan) father had passed away after we completed shooting, so we had to take a couple months off from post-production. It’s a sensitive topic for them of course and the film is in memory of him. Then there was actually another slot last year when we were going to release it, but once you miss it, it’s not really as easy to release a film, so I’m pleased it’s finally coming out.
I’m actually glad it’s coming out on Eid. It’s a much-celebrated occasion and hopefully with the kind of storyline it has, I’m hoping it’ll do well. We’ve received a great response throughout the promotions. We’ve interacted with a lot of people, trying to get the message across and I see a lot of anticipation for its release.
ET: ‘Na Band Na Baraati’ joined the Eid race very recently, set to battle with three other local releases. What do you think made the makers opt for an already busy date?
MZ: I think the decision on the (initial) two-week’ ban on Indian films was really tempting, considering how the focus would remain on Pakistani films. Also, the distributors had another film, Parwaaz Hai Junoon, that was supposed to release over Eid but it was pushed back, so they were keen on utilising the slot they already had. You know it’s kind of worked in our favor and time will tell what the outcome is. We’re confident about our product even in the face of the other films.
ET: The leads apart from yourself, Shayan and Nayab Khan, are debutants from outside of Pakistan. How well do you think the audiences would react to their presence?
MZ: Well there’s Ali Kazmi with me in it, he has a major role and we have a couple of veterans including Atiqa Odho, Qavi Khan, Azra Mohyeddin and Akhtar in prominent characters as well. But yes, most of them are Canadians, Americans and we also have a Russian-Pakistani, and I’m a British-Pakistani (laughs). So, we have a very different, international flavour altogether. Although they’re newcomers, they’ve all done well I feel and it’s nice to see fresh faces. The film itself is so very technically strong since it’s all been done abroad. It looks really good.
ET: You’ve extensively worked across the border in films like Akshay Kumar’s ‘Baby’ and ‘U R My Jaan’. Having now seen the inside of local cinema, how do you draw parallels?
MZ: I don’t understand why we’re in this constant battle of comparing ourselves with India. We have our own industry and there’s no reason for us to copy them. They’re obviously much larger, they’re technically and even conceptually very strong. Pakistan’s industry is on the rise for sure, we all know that, however, I don’t think we should put ourselves under that competitive pressure right now. We should give Bollywood its due credit. They’ve come a long way, but we’re not there yet.
If at all, the only thing you can really compare on is talent. I think we have nicer looking people (laughs). Not to put Bollywood down but our actors are fantastic; very sensitive, not over-actors, not to put Bollywood down. In terms of size and other aspects of film-making, we’re still growing and it’s too early to make that comparison, but like I said, we’re getting there, for sure.
ET: In an interview earlier, you had said doing ‘Na Band Na Baraati’ was your way to support foreign investment in local cinema. Now that the film’s complete and ready for release, what do you think the future is for international financing?
MZ: I still do feel very strongly about that and it was predominately why I signed up for it. The future depends heavily on how Na Band Na Baraati performs; people have their eyes set on it. It’s big news that the film’s actually being dubbed in English as well for the American audience. I’m trying to get my part done, but there is certainly a version that caters to them as well and it’s hysterical. It would be slated for sometime after the July 6 but if it’s able to do well, it would definitely encourage more of foreign investment.
ET: You’ve also said that you took up ‘Na Band Na Baraati’ after having waited for the ‘perfect film’ with the right cast and crew. Now that you look back, do you agree?
MZ: In the hindsight now, I don’t think there’s anything such as the ‘perfect film’. The perfect film’s James Bond and that’s not happening; not for a first film. I remember when I was first offered the film, it had a new cast and not a lot of known faces were a part of it and so naturally, I was slightly skeptical. But then the story was nice, it was funny and it had its moments that I wanted to do and I’m happy with what I’ve done. I think I’m very content with my TV dramas. I have four films, possibly within the space of a year – Cake, Na Band Na Baraati, Sherdil and Kamran Shahid’s untitled film.
I think there’re lots of different flavours in each one of them. I’m very proud of Cake, it was just a cameo and it wasn’t a huge box office hit but a great critically acclaimed film and that I think can be even better. Shahid’s film is a political-intense-romance, while Sherdil is just Sherdil, an ace pilot who’s a cool dude. It’s all there; I’m not Salman Khan, I won’t do the same roles over and over, so I like the diversity I’ve gotten. I hope there’s more comedy though, I’ve enjoyed dabbling into it.
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