Pakistani actors featuring in Indian films has become a norm now, but Mikaal Zulfiqar worked in a collaborative Pakistan-India film when this concept was relatively unknown. The Godfather inspired film provided him an opportunity to star alongside Arbaaz Khan and Preity Zinta at an early stage of his acting spree. Following this, he worked on an English Bollywood film Shoot on Sight alongside veteran actors Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri. “I was very lucky and I wanted to pursue a career in Bollywood, but at the time when my career was building in Bollywood the 2008 Mumbai bombings happened and visas were not being issued,” says Zulfiqar.
While Ali Zafar’s consistency in Bollywood is unquestionable, he still hasn’t acquired the recognition that Indian actors get there. “There is a very nationalistic approach to Bollywood and it is hard for Pakistanis to make that kind of a mark there,” he adds. “While it has become easier for artistes to take their talent across the border, there will always be a divide. What sets us apart there is our proficiency in Urdu — it is our plus point.”
Mikaal feels that India is professional; however, a divide will always exist between the talents of both the countries. “It’s great that we take our talent out there but it is important that we don’t forget our own country and stop working here. That is one thing I do not agree with. You cannot put all your eggs in one basket, because the moment things get a little tough politically, our career also gets affected,” say Zulfiqar.
As the conversation steers towards Pakistani plays, Zulfiqar’s presence on local airways has been quite significant. “Our plays are our strength and while, on the whole, we lack writers who can proficiently write humour, we do have some great playwrights. Most Pakistani dramas, however, revolve around very simplistic themes of violation against women, sad tales of married women and their problems with the in-laws,” says the actor. “There isn’t much one can do as an actor but this is what the channels want. The channels are not willing to experiment, which is a major issue.”
With the ratings of Pakistani dramas on Indian channel Zindagi still really high, one wonders about the permanency of this boom. “It’s fantastic. Even though they are taking reruns right now, there is great potential for expansion on that front. There have been rumours that a local TV channel will be launching in India and that will open up many avenues for Pakistani media,” adds Zulfiqar.
Thank heavens that Pakistani actors are gradually gaining the stardom and respect that they deserve. Where acting and performing arts have gained worldwide recognition, Pakistan has just embarked on its journey of treating this profession differently. The Pakistani media boom of the early 2000s has produced exceptional performers, such as model turned actor Zulfiqar, who opens up with The Express Tribune about his journey so far.
When stylist Nabila discovered Zulfiqar at the age of 18 and convinced him to model, he had no idea what was in store for him. “When I started this profession, it was more for fun than anything else, but within a year into it things really picked up,” he says.
Being the only child living with his father in Lahore while his siblings were away, Zulfiqar worked his charm in a few feature films with India and innumerable shows in Pakistan. His association with Ufone in the last five years has contributed immensely to his popularity. “It is a very fickle industry and so you need to be very hands on with the way you work,” he continues. “Since I started working at such a young age, I missed out on college life, but my career has been very rewarding so I have never felt like I missed out on anything.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 18th, 2014.