We all know him as an experimental actor and a spunky singer. But there is a lot more to the man than just these two labels added to his name. The sheer range of work that he has been involved in and his ‘let’s give it a shot’ attitude, makes him more of a venturer than anything else. Whether it is exploring opportunities to set new benchmarks for his immense artistic talents and passion or whether it is exploring places, old and new, Ali likes living his life to create memories… for others and for him to cherish.
Born in Lahore, Pakistan, Ali spent most of his growing up years there before moving to Mumbai with dreams of shining bright in B-town. Ask him of his favourite corner in Lahore and Ali’s answer is Old City or The Walled City. Apart from the interesting history hidden in those chipped and crumbling walls that still burble with stories, Ali enjoys the charm and the vibe of the place and most of all “the authentic Pakistani food”. One invariably falls in love with the city where one lives the most, but this is not the only reason why Ali adores Lahore. Apart from being home, Lahore is also where Ali met the love of his life. Ali initially worked as a scratch artist in Pearl Continental Hotel in Lahore where, one day, twin fates conspired and so a meeting transpired where he met Ayesha Fazli who is now his wife. And so he admits, “Lahore is a magical city.”
Ali Zafar is quite a city boy. But the artist in him often calls out to be enveloped by the mountains or lose himself with his thoughts in the valleys. And that’s why his special and most memorable experience of a vacation has been Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan. “The Nothern Areas or Gilgit-Baltistan are just stunning”, he reminisced. “It’s like you’ve stepped into some other country or perhaps another world.” When asked to describe the place and his experience, it was as if the poet in him took over. With a distant look, he explained, “It is so beautiful that the very first glimpse can leave you speechless for a while. I felt like a small drop of water in that ocean of beauty around me.” And well, the beauty and romance of the place blossomed even more as Ali had Ayesha with him. “Quite unlike a city, the place was very peaceful. It was an awesome vacation with my wife. We were like two peas in a pod”, he said with a smile.
After a short stint as an artist, Ali ventured into singing and his debut album created euphoria in Pakistan. That’s when he first tasted popularity. And there has been no looking back ever since. Soon after becoming a musical sensation, Ali ventured into cinema which opened new doors for him in India. “With Tere Bin Laden, I landed up in Mumbai.” And how did he find this city of dreams? “Oh! It’s a very happening place”, he chimed almost exuberating the energy that the city transmits. “It has an exciting environment.” Although India and Pakistan are culturally very similar, Ali pointed out some differences in the lifestyle. “India is very fast paced. There is a sense of urgency in the metropolitan cities where it’s very evident that everyone is eager to get their work done and then move on to the next task. Karachi is somewhat like this, but, you see, I’m from Punjab and we like to work at a relaxed pace”, he shrugged, laughed and then added in the same breath, “But there is no lack of ambition in the people.” With Ali himself being an example who has carved a niche internationally, we wouldn’t disagree with that! After stepping in India, it did not take him long to settle in. It wasn’t an alien dwelling for him because he didn’t find the two countries and the people very different. “Actually, it was surprisingly similar; which, actually, should not be surprising because we were one nation for hundreds of years. Now we are just divided by a line on the map”, he said. And is the present generation of India and Pakistan very similar too? I asked. “Oh yes! In both the countries, the youngsters are equally loud. That’s how the present generation is, I guess. They want to be heard and they are not afraid to stand up for what they believe in. “And then, almost with admiration added, “That’s a great thing though.”
For Ali, India is his work place which keeps him confined to Mumbai or perhaps the places where he travels for his shoots. From the places he has visited, Ajmer Sharif happens to be his favourite. “Everyone must visit Ajmer Sharif. I had gone there with my wife and it’s one of the most wonderful spiritual places in the world.” Coming to the world map, London, Paris and New York are Ali’s favourite destinations. Is it because it’s also your film, I questioned. “No! Really!” he said and smiled. “I have very nice memories of these places. And here’s the list for you if you’d like to trail along Ali’s favourite haunts in these cities. “Avenue des Champs-Elysees in Paris (one of the most expensive strips of land in the world) is where I’d love to hang out. It’s a place for both, those who want to let their hair down and those who’d like to breathe in a little bit of history. In London, has to be Bond Street and the Rooftop Ava Lounge in The Dream Hotel in New York is just amazing.”
After Old City’s mouth-watering Mughlai delicacies like Taka Tak Chops and Jhinga Kadhai, the place where Ali suggested one to grab a platter is The Shake Shack in Madison Square Park in New York. “The food is just a delight for your palate. And if you’re a true foodie, Broadway is one place you can’t miss.”
For someone whose soul is soaked in music, we had to know the places he would visit to sing and dance all night. “Well, Lahore is a small city and may not be as vibrant as Mumbai, but has quite a few places to enjoy the nightlife. The entire commercial sector of Gulberg, The Mall and The Defence Market are pretty alive at night.” Ali did not specifically look forward to spending the hours after sunset at some particular pubs or clubs. “I enjoyed my time with my friends and family and liked it wherever I’d spend time with them. That was my nightlife.”
As we wrapped up the conversation, a notion that took root in my mind was that Ali was a wee bit different from the roles he plays onscreen. His traveller’s tales included sweet memories with his wife and family and not the crazy boisterous banter. But well, it’s Ali. He couldn’t have signed off without sprinkling in a bit of the quirky with the cute. So when asked what’s it that a visitor to Pakistan must be wary of? “Umm… Stray dogs!” he chuckled and waved and winked his goodbyes.