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Faiza Samee’s London Sojourn

In all honesty, I’m not very good at making friends. I take a long time to reach a point where I can hang out with someone comfortably and just chat away for hours on end. And that’s why I was a bit surprised at how well and quickly I connected with fashion doyenne Faiza Samee on her recent trip to London: her second home.

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We met for the first time for a quick chat over evening tea in Holland Park shortly after she presented a very well-received collection at the ‘Fashion Parade’ in Kensington Palace, and we soon found ourselves bonding over our mutual love for the arts in the overwhelmingly beautiful corridors of Leighton House. Fast forward a couple of days, and we’re oohing and aahing our way through Victoria & Albert – a museum she’s held a special bond with since she was invited to exhibit her collection there in 1995.
Faiza Samee undoubtedly stands proud at the helm of Pakistan’s fashion industry not just because of seniority and experience, but because of her innate knack for dovetailing tradition with modernity – a skill just as impressive to have as it is essential. She’s also quite meticulous, but more than that, I realise her success as a lacquered fashion designer, businesswoman and mother has much to do with the fact that she is perhaps one of the most grounded people I’ve ever met, and our conversation that ensued proved just that…

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On her 50-odd year love affair with London

“London and I go back a long time. My parents brought us all to visit one summer when I was eight or nine years old. We stayed here for two and a half months and I just fell in love with the place. It’s hard not to. It was a totally different world from the one I had grown up in. Of course the city has changed a lot since then; the people have evolved and the demographics are very different now too. In those days there were hardly any Indians and Pakistanis living here. It would be quite exciting to see someone in the streets. There were very few restaurants selling desi food – now chicken tikka masala and curry is almost like a national dish.
Generally, the people were more much more refined – they would actually make a point to dress up before leaving the house. Women would always be dressed up in proper coats and high heels. Even the men were effortlessly stylish and well-dressed all the time. I remember when we first came here my father actually brought a morning gown to wear over his night suit just to fit in and be appropriately dressed!
One thing I remember distinctly is how when we’d go to a shop to buy candy, the lady on the counter always told us to say thank you. Children had to mind their manners, and I’m so glad I got to experience that as a child.
I got married when I was 16, and moved to Dhaka with my husband who was based there at the time. Shortly after, things in East Pakistan started to get worse and we decided to shift to Karachi. Subsequently, my husband had to come to the UK for some work and I tagged along. We sneaked in a short Euro trip as well. We stayed in London again for a few months. During this time, I did a three month hairdressing diploma from Waterman’s School of Hairdressing to keep myself busy. It was a fun experience; I learned how to cut, curl, perm and colour hair. Since I was married so young I never got a chance to do my graduation, that’s why this course was very important to me. So technically, I also got my education in London!”

On her life in London now

“I think I’ve come back to London almost every year since 1972, sometimes even twice or thrice a year. This is home. It’s a beautiful place to live, relax and unwind. The weather is beautiful all year round. There is so much greenery and parks everywhere, and you can also walk to anywhere you want. Karachi is not a walking city and you get tired of riding around in your car all the time. If nothing else, my husband and I go for walks in the parks here and have tea in cafés – it’s very therapeutic.
I also love visiting all the museums. I suppose I’ve been to almost all museums several times and I’m still not tired of them! I also enjoy going to the West End to watch theatre sometimes. You can never get bored in London, there’s always something or the other happening for everyone. There are so many events and activities specifically for the South Asian community as well.
I also enjoy cooking a lot. I don’t get to do that in Karachi because of work, but I make it a point to cook almost daily while I’m in London. I find cooking to be very refreshing and easy here. You can find almost any ingredient; all you have to do is go to the specific stores. I like cooking desi, Iranian, Thai and Italian food, and I have special stores near my place where I can get all the ingredients I could ever possibly need. My husband also loves fine dining, so we make it a point to dine at Michelin Star restaurants often.
Another thing I love doing here is housekeeping and cleaning. I don’t get to do that in Karachi. I’m very lucky that I live next to Hyde Park. There’s a secret garden in Kensington Palace which is very beautiful and I love going there every chance I get. Close by there’s a rose garden which is also very beautiful and I love spending time there as well.”

On family values and raising children she’s proud of

“So, after spending a few months in London and completing my hairdressing course, we moved back to Karachi. Soon after, my eldest daughter Aisha was born. The next two daughters came one after another – I had three girls in three years!
I’ve always been a very hands-on mum. I never hired a maid to look after the children because I believed in doing everything myself. Now that I look back I’m really glad I made that choice because it makes a huge difference in your and your child’s life. I enjoyed the time I spent with my children very much.
Even though I was very young I firmly believed that if I had brought someone into the world, it was my duty and responsibility to look after them myself. I didn’t want to hand them over to someone who might not share my values and ask them to raise my children for me. Besides, kids grow so fast. To me it still feels like yesterday when they were little kids but now my daughters have their own kids! They’ve all grown up and moved out of the house and have their own lives. You share a special bond with your children if you raise them yourself and spend time with them while they’re growing up. My eldest daughter and I only have a 17 year age gap – we’re like sisters. In fact, we’re all an incredibly close knit family. All four of my children are amazing and they’re doing well for themselves and I couldn’t be prouder of them.”

On her family history and the birth of an unexpected career

“My mother’s father was an Arab who used to trade in pearls, and my mother was from Afghanistan. They lived in Bombay, where my mother was born. Most of the girls in Bombay in those days would learn some kind of craft and since karchop was quite popular back then, my mother decided to train in that. She later taught the art to my sister Huma and I. I can still work on an adda myself and create beautiful karchop designs with my own hands. I can sew and do zardozi work as well.
I’m so glad that my parents forced me to learn the craft. My mother used to say that we should push ourselves to do and learn more; that we should never handicap ourselves from a skill or craft that we have the capacity to learn and master.
I had never planned on becoming a professional fashion designer. I had always had the aesthetics and interest in colours, fabrics and textiles like my mother, but never considered turning it into a profession. When my brother was about to get married, our mother had already passed away. Since I’m a bit of a perfectionist, I wasn’t happy with the kind of work being done on his buri, so I decided to do it all myself. I used my mother’s craftsmen and later also decided to make a private collection for myself, my sister and my daughters. Then one thing led to another and suddenly here I was, designing clothes professionally.”

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On the importance of salvaging old craft and embroidery techniques

“When I started out, most of the traditional craft of embroidery, karchop and zardozi was almost dead. Nobody had been doing this kind of work for almost 10-15 years. There were certain areas where some specific kind of work was being done, but I noticed a severe lack of quality over all. Also, the dedication and skill in craftsmen was dying because they weren’t getting the kind of love and payment they deserved. Craftsmen were unmotivated and upset because they didn’t have work. Some craftsmen had spent their whole lives mastering a particular stitch and now they were out of work. I realized that if I didn’t go all in and make an effort to revive the craft, and if those few remaining craftsmen died without passing on their skill and talent to new workers, then the whole craft would perish forever.
Initially, I’d never thought that I would be able to revive old school embroidery the way I have, but I’m very happy that I have been able to preserve the art to some extent.”

On the dying craft she helped save with the help of dying craftsmen who saved her

“Believe me, when I started the work and put together a work shop, the average age of the craftsmen was 75-80 years old. Hospital trips were a fortnightly thing in my workshop – someone or another was always having a heart attack or a stroke or going into a diabetic shock!
People had written these people off as retired souls. They couldn’t find work anymore, and I became a source of income for them. I believe in giving my workers the respect they deserve, and these people deserved it more than anyone. They were happy to be working again for someone who appreciated their skill and art.
Chacha RafiUllah, who was one of my eldest and dearest craftsmen was almost blind because of diabetes, and yet he would embroider and sew better than anyone else. I remember I had brought a sample of “kursi ki jaali” from somewhere and none of the others could replicate it properly, and Chacha RafiUllah, despite his bad eyesight did it perfectly in one go. When I asked him how he managed, he told me he had spent his lifetime mastering the stitch; that he didn’t need to see it to be able to do it! You can’t find that kind of people anymore. Eventually, I got them to train younger people too, and they all work for me now.”

On India: her biggest market

“Ever since I showed my first a collection in India back in the mid-90s, I’ve had a special bond with the place. It’s one of my biggest markets. I was part of a group of Pakistani fashion designers that were invited to show their collections at a SAARC expo, and believe me; my entire collection was sold out the day I landed – even before the show! A very nice gentleman who later became a good friend named Pran Talwar booked most of the pieces as soon as he saw them. After the show, he sent me a briefcase full of cash as payment just like you see in old Bollywood movies. It was surreal!
I now have an excellent clientele including Ashi Burman of Dabur, Ritu Ansal & Madhu Sood of Intercontinental, Sangeeta of Shriraam Hariraam jewelers to name a few. I’ve built many valuable contacts and clients in India since that first trip.
I think the reason I did so well in India also had to do with the fact that I had designed Benazir Bhutto’s wedding dresses. I remember how the Indians reacted when they found that out: the media kept asking me if I had dressed any famous people in Pakistan, and I casually told them that I had designed Benazir’s wedding dresses, and the press went mad! I was shocked at the reaction because I honestly didn’t think it was that big a deal. For the wedding I was asked to replicate a beautiful white sari from Lady Haroon’s 1930s collection and turn it into a lehnga. She wanted it to sort of look like a dress because of her Iranian origin. If I remember correctly, Benazir was visiting Japan at the time I was in India, and the news of “Benazir’s designer” showing her collection at the SAARC summit even made it to Japanese newspapers!”

On her decision to only sell to, and not buy from India

“I only sell in India; I don’t buy or get anything made from there. It’s a conscious decision. I think Pakistan has so much to offer; we have so much talent in our country and I don’t want to be the one to put our craftsmen at a disadvantage. No doubt it’s an easy way out – you can find readymade material from there which might cost less and people would gladly buy it too, but I don’t think it would be fair to Pakistani craftsmen if I started doing that. I have built a very special workshop and all of my craftsmen are very important to me.”

On not wanting to market her label in the UK and the lack of an ego

“There is a market for my work in the UK as well, but I have decided not to expand and sell here at all. I get offers on an alarmingly regular basis from all kinds of retailers here, but I just don’t want to do it. London is my sanctuary; I come here to get away from work. I don’t want to ruin that by mixing work and pleasure. I even got an offer from Selfridges a few years ago. We had a meeting and they were very keen on me doing samples for them, but were only offering me 30 percent of the retail price. Those sums didn’t work out for me because at the end of the day I am a businesswoman now. I know a lot of designers would have jumped at the offer because Selfridges is a big deal after all, but I just didn’t want to do it. Why sell myself short just so I could sell my clothes at a fancy store in London? It’s not like I have an ego to feed or anything! Allah mian hasn’t blessed me with an ego and I’m thankful for that.
I was also once also asked to “give” clothes to Ronald Raegan’s wife, but I refused to do it unless I was paid first. Dressing the first lady might be high on some designers’ wish lists but not mine. I have a policy: I make beautiful clothes and I sell them to anyone who appreciates and wants to buy them. I know a lot of desingers give away free clothes to journalists and magazine editors but I can’t function like that because I’m not desperate for recognition or publicity; I just can’t give my hard work away for free because it would not be fair to my business.”

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On her latest collection shown at the Fashion Parade at the Orangery in Kensington Palace

“This collection evolved out of the one I did for Amsterdam Fashion Week last year. I unfortunately didn’t get a lot of time to develop it further even though I sold a lot of pieces in India. When this offer to do the Fashion Parade came along, I decided to do it because it would give me a chance to revisit last year’s collection and work on it a little bit more. I made some new pieces for the Fashion Parade of course, but essentially it had the same inspiration as last year’s collection. I even reused some pieces because I wasn’t able to properly finish work because of the turmoil in Karachi before I flew to London. I’m very glad I made the decision to do the show though, it was fun and the collection was generally very well received.”

On baseless criticism and the fashion review irked her to no ends

“I’m not the kind of person who looks for appreciation or validation, whether it’s for my personal life or work. I know I work hard and try hard to do beautiful work and that’s enough for me. That’s why it surprises me when some people try to baselessly criticise me and my work. I was very disappointed by the review Fifi Haroon wrote for The News: it was full of baseless attacks. Apparently, nothing about the show was good enough for her. While international magazines Elle and Vogue India proudly wrote that Anamika Khanna showed her collection at Kensington Palace along with a slew of Pakistani designers, Pakistani journalists, and I’m sorry I have to say this, but true to their nature, couldn’t be happy for us and had to write horrible reviews that didn’t have any basis.
Fifi first rebuffed the venue. According to her, the Orangery is not a part of Kensington Palace. It’s just a regular tea shop where you can get tea and scones for under a tenner. What she doesn’t realise is that the Orangery was made in 1704 and was part of Queen Anne’s residence. It is very much a part of Kensington Palace. If she was trying to be an investigative reporter, she failed miserably.
What really ticked me off though was how she suggested that my designs were “inspired” by Sania Maskatia. Now, I have nothing against Sania and I’m sure she does great work, but I have no idea what Fifi was suggesting because I’ve never seen her work before. I don’t buy magazines and I don’t watch other people’s shows. No one has ever accused me of stealing designs or being inspired by others in my entire life, and that’s why I decided to go on Facebook and get my point across publicly. If you want to do investigative reporting, you should do your homework properly. Instead of suggesting that I was inspired by Sania Maskatia’s last month’s collection, why don’t you complete your research and see if maybe Sania was inspired by the collection I showed in Amsterdam last year? And I wasn’t the only one attacked surprisingly. Every designer who showed a collection was a copycat. Nobody had come to London with anything original.
I got a private message after the Facebook incident but I never replied because I’m really very angry right now. Anybody who knows me knows that I don’t get angry easily, but this episode has really ticked me off. Deep down, she really shook and hurt me by suggesting that I had been inspired by someone else’s collection.”

On how annoyed she gets when fashion journalists try to give lessons in fashion marketing

“Pakistani fashion critics – wait, I wouldn’t call them critics – fashion writers, love lecturing designers on how to market their clothes. Fifi suggested I should sell my clothes at Marks & Spencer. Can you imagine that? Then she says we should show our collections at V&A. Alhamdolillah I’ve been there and done that as well! I held an exhibition at V&A museum for six months followed by a three month exhibit at Royal Museum of Scotland 19 years ago!
She also suggested we should market our clothes like Wardha Saleem does. I mean, seriously? Nobody is asking you to become our business managers. I don’t need you. I for one have no interest in marketing my clothes here, so why should I have to listen to a journalist’s ridiculous ideas?
I was seriously very disappointed by the report in The News and I took the debate to Facebook because I felt this issue needs to be sorted one and for all. We can’t have our own journalists pull us down like this. What’s wrong is wrong, and it needs to change. Indian journalists never talk about venues and petty things like the price of tea and scones while reporting fashion. In fact, they don’t even critique collections. Your main focus should be the collection only – report it like you see it. Our journalists think that because they have a pen and paper and a magazine at their disposal, they can say or do whatever they want and intimidate designers with their power. To be honest, I think it’s a rather stupid way of doing things.
A lot of people have engaged in the conversation on Facebook and they suggest it’s because they have some sort of a complex. Or maybe because they get free clothes from their designer friends so they promote them by criticizing everyone else. In either case, I couldn’t be bothered, really.”

On the direction Pakistani fashion is taking and her business one advice to new designers

“Yes, I’m generally very pleased to see Pakistani fashion doing so well. There is something being made to cater to everybody’s need, and that’s a great sign. Of course everything isn’t to my taste, but that doesn’t matter. I can’t say much about others’ work because I really don’t watch fashion shows or buy magazines.
I think the designers should continue to work hard and show their collections whenever and wherever possible. They shouldn’t be intimidated by fashion journalists and depend on them to make or break them. If your work is good, people will buy it. Designers these days are blessed to have the biggest market at their fingertips. Sell your stuff on your websites, be internet savvy and build an international clientele by going online. People have become very fashion conscious the world over. They spend most of their finances on dressing themselves up. Fashion is a huge industry; people need new clothes to wear all the time so they can post pretty pictures on Facebook and Twitter. Make use of that!”

On the importance of quality and being true to her own work

“Quality is extremely important to me, whether it’s in making my own designs or while shopping. Every piece I create has to be perfect, without even the slightest, otherwise undetectable flaw. If there’s something wrong with a design or piece, I make sure it is corrected as soon as possible. I’ll do it even if I have to unstitch a few days’ worth of embroidery or even discard a whole piece. I can’t be happy with myself if I’m not satisfied with the work I’ve done, and that can only happen if I know that there have been absolutely no compromises on quality. “

On unwinding and the life she’s created for herself

“I think the best way to unwind for me personally is being by myself for a few hours every day. I don’t just enjoy spending time with myself, I actually think it’s essential for me to function properly. My biggest friend and my biggest critic both live inside me. Just being in touch with my inner self is very therapeutic and keeps me grounded. I love drawing, painting and reading during this time. It helps me get away from the mad competition and daily rush of things and just take a step back from it all and appreciate the smaller things in life. I’m very good at multitasking, and also love listening to all kinds of music and cooking like I mentioned earlier.
I’ve also become quite internet savvy, and love spending time online doing research. I’m not a TV person at all, I would much rather travel. I’m a very curious person, and love learning about new things and cultures. Even though I now know it at the back of my hand, I love getting lost in London. I think I’ve built a rather nice lifestyle for myself and I’m very happy. Inner peace has always been very important to me, and I think I’m actually quite blessed because I’ve achieved that!

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Interviews & Profiles

5 minutes with Shanoo Sharma – Bollywood’s casting director extraordinaire

A quick chat with Shanoo Sharma – Mumbai-based casting director at Yash Raj Films. She cast Ali in Mere Brother Ki Dulhan and his next YRF project Kill Dil. Her other prominent finds include Ranvir Singh and Parineeti Chopra.

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As a casting director of one of the most prolific production houses in the world, what makes you say to yourself: I’m going to cast a Pakistani actor for this particular role?

When I cast I don’t think about countries or nationalities, I think about the part which is the most important thing. Ali was commonly liked by everyone, and when I cast him for Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, I felt he suited the part best. When my producer and director agreed, it just made things easier and quicker.

How important a role did Ali’s successful music career in both India and Pakistan play in your decision to sign him for YRF?

It did play an important role as to how he got noticed in India. Everyone say his music videos first… but I think more than his music in those videos, it was his acting and his natural ease in front of the camera that was impressive. It helped that he just happens to be one of the most watchable people I know!

What in your opinion makes Ali Zafar so appealing to the Indian masses?

Well, where do I start? The way he looks, his comic timing, his voice! And his music!

What kind of a future do you predict for Ali in Bollywood?

I am no one to predict but I do think he is around to stay… He’s doing pretty well as it is, I really hope that he has a long, content, fulfilling, acting graph full of work he can look back on and be proud of for years to come.

Will you consciously be looking out for more Pakistani actors to cast in YRF films in the future?

Definitely. Not just Pakistan, I’ll be trying my best to cast the best people from all around the globe!

What is your personal philosophy about giving Pakistani actors a chance in Bollywood?

I don’t really have a philosophy, but all I can say is that I want to try my best to cast as many interesting, talented people as I can. I’ve been asking you to come to Mumbai for years but you just don’t listen! I feel anybody with talent and potential should be allowed to express it.

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Features Interviews & Profiles

Pakistan’s Golden Boy: Ali Zafar

Who doesn’t love Ali Zafar? The man who won Pakistan’s heart over 11 years ago with a song that’s still as catchy as it was the day it came out, and has been playing music with his fans’ heartstring ever since. No success story in Pakistan’s recent entertainment history is as inspiring and well merited as that of Ali’s. Not only has he proved himself to be a truly multi-faceted performer, dabbling in almost all forms of artistic expression from painting and modeling to making music, singing and acting, but he successfully continues to amaze and intrigue with his every move, while effectively maintaining his boyish charm that both men and women on either side of the border can’t seem to get enough of. And Ali’s recent success in Bollywood is a testament to that. From Tere Bin Laden to Mere Brother Ki Dulhan and now Total Siyapaa – the slapstick comedy that’s hugely reminiscent of Meet the Parents and so many other films about dysfunctional families, but brings a very fresh, yet oddly familiar – not to mention totally hilarious – twist to the plot by addressing a very Sub-continental issue that up until now has almost been a bit of a taboo to allude, let alone laugh about. Sure, it may still be a while before Ali’s able to prove his prowess at serious acting, but if his vocal chops and overall artistic caliber is anything to go by, we’re willing to bet it won’t be long before this golden boy from Pakistan finds his true worth in India and beyond.

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How would you describe your journey from Channo to Total Siyapaa?

It has been an absolutely amazing journey! From my first film up till now, I have gotten industry support from both Pakistan and India. I am quite humbled and thankful that since the beginning I have been approached with good opportunities. From my singing debut to my latest film Total Siyappa, I have had the privilege to represent my true skills in both the music and film industry. It’s not an easy journey, a lot of hard work is required but I’m glad that people have believed in me… and all the hard work now seems to be paying off.

Over the last 11 years you’ve worked and received accolade as an artist, a singer, a model and an actor – is there anything you can’t do? Of all these career paths, which ones did you enjoy the most and least, and why?

I love everything I do – and that’s a part of being an artist, to be able to explore and test your versatility. I enjoy acting a lot as it lets you explore different avenues. Music is my passion, it’s something I started with and it will always be a very important part of who I am. And for most of the films that I have done, singing has gone along the way so I never really had to take a break from making music. Like I said, I love everything I do but at this point, my priority and focus is acting.

You clearly have an old school touch to your music. Who was your biggest musical influence while growing up and do you make it a point to incorporate their “touch” to your music still? Have you picked up any new inspirations over the last few years?

Anyone who says he is not inspired is lying. We all grow up with inspirations and idols around us. My inspiration throughout my life and career has been various artists. From the likes of Pink Floyd and Led Zepplin to Mehdi Hassan, Kishore Kumar and Tufail Niazi. And even Strings. It really is a long list.

You’ve sung duets with some of Bollywood’s biggest names in music. How enriching has the experience been for you? Who did you love working with the most?

Both Sunidhi Chohan (Title track for London Paris New York) and Sherya Ghosal (Dhichkyaaon Doom Doom from Chashme Badoor) are fantastic singers to work with. I also toured with Sunidhi last year and it was a lot of fun!

Being a painter with a very overbearing alternative career myself, I often get frustrated when I’m not able to play around with my paints and brushes for long periods of time. Do you still get the time to paint?

My dad is an artist so art runs in the family. Recently I have been really busy with my film projects, but whenever I find the time I always use the stroke of the brush to create something I enjoy making.

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Tell me about your transition into acting. You started with Pakistani dramas. What was that like? How did you get your first Bollywood break? Tell me the whole story.

I ventured into dramas and acting in Pakistan to earn some pocket money to record my music album and videos. I always wanted to be a singer. And I became one. I toured the world and did about 500 shows. I thought it was time to challenge myself and move onto something more. Luckily I was offered Tere Bin Laden which seemed like a good project to start with, and eventually became a roaring success in India.

And then you were nominated for a Filmfare for your work in Tere Bin Laden. How surreal was that?

It was an enthralling experience as I was humbled by the love and support I got from the industry. To have just entered an entertainment industry that has such huge competition and getting your hard work recognized on such a large platform is a huge accomplishment.

Spending time and working with Katrina Kaif has got to be every red-blooded Subcontinental man’s dream – and you got to live it. Tell me, was working with her in Mere Brother Ki Dulhan really as fun an exciting as it sounds? Also, what was working with Imran Khan like?

What can I say about Katrina? Everybody is so fond of her because of her good nature. What I really like about her is that she is very hard working and professional. She is very sorted when it comes to her work, and she is extremely intelligent as well. I was also very fortunate to work with an artist like Imran. I was so comfortable. He is a very humble person. He had a lot of interesting facts to share and obviously I had great conversations with him. When you have good co-stars, the whole journey of making a film becomes a great experience. I was really comfortable working with both of them and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

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Now let’s come to the film of the hour: Total Siyapaa – Tell me the full story of how you landed the role and what it was like working on the film with your crew and co-stars

As soon as I was approached with a Neeraj Pandey script, I knew it had to be good. Being a fan of his previous film ventures, when I read the script I immediately said yes because the storyline was so engaging and different that I knew right there and then that I had to do this film. It gave me the opportunity to work with amazing stars like Yami Gautum, Kiran Kher and Anupam Kher, all of whom made the entire film production an incredible journey for me.

The film might be a comedy, but it has a strong undelaying message: embrace multiculturalism. We’re 14 years into the new millennium – how important do you think is it for people to start accepting multicultural relationships?

You’re right, it’s strange that we are in the 14th year of a new millennium and people still refuse to understand the message delivered by the prophet 1400 years ago: that all men are equal devoid of their faith. People really need to work on building their tolerance and support for each other. Total Siyappa took a comical route to express this very issue, and I think it was able to deliver a message despite staying within those limits. As far as my own experience is concerned, I have been very warmly welcomed in India. It’s foolish to have any prejudices against each other when we can all live happily in peace.

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Clearly it’s time to bury the past and move on. How do you suggest we overcome these implicit notions of rivalry among the masses on either side of the border?

Besides bold diplomatic measures and the staunch political will from both sides, I think people to people interaction is very important for understanding each other’s point of view and be tolerant and loving towards each other. I believe both the cultures have very much in common and we need to embrace the differences and move on.

What, according to you, is the importance of comedy in a Pakistani’s life these days?

Pakistanis have and are made to go through so much stress these day. I think they deserve to smile and laugh and have a good time, and comedy is an easy source of laughter. If my film – or any film for that matter – can provide that for a few hours, then it’s definitely worth it!

Do you recall any fun stories from the sets of Total Siyapaa?

Well, the good thing about comedy is that you keep bouncing off jokes on and off screen and the set enjoys a light fun vibe. There was something funny going on on the sets almost every day!

Your music has also made it to Hollywood in the past. Any plans to go take your acting skills across the Atlantic as well?

If I get a good opportunity and its worth my while, then I don’t see why not.

Pakistani actors have been trying to penetrate Bollywood for years, but none of them were able to warrant much positive attention. Why do you think you’re the first Pakistani actor to get the kind of respect you’re getting across the border? You’re being nominated for and winning awards and filmmakers seem to be keen to work with you. What’s your secret?

There is no magic secret. I think my hard work is the key, and that’s what’s brought me where I am today. I have been lucky too as people have encouraged me and appreciated my work across borders. I have been able to choose the projects I do very wisely, and that in itself has positioned me well.

At the same time, there has been a lot of criticism as well. Hindu Janajagruti Samiti party in their representation to the Central Board of Film Certification has demanded cancellation of Total Siyapaa’s censor certificate because they think it’s “anti-national and glorifies Pakistan.” Tell me a bit about that.

I haven’t heard anything about this yet.

Tell me a bit about your family life. How does Ayesha deal with your ever-expanding fan base and stardom?

Ayesha is a very supportive wife. She has been with me for through every project and supported and encouraged me to express and explore myself as an artist. This is the reason we have ended up together; she is this amazing person who stands by you throughout.

Becoming a father is a life altering milestone. You have been extremely busy with your film and music work in India since Azaan’s birth in 2010. Does being away from him ever take its toll on you? On the one hand you’re getting more work now than ever before but at the same time you’re having to choose between being work and family. How do you cope with the mixed bag of emotions?

Striking the balance is the toughest thing that I have to deal with right now. But that’s what life is all about, isn’t it? Striving to strike the balance… I’m trying to do the best I can.

Any thoughts on being dubbed the Sexiest Asian Man in 2013 by a British Tabloid?

I am very flattered and never expected to be given this title. I still don’t know how I made it onto this list, let alone top it! I would like to thank all those who voted for me from the bottom of my heart.

The last ten years have been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for you. What’s up Ali Zafar’s sleeve next?

Kill Dil! It’s an action drama that I’ll be working on with Yash Raj Films.

Total-Siyapaa