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Photo Feature

London through my iPhone

Who doesn’t love London? Those who’ve never been there dream of visiting and those who have can’t wait to fly back – even if it’s just for a few short days during summer holidays. But for people like me who’s been lucky enough to live in this metropolis of dreams, London is a whole different story. We know that the city is as multidimensional as it is magical and charming; that it has a bit more to offer than just Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and the London Eye.

When I moved to London, I learned what it felt like to fall head over heels for the first time… and my love affair with the city has grown more intense with each passing day ever since. When you love something, you try to record and preserve all the memories you create with it. I’ve clearly had no professional training as a photographer and don’t own a fancy DSLR – and I’m sure it shows – but if I’ve learned anything in the past two years, it’s to make best use of your resources and never think twice before trying new things… so here’s a little homage to my quirky, beautiful new home, as seen through my iPhone…

 

aSome Britons think a bit too “highly” of themselves – literally!
If I had to guess, I’d say putting up signs and labeling things is every Briton’s favourite hobby – right after queuing, of course. Everything in London is diligently labeled with information. Whether some of that information makes sense in the first instance or not is up for debate!

bMaking merry at Hyde Park.
If you’re ever in London from early December till mid-January, a couple of evenings at the Hyde Park Christmas fair should definitely be on your itinerary. Lots of good food, infectious smiles and tons and tons of beautiful, brilliant lights that are sure to charge you up for the holiday season.

 

cHey there, beautiful. Has anyone ever told you you look amazing in white?
Falling in love with London in summer is easy; falling in love with it in winter is inevitable. I took this photo right before landing at Heathrow on the morning of 2013s first snowfall, and it’s got to be one of my favourite pictures of my favourite city.

dThere’s beauty in symmetry, even when you’re underground.
Angel, my home station, has the longest set of escalators in London with a vertical rise of 90 feet and a total length of 197 feet. I remember feeling slightly dizzy the first time I stepped on them. Riding them on a daily basis for over two years I’m now used to the depth/height, but the fascination has yet to wear off.

eDesi charm in charming pardes.
There are more Pakistanis, Indians and Bangladeshis in East London than there are Britons, and this young lady with her well-oiled two-foot braid proves that you can take a desi out of her desh, but…

 

fThe Shard over-towering Southwark Cathedral, or is it?
While many Londoners are proud of their city’s architectural growth, many are still irked by the building of ultra-modern metal and glass skyscrapers that are essentially stealing the light from London’s trademark low-rise classical architecture. I belong to the second group naturally, and have spent many afternoons wandering aimlessly in the old city admiring Wren’s inspirational designs as well as the many Georgian and Victorian structures that London is best known for.

gRealising dreams on The Queen’s Walk.
“My name is Hideki Sakomizu, from Tokyo. My dream is to sing all over the world. Your tips will help me achieve the dream.”
Sakomizu is one of thousands of artistes who perform on The Queen’s Walk – a pedestrian path extending for several miles on the south bank of Thames on which tourists can walk from the London Eye past numerous attractions to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. I don’t remember what song Sakomizu was singing or if he was any good, but I think anyone who travels across the world for his dream deserves a good cheer. He is available to be liked on Facebook, do check him out!

hFly away, rats with wings.
London’s mayor Boris Johnson calls pigeons “rats with wings,” and boy is he right! Even though Trafalgar Square has now been cleared of birds for health reasons, London’s pigeon population is still far too high and irksome.

 

iGo away, Monday!
Like any civilized Londoner, I usually listen to music or read a book on the tube – except on Monday mornings, when I get my entertainment from watching people fight their weekend hangovers!

 

jCreature. If I’ve learned anything in London, it’s not to judge. But if you’ve got a stretch piercing the diameter of which is larger than a penny’s, chances are I’m wincing and flinching somewhere near by… and no, that doesn’t mean I won’t try to look through them and take a few quick pictures as well.

kMind the Gap, literally.
For a true Londoner, “Mind the gap” is not just a warning phrase; it’s a way of life.

 

lHold on Allah mian, I’m on the other line.
Eids in London are quite dull, and understandably so. I decided to be a good boy last year and started my day with namaz at London Central Mosque in a rather laid back, mobile phone heavy atmosphere before heading back home and slipping back into bed for the day.

 

mLondon’s smallest apartment: 2X2 square feet, glass walls, phone included.
Homelessness is one of London’s biggest failures. In a city as urban and accommodating as London, sometimes it’s hard to believe that more than 6000 people don’t have a warm bed to sleep in. I took this picture near my apartment in central London on a freezing December night while walking back home from a party, and it broke my heart.

nTime for educational reforms in East London!
There are parts of London that aren’t exactly known for its cultured, well-read inhabitants, but I noticed this pattern at one particular station over a few days, and it was both hilarious and worrying at the same time.

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Features Interviews & Profiles

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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Features Interviews & Profiles

Ali Safina & Hira Tareen – a match made in heaven

Ali Safina & Hira Tareen are living proof that the age-old adage “opposites attract” might not entirely be true. Sure, the best thing about being different might be that it allows you to compensate for whatever quality or character trait you lack and wish you had – but what if you found the one person who had the same values, interests and thought process as you did? The one person who was exactly like you?Hira-Tareen-And-Ali-Safina-New-Photo-shoot-For-XPOZE-pic-02

Ali and Hira have been lucky enough to find out. Not only do their stories read like slightly different version of the same book, they’ve found their best friends in each other as well.
“We’re might be opposite in some ways and our approach to things might sometimes be different, but at the end of the day, our goal and target is always the same – and that’s what makes us a great team,” they tell me with matching twinkles in their eyes, and I know right away that I’ve found the perfect love story to share with you this Valentine’s Day.
I met up with the newly married couple recently to talk about their individual lives and multi-faceted careers thus far; how Ali traveled from Oman to Scotland to Pakistan, and how Hira traveled from the US to Pakistan to US and back again; and of course the story of how they met, became inseparable and finally tied the knot last December…

ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT HIRA TAREEN

 

Tell me a bit about your first modeling stint, and the ball that kept on rolling.

I started dabbling in modeling a bit back in 2001. My sister Zara and I decided to visit Pakistan from the States where we lived. I was a computer science major at the University of Texas at the time. Zara used to model, and even though I was still in my nerdy phase with glasses and pigtails, we were offered a photo shoot by Arshad Tareen, which was later printed in Visage. That was my first modeling experience. Even before that though, Zara used to experiment on me with her camera like a little guinea pig. After that first professional photo shoot with Arshad however, I was kind of hooked. All of a sudden, that two month trip turned into almost two years. We were getting so much work – from that one photo shoot, I was offered my very first fashion show in Pakistan, and then more shoots followed by some drama offers.

You were doing quite well for yourself here yet you still had one foot back in the US. What was the reason for that?

In 2003, I realized this whole modeling business was getting a bit out of hand. I was still too young and had taken a break from university to visit Pakistan, and somehow I’d found myself stuck in this lifestyle. I needed to go back and finish university. I was asking myself all kind of questions. What if it doesn’t work out or my time as a model runs out too soon? What would I be left with then? I was at a crossroads between work and school. I used to be a computer science major back in Dallas, so I decided to go back to America for a few months, but then came back again because we had so much work we’d already signed on!

And then you left again – this time for seven years?

I had evolved and matured a little over the time I’d spent in Pakistan. Although I’d always been good at computers, I had also developed interest in arts and design. I already used to sketch and play the tabla, and I was also heavily into music. So I figured if I was going to continue school, I should incorporate my artsy side in it too. I realized I couldn’t be a programmer for the rest of my life, so I went back and changed my major to advertising. After finishing my bachelors, I started full time work for hotels.com and Silicon Valley startups before getting a job at J C Penny as their interactive art director. It was a pretty nice job and I had everything. Everyone in my life admired my work, but something in me told me I wasn’t happy. I guess that whole American lifestyle – even though I miss it so much after living in Pakistan for a few years – wasn’t for me.

Tell me about the modeling agency you and your sister opened in Dallas. How did that start? Any particular success stories and fond memories from those days?

My sister and I started a modeling agency as a side business called H&Z Modeling Agency. We initially started with just talent management, but soon started doing events and fashion shows as well. We were building portfolios for and promoting south Asian talent in Texas. One of our models even won the Miss South Asia America pageant. Another successful memory from those days is when we arranged a really big fashion show and flew Nilofer Shahid from Lahore to Dallas. The event was called ‘Deewan-e-Khaas’ and it was a pretty big deal. Pictures from that show were also printed in Xpozé as well. It was a very successful fashion show and I remember Nilofer Shahid did pretty well at the exhibition the next day as well.

And what made you leave all that behind and move to Karachi the second time?

I like structure in my life, but I didn’t like the structure America was giving me – the lifestyle was boring me to death. On top of that, all of my friends from work or the Indian or Pakistani community would always tell me that they saw me doing something else, something more creative. They’d tell me that I was wasting myself there and I needed to move back to Pakistan and do something big.

So moving back was a calculated risk for you?

Yes. I had already tested the waters and I knew what life in Pakistan would be like. Technically, I’d only gone back to the US to finish my education. I had something going here and at the back of my mind I always wanted to come back and explore that more.
In America, Pakistani media is seen from a very different perspective. I remember when ‘Coke Studio’ became big, all of my Indian and Pakistani friends started sharing videos- that was a proud moment for me. Pakistan was doing so well when it came to media. At the same time, the news and politics were a whole different story and that scared my parents. Especially my dad was very skeptical about sending me back to Pakistan. I still sold all my stuff, packed the bags and moved back to Pakistan in July 2010.

How easy – or difficult – was it for you to find your place in the industry after the seven year absence?

I don’t exactly know how, but somehow there was a hype about me when I returned. A young model coming from abroad was apparently a cool thing. People were very supportive and willing to meet with me and try to find ways to work with me, so I had a pretty good jump start.
I was also already in touch with people I’d worked with in Pakistan before on Facebook. These people knew I was coming back, and the word just got around.
My first gig after coming back was for Maheen Khan. One day, I got a call from Fayyaz Ahmed and he asked me if I’d be interested to shoot for her Gulabo collection – it was a 14th August special, and was printed on the cover of Daily Times’s Sunday Weekly. I had come back to Pakistan after seven years and my first project was such a patriotic shoot. One minute my friends were throwing me a going-away party, and the next they’re seeing my new Facebook display picture with me wearing Gulabo and holding a Pakistani flag – I had arrived!
I remember my second shoot was for Xpozé with Rizwan ul Haq. This time it was me, Ayyan and Amna Ilyas on the cover. It was a multi designer shoot and a whole lot of fun.

Any particular photographers you enjoyed working, or built a special rapport, with? Were you finally happy?

I got a lot of work after coming back, but eventually I started feeling a bit unhappy with the way people were capturing me in photographs. Because I was raised in the US, the image I had of myself; the essence of my personality as I want it to be captured wasn’t being portrayed like I wanted. I was being made to fit into this mold of a very Pakistani model. I’m pretty picky and like to have a say in the kind of makeup and clothes I have to wear, and so I was having a hard time digesting how I was being portrayed here in photo shoots. When you work behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera, you’re more conscious of your own work. I wasn’t trying to be a control freak, but I felt I wasn’t being able to relax in front of a camera because of this. A fashion shoot is so much more than just the photographer. The model, the stylist, the clothes, the makeup and location – everything has to be on point, and if they aren’t it just doesn’t work out. Even my close friends were telling me they weren’t sure I was being captured to my best potential. They pointed out that some of my best shots were taken in American, and that people weren’t getting me here, and I agreed… When my sister arrived in 2011, things changed a bit.

How did you deal with working with photographers who didn’t understand you? You’ve been here almost four years now – has it gotten any better?

To be honest, I still feel I haven’t been explored properly by other photographers in Pakistan. What people tend to do here is they take look at your portfolio, fit you into a category and then keep you there. They don’t bother to explore or get creative with you because they’re used to cookie-cutter kind of work, and they’re happy with that. There are some great photographers here, but I feel they need to experiment and give more models chances rather than just get comfortable with one model who can give the same poses in every shoot. I like working with photographers who tell you if something is wrong or if they want something to be different during the shoot. Feedback is very important. I don’t like working with people who keep a poker face and keep on clicking.

You’ve been accused of only wanting to work with your sister. How do you respond to that?

That’s not true. We’re a team, sure, and I do post work on a lot of her work, but I’ve worked with some other great photographers too. Whenever Zara has a fashion client, I’m always there and we talk to them together; we come up with the locations together. We have a lot of combined creative input when it comes to photo shoots and I enjoy working with her, but I’m also always open to working with others.

Do you care much about what people say or write about you?

I’m still clueless as to what the general perception of me here is. Sometimes I meet people who tell me that I’m very easy to work with. Other times I meet people who tell me that they’re surprised I’m so nice; that I have a very cold, intimidating look. I get mixed opinion about what people think about me. It’s amusing.

Any particular designers you enjoy wearing/working with?

I love Saman Chaudhry’s clothes and the way she brings funk to them. She’s very innovative. I also like Adnan Pardesy’s edginess. Leisure Club’s Working Woman and Keysaiya are also among my favourites, along with Maheen Khan, of course. She’s amazing and very graceful, I’d love to be like her eventually. I also like Sania Maskatiya and Ayesha Farook Hashwani – she makes quality clothes with exceptional workmanship. Sana Safinaz also always have something cool up their sleeve. There are a lot of Lahori designers that I admire but don’t get to work with much like Mohsin, Ali Xeesha, Fahad Hussain and HSY.

Tell me about your work on television. Are you happy with the kind of acting you get to do in Pakistani dramas?

I wish I had Pakistani television figured out. Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m doing on TV! My first TV project was an Eid telefilm directed by Shamoon Abbasi. I was paired with Danish Taimoor, and that led to more offers in soaps and serials, which has all been quite fun so far.
I took an eight week acting course at KD Studios in Dallas before coming to Pakistan, and the kind of acting I’d learned there is completely different from the acting done in Pakistani dramas. There, everything is about reactions. Here sometimes you just have to act to a lamp or a door!
Acting for me is something I feel that I just need to keep doing until I come across a role that’s really meant for me. It hasn’t happened yet and I don’t think it’ll happen very soon, but that’s how it is even in bigger acting markets like Hollywood and Bollywood. An actor can work for years and years before being offered a role that they spend their lifetime waiting for. I need to keep working and showing people different sides of me so that one day hopefully something will click mutually between the director and me. I’m waiting for a role that someone feels no one can do justice to but me.

Any memorable projects?

I absolutely loved working on ‘Mehrbano Shahbano’ with Fahim Burney for which I got to play a spoilt brat and travel to New York. I enjoyed working with him because he’s a very emotional director. He acts things out a lot; he’s very animated and I love that about him. He gives great feedback too.
‘Manjali,’ which was highly acclaimed and won awards at Lux Style, was another memorable project, especially because it was my first acting experience with Ali. We were playing husband and wife and we had a very strained relationship. It was his first serious acting role as well.

Do you see yourself acting on the big screen in the future sometime? Do you aspire to work with someone in particular?

I definitely want to act in films. I feel my personality will be better shown on the big screen because dramas are more dependent on close-shots, emotions and expressions. Also, in dramas, characters are very limited for girls. If you’re negative character, you really are a very negative character; but if you’re a positive character, chances are you’re not shown as an intelligent, outspoken person. You’re likely to be shown as a very submissive, bechaari type of a girl… The message is: everyone should be like that because in the end the ones who keep quiet and silently suffer without opinion are the ones who’re rewarded. I think that’s wrong and don’t want to encourage that kind of thinking. I have a very strong personality and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
As far as directors go, I would like to work with Sabiha Sumar and Bilal Lashari. I generally like Woody Allen type films and look forward to the day someone will make something of the sort in Pakistan. I want to show the grey areas of relationships. There are so many award moments in life that’re beautiful but sadly they’re not shown on television.

Tell me a bit about the Pakistan DJ Network. What is it all about and what does it aim to achieve?

In Jan 2011 I started a group called Pakistan DJ network. The main motive was getting back into DJ-ing after a few years’ break. I started when I was 16 and did proper DJ-ing in clubs and events in America, but gave it up because of school and work. This time, I wanted to focus more on electronic DJ-ing. The motive to start the group was to see who else is going this stuff in Pakistan. There are about 20 people in the network so far, and I’ve made Ali my partner now as well. Together we’ve hosted two big events so far. The first one was called the Karachi Meet-up, and the concept was to invite all the Karachi members to play for and get to know each other. Usually when you’re a DJ playing at an event, there’s a commercial requirement of the kind of music you play. The idea of this meet-up was to allow DJs to show their true colours to other DJs who would hear you out with an open mind.
Also, it’s important to give young people in Pakistan an activity, something to do and look forward to. We plan on doing more events and workshops now…It’s a healthy hobby for those who want to learn the art.

You’ve dabbled in DJ-ing, acting, modeling and a bunch of other stuff as well. What do you enjoy doing most?

I’m in a very transitional phase in my career right now. I plan to pick a direction this year. I’ve been doing a lot of things in my life: modeling, acting, DJ-ing, art directing photo shoots as well as graphic designing… I’ve been doing all these things and I’ve not been wanting to let go of any of them. I think it would be smart to focus on just a couple of things – not just one because that’s not my personality. I have to have a few things happening simultaneously to keep me going.
I’m surprisingly more inclined towards acting these days. Being on the runway is very fun for me too. I’d happily give up modeling but the one thing that keeps me hooked is the occasional fashion weeks. I really enjoy them a lot. Walking on a ramp wearing someone’s clothes doesn’t sound very exciting, but there’s a definitive thrill in it.

What projects are you working on these days?

These days I’m working on a telefilm for Wajahat Rao. I’m also doing a project called ‘Mohabbat Ek Subh Ka Sitara Hai’ that’s on air on Fridays at 8 ‘o clock.
Right now I’m in my post marriage phase. I’m unpacking boxes, picking out furniture, upholstery and curtains for the house. I’m also very involved in domestic stuff. I recently did a very interesting shoot for Natasha’s Salon with Zara, which will come out this month, probably around the same time as Fashion Pakistan Week – again something I’m very pumped up about!

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ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ALI SAFINA

From what I understand, you’re a mechanical engineer with a very unusual resume. How did you end up in the entertainment industry in a country you’d never lived in before?

I’d always had an inclination towards performing arts, but my parents – being typical Pakistani parents – told me that I should choose a more “solid” background. They gave me full freedom to choose my faculty though, and encouraged me to choose something I’d be happiest doing, as long as it got me degree that would warrant a proper job. They told me that once I’d finished my education, I’d have full freedom to do whatever I wanted. It was a touch route: to fulfill my dream I had to fulfill their dream first! Anyway, I got admission in computer aided mechanical engineering – which is basically the creative side of mechanical engineering, and I finally completed bachelors in 2004 before moving to Pakistan to chase my dream.

You got your first taste of radio and DJ-ing while you were still at university? Was it like you had finally found your calling?

I’d always been interested in radio, but in Oman the television and radio are controlled by the state, so you have to be a national to work on them, which is why I never had a chance. I got to explore radio for the first time in Glasgow where I was doing my honours. I was also exposed to DJ-ing culture there after I made friends with DJs who used to throw parties and play their music at events. I was very fascinated by the whole culture, and asked them to teach me how to do it as well. I eventually ended up joining Awaz FM which was the only Asian radio station there. While still at university, I had also formed a band called Supenova. I was the lead singer and we performed covers by Red Hot Chili Peppers, Incubus, Rage Against the Machine etc. For desi crowds, I also used to sing Atif’s “Ab to aadat si hai mujhko” which was the new big thing coming out of Pakistan at the time! I also got a chance to play music as a DJ at a few Asian parties where I mixed desi music with Punjabi bhangra, which is still a pretty big trend in the UK. At the time, I was also doing odd jobs to earn some extra cash, and even got a gig as a bouncer at a club because I used to be a pretty buff guy.

What made you decide to come to Karachi – a city you had absolutely no connection with?

After completing honours in 2006, my dad arranged for a job for me in Oman, but I just couldn’t imagine myself sitting on a desk from 9-5 doing the same thing over and over again for the rest of my life. I asked my dad to give me a chance to explore myself and see where my talent takes me like he had promised all those years ago. I wanted to polish my singing, acting and DJ-ing skills, and he finally agreed. He thought it would be a two-three month craze and I’d get over it shortly. I told him I was going to move to Karachi. Now, our family was totally alien to Karachi, and I have no friends or family here. I told them about NAPA and my intention to take admission there!

What did you study at NAPA? What was it like, and how did it help you find work?

When I came to Karachi, I got off the plane and went directly to NAPA, where I met Arshad Mahmood, Zia Mohiuddin and Talat Hussain – people I’d watched and admired my whole life. I ended up studying theatre in NAPA for two years. Initially I’d planned to get a part time engineering job to pay the bills and support myself, but I was lucky to get a gig on 96 FM almost instantly. I literally walked into the office and asked if they would give me a chance to play my massive collection – all the stuff I’d been playing in Glasgow – and they agreed. I started with a midnight show called ‘Desi Club’ which got me a lot of recognition and built me a fan base. It was my first break in the local industry. It got me a couple of interviews in newspapers and magazines as well, which was great.

How did MTV happen?

By 2008, even though I was still a full time student at NAPA, I’d been to a couple of music channels to ask for work, but they didn’t take me seriously. Like Hira, people didn’t understand me. I was tall and had piercings and a very different taste in music – they couldn’t relate to me. One day however, while I was in class, I got a call from Ghazanfar Ali. He called me an idiot who was wasting his time in class, and told me he wanted me to do a live evening show on MTV. That was my big break in TV. The show was called ‘Mera MTV,’ and I ended up doing it for two years. By 2010, I had become the face of MTV… and that’s when I got a call from the people who’d rejected me at Geo, and they asked me to come back!

You also experimented a bit with modeling, but then gave it up. What happened?

I was new in the industry and had hot blood. I was very ambitious and confident that I was good looking, so I decide to give modeling a shot as well. However, my first modeling experience with Munna Mushtaq and Umer Mushtaq was such a disaster that I was put off it completely. I was asked to wear a jacket without a shirt – my chest hair showing – and I wasn’t even paid for it. That just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Tell me about your first acting gig. Was it everything you’d hoped it would be?

I got my first offer to act in a telefilm from ARY Digital. The film was called ‘Game’ and it was directed by Mohsin Talat. I played the role of a gangster who dies in the end, and I’m sure I was horrible in it, but I still had a wonderful time. It was an amazing learning experience.
When I do something, I try to do it properly instead of wasting myself doing mediocre work. I’d already given up DJ-ing because no one here understood what it was and I didn’t have proper equipment either, so I knew that if I was going to experiment with acting, I wanted to do proper roles.
By 2011, I had quit FM 91 after working there for five years. By this time I had also done a morning show there called ‘Uth Ja Puttar,’ which was fun and weird at the same time because I was hosting a morning show and I never wake up on time!
Along the way I got a few more TV offers, and I also hosted TV shows like ‘Kon Banega Meera Pati’ and two seasons of ‘Pakistan Sangeet Idol,’ which was Pakistan’s first reality singing competition.

And then you hit the jackpot with ‘Taaka’…

Yes, there was a lot of hype about the ‘…aaye gi barat’ series on Geo, so when I heard they were planning to replace one of the leads in the second season, I decided to go for an audition. Raheel Butt, who was a friend of mine from 91 FM and was also a part of the drama, went with me for support. I was interviewed by Naeem Baig, Buhra Ansari and Marina Khan, and after the audition, they told me that they weren’t going to use me in the role I’d auditioned for, but that they were going to introduce me into the series as a new character called Taaka. Dolly Ki Aaye gi Baraat broke Pakistani ratings records, and I got lucky that the character of Taaka went down so well with the audiences. The producers actually said I was lucky for the drama, so they made me the lead in the next season, and that’s how ‘Taakay i aaye gi baraat’ came about. That role laded me a best actor nomination at Lux Style Awards, but I didn’t win the award.

Another one of your Geo projects that resonated well with the audiences was Milk Shaikh, which was disturbing and hilarious at the same time. Did the people you interviewed really not know what was happening? How did you come up with the idea?

Milk Shaikh was one of my first projects for Geo. It was my own idea although inspired by something Sasha Boran Cohen had done before. The idea was to experiment with a foreign character, and what better character to do that with than a Shaikh. Pakistani’s hold Arabs in very high regard and feel obliged to treat them well no matter what they say or do, and Milk Shaikh ended up being a testament to that. I used to get ready in the morning and stay in character all day, right until pack up late in the night. I would leave the dressing room all dressed up, and talk to everyone in nonsense Arabic all day. Even the crew initially thought that I was a real Shaikh who had come down to Pakistan to do a show. They found out I was Pakistani on the fourth day of shoot when I accidentally slipped out of character for a minute on the set and asked someone for a smoke!
The show got me a lot of attention, which was understandably not all very positive. I know it’s hard to believe but people actually didn’t know it was a Pakistani guy dressed up like a Shaikh. Sure I was doing pretty well on MTV, but unfortunately it wasn’t being watched by the masses which is why it eventually had to shut down. The masses that watched Geo didn’t watch MTV, and so had no idea who I was.
The aim of the show was make others drop their guards, and then attack them and make fun of them. It was a dangerous territory. Every single interview was memorable one because it was social experiment. If I’d asked the kind of questions I asked on the show as myself, my subjects would have walked off the set, but since I was a Shaikh, they were obliged to answer.

Who’s the inspiration behind the comedy germ in you? Any particular comedians you aspire to work with in the future?

I think my ultimate goal is to work with Sasha Boran Cohen. I want to be a part of his production some day or want him to be a part of mine. People like Adam Sandler and Eddie Murphy would also be amazing to get a chance to work with.
I love comedy, and want to play around in the genre while I’m still young because when I’m older I’m going to try to be a graceful uncle and work only on projects where I’d get chance to play George Clooney type roles.
Right now, I’ve done too much comedy. I feel the need to do some serious acting.

But you have already done some serious roles before. Were they as fulfilling as you had hoped?

Hira mentioned ‘Manjali’ earlier, which was a pretty serious drama. Before that I did ‘Daagh-e-Nadamat’ with Mehreen Raheel, which also gave me a chance to really act. These opportunities have just opened up my appetite for more serious work; the urge to practice and hone my skill even more.
‘Manjali’ was an amazing script – the most well written project in my career so far. I wish I had known this with the intensity I know it now back when I was still working on it. If I had, I might have done an even better job.

Tell me a bit about Jalebi – the big feature film everyone’s talking about.

I’ve done quite a few telefilms so far, but I feel I’ve been extremely lucky to land a role in a feature film called Jalebi which is being shot these days. If everything goes according to plan, everyone should be able to go to the cinema and watch a highly entertaining urban gangster flick that we’ve tried to make in the third quarter of this year. I can’t reveal too much right now, but it’s got me, Danish Taimoor, Waqar Ali Khan, Zhaley Sarhadi, Uzair Jaswal and a few other amazing people in it. I’m playing the lead, which means I’m finally getting a chance to concentrate on my acting. Pakistani cinema is too dependent on Gujjars and Bhais, but Jalebi is not that like that at all. I’m playing a car thief and I’ve had to work very hard on my comic timing and pitch control for the part. It’s got a very interesting feel, and it is being shot on the same camera as Gravity and Iron Man 3, so the final result should be quite impressive too.

Do you feel that the dream you moved to Pakistan with all those years ago has finally been realized?

Absolutely. There’s still a lot more to do of course but Pakistan is the luckiest place for me. Everything I’ve done and achieved has been here. I know a lot of people say this, but Pakistan really is my identity. Pakistan has made Ali Safina; it’s taught me everything I know and given me everything I own, including my work, fans and my beautiful wife.

What other projects are you working on these days?

Last December, I joined Samaa FM to host their drive time show. Its commercial radio so I only get to play commercial hits rather than my personal playlist.
I’m also playing a villain in a drama serial called ‘Ek Pal’ these days. This is my first serious negative role in a drama, and I think I’m doing it pretty well. Hira and I are very similar in the way that we’ve both got several layers. When you act, you have to forget yourself and immerse yourself into the role you’re playing. It’s challenging, but very fun. Some roles are easy, and playing a villain came very naturally to me… that explains the moustache as well. Pakistani villains have to have a moustache!
The biggest achievement in 2013 was getting to marry the girl of my dreams. Planning the events pretty much took up all our energy and for us to be able to do any other work last year was a big deal. It’s been a busy, busy year.

 

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ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT HIRA & ALI, THE COUPLE

 

On the story of how they first met…

Ali: My love story actually starts a few months before I actually met Hira. I was at Citrus talent agency one day, and one of the models’ framed photos kind of stood out for me. I looked at her and thought to myself: “Waah yaar! Who is this girl? She’s pretty cute!” But then I came home and forgot all about her. Then, after about 7 or 8 months, one of my friends that I’d had a falling out with gave me a call day out of the blue one day asking me to meet him. I agreed and went to see him, and when I walked into his house, there she was. After a brief introduction and speaking to her for a few minutes, I realized that she was a very cool, intelligent girl with amazing sense of humour.

Hira: When I first moved to Karachi, my khala was nice enough to let me stay with her for a year. In the mornings, I often used to hear my khala and khalu laughing in the TV lounge, which was right outside my bedroom. One day, I sneaked out to see what was entertaining them so much and I saw them watching ‘Milk Shaikh.’ Another day, I saw them being entertained by another show that Ali used to do on Aag TV called ‘Hurn Dus,’ which was pretty funny too. That’s how I first started noticing him. He obviously had talent, and I remember noticing that he had a good DJ-ing personality. I critically analyzed him from a creative perspective. He had a different personality form other Pakistani guys, and that just registered him at the back of my mind. I didn’t know anything else about him. One day I went to a party and the host who was a good friend told me about Ali and how he wanted me to meet him. It wasn’t a matchmaking sort of thing, he wanted me to meet one of his old friends… A while later, the door opened and in walked a very tall guy. There were no lovey feelings or butterflies instantly. We just sat around and talked and had a generally good time. One of the first things we talked about was DJ-ing. I remember Ali asked me how I DJ-ed and I pulled out my laptop to show him my mixing software and play him some of my stuff. It was all very natural.

Ali: I was going through a rough patch in my personal life at the time. I was confused about where I was headed in terms of who I was seeing or would be seeing… It wasn’t love at first sight. I didn’t start thinking about marriage until much later, but I remember I was just amazed that I’d come across such a wonderful human being that night.

On the good traits they noticed about each other right away…

Ali: The first trait I noticed about her was that she’s extremely focused. She knows what she’s all about and what she wants from life; she’s very sorted and has a very well developed personality and a good head on her shoulders. That’s exactly the kind of people I make friends with. Most of my friends are very intelligent people with amazing personalities.

Hira: He’s very ambitious, and I realized that he wasn’t the type of guy with whom life would ever seem boring or stagnant. He’s unaffected by trends and what people say, and I admire that a lot.

On the friendship – and the ‘tingling sensations’ – that ensued…

Hira: We became best friends instantly. I found Ali to be a genuinely fun guy and I liked hanging out with him without any ulterior motives.

Ali: Yes, the day after the party, we met again… then she went to Islamabad for a gig, but we got back in touch right after she returned. I didn’t realize she was the same girl from the photo at Citrus I’d seen all those months ago. That didn’t happen until much later when we both went there together and I suddenly realized she and my crush were the same!

Hira: I’m sure he Googled me and stalked me for a while. Then one of us added the other on Facebook – I don’t remember who did it first, that’s still debatable. We eventually started chatting regularly on MSN messenger where we’d share music with each other. We were like a couple of nerds sharing our feelings for watchtower through music.

Ali: I’d been in Pakistan for 5-6 years by then, and when we talked and she told me about her life and experiences, I could relate to them. We eventually developed the relationship to a point where we’d meet each other every day. I was going live on TV daily, and as soon as I left work I’d call her up and make a plan to hang out.

Hira: I was very headstrong and told myself that Ali is a great friend and I don’t want to ruin the friendship. I was very careful with him initially. I thought that maybe Ali was that one good guy friend that you have that you can really talk to. But then eventually, after a few months we realized that we really wanted to hang out with each other ALL the time.

Ali: She was an American model… there were bound to be a lot of suitors waiting in line for her. I thought I had zero chance with her. The friendship was definitely there, but it took us three months to realize we had those tingling sensations as well.

On The Talk, and their mutual decision to ‘take the next step’…

Hira: The cool thing about Ali is that he never gave me the impression that he was afraid of commitment like most guys. That made me very comfortable. Most guys who are ambitious are very commitment phobic at this age.

Ali: I’m not going to lie, I was afraid of commitment before meeting Hira as well… I’ve broken a few hearts in my time too…

Hira: Yeah, that’s another thing I’d heard about Ali Safina! The things I’d hear about him weren’t matching up to what I saw in him. That was a mystery. I knew I had to carefully observe him first, which I did. I had to make sure I wasn’t just a rebound girl for him. That’s why one day we went to a restaurant and I laid out all my cards in front of him: here’s what I’m all about, this is my work and this is what I plan to do… I needed to be sure that he was supportive of my work because it’s very important to me. We actually sat down and have a few proper conversations to discuss everything. I was at a point where I knew that the next person I was going to be with would have to accept me for who I am; I wasn’t going to change for anybody or try to be someone I’m not just to make a guy happy. If the guy couldn’t handle that then he wouldn’t be the right guy for me… and he passed the test! He was very family oriented; he’s good to the women in his family, and he mingled in perfectly with my family. I love that about men and I was glad to find Ali had these qualities.

Ali: It was the same for me. I think our families are very important to the both of us, and I saw that she was the kind of girl who would make an effort to mingle in and embrace my family as hers, and I’m sure she felt the same for me. This image that people have of her as an American model who grew up in the States is very different from the real Hira. She speaks Sindhi at home, she understands Punjabi and is open to other cultures. She gives a lot of importance to family values. I got to know the side of her that people don’t normally get to see.

Hira: Guys might deny it, but they always want the kind of girl who has an interest in homemaking. A girl that could make “a house into a home.” The fact that we had a lot of similar interests also helped of course. I always wanted to be with someone I could combine my interests and hobbies with and then we could potentially do something big and make a difference… maybe even build an empire one day with!

Ali: After we settled all the doubts and confusions, we decided to turn our dosti into rishteydaari!

On telling the families that something was up…

Hira: I was still living with my khala at the time and I used to go MIA from the house a lot, so eventually I had to tell my cousin about Ali. She noticed I was hanging out with him a lot without me saying anything. He used to come to our place to pick me up in his super loud muscle car with a tweaked engine and sub woofers. I couldn’t even lie I was going out with someone else!

Ali: I actually told my dad before my mom, which was pretty interesting. One day my dad asked if I’d given marriage and settling down a though, and I came right out and told him about Hira. He was surprised, but agreed right away without any drama. He probably wasn’t convinced that Hira was convinced!

Hira: Ali’s sister Fatima used to live with him- even though we didn’t tell her up front, we were seeing so much of each other there was no way she couldn’t have found out that something was up. I eventually started to spend time with her.

Ali: When my mom found out, she actually asked Hira what she’d seen in me and if she was sure she liked me! I’m sure she already knew. Parents can read the body language… we were hanging out all the time and there were snippets about us being an “item” being printed every now and then so it was inevitable. My family was on board right away – they’ve always been very supportive about everything I’ve done in my life, and this time was the same.

Hira: Ali started to get to know my sister Zara over Skype who was still in the US. When Zara found out and met Ali for the first time, she said: “What the hell!? You guys look like brother and sister! You guys are so alike… where did you find this guy?” Zara and Ali got along really well right from the beginning. They started having fights like siblings. They’d fight, not speak to each other for a while, then become best friends again and gang up on me… we were like two separate families who were destined to come together. It was meant to be!

On their small, intimate engagement party…

Ali: After over a year of seeing each other, we got engaged in April 2013. My family flew in from Oman, Hira’s mom flew in from the US, but her dad and brother couldn’t make it. It was a very small affair. We only invited immediate family members and a handful of friends. It was a very intimate ceremony where we did the whole ring exchange thing and had a nice casual dinner.

Hira: After the engagement we set the tentative date for the wedding. It was a good opportunity for the families to sit down together and plan ahead. We initially wanted to do it earlier but then decided December would be the best time for my dad and brother, who hadn’t come to Pakistan in 20 years!

On the little details that went into planning the wedding, like elaborate invitation cards and Excel sheets…

Hira: I was very particular about the little details that went into planning the wedding. Ali and the family make fun of me and call me a bridezilla, but they clearly haven’t seen a real bridezilla yet. I was particular about details, sure, but I took care of them myself. I didn’t bother or depend on anyone else with them. I didn’t expect anyone else to do anything for me – besides the ribbons on the wedding invites that Ali was in charge of and had such a hard time taking care of.

Ali: She designed the invitations herself and they were beautiful, but it was all just too much. There was an invitation with a seal in a small envelop, then a bigger envelope, which had a ribbon, which had a sticker on it. The only things missing were laser beams and tanks!

Hira: We actually had a fight about the wedding invitations. Instead of feeling lucky he’s getting such an organized wife, he was making fun of me. I was designing such beautiful wedding cards, developing a special Excel sheet like a proper software programmer and was completely obsessed with decoration ideas and reference photos so our wedding could be perfect. On the other hand, he was getting fed up with the damn ribbons on the wedding cards – the one job I’d given him!

Ali: Someone once gave me some great advice: There will be lots of arguments during the wedding planning process, and the key to getting out of those arguments unscathed is to never ever argue – and I remembered that!

Hira: I think everyone should be very proud of me. I was hell bent on getting things to go my way. I wasn’t just making demands – I actually made full menus and gave them to the wedding planners. I wrote documents and made a file with details of the type of table cloths, china, flowers, paper lanterns I wanted, and they all had reference photos! I was so organized I had made an Excel sheet not only for my side but for his side of the family as well. I gave each person a serial number, and according to the serial number we’d know how many seats to reserve for a particular family…

Ali: She basically had to know everything that was going on… If a bird was to fly into the venue to lay eggs, she wanted to know how many eggs! I was the complete opposite. If a bird wanted to fly in and lay eggs, let her! It was our wedding – our only objective should be to enjoy it!

Hira: I didn’t want too many wedding crashers. Sure RSVP doesn’t work in Pakistan – but if we all give up trying to change that, how will it ever be different? It ticks me off how people refuse to make a change.

Ali: There was a lot of stress at times because we were taking care of everything ourselves. Both our families live abroad so we didn’t have much help. For me, finding a house where my whole family of 60 people could stay for the duration of the wedding was a big task. My family’s Punjabi, and everyone wants to be involved and live together on these occasions to maximize the fun. I was very particular about these arrangements about the house, transportation, food etc. We knew that we wanted a proper full-fledged wedding with all the functions – it should go on for at least a week and we made sure we did that. There were obviously things that weren’t working out but I wasn’t bothering too much about them. I was focusing on the good things: I was getting married to the girl I wanted to marry!

On the wedding dresses, and how they were exactly what they wanted…

Hira: My wedding dress was designed by Adnan Pardesy. I naturally had a very elaborate vision which was probably very annoying for Adnan, but he was nice enough to tell the bride that he admired her ideas, and made exactly what I had in mind. I made the sketch myself and even brought the fabric myself. I told him exactly what bead I wanted in which colour and where! He told me he hadn’t seen a bride like that before, but he also admitted I made his life easier because he knew exactly what he had to do. Ali wore an Ivory coloured sherwani that was also designed by Adnan Pardesy, but his design was much simpler. On the valima, I wore Sanam Chaudhry and Ali’s suit was from Republic by Omer Farooq.

On having no cold feet whatsoever…

Ali: I didn’t have cold feet at all. I’d thought about this a long time. I knew I wanted to marry her for about a year and a half, so I had a lot of time to prepare and stabilize myself.

Hira: Me neither, but I’ll admit we had a few small fights during the wedding planning process, and they used to annoy the hell out of me. It was weird because I couldn’t not talk to him because we were getting married in a few days. It wasn’t fair, because I just couldn’t afford to get mad at him for a long period of time.

Ali: But you remember you did have a cold feet moment that day?

Hira: Yes… one day, he made a comment about my wedding invitations and I lost it. I stormed out of the house, and Ali followed me, and as if things weren’t already bad, we were locked out! That’s when I had an “if you can’t take care of this, how will you take care of me?” moment.

Ali: But I grabbed the opportunity to reclaim my title as the hero again by knocking the door down!

On the wedding, how much fun it was, and other memorable moments from the big day…

Hira: It was an overall great wedding. We had the whole cake cutting ceremony, with family photo slide shows with both our childhood photos which were a bit hit, as well as a live band, fireworks and a first dance on Etta James’ At Last, which was beautifully sung by Zoe Viccaji.

Ali: The Nikkah was by far the most fun moment of the whole wedding. The maulvi was hilarious; he started telling a joke during the dua! It was definitely very memorable!

Hira: To me, the rukhsati was a lot of fun. There were so many things I’d always wanted to do at the time of the rukhsati. One thing we missed out on because of lack of time was the speeches. My family people like to speak out a lot publically. Aside from that, the first dance and live performances were just so much fun. It was magical. I remember feeling that during the wedding that everything was exactly how I’d imagined it to be. It was a WOW moment. The best part was, everyone else felt the same way.

Ali: It eventually turned into an open night sort of a thing. Everyone came up on the stage to sing. It started with a very jazzy feel, followed by Rock, then Indian and Spanish songs, and then Punjabi took over. By the end, everyone was doing Bhangra. Just the fact that two families had come together so naturally, and were having a genuinely good time was great. People who had never danced before – especially my dad– were dancing!

Hira: It was a lot of hard work, but in the end it paid off and everyone enjoyed the wedding. People actually came up to us and told us that it was one of the best weddings they’d attended in a long time.

On their honeymoon plans…

Hira: We haven’t decided yet, but it will either be Spain or Greece or Italy. Or maybe some beach resort. In either case, we do know that we’re waiting for the weather to warm up a little bit so we can go somewhere we can freely walk around on the streets and enjoy ourselves – things we don’t normally get to do in Pakistan.

Ali: We want to go somewhere the both of us haven’t been before – we want to explore a new culture complete with its weird food and all. We could also go to Paris, but I’ve heard that even shawarmas and cold drinks are too expensive there! After all, we have to remember that we’re celebrities of a third world country. We can’t be too careless with our money!

On what they feel is the secret to a happy, successful marriage/relationship…

Ali: Can’t say much about the secret to a happy marriage because it’s only been a month, but here’s what I can tell you about a happy relationship: listen to the other person. And also tell them what you’re thinking. If you want to be happy, let it out. The other person should know what, when and how you feel and vice versa.

Hira: It’s OK to fight as long as the fight is not destructive to the relationship. Communication is actually more important than being passive aggressive, because that sucks. Sometimes I feel myself being passive aggressive but I make a conscious effort to snap out of it and tell Ali what’s bothering me – and it works.

Ali: But what about the people who say: “Trust is key?”

Hira: Trust is also important, but it comes with time. Why would you trust someone in the beginning? You can’t! You shouldn’t! It’s not natural. It’s a gradual process with many steps – I can make a flow chart on relationships too if you want!

On the legendary couples they aspire to be like, or learn from at the very least…

Ali: Bonnie and Clyde, Batman and Robin, Tom and Jerry are all good examples. Or maybe Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie? Or Meera and Captain Naveed!

Hira: I don’t want to take any celebrity couple’s name because what’ll we do if they get divorced!?

Ali: On a serious note, I think my parents are the only couple I really admire. They’re an amazing couple. They’re the heroes of my life and we can only hope to be like them. I also admire Sohail and Salima Hashmi and Mohib and Aamina Sheikh.

On the importance of celebrating Valentine’s Day, even if it has turned into a somewhat cheap affair, and how they plan to celebrate this year…

Ali: In Pakistan, Valentine’s Day has turned into a very cheap affair. If you go out on the 14th, you’ll see heart shaped balloons everywhere. It’s not romantic at all… but when you have someone in your life that you genuinely love, you feel like doing something for and with them on these occasions. Ever since meeting Hira, I’ve wanted to celebrate Valentine’s Day. It might be cheap, but it’s worth it if I’m doing it for Hira.

Hira: It’s important to me because it’s particularly for the one person you love. It’s a good excuse for you to express your love and feelings. It works for me because I’m not the kind of person who would randomly give Ali a card that says I love him. Valentine’s Day gives me an excuse to do that. Last year, I made a photo album with all our pictures together and Ali loved it.

Ali: Yes I did, it was really cute. And it was only half full, so I had to fill the second half myself.

Hira: We’re pretty ‘spur of the moment’ kind of a couple. But since we’re planning our honeymoon soon, we’re probably going to do something small on V-Day here, and save our energy for later.

 

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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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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.

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Navin Waqar – Telelvision’s New Humsafar

Every Saturday evening for the past five months, Pakistanis everywhere quickly wrap up their businesses to rush home, switch off their phones and cosy-up in front of the television instead of going on about the weekend as they once usually did. Whether its Karachi or Peshawar; a retired couple in Naziabad or a rebellious teenager in DHA, come Saturday evening, everybody seems to have only one agenda on their mind: to catch the latest episode of the phenomenon that is Humsafar.
On a cursory glance, there’s nothing about the drama serial or its story line that hasn’t been used and abused on Pakistani television before. Love, marriage, jealousy, deception— you name it. But it’s only when you carefully prod and dissect that you realize that it isn’t the story of Humsafar that has the nation hooked, it’s the cast.
And while both Mahira Khan and Fawad Khan have emerged as the fabled couple as Khirad and Ashar in what has become one of the most popular tragic love story of recent times, one young actress who has outdone herself in the role of Sara, the third vertex of a rivalrous love triangle, is Navin Waqar.
Here, Xpozé talk to Navin about her past; the cult hit Humsafar—her first play—has become, and her future which can only be described in one simple word: bright.Untitled

On her early years, school, traveling and family…

I was born in Karachi, but traveled a lot as a kid. We lived in Dubai for about six years, and I went to school there from first till sixth grade. I later did my graduation in Mass Communication from Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. The part of my life where I was out of Pakistan was so small that I tend to think I’ve always been here. This is my home and I’m not leaving Karachi and Pakistan, ever!
We’re a very small, close knit family of four—it’s just me, my brother Faraz Haider, my mom and my dad, who runs his own business.

On her conservative father, his set of guidelines and convincing him to let her become an RJ…

Both my parents have been quite supportive of whatever I’ve wanted to do in my life, although I have to admit my father is generally a very strict and conservative man. I remember how upset he was with me when I first started my career in radio. But eventually, as time passed and he saw how good I was doing, he realized that it was OK and is now very proud of me. Of course, I had to go through the same process of trying to convince him again everything would be alright when I shifted to television, but like I said, he’s OK with it now. He’s actually given me a set of guidelines, and as long as I stick by them, he’s OK with whatever I do, and I kind of respect that. You know, considering everything I’ve seen and experienced in the industry, especially being a girl… I’d want to give me guidelines too! So, it might sound intimidating, but I kind of like the fact that even at this age, both my parents are like: “You watch out girl, because we’re always watching you!” It’s a good feeling to know there are people around who’re constantly on the lookout for you.

On the one love of her life: radio…

Radio is hands-down one of the best things I’ve ever experienced in my life. I absolutely love it! I started my career as an RJ in 2003, but took a short break when I joined AAG TV because it was becoming really difficult for me to start something new and juggle the two mediums. I needed a break, but naturally it didn’t last long and I started doing radio again.
I’m doing a show called ‘Drive On with Navin Waqar on Radio1 Fm91 these days as well. It’s an Evening Drive Time show, which keeps me busy from 5-8 pm every evening Monday through Thursday. I’ve been with Radio1 for four and a half years now, and every one there is practically like family to me.
Apart from that, the biggest compliment you can get is that on radio, people become your fans not by looking at you but by listening to what you have to say. And that is such a rush, believe me! On TV, you get dressy; you get your hair done and put lots of make-up on to look pretty. But on radio, nobody knows what you look like; they just like you because they like what you’re saying.
Radio is something that comes to me so naturally that I can do it in my sleep! The best thing about the entire experience is of course the music. I live for music!

On the music she enjoys listening to…

Look, when you’re an RJ, you can’t stick to one kind of music. It’s a part of your job to know what kind of music is coming out all the time. And trust me when I tell you, there have been times when I’ve had to listen to hundreds of albums over a weekend just so I could have a new sound for my show. I have to sit there and listen to some horrible stuff that I wouldn’t think about playing on my show in a million years. But then, there are also times when I discover some amazing stuff which makes my day.
Personally, I enjoy listening to everything, really! I like progressive house, I like electro music, and rock and dance music as well. I’m always open to good Indian and Pakistani stuff too. It all depends on my mood. Currently, I’m listening to the new album by James Morrison and Kimbra and a couple of other singles. In my car you’ll find a strange mix: on one end there’ll be a Qawwali or a ghazal; on the other end there’ll be a song by someone I used to know; and in the middle there’ll be a very current dance track. I think I have a very broad horizon when it comes to music.

On her fans and their live phone calls…

Thankfully, I’ve never had to face a lot of unpleasantness in my life. I hear about other RJs and VJs who’ve had weird calls from rude and offensive fans and I’m just glad it’s never happened to me. My fans are all very nice to me. On the contrary, I’ve had tons of good moments on radio. I consider myself lucky that my fans don’t get weird. Initially of course, I remember some of them would refuse to get off the phone but that’s about it. They’d want to tell me their whole life story on-air, and that was sometimes a problem because we obviously have time constraints. I distinctly remember this one girl who called me up and went on and on for five minutes, and then asked me if I was going to take her call on-air. And when I told her: “Sweetie, you were already on-air,” she just freaked out and hung up! That was funny. Really, it’s these little things and stories that stay with you for a lifetime…

On the big move from radio to television, and making sense of the new medium…

Television is a whole different ball game! While radio is like a small family where you know everyone in the studio personally, TV is big and cold and impersonal! People look at you on TV and think you’ve got it easy, that it’s the best job in the world. Well, it’s not!
Transitioning from radio to television was really very difficult for me. I never saw myself as someone who could go in front of the camera. I was a very awkward child while growing up; I went through my phases, you know. I didn’t’ care about fashion, making my hair and looking pretty. I was always the silent girl with headphones in college, and I certainly didn’t have many friends. But then, it never bothered me because I always had my music. I never bothered what anyone thought of me and I think it was that confidence that ultimately helped make the transition easier. And then, radio also definitely built the ground for me to stand in front of a camera and speak to the whole world so fluently. Had radio not been a part of my past then, I wouldn’t have been able to perform on TV. Radio gave me the required confidence and it polished me.

On being a “clumsy oaf” and other funny stories from the sets…

Gosh, there were lots of disasters happening on the set all the time. I once almost slipped and fell on live television but thankfully nobody noticed! I’m a clumsy oaf, seriously. I’m the kind of girl who’s always skidding across the room, but somehow I manage to make it all look very elegant. If only you knew the kind of stuff I do and ge t myself into… I remember once a pigeon flew right into the studio and sat somewhere on a hatch throughout the show with all of us worried that it would fly in front of the camera, or worse yet, poop on my head!

mar1

On the singer she doesn’t think she is…

Well, I only used to sing in front of a few very close friends, but then somehow some people heard me sing and they assumed I have one of those nice classical voices. I’m sorry to disappoint, but no—that’s not me at all! I only got into singing because my brother and I are both really into music.
I tried to learn how to play the guitar but failed miserably because apparently I’m tone deaf when it comes to playing musical instruments! I think there’s a difference in being a singer and people not leaving the room when you open your mouth to sing. I’m not a singer. Sure, I may be able to carry a tune or two, but I’m definitely not a singer.
I have been signed with Fire Records for almost two and a half years though. They’ve been kind enough to give me the room to delay releasing an album, and I know no one else would have shown the kind of patience they’ve shown with me. I’ve already recorded ten songs on an album that my brother produced, but I just don’t feel like releasing it yet because I’d much rather concentrate on acting right now.

On her other interests: painting and writing…

My parents wanted me to go to Indus Valley and study communication, which I did, but a part of me has always wanted to be a writer. It’s been my dream for so long to see something I’ve written on screen. It would be an amazing thing to experience and I’m hoping that maybe in a year or two, I’ll be able to finally do something about it.
IVS definitely helped develop my interest in writing and painting, but I don’t think I’m very good at either of those things as yet. Right now I just do them because I enjoy doing them for myself. If however, I had to pick one of my interests out at the most terrible end of the day, I’d definitely pick writing. I love writing poetry and fiction. I once even wrote a play when I was in college.
You know, there’s always stuff you need to get out of your system, and you can do it better if you know how to write. Of course it’s nothing like “Dear diary, bla bla bla…” thankfully! What I write has got more to do with my understanding of people or my own work; I like writing about my experiences. I’m also working on a couple of scripts that I’d like to put on screen someday.

On Humsafar and the “negative lead” that that changed her life…

Humsafar happened to me exactly like everything else that’s happened in my life: like an accident! Nina Kashif, the executive producer, called me up and told me she wanted to meet with me to discuss the possibility of doing a play. This was a time when I’d already left AAG and was spending a good chunk of my time thinking about what I would be doing next. I remember when she told me the cast included Mahira Khan and Fawad Khan, and I got really excited because I already knew Mahira. I knew I’d have a good time with her because we were already friends. But then Nina started taking names of the rest of the cast: Hina Bayat, Behroze Sabzwari, Atiqa Odho… and I was like: “Are you serious? You want me to be in a play with these giants?” It was unreal… but then Nina dropped the bombshell: I was being offered a negative lead. I couldn’t believe they wanted me to be a villain in my first play! Anyway, she sent me the script and I read it faster than I’ve ever read anything in my life and it was just awesome!

On having to convince her dad, again…

Once I’d read the script, I sat down with my parents and discussed it with them. I told them that I thought it was an amazing opportunity to work with such a brilliant cast, but I wasn’t really sure if my debut should be as a negative lead or a villain. My dad was totally against it. He didn’t want people look at me and get pissed at me on screen, and he put up a hell of a fight. His ‘No’ was decisive. He was basically upset with the idea of me getting into plays. My mom, however, said that if I thought it was the best thing for me to do, then I should just go ahead with it… and so I went ahead and met Momina Duraid at Hum TV anyway.
Momina had to work on convincing me because I was scared. Everybody wants to be the nice girl on TV and they want to be taken as someone who’d be loved unanimously. But here I was, getting ready to play a character who nobody would like. I mean, just look at Sara, she’s insane!
When I finally convinced my dad and agreed to do it, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew people were going to dislike Sara a lot, but boy was I in for a surprise. I’d never imagined that people were actually going to hate on her with such conviction!

On relating with her character, Sara, on more than one level…

To be honest, I related quite well with Sara. If I wasn’t able to relate with her, I wouldn’t have been able to play her as well as I did. If you think about it, there’s always something or the other about the anti-hero that people can relate to; you know, things they do that are actually understandable. I see Sara as someone who’s just so madly in love with a guy that she’s lets go of her sanity. Everybody at some point in their life has been there.
I admire her confidence, but at the same time I don’t concur with her mindset at all. Sara is an elitist who keeps talking about “standards” while I’m the polar opposite of that. If somebody said that to me, I’d literally slap them. I don’t believe in double standards and I certainly don’t think I’m better than anybody else in any way. At the same time, it’s difficult for me to hate Sara. In the entire play, there’s no mention of Sara’s father. So to some extent, I understood where she was coming from. When I was a young girl, I hardly ever got to see my dad because he was always traveling. That actually helped me create a back story for Sara. I could understand the kind of insecurities she’d have because she didn’t have a father around. I totally got all the anger and frustration too because I myself am a very temperamental person: my anger has often gotten me into a lot of trouble because I just flare up! The tantrums I was throwing while playing Sara were mostly pulled out of my own life. I was a pain-in-the-ass teenager and I used to give my mom the hardest time!
I’m going to say something here that a lot of people might not agree with, but if you think about it, it takes a lot of guts to love somebody knowing that they don’t, can’t, or will never love you back. A lot of people relate to Sara and the mess she’s in, but they’d never admit it because it would end up reflecting badly on them. I’ve actually had fans come up to me and tell me that they feel Sara’s pain.
So yeah, there are definitely some shades to Sara’s personality that I relate to and I’m sure there are lots of other people who feel the same way.

On love, suicide, infatuation and jealousy…

I think suicide is just a wrong approach to life. At the same time, if I say there shouldn’t be jealousy in love, I’d be talking rubbish. Where there’s love, there’s going to be jealousy and anger because love has these amazing shades; it brings out the worst and best in people.
If in real life I ever found myself in a situation similar to Sara’s, I’d probably just wait and love the guy from a distance, I’d never think about destroying the guys home and life during my wait. Of course, I probably won’t be able to bring myself to marry someone else, but at the same time, I’d be happy if the guy’s happy living his life. At least that’s what I’d like to think.
Infatuation mixed with jealousy and selfishness can be detrimental, and that’s what happened in Sara’s case. She didn’t just want Ashar to be happy; she wanted him to be happy with her and no one else. To me, that’s not love. It’s more of a competition, which is just wrong. If you truly love someone, you could never let them suffer because by the end of the day, you’d just die of all the guilt.

mar3

On Mahira Askari Khan and Fawad Khan…

I have worked with Mahira previously so naturally we were very comfortable with each other. It was like we were both school friends who’d graduated and were now working together. We weren’t VJs anymore, this was serious stuff. Of course Mahira has acted before in ‘Neeyat’ and ‘Bol’ and this was my first play, but it seemed it was a very natural transition for both of us. She’s just a lot of fun to be around. I especially enjoyed shooting the scenes where I come in and start barking at her, saying all sorts of horrible things like: “Go find somebody of your own standard and bla bla…” I used to find it extremely hard to be so harsh and Mahira used to urge me to get so angry and charged up that I’d almost be ready to smack her!
Fawad is a total gentleman and takes his work very seriously. I’d never had a chance to interview him when I was a VJ, so I met him for the first time on the sets of Humsafar. I liked his attitude on the set a lot. I think we’re both quite similar in the sense we’re both quite reserved. I never felt any kind of pressure from him even though he and I had some very difficult scenes together. My character constantly kept telling Ashar that she loved him… and I’m sure there must’ve come a point when Fawad wanted me to just shut me up! He’s the kind of person who gives you room to be comfortable and I really respect him for it. I hope I get to work with him again soon.

On Hina Bayat and Atiqa Odho…

Hina Bayat is perhaps one of the most wonderful women I’ve ever met. We were extremely chatty together and I really enjoyed working with her. We would sit down and discuss our scenes and improvise and then run the changes by Sarmad to see what he thought. I think I enjoyed myself most while acting with Hina. Let me tell you, she isn’t one bit as serious as she looks like on screen. She has an amazing sense of humour!
And Atiqa Odho, well, is Atiqa Odho. I remember I was really nervous the first time we met on the set and she put me at ease right away. She was so nice to me and Mahira and Fawad. It feels so good to know that your seniors who you’ve looked up to all your life are actually genuinely nice people and encourage you to do your best. I think I got extremely lucky because I got a chance to work with her and a bunch of people who’ve all been so well received on screen. It’s humbling.

On the director who churned gold: Sarmad Khoosat…

Sarmad Khoosat is just too good for words. I can only hope that the people I work with in the future are just as patient, understanding and educated as he is. Working with someone like Sarmad is not something I’m going to forget anytime soon. He’s an amazing person and director, and extremely funny too. He gave me the room to breathe and improvise. He would just ask me to give him options so I could do a scene in a low tone or go completely hysterical, and then we would mutually decide which one was better! I remember I had a lot of difficult scenes with crying, screaming, throwing stuff, and saying the worst kind of things, you know, things I could never say to anybody in real life. And I owe it all to Sarmad for giving me the confidence needed to pull it off. If Sarmad hadn’t put me in the comfort zone, I would never have given the performance that I did. Even on the firs today of shooting, Sarmad took me aside and told me that everything would become much easier for me if I stopped thinking of my part as a negative role. He told me that Sara is just a poor girl who happens to love a guy who sadly doesn’t love her back.

On the overwhelming world-wide reception of Humsafar…

The kind of response we’ve received from the world over is just too overwhelming. Mahira, Fawad, Sarmad and I have often discussed this but we really can’t understand what happened here. It’s like a dream! Sure, everyone hopes their play does well, but this is just phenomenal! None of us had the slightest idea that Humsafar would go on to become the next big thing when we were shooting it.
I guess we were just lucky. Humsafar’s being compared to ‘Tanhaiyan’, ‘Ankahi’ and ‘Dhoop Kinaray’ for crying out loud! How insane is that, right?
Our industry isn’t looked at with much respect, and maybe Humsafar has somewhat changed that perception. It’s a Pakistani product with a very Pakistani cast and crew. It makes me super happy to know that people living in Australia, American, Holland and even India love this Pakistani product so much.

On how Humsafar has changed her life…

I’ve been catering to a certain age group all my life, but now that uncles and aunties recognize me and come to me and congratulate me on my performance and discuss Humsafar with me, it’s all very overwhelming. I’m being hated world over. It’s kind of a good thing because I know that if I wasn’t that good on screen, people wouldn’t hate me as much. Am I weird for thinking that’s beautiful? People who didn’t watch Pakistani dramas are watching Humsafar. In fact, people like my mother who were big Star Plus addicts have actually started watching Pakistani TV again! I’ve had a lot of ladies confess to me that Humsafar and I have managed to get them off their Star Plus addiction and that really makes me very proud!
Everybody wants to be appreciated for their work. I don’t care about anything else as long as I’m known and appreciated for my work, and Alhamdolillah, Humsafar has done that for me; it’s spoilt me! People have actually come up to me and told me that they never noticed me before. They want to know what other plays I’ve done before and are always surprised when I tell them that Humsafar is my first play. It’s flattering to know my fans expect me to have done something good before to have been able to pull something as great as Humsafar! It’s a great compliment.
Humsafar has’nt just changed my life, it’s changed all of our lives. It has truly been a dream project for me and now that I look back, I’m just glad to be a part of it all. I’m so happy this “accident” happened!

On all the Humsafar-related parodies, comics and jokes doing rounds on the internet, and why she doesn’t follow them…

I don’t like to keep track of it all, majorly because I don’t use Facebook that much. My friends keep me updated on what’s going on though, and I think that’s enough for me. I mean, sure, I’d like to know through people whether I performed well or not, but I try and stay away from the whole Humsafar jokes, comics and jokes even though I know they’re not all necessarily nasty. In fact, I think the biggest compliment I could ever have expected is people doing all sorts of parodies on me and the play. The response Humsafar has gotten is amazing, but for now, I’m in my own happy place and I’m OK just knowing that it’s done this well. People hate me but they love my acting… for now, I’m cool with that.

On Quratulain Balouch and “Wo Humsafar Tha,” the song that gave everyone goose bumps…

I remember it was the last day of shooting Humsafar and Sarmad sat us down to discuss the soundtrack. When he mentioned he was considering Quratulain Balouch to sing the title song, I thought he had a catchy tune about “pyar” and all in mind… but then when I heard “Wo Humsafar Tha,” which was the total opposite of what I was expecting and it gave everyone goose bumps! I was totally blown away! It’s one of those songs that come by every 10-15 years and shake things up; it’s a complete package. Quratulain Balouch sings like a dream. Sometimes I actually wish I had her powerful, soulful voice!

On Josh, the movie she recently finished shooting…

Well, Josh is an international venture and will hopefully be released worldwide sometime before the year ends. I think we’ll be taking it to some film festivals around the world as well, and that’s really an exciting thought. It has a great cast that includes Mohib Mirza, Aamina Sheikh, Khalid Butt and Tipu Shah, who I’ve worked with before on a telefilm “Ab Set Hai” back in 2010.
It’s directed by Erum Parveen Bilal. She’s one of those hip, cool directors that make everything fun to do. Every time she felt we were losing it or the energy level was plummeting, she’d make us all jump and scream at the top of our lungs like crazy people! It was all a lot of fun. Initially, I had qualms about doing it since it wasn’t really a big role, but Erum convinced me by making me look at it as a project that will hopefully do good things for me. I think that’s a good way to go about it and I’m glad I did it.

On her role in movie, and the little bit of the story she’s allowed to leak…

I’m playing a reporter who works for a channel and is friends with Aamina Sheikh’s character. It was so familiar for me because I’ve worked for a channel as a VJ before. I drew a lot of inspiration from there. It’s basically about current events taking place in the country at a particular tie and how people react to them, with special focus on someone who finally decides to do something about it. I’m not really allowed to talk much about the story and I definitely don’t want to give anything away that’ll ruin it for you or other people. I can assure you though that it’ll be an interesting film to watch because we really enjoyed ourselves while working on it.

On the potential of Pakistani filmmakers and how she’s looking forward to watching all the upcoming Pakistani movies…

Pakistanis are experimenting more with movies now than they’ve ever done before. Look at ‘Bol’. It was a brilliant movie that addressed such important issues in such a beautiful way, and now other filmmakers are trying to make interesting films as well. I’m very excited about the upcoming movies ‘Seedlings’ and ‘Waar’. I’m actually going to go stand in a line to buy a ticket to see them. It’s all about supporting your own people and talent. I look at all these projects as baby steps that’ll eventually lead us to bigger, better things. Of course you’re not going to become Martin Scorsese in the first go, but with the support and right kind of criticism, who knows what one can go on to do, right?

On her second television play, a star-studded comedy…

I’m currently working for another play which is a comedy. Once again, I’ve been blessed with an opportunity to work with a phenomenal cast that includes Bushra Ansari, Saba Hameed, Javed Sheikh and Hina Dilpazeer. I’m the only new one on the sets, so it does get a little scary at times, but they’re all extremely helpful towards me. Doing comedy and making people laugh is serious business, so in ways this play is proving to be harder for me than Humsafar. I just hope my comic timing is correct.
This is going to get wrapped up in March, and only then will I think about my next project. I like devoting all my attention and energy on one character at a time. I can’t do shoot-hopping like other actors at all.

On the unlikelihood of her turning to direction and/or production anytime soon…

I’d like to focus on being an actress for now. I gave ample time to myself to become a good VJ and RJ. Humsafar was just step one for me in the world of acting. I now have a lot to learn and a long way to go. I don’t want to get into direction or production just yet because it’s not the right time. I’d rather take a year off to do my homework first. I’ve done my minors in filmmaking in college, but I’m very rusty at the moment and would prefer to do my research and polish myself before jumping into something as serious as that. Everything I do is serious work for me. My friends mock me for being so uptight about my work, but I’m sorry, that’s just who I am!

On the headache politics gives her…

I’m not at all political! In fact, I’m so politically incorrect, it’s not even funny. I actually try hard to stay away from politics because it gives me a bad headache. I don’t support anybody. I think politics is evil and dirty, and I can’t stand the politics that’s shoved in our faces on television. I’m a very straightforward person; I think life’s too short to play games. It’s a shame that our nation prefers politics over entertainment. It’s pathetic.

On the importance of good hair, and the notion that putting outfits together is a “nuisance”…

Honestly speaking, I’m the least stylish person I know. The only thing I do pay attention to is my hair. If I’m happy with the way my hair looks, I’ll be on top of the world! But if God-forbid I’m having a bad hair day, I could be wearing the best gown by the best designer in the world and I’d still feel like crap!
I know this probably sounds weird, but I don’t like getting dressed up at all. I think getting made up and picking out clothes and the whole girly routine is a waste of time. I’d much rather be in my pajamas at home or a pair of jeans or lawn shalwar-kameez if I’m going out. I’m a minimalist. I don’t like complicating stuff and putting outfits together is just a nuisance!

On lawn…

Surprisingly, I’m quite impressed with the kind of stuff our designers are doing with lawn these days. I absolutely loved the clothes we did the shoot with. Some of those outfits don’t look like lawn at all what with all the churidaars and A-lines and short kameezes, and the incredible work done on them! I’m definitely going to buy one or two of those pieces!

On the cover shoot and interview with Xpozé…

One of my first interviews ever was with Xpozé, and I still have that copy because I absolutely cherish it. I just found out that it was the first issue of the magazine as well, and that makes it all the more special! I’ve done the ‘Humsay’ cover as well, but everything was on a bigger scale with Xpozé. Everything was more professional and fun with you guys even though I suck at posing. I had a great time on the shoot, obviously, and even now, as we’re talking, I have to say that it’s very rare that you’re so comfortable giving an interview that you don’t realize how much time has passed and that you’ve actually spoken so much! This is one of those extremely memorable interviews, and I hope everyone reading it will enjoy it just as much as I enjoyed giving it!