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Redefining Mainstream

Arif Zakaria tells Titas Chowdhury that he tried to be a diligent actor on the sets of his latest film Raazi and the joy of working with female directors. 

On The Brief

I wasn’t given a brief. My job is to follow the director and I did whatever she said. I was familiar with the story. I had read the book. Harinder Sikka had also produced a film called Nanak Shah Fakir, which I had acted in. This script was very well etched out and I did exactly what the director wanted of me and tried to be a very diligent actor on the set.

On The Role

I have been living in Mumbai, in a Muslim household, which gave me many characters to draw from. We have had these old faithful house help for years, who are fiercely loyal to the family and the house. All this is in my subconscious and, hopefully, I represented it truthfully.

My character is servile and fiercely loyal. He is the first one in the film who is suspicious of the girl. The script was very well written. I simply followed Meghna’s directions on what to do, what not to do and how little to do, which is very important. Then, I spontaneously built on the back story.

On The Challenges

The major challenge was staying true to the written word because that is when the truth and honesty emerge. I had to be diligent and essentially do what was asked of me in the true spirit of the script, and in a truthful and earnest way. That was the plan.

On The Director

This was a very good experience. It was a quiet and sensitive set. Everything was on a grand scale but done in a very orderly fashion. So, it went like clockwork. I have had the good fortune of working with a lot of women directors. I did my debut film with Kalpana Lajmi, a very strong feminist director. Then, I worked with Deepa Mehta in 1947 Earth and with Pamela Rooks in Dance Like A Man. I did a short film with Swati Bhise, a director from New York, called Swords And Sceptres. I find them more sensitive than male directors and their sets have a different vibe.

On His Co-Actors

Alia Bhatt and Vicky Kaushal are very good. They are very professional, come prepared, and are tuned in to what’s happening. They are polite, obedient and hardworking. It is always good to have such great co-actors. They are cultured, educated and understand the vibe of a set, the presence of a co-actor and how to relate to a co-actor – no matter how big or small their roles are. This translates on the screen. Alia doesn’t carry any star baggage with her.

On The Response

It does feel good, obviously. Any appreciation is always welcome. When peers, the audience and the media watch your performance and appreciate it, that always feels good. Applause is always good to hear.

Raazi is a mainstream, heartland film. Alia’s presence gave it a certain stature because she is now a star. It is a mainstream film handled a little sensitively and very realistically. There is no jingoism. It presents even Pakistanis in a good light. It presents a patriotic spirit on both sides of the border. It presents people with a balanced point of view. This is a balance that has been struck very well. You feel sad for everybody in the film at the end.

On Future Projects

I have finished shooting for Swords And Sceptres, which is the English version of the Rani of Jhansi story. I play Gaus Khan, who is a prominent character in the film. I also finished shooting for a small film called Ahaan, which is Nikhil Pherwani’s directorial debut.




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