After spending more than three decades in the Hindi film industry, Arif Zakaria never ceases to awe his audience with gripping performances. From Chunauti on Doordarshan to Qubool Hain 2.0 on Zee5 and Ahaan on Netflix, he has explored all mediums with ease. He will next be seen on The Socho Project by Abhigyan Jha, Manish Gupta’s film IPC Section 44 and Rajkumar Santoshi’s latest, Gandhi versus Godse. In an interview with Cinema Journal, the actor reveals why he believes that too many social jargons do more harm than good to the simplistic charms of good old storytelling. Excerpts:
Why did you take up a film like Ahaan?
l Nikhil Pherwani came to me with the script three-four years back through one of our common casting director friends. I found the story sweet and appealing. He even cast an actor with Down Syndrome, which showed how earnest he was with the subject. He didn’t have any money and we were just about trying to put everything together. This is the kind of risk an actor will usually take in his early years. I was a little sceptical initially, but then I decided to go with my instincts. Abuli Mamaji actually went through a lot of workshops for the role of Ahaan and I was very fascinated with that! I also believed that the spirit of the story has to prevail.
How was it shooting with Abuli Mamaji?
l Initially, it was a bit difficult because as actors we are used to a certain kind of response from our co-actors. Abuli had never faced the camera before this. It took some time, but within the first few days we were very comfortable. Soon, I was in sync with his rhythm and after that it all sort of flowed in. Slowly, he got used to the camera and we developed good timing.
From Doordarshan to OTT, how has the business of showbiz changed over the years?
l I feel any platform that gives you an opportunity to tell a story and display your skills is always a good thing to happen. I was in college when I started acting in serials for Doordarshan. But we did move on to private channels like Star, Sony and Zee with time. I then made a transition to cinema. So, it doesn’t matter what the platform is. I don’t think OTT has been carved out of something that is out of the world and we don’t really need to ponder over whether it is going to last. It will stay on, that is a given! We are all smartphone addicts. Technology has led us to this road and we are watching content on TV or phones all the time. Some 20 years later we might have holograms, with hanging images playing before us. So, we can only go forward from here. Every platform finds its own place under the sun at the end of the day.
What according to you is more important in cinema: Commercial success or portrayal of naked reality?
l Why does cinema have to be a cathedral where everything has to be sorted out? Making films is an expensive exercise. We need commercial angles and commercial trappings to keep the boat sailing. Unless there is a very exciting story told in a very commercial format which people will watch with friends and family in a theatre, the film will not work. For example, Kamal Haasan made Appu Raja with dwarfs to highlight the cause. But it was made within the parameters of a regular, masala entertaining film. We need to design a storyline around a good cause or a real issue, and make it a commercially viable film that people will buy tickets to watch. I hope this provides a launch pad or a sounding board for investors who have enough money to take that kind of a risk.
So, you don’t believe in realistic cinema?
l I don’t believe an actor needs to take a stand on every social issue around him. That is not an actor’s job. An actor does not have to highlight a cause or be part of any controversy. A movie does not change anything about the kind of person an actor is. Even though people give us a lot of respect and uplift us to a certain stature, it is all just in that moment. We all go back to our regular lives after that. We don’t need to hang on to controversies to stay in the limelight! An actor needs to know his lines, that is his job!
But one expects public figures to influence and perhaps accelerate what is right…
l Honestly, I don’t think it is my responsibility to change society. One may have a personal agenda, but that is a separate thing altogether. That is why I don’t espouse any kind of cause on any social media platform apart from my work. I find that becomes too political an exercise. For example, if I play a pimp in a film and then I advocate the cause of child trafficking on social media, then the whole exercise becomes a sort of contradiction, some kind of a hypocrisy. I’m doing something for money, but talking about just the opposite on social media! That is ridiculous. Even though we are all actors, there has to be a certain kind of clarity in what we do and what we say for people to get convinced. I didn’t set out to change the world you know. If that does happen in the course of my work, then that is chance. Not meticulously crafted reactions!
Don’t you feel that as an actor you should be giving back something to society, in return for all the accolades society has brought you?
l I believe if you want to do something for society you can do it privately. You don’t have to make a show of it on social media. If you are doing that then it becomes a hypocritical exercise in itself. Today, we have a scary situation around us. Everybody has some cause to espouse. Actors choose roles based on how they will come out in society. For example, in America you have the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. But if you have every film, every narrative coming out from them based on this theme, then that sort of becomes tiresome. What happened to the beauty of good old storytelling then? Why do we have to keep going on and on with the same jargon!
But don’t you think things around us have reached rock bottom and unless we keep doing this again and again, we would never be able to get out of that hell hole?
l I totally understand that emotion but these are very political stands to take. I respect and support the view but I believe when actors take political stands or speak up for a cause, it is largely because they want to propagate a political party more than the cause itself! I just don’t see myself doing it! I need to have a clear conscience when I go to bed at night.