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Spotlight: Azfar Ali

Give us a background of your journey to the media world. How did you get in to this field?
Well, I come from a family of artists. Both my mom and dad are painters. Two of my mom's paternal uncles are also artists. I was brought up in such an environment. I had no idea what I wanted to do in life till I went to London to study in 1993, where I chose graphic designing as my future profession. When I returned home in the summer vacations the following year, I thought I’d do an internship.

However, due to the lack of design houses in Karachi I landed at a television production company called Combine Productions headed by Mr. Ghanzanfar Ali (my mentor). There I learnt that I had a flair for moving visuals and I loved the fact that I would one day see my work on TV. I decided to put my higher education on hold and worked day and night for Combine. I assisted the directors, camera crew, served tea to actors etc. After 3 or 4 months, I was promoted to 'segment director' in which I was to shooting interviews of pop singers for a music show. Soon I was given my very own program called “Video Countdown” and I was finally made the 'producer.' After working for 4 years and doing over 100 episodes I went to the USA to study film. Unfortunately, since it was very expensive, I ended up completing my BA in advertising. I’ve been working freelance since my return.

You had gained a lot of fame with the sitcom "Sub Set Hai"? Tell us something about that? How did you end up doing such a play?
“Sub Set Hai” was totally my idea based on the “Archie” comic book series. I have said before that nothing was ever copied or extracted from the comic book itself. I focused on the fact that Pakistani media ignored the youth. There were no programs that spoke our language or had stories to which we could relate ourselves to. I never liked that fact that our plays were women-oriented and carried a very formal tone of dialogue even when two very close friends were communicating. I broke all rules of script writing and created 4 characters that seemed real. We decided not to use a written script. We improvised every scene and I knew exactly how to make it funny, yet realistic, through my direction.

You have tried out many things; acting, play direction & music video direction; which one do you enjoy doing the most. In your opinion, which field do you think you fit best in?
My greatest desire is to make my own film. The path leading to my goal is through plays. I enjoy them the most and I have a good understanding of them. I do music video direction and acting sometimes just to break the monotony. Plays are about people and their stories. Through them I get a chance to understand human behavior, which is a PhD in psychology itself. For me, the idea of recreating reality is very fascinating. I believe I can do this forever.

Who is your biggest inspiration?
All great people inspire me. I love reading about their lives and understanding their goals. However, my greatest desire is to see Pakistani art, film and television progress. I want to create a cool image of Pakistan through my work. I always say: "People always work for themselves, when they succeed the country progresses, but I work only for the country's progress and occasionally I get something out of it too."

How was the experience working with Shahzad Nawaz in Daira?
To be honest I was very disappointed because every frame you see in that film was created by me. At the end I was stripped of my credit and left to be called just the “Lead Director”. I’m still trying to figure out what it means.

It is said that Azfar Ali is very "Munn Maujee" in person? Is that true?
I like doing what I believe in, things that I do are unique and they are not mainstream. I reject all offers that I think are not going to bring about a change in the market. So I’m not “Munn Maujee”. I’m just looking at the bigger picture.

What has been the best move you have ever made in your career?
I guess it was the decision to marry Salma... she has changed my entire life.

Out of all your plays, which one is your favorite?
A short love story I did for Geo called “Apple Pie”. It’s story about a fat girl who falls in love with an army officer. I like this one because it was cute. It reminded the audiences of the good old PTV days, when plays used to be sensitive, funny, practical and artistic.

Your comment, on the current media scene of Pakistan?
We are a fast growing industry, however I don’t agree with the direction in which we are headed. We lack originality, literature, and we have failed to create 'thinkers'. However, all hope isn’t lost. There are a few hard workers aiming to do high-quality work. Some of them are succeeding as well. In my opinion the first thing we need is a bunch of writers, who 'read' and observe the world around them, not just Indian and Hollywood films.

Every director has a dream project in mind. Tell us what’s yours?
It’s a film, it’s all in my head. I even have a name, but I won't tell you that yet. I might in a couple of years. It isn’t the time for me to make a film yet.

How do you position yourself in the media world in the coming years, as there is more and more competition coming in everyday?
Well, Salma and I have a company now; it’s called “Kolachi Films”. We are trying to do projects that are solely our ideas and are based on my beliefs; we hope to set a pattern that many can follow.

Tell us about your upcoming projects?
We are working on 3 projects now, one is a Telefilm on boxing, the second is a sitcom about two girls who are cousins and the third is a serial about a young man who moves from Faisalabad to Karachi, trying to strike it rich in this city. This one is our pet project and I have my fingers crossed for it.

Talking about your love life, you are married to your “Sub Set Hai” co-star Salma. Tell us how it happened?
We just met each other! We spoke over the phone for I think 7 hours and at the end, I proposed. It turns out that our moms were long lost friends. Now here we are married.

Are you two (Salma & You) going to working together as co-stars in any coming projects?
Nothing is planned so far as acting together is concerned, but Salma is the CEO of Kolachi Films and the producer for all our upcoming projects.

Tell us something about your family?
We are a very small family. There’s my sister who’s married with 2 kids. My mom got divorced when I was very young and I’ve lived with her ever since. I do meet my father sometimes though. My Kolachi Team is my family as well. We are 6 in all.

Your aims & goals in life?
I wish to pay it forward, my experiences have taught me a lot and I want others to benefit from them. I love to teach others all that I know. My goal is to make a film and be recognized by it in the years to come.

Anything that you dislike about the current social system? How would you like to change it?
I don’t like the fact that our people are greatly influenced by the Indian media, and have also started to follow them in many ways. This has made us lose our identity and our originality. I don’t know if one man can change this, but there’s no harm in trying!

Any message to the nation reading your interview?
One should know the difference between ‘talent’ and ‘desire’. There are some things one can do well and other things one has a desire to do, but cannot necessarily do well. I always wanted to be a cricketer. I might have become one but never one as good as Brain Lara!

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