Ali Zafar, South Asia’s music star, who visited Qatar for the Formula 1 Weekend, had an exclusive conversation with Gulf Times on his experience in Doha and music scene back home.
We all know Ali Zafar, South Asia music’s legendarily charm-heavy style czar, for his Kishore Kumar style vocals and that fun element that has us hooked. There are very few pop stars in South Asia who have a voice as deep and beautiful as Ali Z which transcends borders.
Ali’s struggle can been seen through his work. He only worked for television dramas in 2002, including Kaanch Ke Par, Landaa Bazaar and Kollege Jeans on PTV Home, a Pakistan-owned channel, to collect money for his first album as music was his real passion.

Ali Zafar

He released his first song Channo in 2003 which was a big hit. In fact, the album Huqa Paani was a a huge success and turned him into a star.
After making his mark as a singer and actor in Pakistan, Ali achieved another milestone by bagging major roles in quite a few Bollywood films like Tere Bin Laden, London Paris New York, Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, Kill Dill and Dear Zindagi before coming back to Pakistan, and creating a realm in Pakistan film industry with Teefa in Trouble (2018).
It wasn’t really coming back to Pakistan, because he never quite left. He may have been focusing on building his Bollywood acting career but who wouldn’t, considering the opportunities, professionalism and profits to be gained from working in the Indian film industry?
Still, Ali consistently shuttled back to his motherland, making sure to be a part of award shows, ad campaigns, Coke Studio and other singing projects at home.
He can play up the glamour, dance and sing to his own vocals, quite literally, and he can smolder on magazine covers effortlessly. He’s the classical gayak (singer) who has been mesmerising the fans for almost two decades now.
When Gulf Times came to know Ali was in Doha for Formula 1 weekend, we couldn’t help but catch up with him to talk about his musical journey, his thought process and his experience of witnessing Qatar’s first Formula 1.
Breakfast at 8am seemed such an unlikely timing for my first meeting with Ali, that I wondered perhaps if something had been lost in translation. But then there is Ali, cheerily gung ho, sitting on a cosy couch waiting for me so we order the food.
Ali is a star, no doubt, but he isn’t one for starry airs and graces. Meet him and he’s polite to the core and an effortless smile and a candid conversation follows. Even during such early hours, there were so many of his fans interrupting the conversation for photographs, all wanting to shake his hand or have a word.
“I’m a big cricket fan but F1 was a great experience itself. Last time I was in Qatar was about a decade ago and since then it has changed a lot. I feel really honoured that Qatar Tourism invited me to experience this happening affair. The hosts are extremely warm and accommodating and are looking after us really well,” said Ali.
Ali has been releasing songs in regional languages lately but have been missing from Coke Studio scene since 2017 after the release of his song Julie featuring his little brother Danyal Zafar.
Explaining how the music scene has changed over the years, Ali says, “After doing Julie I haven’t been in touch with Coke Studio in terms of performing. I mean I keep seeing some good music and interesting work coming out, but for me it became a little stale to be honest. The musicians and the industry should not bank upon only brands to uplift them or to provide a platform. And if I’ve been given an opportunity and a following, than I feel it is a must to project and highlight the talent beyond me also.
"I’m not the kind of artist that thinks he is going to be the only one forever because I think there is a lot of room for everybody and there is a lot of raw talent in our country and it needs a platform.”
The film industry in Pakistan is on the rise, but the drama industry has been thriving for years now.
Will Ali be making his appearance on television screens again?
He responds, “I do keep getting offers from colleagues and friends in the industry but right now I’m fully focused on music, because music is my life, and I’m more of a cinema person. But if anything very interesting comes along my way I am open to it.”
Covid caused a nationwide shutdown of cinemas in Pakistan for nearly two years. Post Teefa in Trouble, Ali wasn’t seen in any production. Why so?
“We were going to go forward with Teefa Part 2 and there were other films I was working on but Covid changed the entire world. The art of storytelling changed and evolved in these two years. I don’t think the kind of story telling and cinema that existed before Covid still thrives. I don’t know whether the same stuff will work now.
Personally, as an artist I want to evolve and do things I haven’t done before. Give audiences something new. And that takes time.”
Focused on releasing songs in regional languages of Pakistan, Ali believes that understanding the culture and the lyrics is imperative. “It wasn’t about just knowing the lyrics and singing out in a style that it deserves to but the intent of releasing them was to highlight the culture and people of the region. We haven’t quite learned the art of projecting and glorifying our own culture and people. We undermine them. I feel that music brings people together, so my idea was to bring all these people and provinces together through music.”
In October, Pakistan cricket authorities were left fuming after New Zealand ended the tour minutes before the start of the first One-Day International in Rawalpindi, citing an unspecified security alert.
After the dramatic return of the New Zealand Cricket Team the need was felt to organise a tournament (first-ever Celebrity Premier League) at the same venue that would boost Pakistan's image worldwide.
Ali opened the league with a performance in front of ecstatic crowd.
“I love my country and I love my people, and I feel like we have had enough of misrepresentation globally, I mean there is so much more to Pakistan, and the people of Pakistan than what is projected internationally. And I partly blame ourselves for it… in the sense that the way we should be projecting our culture and people but we don’t,” adds Ali.
“So we should. I try to do my part in the best way possible. I think it was highly unfair on New Zealand’s part to cancel the tour like that because I think it’s detrimental, affecting the whole image of a country. What kind of message is being sent to the world that it’s not a safe country? So I think we should all play our part, in sending out the right message.”
And the pav bhaaji is served for Ali and without an intent to disturb his most important meal of the day, I ask him if he has a word for Pakistani community living in Doha.
“I feel like every time I come and see a place like that’s developing or has developed like Dubai or Qatar, and developed because of hard work of many Pakistanis, I feel sad for two things: one that I wish, we would have seen our country developed with such pace. I mean in 10 years, the landscapes have changed. And secondly, the kind of contribution that Pakistanis have made needs to be recognised on a global and larger level, so I mean I do hope that they get everything they deserve. I thank them from the bottom of my heart for supporting and loving me all these years.”
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