x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Ali Zafar makes composing debut in Bollywood's London, Paris, New York

We talk to the Pakistani pop star Ali Zafar at the premiere of his latest film, the Bollywood romcom London, Paris, New York.

Aditi Rao Hydari and Ali Zafar during a Dubai press conference for the Bollywood movie London, Paris, New York.
Aditi Rao Hydari and Ali Zafar during a Dubai press conference for the Bollywood movie London, Paris, New York.

Less than a week after Pakistan picked up its first Academy Award, with Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy taking home an Oscar for the film Saving Face in the Best Documentary Short category, one of the country's rising stars praised the victory, and said it was a sign of things to come.

"Congratulations to Sharmeen," said Ali Zafar, the Lahore-born actor and musician, who has sold more than seven million albums and since made his break into Bollywood. "I am sure more people like her will come, and I'd love to be a part of it. I'll be waiting."

Zafar, who hasn't acted in Pakistan, says that the Indian film industry has evolved dramatically compared to that of his home country. "But I'm hoping that the new breed of filmmakers will change that. We do see some budding directors coming in."

Zafar was talking in Dubai at the premiere of his latest film, the Bollywood romcom London, Paris, New York, which is now in cinemas. The directorial debut of Anu Menon (who also wrote the story), the film - perhaps unsurprisingly - follows Zafar and female lead Aditi Rao Hydari across three days in three cities (can you guess which ones?) as they meet and fall in love, not once, not twice, but thrice.

The film also marks the composing debut for Zafar in a Bollywood film. While he has had roles in three previous Indian titles (most famously 2010's satire Tere Bin Laden, in which he plays a young reporter who fakes an Osama bin Laden video), this is the first in which he has composed the full soundtrack. But it's something he said he wasn't originally lined up to do.

"I wasn't supposed to do the music, but one day I phoned them up and asked them about the songs," he claimed. "I was sitting in my studio with my keyboard and piano, and after about 15 to 20 minutes I sent them a demo."

Unfortunately for Zafar, three days went by without a reply. "I eventually phoned up Menon and she said she'd actually emailed me asking me to do the entire score. I hadn't seen it."

With Zafar in his studio in Pakistan and Hydari in India, much of the recording was done over Skype. "I'm a reluctant singer," admitted Hydari. "I went from singing in my bathroom to singing in a studio."

In London, Paris, New York, Zafar plays Nikhil, a rich Punjabi kid who heads to London to study filmmaking on his father's money. There, he meets Lalitha (Hydari), a middle-class south Indian girl with a scholarship to study politics in New York. Sparks fly, hilarious consequences follow, they meet, go their separate ways, meet again, and, well, you can probably guess the rest.

"It's difficult not to love London in the summer, it's a good place for attraction," said Hydari on the film's first city. "Then there's Paris, which is darker, more intense. And finally New York, a place where you can be who you want to be." Hydari failed to acknowledge that London - according to the trailer - would also provide the necessary weather for the obligatory love scene in the rain.

It might not be long before Dubai or Abu Dhabi start cropping up more frequently as Bollywood locations, with the UAE and the region as a whole becoming one of the most important for the Indian film industry. And this was something that was acknowledged by Vijay Singh, the CEO of Fox Star Studios, the Murdoch-owned Mumbai-based company distributing London, Paris, New York.

"Two years back, when looking at the state of the business for Bollywood across the world, you only spoke about the US and the UK, and then came the Middle East," said Singh. "The good news is, that over the past two years, now the Middle East accounts for as big a business as the US and UK."

Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Muscat as a sequel?


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