September Issue 2010

By | Arts & Culture | Movies | People | Profile | Published 14 years ago

Atif Aslam is on a roll — has been for some time now. His peppy numbers for Bollywood money-spinners Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani and Race have been the hot favourites on Indian music charts. And he has just returned from a successful tour of the US where he performed at 15 concerts and gigs. Prior to that he had toured Bangladesh, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Surinam and Trinidad.

What’s more, Aslam will be making his debut as an actor in Shoaib Mansoor’s Bol. The movie is slated for release by the end of September, or the beginning of October this year. Given the stupendous success of Mansoor’s first film, Khuda Kay Liye, viewers have great expectations of Bol.

For Aslam, working with Mansoor was a “one-of-a kind” experience. “I don’t think I’m a great actor,” says the singer modestly, “but working with seniors in the field for my debut performance was truly a learning process.” And if his launching pad earns him good reviews, he’d be quite open to more acting offers — provided the scripts have depth. “The content matters,” he states, but music will always be his first priority.

Towards the end of 2009, Aslam collaborated with Strings on the song, ‘Ab Khud He Kuch Karna Parega.’ It was a motivational song exhorting all Pakistanis to take the lead and do something for their country instead of relying on inept and corrupt politicians. In Aslam’s own words, “It was a wake-up call for everyone, especially the youth, most of whom are currently experiencing a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness.” Aslam says the song was intended as a message for the youth to realise their own potential and to understand where Pakistan stands vis-a-vis the ruthless world of global politics today.

Aslam sees music as a harbinger of social change — the change comes surely and steadily. He is nostalgic about the past: “I believe that in the past poets and singers like Noor Jehan made the world richer through their meaningful lyrics and music that had soul. Unfortunately, people don’t want to listen to that kind of music or songs that carry a message any more.” Aslam is thoroughly disillusioned with the music scene in the country. “To begin with, we don’t have any Copyright Act in Pakistan. Even if we do, you barely see its implementation. Also, there’s only one record label here, so you can barely contribute [to the music scene].”

Is that the reason behind his repeated forays into the flashy world of Bollywood?

“The Pakistani film industry is not established, so leading singers have to explore other avenues. India is way more exposed in terms of both films and music, thus creating better opportunities for artists there,” Aslam told Yashica Dutta of the Deccan Chronicle in a recent interview.

He is convinced that music can be used to “reduce tensions that exist between countries,” and additionally, that it has the power of creating mutual respect between nations. His sphere of interest extends beyond India — where he has garnered a sizeable fan following — to the US, where Pakistan is consistently getting a bad press. “The Americans, for instance, don’t know anything about Pakistan except what they see on their news channels,” says Aslam. “By collaborating with different musicians and artists, an awareness can be created.”

For this reason, Aslam and two of his band members, Sarmad Ghafoor and Sameer Rashid Shami, met with three former members of Guns N’ Roses, Gilby Clarke, Matt Sorum and Lanny Cordolla.

The meeting was arranged by Todd Shea, an American who travelled to Pakistan when the earthquake struck in 2005 and ended up establishing a hospital in Kashmir.

“Todd is currently working on this project through which he wants American audiences to see the positive side of Pakistan,” Aslam states. “I’ve already recorded a couple of songs with the former members of Guns N’ Roses in Los Angeles. The songs are about Pakistan, America and spreading peace through music.”

As for Bollywood, the singer does not have any projects in the pipeline for now, but he might begin work on his next album. Aslam agrees that to “break into Bollywood,” connections do help and the process becomes easier. However, at the end of the day, maintaining one’s foothold in Bollywood is extremely challenging.

But Aslam is not thinking Bollywood right now. With a few months left before Bol’s release, all his energies are focused on his debut film. His peer Ali Zafar’s movie Tere Bin Laden was rejected by the Pakistan Censor Board for assorted reasons, but Aslam’s movie is bound to be released with great fanfare.

Atif Aslam the musician has been a great success story. But will Atif Aslam the actor repeat his success story?

Come September/October you’ll have your answer.