September Issue 2015
Starry, Starry Knight
These past couple of months we’ve seen the debonair, gallant but seemingly enigmatic Sikander (Alexandre) Rizvi magnified and close-up on the big screen, occupying cover spreads in leading magazines and on numerous top-notch talk shows. But while he had made a public debut of sorts in a television commercial earlier, his burst into the public eye came when he bagged the lead role in Asad-ul-Haq’s avant-garde film, Dekh Magar Pyaar Se, playing a love-struck rickshaw driver, opposite the sizzling Humaima Malick.
The Sikander we knew — the gastronomic force behind Karachi’s favorite cafÃ©, Xanders — was never one for the spotlight and his foray into Lollywood left even those closest to him surprised. Newsline caught up with the actor at his picturesque home in Defence to have a candid conversation about this fortuitous leap of career, reminisce about his childhood and discover the man behind the screen.
It was the year 1972 and the air was heady with socialist ideas, when a young, beautiful, free-spirited French girl arrived in Lahore, having backpacked her way to this part of the subcontinent from Paris. She found herself in the famous Shahnoor Studios — a project of the late musical legend Noor Jehan and her former husband, Syed Shaukat Hussain Rizvi. It was here that she met a dashing young photographer, Akbar, Noor Jehan’s son, fell in love and made Pakistan her home! That woman, Florence Villiers, has certainly passed on her joie de vivre to her son, Sikander, who exudes the same unfettered dynamism. Sikander is very close to his mum, shares a home with her in Karachi, lunches with her most afternoons at her restaurant CafÃ© Flo, and unabashedly proclaims her as his “closest confidante, my biggest inspiration and my biggest supporter.”
Dressed down, with an easy smile, Sikander talks about how his mother encourages both her children — he has one sibling, Sonia — to explore every opportunity that comes their way. But he says, even he was not prepared for this incidental foray into Lollywood. “My audition was not great, but the film’s director, Asad-ul-Haq, was adamant since I had worked with him previously on an advertisement. Initially I said, ‘Asad, you’re mad! I’m not an actor’, but he said ‘we see something in you’. They even told me my audition was not great [laughs], but they had faith in me,” says the rising star, explaining how he went from being a full-time restaurateur to acting.
Headlines in society pages, interviews with Sikander and film reviews all hark back to Sikander’s illustrious family tree, rooted deeply in the arts. From the late musical legend Madame Noor Jehan, to his sister, actor Sonia Jehan of Bollywood fame, the media paints Sikander’s transition to the movies as inevitable. However, Sikander has a different version. “People have always said, ‘your family is in the industry, you’re going to be acting one day,’ but I used to tell them that there was no way this would happen. I’m not an actor, neither was I looking for it. As for my grandmother, she was another calibre — she was untouchable.”
Sikander did not, in fact, grow up around the stars in the famous Shahnoor Studios in Lahore. Sikander’s father, Akbar Rizvi, moved to Karachi very early in Sikander’s life, and opened his own photography studio. Sikander, born in France, lived first in Lahore, then Karachi, and spent every summer with his maternal grandparents in their picturesque villa with its azure blue pool beside the French Riveria. After his schooling, he moved to Europe to attend hospitality school. He did, however, share memories of fun-filled Eids spent with Noor Jehan and remembers one special time when his paternal grandmother and her entourage, consisting of various truly colourful characters that she had brought along from Pakistan, visited his maternal grandparents in France. “The whole family would sit by the pool, Dado would sing for us, and have us in fits of laughter with her stories,” shares Sikander.
Sikander’s first experience on set was both exciting and challenging. From the numerous retakes, to the long wait before and between shots, Sikander saw the gruelling and unglamorous side to filmmaking early on. “I hurt myself a few times on set as well! There is a scene when I’m really, really angry and it’s up to me how to play out my emotions. And there is this piece of rope on set, because it’s a garage, so I pick up the rope and throw it and turn around. I did that once, twice, six, seven, eight times and I hurt my eye with the rope pretty badly in the last take — nearly popped my eye out. I was out of commission for a few days.”
Playing a romantic dream-chaser, up against the insurmountable, inevitably engendered the question of his ability to handle an Urdu script with ease. Sikander preempted this. “I was nervous about speaking in Urdu, so I memorised the whole script beforehand. This turned out to be absolutely unnecessary,” laughs Sikander, “Considering the long wait before each scene, I had plenty of time to go over each line. I was a zero grade student in school in the subject, but I’ve always spoken Urdu at home, with my friends and I instruct the staff at Xanders in Urdu. Where I run into problems are the talk shows and interviews. Recently, I did a BBC Urdu interview and when the first question came — in flowery Urdu —there was silence on my part! It was live and I had to say, sorry, I didn’t get that,” says Sikander!
Steeped in conversation well after the recorder is turned off and the interview wrapped up, it’s easy to see why Sikander was picked as ‘something for the girls’ by Deepak Perwani on the runway. “I am a big flirt,” smiles Sikander. And an inveterate traveller. Having just returned from a European holiday in Berlin, Marrakech and Paris, Sikander is heading out again to Ibiza with friends. He looks forward to the opening of his second cafÃ© in October this year, and casually shrugs at the mention of any films in the future, maintaining he will take things as they come.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s September 2015 issue.
Maheen Bashir Adamjee is an APNS award-winning journalist. She was an editorial assistant at Newsline from 2010-2011.