“When I was going back home after the audition, I called a Careem. The driver’s name was Ahmed Ali and he had a red car.”
Perhaps it was God’s way of telling Ahmed Ali Akbar, that you will get this part. As we sat down for a talk about his upcoming film Laal Kabootar, there were a few questions to be answered. In this revival of cinema in Pakistan, film makers and actors have tried to play safe by either making comedies, romantic dramas or war films. Ahmed Ali Akbar has gone in a different direction. How did he land this character I asked?
“I auditioned for it. I think that is the right way to go about things. I always like to audition. It’s healthy for industry and new talent. They know where they stand in their quest for a place in the industry. You can find talent anywhere. So, I walked into the audition initially being someone else. I tried an accent, did the scene but Kamal didn’t approve. I was fairly nervous. But Kamal gave me time and I think he did what I liked the 2nd time and we moved forward from there.”
Since there was little reference point to such characters in Pakistani cinema as such, one could imagine that actors went in with a blank slate for the audition. What was the brief for this character from the director Kamal Khan and how did it develop over the course of the film?
“I am playing Adeel. A typical Karachi born hustler. He is street smart but feels stuck in his surroundings and wants to break away from his social circle. He thinks highly of himself. So he is willing to do anything to get out of his current situation. He is chasing dreams. Initially,
Kamal told me where he comes from. He is different to different people. Like with Aliya, he is tad bit respectful and with his friends, the language is bit more colourful shall we say. We know such people. He is always on the look for opportunities, just any way possible. So I understood the character’s motivations.”
And how did the character develop during the course of the film?
“During the film me and Kamal used to discuss the different ideas. Ye chaleyga ya nahe chaleyga, within the boundaries of this character. My contribution was that I asked Kamal questions about Adeel. In that discussion we made the character interesting. We discovered this character.”
Some have called Laal Kabootar, Pakistan cinema entry into Anurag Kashyap world of cinema. How would its lead actor define this film?
“It’s a crime thriller about this wonderful city Karachi. People from different walks of life come together, interact and work together. They do so with ill motives, for redemption, because of their past and for a better future. The choices they make can either take them closer to their desires or plunge them deeper into turmoil. So this film cover these very human characteristics.”
The most important bit is perhaps the film’s use of Karachi as a character. The stories we hear on the news, are fascinating. Gangsters and areas are notorious family across Pakistan, but haven’t been taken up by our film makers. There is a clear divide in the city. Laal Kabootar basis their story on this divide.
“When I came to Karachi, I heard this term bridge k is par or us par. Any Karachite would understand this term and perhaps even a wider audience. We have used areas from all over Karachi. Aliya’s character is from a posh area. Adeel is from Martin quarters. But the film takes Aliya to different places. Places she hasn’t been before. Within a city, it’s a culture shock for her, the way people treat her. When they meet, Adeel is trying to tell Aliya that, I know these people, the surroundings and how things work, the way she doesn’t. He is offering his services to Aliya.”
From the trailer, this does look like a grim film. To shoot this kind of film, actors often have to shoot difficult scenes. Here, the commitment of the actor is vital. How far are they willing to go, to push the boundary? Ahmed, seemed 100% convinced and committed to the film and it shows in the trailer.
“We did one scene in public where the camera was hidden. In a city like Karachi, it wasn’t easy but we did it because it was essential for the film. There was a scene when I had to fall flat on dirt. Kamal suggested that we can cut it and show that you have fallen but I suggested that we actually show Adeel falling into it. It had significance, so I insisted. The audience has to buy it warna fake lagta hai.” To be fair to the cast, nothing in the teaser or trailer looks fake.
And we ended an interview with customary question about Ahmed’s message to the fans.
“It’s breaking norm this film. It has got great music, and cinematography. There are wonderful actors apart from the lead cast; one would definitely enjoy their performances. There are many plot twists, in the film which we could have used as a selling point but we didn’t use them in the trailer because we want to stay true to the story and the mystery of it. It’s going to a fun film.”
It’s been a difficult little period for cinemas in Pakistan. The film releases on 22nd March and by the looks of it has a lot to offer. Apart from Na Maloom Afrad one, no other film has really used Karachi as an integral part of the film. If the film encapsulates the Karachi spirit, it would definitely connect with the audiences. This does seem like Ahmed Ali Akbar’s big break as a leading film actor. By the looks of it, he has put his heart and soul in it.