“It’s an anti-ISIS, pro-Islam film,” Komal Rizvi said at the sunny Saturday afternoon press-meet that had been held to announce some big news. The ‘reveal’ certainly was big; it was announced that Komal Rizvi had signed up her first film, a Hollywood project, and she had been cast in the lead role. The film, titled Afreen, would be released next year and it would elevate the entertainer, popular for pop songs like ‘Bao Jee’ and Coke Studio’s ‘Washmaley’, as the first Pakistani actor to be cast in the titular role of a Hollywood film.
“I sent two auditions three months ago, which they rejected,” she laughed with refreshing honesty. “Then finally I sent them a third audition which they approved. It was a long process because there were candidates from Iraq, Iran and Lebanon, England and a lot of Indians. I think I’m the only person who auditioned from Pakistan and I was very surprised when I was selected. I think it’s my accent that tilted them because I play the role of an Iraqi who’s assimilated in the Canadian environment.”
With a completely North American team onboard, Afreen is being directed by Indian-Canadian director Ashish Chanana, who’s already done a docu-film and one short film. This will be his first feature film, which assimilates talent from LA, Detroit, Vancouver and Toronto and is expected to be released all over the world, especially on the festival circuit at Cannes and Sundance. “I’m praying that it’ll release in Pakistan too,” an excited Komal said.
Will it be a problem with the Censor Board?
“It’s got no mention of Pakistan but it is an anti-ISIS film; now that Pakistan has taken a strong anti-ISIS stance it shouldn’t be a problem,” she shared. “They should in fact promote it here and it would be tragic if they didn’t.”
This will be Komal’s debut film but she’s no novice when it comes to acting; she has acted in seven drama serials and they have lent her the necessary experience needed. “All the roles I was offered involved a teesri biwi and saas-bahu problems and I don’t endorse such stories at all,” she explained why she hadn’t appeared on TV for some time. “I wouldn’t endorse anything – whether brand, concept or ideology – that I didn’t agree with myself. I have to agree with it. The music I sing and the songs I write come from my heart; whether or not they do well is very secondary to me. It’s something I love doing.”
“I was ready to say no to this role because I apprehended it to be anti-Muslim,” she continued, “but when I read the script I was so excited! There isn’t a single thing in the script that goes against a single iota of my grain and this has to be God’s will that I play this role. I believe that we all should make it a point to say that not everybody believes in ‘an eye for an eye’. There are people who are peace loving and moderate. We, as a religion and race, are normal people. I’m really glad that somebody has taken the initiative to speak for us.”
Her character in Afreen, she explained, is an Iraqi girl who’s also a Crav Maga instructor. “It’s an Israeli Martial Art technique learnt by Special Forces,” she informed. “I have been training for two months and I’ve been asked to stay very fit. So lots of training and lots of protein. Little things have started to take shape; my eyes have to be a certain colour (hence the grey-brown contacts), my eyebrows have to be a certain shape, they have to be kept natural. The diet is very strict. They’re giving my hair a natural, sun-streaked shade. Everything is being monitored even though we’re continents away.”
How is it that you never hopped across the border before crossing the Atlantic for Hollywood?
“I was offered roles,” Komal shared. “Abhishek Sharma offered me a role in his next comedy and I love him and loved the script but the role was too bold for me. I was supposed to play a frustrated housewife and as an actor I wouldn’t care but I represent Pakistan, which I do care about.”
On that note, what do you think about the current debate on banning cross cultural exchanges between Pakistan and India?
“We were one country,” Komal replied sincerely, albeit simplistically. “I have a lot of family in India and I have friends who have family here. There is absolutely no difference between India and Pakistan that can’t be resolved with respect and dialogue. Kashmir, water, border are all issues that can be solved. Political motivations are keeping the borders hostile but I know that the average person on both sides of the border has a lot of respect for each other.”