We saw Ahmed Ali take the stage for the Hum Style Awards last year and were instantly intrigued by the versatile young star who can sing, act, dance and charm the audience all at the same time. Not only did Ali host the evening flawlessly, he even performed the opening sequence alongside Meesha Shafi and Umair Jaswal and managed to hold his own in front of two talented musicians.
So we decided to get in touch with Ali to find out about the new Ahmed Ali in town and the first thing we asked him was whether people confuse him with Ahmed Ali Butt from time to time. “To be honest, that’s just a joke I created for my Hum Style Awards bit. I just needed some material,” cleared Ali. From the very get go, Ali displays his love for honesty and over the course of our conversation, he doesn’t shy away from tackling some very sensitive issues regarding Pakistan’s entertainment industry.
First things first, we discovered that Ali, who is originally from Rawalpindi, initially started off as an athlete and was a national level tennis player. “All the men in my family play tennis, it’s a family tradition. Currently my younger brother, Abid Ali, is the number one national tennis player in Pakistan.”
His first brush with the industry came when he was 13 years old and was offered to play the lead role in a PTV show called Stop Watch, a show about a child who discovers a time-controlling watch made by his grandfather. “I was offered the lead role but because of my shy nature, I ended up doing the role of the friend in the show.”
Ali claims that music helped him get out of his shell. “I was part of an underground band called Nafs and we used to play to rock music.”
Eventually, Ali completed his Bachelor’s and Master’s degree at the age of 24 and went on to pursue his interest in acting.
According to Ali, it was a lucky encounter that first helped him break into the industry. “I was in Thailand for a theatre workshop. Coincidentally, Ufone was shooting a commercial there that day. One of their models backed out so they had only 24 hours to find a Pakistani actor in Thailand. I got the role and ended up becoming the face of Ufone for the next 5 years because of that.” Ali feels that he was simply at the right place at the right time.
He ended up taking the stage for various theatrical productions after that but his performance in Nida Butt’s interpretation of the musical Grease got him in the limelight and helped him bag cameos in big budget productions such as Asim Raza’s Ho Mann Jahaan and Wajahat Rauf’s Karachi Se Lahore. “These roles really helped in changing my career. Now I’m getting good quality projects and I’ve been offered nearly 10 to 13 films.”
It sounds like Ali has had a fairly smooth ride, but we wondered what the struggle was like for an industry outsider like Ali, especially since many new age of actors coming into the industry are either related to other actors or filmmakers.
“I’ve seen how nepotism works in our industry. I’m especially concerned about nepotism because that is one of the major reasons our country is going down the drain. The star kids are always given priority. There’s not much to do about that except work hard and wait for your opportunities.”
Ali also explained why we won’t be seeing him on the big screen anytime soon despite the overabundance of offers. “Either the films never made it to the production stage, or I didn’t like the scripts. It’s so hard to choose scripts for films because you just don’t know how a film is going to turn out since everyone is new and doing it for the first time. When people approach you for films, they are so good at convincing you that they’re producing something great. But then you see the film on screen and you wonder what went wrong.”
Ali also explains that there have been instances where he auditioned for roles but didn’t get the part. “And that’s good. It’s all part of the process.” We are surprised to hear this because we didn’t think established actors even bothered auditioning for roles. “They don’t. In fact, a lot of them discourage me from doing it too. They say ‘you’re a well-known name now and you don’t need to do these auditions.’ But I don’t work like that.”
Ali has only been in the acting field for three years now but he has already seen all the dysfunctions of the industry.
“Yeah it’s all a little weird. We even have a casting couch. Of course it exists. I haven’t had to directly deal with it but I know of firsthand accounts of those who have. But you see the rule is that if you have talent and know you can make it on your own, you don’t need the help of such a couch. There are those who agree to it and that is their prerogative.”
However, Ali also clarifies that there are only a few rotten apples in this tree. “I’ve met some wonderful people here as well. At the end of the day, it’s what you make of your circumstances.”
By the looks of it, Ali is keeping his head high and aiming for the stars.
This story was first published in Instep, 13th March 2017.