Arif Zakaria talks about his diverse acting career and the emergence of digital in an exclusive interview with A Potpourri of Vestiges

By Murtaza Ali Khan

Arif Zakaria, Actor, India, Film, Television,

A Potpourri of Vestiges recently caught up with veteran actor Arif Zakaria who is known for his versatile acting in films like Darmiyaan, 1947: Earth, Haunted, Lootera, and Blue Mountain. He is one of the few actors in the country who have been tasted success in films, television as well as theatre. His most popular television serials include Campus, Amanat, and Mrityudand, among others. During the exclusive interview with A Potpourri of Vestiges, Arif Zakaria talked about his remarkable journey as an actor while sharing his views on the advent of digital as an emerging medium. 


When did you decide that you want to be an actor? Tell us about your journey on your way to becoming one. 

I stepped on stage for the first time in college to play a 'silent' role (all my character had to do was sneeze at appropriate times) I guess, that set the ball rolling towards my theatre performances in college. During those days a chance meeting with writer Mir Muneer got me on the audition path to the TV show "Chunauti". After a series of intense screen tests by Late Sanjeev Bhattacharya, I was cast. Along with me a whole host of other actors from our College dramatic society were cast too. The series became immensely popular and was followed by other TV shows immediately. After almost a decade I was offered my first film "Darmiyaan" with Kalpana Lajmi. This in brief is the journey thus far. I have been fortunate to have been a part of various films like Dance Like a Man, Deewar, Haunted, Nanak Shah Fakir, Krrish 3 and others.

You have been associated with theatre, television as well as cinema. How do you see the three mediums? Which is your favorite? 

I am fortunate to be part of all these mediums. Each medium has inherent challenges. Theatre is much more tougher as it entails live performance without any re-wind button. TV is hectic while films are personality and star driven and expensive too. With the advent of the web genre a lot of noise is being generated yet providing a platform for interesting, eclectic, bizarre content to hit us. I call myself a multi-media performer. I have to be ready to adapt to the medium.

You started at a time when satellite television was just coming to India. You acted in serials like Campus and Amanat that were flagship programmes for Zee TV at the time. How do you think the television industry has changed since then? 

Now the channel holds sway over everything. Earlier the production houses/producers/directors were distinct personalities who held sway and got their way through in terms of content and casting. Now all these are mere hired helps and the sole authority rests with the channel. Also a herd mentality seems to have pervaded television. If a kind of content works then flood gates open and we see similar content. Also we as an industry don't understand the culture of a daily soap. Producers are shooting the next day's episode today creating tremendous pressure on talent, creativity and resources involved. I wish channels were more structured and organised as a consequence the producers could make content at a good pace without fatigue. TV is such a powerful platform but it needs better organisation.

Tell us a little about your acting method and the kind of preparation that you usually do for your roles? 

My method is simple - you have to read and re-read the written word. If the text is smartly written it solves a lot of problems. The trick is to keep reading and make a questionnaire about the character. Overthinking in this case helps. I also need the director to be a step ahead of me. I like working with very focused and dynamic directors who know me and my character. Only then can good performances evolve.

Arif Zakaria, Aamad, Short Film

You recently acted in a short film called Aamad which was very well received. You have also been associated with Vikram Bhatt's web series. How do you see digital as a medium. 

Every one is digital today so its a crowded space but all viewing experience is heading towards the i pads and mobile phones. Content is being churned and some is smart, some is ordinary. At present shock value and a fair bit of sensationalism attracts people online. But there is always space for good content. I am not to sure whether any content will have a prolonged shelf life. It is all instant consumption and flushing it instantly too. We consume one bit of data and move on to the next smart post. 

What advice would you like to give to young and upcoming actors trying to establish themselves as professions in the field? 

There are no real actors around. We only have celebrities and social activists masquerading as actors. New comers need to know and understand the grind involved. All I see are actors trying to be "cool" all the time. Very few have a fair understanding of the process or have the patience to rough it out. New comers shouldn't try to be popular they should just learn to act, I guess.

Tell us about your upcoming projects. 

I'm playing an interesting part in Meghna Gulzar's "Raazi" and I'm currently shooting for a small yet interesting film "Ahaan" being directed by a debutant film maker Nikhil Pherwani. I play diverse parts in both these films.

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your valuable thoughts are highly appreciated!  

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