On television, he is often the optimist with a heart of gold, someone who always sees the positive in people. In advertisements, he is a chameleon with the funny bone. You can expect him to bring something new to the table.
Meet Mikaal Zulfiqar, Pakistan’s chocolate hero, with a mammoth fan following that spills across both sides of the border and one that has grown steadily over the past few years.
Ask Mikaal, still in his early thirties, about it and he shoots back, “Oh, I am a man of action.”
His confident demeanour made charming by an impish smile is impressive and fortunately, not intimidating. It’s a combination that brings the British spy James Bond to mind. No wonder Mikaal believes he’s the perfect candidate to play Ian Fleming’s infamous spy.
“I am half British, will be in my early forties after 10 years and fit the bill on the basis of my looks. What else do I have to do to prove my credentials?” he says, tongue-in-cheek.
This year, Mikaal has also taken on the mantle of ‘producer’ and both his productions – Tum Mere Kia Ho and Maan – are currently on-air.
Ask him why he chose to make his debut as a producer with projects that play it safe in terms of storytelling and Mikaal responds candidly, “I am grateful to my team who helped me complete two serials back-to-back as producer. Yes, the stories are run-of-the-mill but when you don’t know the art (of production), you have to start with something that is familiar to the audience. Trust me, I am going to bring some explosive ideas to the screen in the next few months because that’s what our drama industry lacks.”
It’s a courageous, quintessential response from an actor who has always done things differently. After all, Mikaal is an actor who was the first out of his contemporaries to venture into the colourful and glamourous world of Hindi cinema aka Bollywood, and long before Ali Zafar and Fawad Khan started making waves. And yet, despite four films in nine years, success in Bollywood has eluded him.
“You can call me unlucky when it comes to Bollywood,” says Mikaal. “My first film, Godfather, was an Indo-Pak production in 2006 and I got to work with Vinod Khanna, Arbaaz Khan and many other experienced actors. Afterwards, I was offered a role in Shoot on Sight where Om Puri sahib and Naseeruddin Shah sahib were my co-stars. The film did well at the box office but soon after, the Mumbai attacks happened and despite having a few offers, I was left in a lurch – I didn’t have an Indian visa, nor any work in Pakistan. It was then that I realized that this might continue to happen in the future so I put a stop to my Bollywood aspirations and began working in Pakistan. Thankfully my decision helped and that’s one of the reasons why I have stayed away from films – both in India and Pakistan.”
When discussing his Bollywood projects, such as U R My Jaan and Baby, Mikaal speaks with an air of honesty that reflects a level of self-awareness that is hard to find in the entertainment world.
“U R My Jaan was sort of like a remake of Pretty Woman,” explains Mikaal and continues, “As it happens with all done to death stories, the film didn’t do well in India and consequently, no one in Pakistan decided to screen it. As for Baby, I accepted the role without knowing the script in full since I wanted to work with Neeraj Panday (director of Special 26) as well as share screen space with Akshay Kumar, Danny Denzongpa and Anupam Kher.”
Mikaal is quick to admit that had he known Baby would ring the bell of anti-Pakistan rhetoric, he wouldn’t have signed it.
“Had I known that the movie would be deemed anti-Pakistan by the Censor Board and banned here, I wouldn’t have accepted the role. But since I didn’t write the script nor was I involved with the project beyond playing a cameo, I had no idea what was to happen,” explains the actor and adds: “Incidentally, many newspapers in India praised my performances and termed me better than Akshay Kumar, which is a compliment for me.”
His tryst with films is on the backburner for now as Mikaal continues to focus and build momentum for his television projects. For now, it is his chosen platform but, does it mean that he has sworn off films for good?
“I have a few offers but I don’t want to risk my TV career for a film at the moment. Some of the recently released films were offered to me but until I am 100 per cent sure, I will not say yes.”
Though his focus is strictly on television, Mikaal did end up saying yes to the hugely entertaining Abhi To Main Jawaan Hoon. Written by Vasay Chaudhry and directed by Nadeem Baig, the team behind the superhit film of this year, Jawani Phir Nahi Ani, Mikaal admits that this particular feature was a special circumstance.
“That was a different case,” says Mikaal. “The script was hilarious, the cast was brilliant and the whole film centered on me and my older self. I would have loved it had the film been screened in cinemas but since it was more of a TV film, it was shown on TV and had just one screening in the cinema. I got to play a young as well as an old man who is surrounded by women, and thankfully people loved my acting in it.”
While Mikaal was able to pull off the character of an older man with impeccable precision in ATMJH, the same cannot be said for his mature, almost unbelievable turn in Dayar-e-Dil.
“Yaar that’s television and we aren’t that well-versed in the makeup department in Pakistan,” says Mikaal while taking stock of the industry’s struggles and weaknesses. “Things might be a little better in films; we still have a long way to go in terms of television. Haseeb Hasan has done a wonderful job with Dayar-e-Dil but if the audience didn’t like the aging thing, all I can say is that we will try to work on it in the future.”
Moving from the sphere of television plays and films, there is also Mikaal Zulfiqar’s association with a telecom brand that has firmly planted his feet in the world of advertising and commercials. Having starred in over 100 commercials for Ufone, Mikaal is, as a result of these tie-ups, a household name in Pakistan and beyond.
“Come to think of it … I have done over 100 Ufone commercials and that might be a record of some sort, nahi?” he reflects. “Ufone has been a part of my career building and if you take that away it will create a huge gap in my graph as an actor. I am thankful to the genius of Faisal Qureshi and his creative team who come up with wild ideas that attract viewers. Teri Meherbani is still regarded as one of the best commercials produced in Pakistan and people comment on my reaction to the model’s voice whenever they meet me.”
Mikaal’s flair for performing arts, seen across several medium(s) is not restricted to him; the actor’s younger brother is a rising star in England.
“I think Jamal Zulfiqar (stage name Jamaal Andreas) is a wonderful performer when it comes to the performing arts,” says Mikaal with a hint of pride that is palpable. “He has studied acting, received a scholarship and is happy with his West End career, which is equivalent to Broadway in America. Having spent most of his life in England, Jamal is not fluent in Urdu but trust me, he doesn’t need to. He is a next-level dancer in the category of Hrithik Roshan and has recently been nominated for his performance on stage. He is currently busy in the musical version of Bend It like Beckham and I have high hopes for him. Whenever I produce a film, I will try to convince him to be a part of it in any way that he can.”
As we reach the end of the interview, Mikaal doesn’t rule anything out, including a future in Hindi films. But he also takes exception to the fact that the scripts that land in the way of Pakistani actors are not substantial enough.
“People know me in India through Zee Zindagi and I am sure that if we continue to work well, we might not be offered supporting roles in India but central ones and that too by good banners,” Mikaal says thoughtfully and adds, “I am happy with my work on TV here and would love to carry Pakistan forward if I can – as an actor, producer and model. This country has given us a lot and we must ensure that this debt is paid back by delivering quality products.”