Arif Raises A Toast

Updated: Feb 2 2003, 05:30am hrs
His eyes alone could lend life to the characters he portrays. They reflect his emotions and thoughts so eloquently that words and gestures seem superfluous. Meet Arif Zakaria, the actor who was nominated for the National Award in his debut Hindi film, Kalpana Lajmis Darmiyaan. He walked and talked the role of a eunuch with enviable ease in the film.

An actor who has honed his craft to carve a respectable niche for himself in Bollywood, Mr Zakaria is now propagating the art of drinking Johnnie Walker whisky.

I heard that the makers of Johnnie Walker were scouting for a brand ambassador and I decided to pitch myself in. Why I have always been interested in challenging myself. Being a brand ambassador is an extension of my career as an actor. The fact that it is a premium global brand whetted my appetite for change, explains Mr Zakaria.

I was happy and amazed, he admits, when he was called for the second round of interviews. I then had a hope that I would be appointed. I was selected to be a Johnnie Walker mentor after three intensive interviews conducted by UDV India officials and their advertising agency representatives. That was a definite kick, he says (pun intended).

Mr Zakaria espouses the merits of the whisky to audiences and walks a step further by conducting sessions for drinkers to graduate to Johnnie Walker. Here, a select audience is introduced to the method and manner of sniffing, sipping and tasting four single malts and one peg of Black Label and enjoying it as a connoisseur would.

Does Mr Walker... er... Mr Zakaria enjoy his new role of a spirited teacher Of course. It is so different from what I have done till today. It is informative and educative for me as well as to the audience, he says with a loud laugh. But isnt there a conflict between his job and his religion Not at all, he retorts. I dont attach sentiments to my job. It is all in ones psyche... how one wants to view things.

What has the experience been like so far Explains Mr Zakaria, People who have been drinking Johnnie Walker for over 40 years are amazed when they get to know about the process of making it. There are some who consider single malts to be pungent, raw and dirty. It is my job to dispel that myth.

Has the brand ambassador left the actor behind Not at all, he says. I am now off for a long schedule for Pamela Rooks Dance Like A Man. This role requires Mr Zakaria to perform the Bharatanatyam. I have been trying to learn the dance for the last eight months, he says.

Why does he choose roles that raise a challenge to his gender Let me explain this. Every actor wants to do different roles when he begins his acting career. Along the way, he is bogged down by the fame he acquires due to the characters he portrays and consequently shies away from such challenges. The kind of role that I did in Darmiyaan or the one I am doing in Dance Like A Man is what every actor would love to do. I look upon these as opportunities that I must meet up with. And I am immensely glad that the makers of such films think of me in these roles. That is a compliment.

Mr Zakaria co-stars with Keralas two-time National Award winner, Shobhana, in Dance Like A Man. Incidentally, sitar maestro Ravi Shankars daughter, Anouskha, debuts in the film as the couples daughter. Is Mr Zakaria awed by the fact that Shobhana is a well-known danseuse Awed he asks. Traumatised would be more like it. It is like trying to play cricket with Sachin Tendulkar! The role is giving me a lot of sleepless nights, but as an actor I think I am lucky to have got it.

But why are his appearances in films so limited You know, one get offers for roles like a cop or an elder brother very often. If money or number of films were that important, I would have grabbed any and every such offer that came my way. And the result would be a bigger house than what I have today or a better car, but where would the respectability be! Id rather not trade that for inane roles and offers, he says. Time to raise a toast to this