Rendezvous with Waleed Zaidi.

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Talented young Pakistani actor, director and producer Waleed Zaidi speaks to us exclusively about his work in theatre and TV as well as the art of acting.

Tell us a bit about your background (where you were born, raised, education etc.)?

I was born in 1989 in Jeddah Saudi Arabia, “the land of opportunity” as I call it. My father is a Chartered Accountant. I studied in Saudi in an American School and have three elder brothers with a big age gap between them and me. My eldest brother is 15 years older to me, the second brother is 14 years older and the third brother is 8 years older. I am kind of a spoilt brat. I moved to Pakistan form Saudi when I was 8 years old. I was put in LGS here at age 3 and stayed there for my education till my A levels. After that I went to Canada to pursue a Bachelors Degree in Finance and studied there for a year. Then I returned to Pakistan and went to King’s College London to pursue a Business Management degree majoring in Marketing and Finance.

When did you first realise you had stage presence and how long after that did it take for you to get serious about theatre acting, which you say is your true calling?

I think I realised I have some sort of talent when I was in school. My parents used to call me out to perform in front of guests that came to the house but I didn’t realise I could perform to a larger audience until A’ Levels during the annual play at school. First I got a bit of applause for my performances, then I began receiving money for it once or twice and when that happened I thought to myself, this is great … I get complimented and make money off of it. What could be better than such work? I don’t plan things out too much so I didn’t get into acting right away as such. I studied Marketing and Finance because I was unsure at that time if I want to pursue acting wholeheartedly or not. But ultimately I decided to give it a shot and see how it goes.

Give us a rundown of some of the best theatre productions you have been a part of and what your role was in them.

In acting the most praise I have received is for a play called Birdcage which was based on a movie. In the movie Hank Azaria plays the part which I played in the play. I hadn’t seen the film, so I watched it later. People remember me for that role. Ijlal Khan was the Director and also played the role of Armand in the play. I was playing his housemaid/ butler. Recently I played narrator in the theatre play Blood Brothers which I liked because it was a grander production. In my own plays the one I liked the most was The Odd Couple in which I played Felix. I co-directed Runs In The Family with Omair Rana which was a very funny play. Out Of Order I also directed and I enjoyed doing that one in Pakistan as I love Ray Cooney as a playwright.

How have you made use of your Business Management degree?

Whatever you study, you can always utilise it. Education is one thing that never goes un-utilised. My degree helps me in people management and time management when I’m directing. When I’m acting it helps me co-exist with people I do not like. It helps me in cost benefit analysis even while performing … there are some things you like yourself in a character you play and feel you should be doing on stage or in front of the camera as that character. You have to ask yourself how to sell that character to the audience depending on the type of people you are performing to. For the Lahore audience you have to perform a little differently as opposed to the Karachi audience for example, so you need to balance your liking with your audience’s liking to meet a perfect balance. All this I have learnt from my studies.

You played the role of ‘420’ on the TV play Mohini Mansion Ki Cinderellayain. Tell us about the character and what it has been like working with the cast and crew of the show.

I have known Ali Tahir for quite a while. He’s the director of Mohini Mansion Ki Cinderellayain. He’s always been guiding me since I was a kid. I also directed him on stage when I was a kid. The comfort level he creates on set is quite good. Mohini Mansion Ki Cinderellayain specifically has a diverse cast … young people acting for the first time as well as older actors such as Shabnum and Feryal Gauhar. It was a fun experience shooting the play.

You are also regularly invited to various educational institutions to speak about theatre to students – why do you feel it is important to do so and what do you like best about the interaction with young minds?

I always felt that while growing up there was no academy here from where we could learn or perfect our craft. It was all trial and error. The majority of actors are self taught and whatever little bit of learning you get through experience, well that’s what you learn and take along with you to bigger roles and opportunities. I felt it as a responsibility that whatever little I know I must impart to kids that are going to pursue acting. What I tell them is that a play is always like a clock. Everybody’s a clock. If I’m acting in it and I have not eaten since the morning and I decide to eat and the rider brings me the food … then even the rider has contributed to the play. I think acting is the highest form of art in which team work is required. That’s what I tell the students. What happiness do I get from speaking to students? I love interacting with the younger lot. It keeps you refreshed, it teaches you a lot as you learn from them and it keeps you updated about what your actual audience wants … the Netflix audience. 

What do you feel students take away from your talks and how does it help them?

I don’t know what they take away from it but what I wish they take away from it is that the death of an artist is when you believe you are very good. You’re never good. you’re good but you can always learn more. Also whenever you’re doing a play, follow the lead of the one that seems to have more experience in the art. its ok to do so. If you feel there is someone less experienced than you grab them by the wrist and carry them with you. Again … team work.

Do you feel acting is a viable career choice for youngsters in Pakistan?

There is no viable or unviable career. You need to be determined in whatever you want to do and you need to be persistent. Acting is a little risky as a career choice as it takes time and extra persistence. If you decide to enter this field then go for it and leave the rest to God. There are chefs, gardeners etc worldwide who also end up earning millions of dollars so you just have to jump into whatever you want to do. Its worth the shot if you are hard working and determined.

Tell us how you landed the role of Doodhpatti in the TV serial Visaal and what characteristics of Doodhpatti’s personality do you like playing the most?

90% of the work is in Karachi so whatever work I have gotten in Television has been when a director has either seen me on stage or they have known me in one capacity or another. You might see me completely based out of Karachi very soon.

 The role you are currently playing in the stage play “Blood Brothers” is quite unique – can you tell us how it is different from what you are used to and how you prepared for it?

I usually play very high energy characters because Lahore’s live audience like intensity, either in terms of laughter or in terms of tragedy. You need to lay it on them with power in a performance. So my role in Blood Brothers was that of a narrator and the English was such that even I couldn’t understand some of it in the beginning. Everything in the script rhymed when I was narrating. So this role was comparatively subtle in nature to what I am used to performing on stage … lower toned vocals, physicality … I wore a suit for the first time and my mother loved it as she saw me delivering English lines for the first time in a clean, sophisticated manner on stage. In my previous play my trousers came off and I was in boxers for half the play, so you can imagine! It was a challenging performance in Blood Brothers for me in that I had to contain myself a lot. I learn lines with great difficulty because I am more of an improv sort of guy. I take a gist of the line from the script and then say it my way on stage. In Blood Brothers I had to say every line as it was written. I liked the character I was playing and I felt I was doing a decent job of it but perhaps the audience was thinking why is this guy back on stage now!? Because here in Lahore people are used to watching the story unfold on stage so as a narrator I felt I was literally a nuisance in the middle, coming on every once in awhile. People did come and compliment my performance and specifically my diction afterwards which I appreciated. The point of a narrator in this play was to break the monotony of the play.

Pakistani-American actor Faran Tahir was recently in Pakistan to direct and act in a stage play called “Bhai Bhai” – in what capacity were you apart of this project?

I was the understudy for three characters in the play. I had memorised the entire script literally. Conversation based scripts for some reason I can memorise easily. Eventually in a few shows of Bhai Bhai I was playing a producer. It was a play of four people played by Faran Tahir, Ali Tahir, Hina Dilpazeer, and for some shows I played the fourth character and for others Amir Qureshi played it. The experience was great. The exposure Faran Tahir has on stage in the US is immense and Hina Dilpazeer is so talented … Ali Tahir has his own directorial and acting experience … so there was a calmness on stage and backstage. There is not usually such calmness in plays here.

 What projects can we look forward to seeing you be a part of in the near future?

One thing is in the pipeline in Karachi which is Televison related. I will reveal that soon. I am coming up with a theatre play of my own as well based on Faulty Towers … that will be my own production. It will be an Urdu adaptation.

Follow Waleed on instagram @zaidiwaleed

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