After making a mark in the modelling industry, Abrar Zahoor Dhar flew to Mumbai to pursue his long-term goal of acting. This meant Abrar had to get out of his comfort zone as he already was a popular name in Bangalore’s fashion circuit. Acting being a complex craft needs patience and perseverance as such Abrar struggled hard and after auditioning for the first time, he grabbed a negative role in critically acclaimed film ‘Neerja’. The first break opened the Bollywood doors for the actor as he became part of blockbuster movie Uri. After tasting the success, the actor has many projects in the pipeline. Recently, Abrar was signed by Bollywood actors Bobby Deol, Arjun Rampal for their OTT venture ‘Penthouse’. To know more about the journey of the actor; from school annual functions to Bollywood’s big screen, Rising Kashmir’s reporter Misabah Bhat had a candid chat with the promising performer.
Q. ‘Neerja’ was a critically acclaimed film, how did you landed the role in the movie?
A: I applied for my first ever audition for the role of an Antagonist for 'Neerja' movie. They asked if I knew Arabic, which I did because it is a liturgical language of Islam. But like most Muslims in India, I could only read Arabic and not speak it fluently. They said that they’d manage.
They taught me a bit of Arabic which in turn also helped understand our holy book Quran. We got a four months training for Arabic language and then the actual filming began.
I was trained by Vinod Rawat for six months and that I consider my Masters in acting, which build my confidence. I rose above the myth that models can’t act.
I had no idea that Sonam Kapoor was going to play the lead role. They had kept it under wraps till then. I had Jim Sarbh along with me, who was a great theatre artist at that time. People had started comparing me with him, which was a bit of a compliment but I was nowhere near his level. Jim Sarbh never made me feel like I was a fresher on set, which is the kind of atmosphere that young actors dream about.
Q: How was your experience in the movie?
A: When the film got released, I realized how lucky I was to be a part of it. It was a movie that chiselled my acting skills to a great extent. It was like a paid internship and I graduated with Neerja. It was a complete experience which I cherished and I still do.
From modelling to acting, how has been the journey so far?
I did my schooling from Woodlands House School, Srinagar. I was very good at activities such as drawing, sketching and sports and would also participate in curricular activities of the school.
Our school organised an annual day function at Tagore Hall and the selected students had to give performances of their choice which they were good at. I chose to participate in a modelling show and that was my first appearance as a model in any function.
I took that modelling assignment in school as a challenge to see if I can do it. Then things started for me from there on.
After my 10th standard, I went to Chennai for higher education where I took modelling seriously. I graduated from there in visual communication and also did a diploma in 3D Animation and Movie Making.
Since Bangalore was a hub of modelling in India, I moved to the place to take up modelling full-time. I did almost 100 television commercials (South Indian coverage). At that time, I felt like I hit a glass ceiling in modelling. I also started doing photography and while doing that I realized my love for the camera and thought I would rather be in front of the camera than behind it. This ignited my love for acting, and then I thought of going to Mumbai to try out acting.
When I went to Mumbai, I did not waste any time and did a diploma in acting which was a great learning experience. I realized acting is not just about having looks, it is a craft. I learned about diction, camera angles, and lighting in a professional setting.
Q: Tell us about your struggles and did your family support you?
A: My family has been supportive throughout my whole journey. My family is from the 1980s era when shootings used to happen in Kashmir and they were fascinated to see the actors performing here. Kashmir was so famous for the movie shootings. My father was a big fan of Bollywood just like every other person at that time. My parents never thought I would choose acting as a field but after I did they never discouraged me. My father is well educated and knows acting is not all about glamour.
Once I started with modelling in the early 2000s, my family was very happy and they encouraged me.
My struggle was not that much in Mumbai but my real struggle had already started back in 2004 in Chennai and then in Bangalore.
I didn’t have any godfather or someone who could guide me throughout. I had no inspiration and absolutely no idea about how to make my way into Bollywood as there was no one from Srinagar in the Bollywood industry back then.
However, my journey is going great though I have a long way to go.
Who do you consider your role model?
Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Irfan Khan are my role models. They are someone who I can relate to. They never concentrated on their looks and were so exceptional with their craft. And Yes, John Abraham, if I talk about the charismatic, cinematic and magnetic energy, when you see him on screen you get stuck to it.
Do you think OTT platforms are a game changer?
They are of course the game changers in terms of giving work and taking our industry to international level.
My next movie, a Netflix original series will be released in 190 countries, who would have thought that. Most probably when we release the movies they get released in 6-15 countries at max, but through OTT platform, it takes you to 190 countries and in different languages (dubbing). The artists get a lot of recognition throughout the world because of these platforms.
What are your upcoming projects?
Penthouse, a Netflix original series, will be released on September 12 this year.
It is directed by Abbas Mustan which used to be my dream. I worked with Bobby Deol, Arjun Rampal, Sharman Joshi, Tisca Chopra,Cyrus Broacha and Mouni Roy.
What suggestion would you give to young aspiring actors?
My only advice to them would be to make good content which will inspire people and can be critically acclaimed. Being glamorous is not important.
We have technical knowledge these days and good cameras available which can be used to create good content. Kashmiris are talented. I would want them to get the content out, even in their own mother tongue, it’s not necessary to talk in Urdu, Hindi or English.
You don’t have to compare yourself with anyone, you are a community and you have your own story to tell.