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Zaheer Iqbal set to Make Bollywood Debut in Salman Khan’s ‘Notebook’

Zaheer Iqbal is a handsome hunk, whose screen presence and charm seem solid for a potential Bollywood hero.

Iqbal studied till 12th standard (equivalent to ‘year 12’ here) and then did one year of BMS ( bachelors in management studies).

Subsequently, he dropped out to join his father’s construction business due to his increasing interest in learning practically rather than in theory.

Salman Khan is friends with Zaheer’s father and Salman lovingly called him ‘hero’ whilst growing up.

Truly, Zaheer is a ‘hero’…Since a young age, he’s had a filmy streak and this long-lasting passion has resulted in him getting a lead role in Notebook.

In an up-close chat, we find out more about Zaheer!

You’re set to make your Bollywood debut. Tell us a bit about your emotions?

I’m excited and a bit nervous at the same time.

I am extremely overwhelmed by the reactions I’ve been getting for the first song ‘Nai Lagda’ and trailer.

Right now, I am just feeling grateful to God for giving me this opportunity.

To get a film that is backed by Salman Khan Films is a dream come true.

Was it a difficult/challenging process of you getting the film?

Since school and college days, I was always into drama, choreographing dances for the annual days and festivals.

There was one friend of mine who used to come to my house earlier.

Every time I gelled and styled my hair, he was like “Dude, who is going to notice this strand of hair?”

As a joke, I used to tell him: “What if I’m at a party, dancing and maybe a Salman, Shah Rukh or Karan Johar notice and decide to launch me?”

Cut to my sister’s wedding in 2013.

To make it special for her, we decided to make a video which cuts into a dance from acting.

In that, I played my brother-in-law and performed to Fevicol Se from Dabangg.

Salman wasn’t initially not supposed to be there due to a court-case but for some reason, it got cancelled.

Just when he came, the performance started and he waited throughout the duration. He even came up on stage and danced with me!

Once the sangeet performance was over, he called for me.

When I hugged and thanked him, he said something along the lines of, “I am launching Sooraj (Pancholi) then after that training… Hero.”

After asking me when the wedding was over, he told me to go and meet him. He wanted to launch me in a film!

What preparations did you undergo for becoming an actor?

My training started the next day after the wedding was over.

I started training with Rakesh (also Salman’s trainer). After a month, Salman was convinced about how my body looked.

He then told me I will be staying at ND Studios and assisting on a film – which was Jai Ho.

Salman ensured that I trained in almost every aspect possible so after assisting on the film, I did my acting workshops.

I worked with numerous acting coaches, even did gymnastics training and learnt different dance forms.

When Salman was training for Sultan, he took me and Aayush Sharma to the farm, where we did a one-month boot camp.

We trained in Akhara wrestling, so we’ve done everything that one needs to do in order to become an actor.

Would you say you got to break into the industry because of your personal connection with Salman?

See, Salman was my dad’s childhood friend so I guess I was able to be at the right place, at the right time because my dad was his friend.

He has not launched me because I am my dad’s son. He was just at a wedding and he liked what he saw.

I believe in the book The Secret. When I believe in something, I don’t question how can or will the universe provide this for me?

I just believe that if you wholeheartedly desire something, you will eventually get it.

The movie revolves around the concept of falling in love with a person you’ve never met before. How much could you personally relate to Notebook?

It’s never happened to me, but I do know a couple of stories, especially about pen-pals back in the day.

My aunt (who now stays in Paris), she and my grandmother and grandfather were pen pals.

Whilst growing up, I thought I was genuinely related to her because we are that close.

I was amazed to know that these guys became friends after writing to each other for years and they hadn’t even met.

My aunt has been a part of the family since 40/50 years!

I also have a friend who dated someone through MSN.

On this group chat, they were talking about something and these guys hit it off on some other topic they were talking about.

They went on private chat and began speaking.

After months of speaking on MSN, they finally met and they started dating.

I genuinely believe that it is possible to love someone you’ve never met before.

It is possible to love one’s personality so much that you do not care about the way they look.

Your character Kabir seems to be a replacement teacher, then there are shots of some sort of military action. Tell us a bit more about your role?

My character Kabir was in the military, but for some other reasons, he decided to leave.

Why he decides to leave is an integral part of the film.

The film has such a beautiful message without trying to be preachy.

The message that the movie conveys is something I truly believe in. Plus, it is said subtly.

Notebook primarily is a love story, but there is the sub-plot of a beautiful message.

Pranutan Bahl is also making her debut in the film. What did you do to develop a camaraderie with her for the film?

The best part about it was that I didn’t have to do anything to develop camaraderie between her and me.

It was so natural and organic. We got on since day one like a house on fire.

I happened to be there when she was auditioning… I was in the other room doing a workshop.

Nitin Kakkar (the director) told me to do a scene with her.

After seeing her solo take, Nitin sir and I looked at each other and said: “she’s the one”.

We auditioned 80 girls by that time and it was frustrating that we couldn’t find our Firdaus.

Pranutan is not only a good actor but is someone who just fits the role physically and looks the part.

She has great diction, which is something I have to work on because I speak very fast.

The fact that Pranutan has a filmy background, did this ever add an element of pressure on you?

Not really because I genuinely believe that you don’t become an actor through lineage.

I believe that acting is something you are naturally born with or you develop that craft.

Pranutan is natural. She is so hard-working and that is what shows on screen.

It’s because of her hard work and determination that she’s there today, not because of her lineage.

I give her the entire credit for where she is today.

In this industry, we see many people who walk on set being so-and-so’s father/daughter and that often gives them confidence.

Pranutan never had that aura about her.

She was always trying to work harder and harder to improve herself.

Who is your idol and why?

My idol has to be my father. His name is Iqbal and that’s why I use his name as my surname.

My caller tune for the past 16 years (or more than that) is ‘Papa Kehte Hai’ and it hasn’t changed.

I don’t think I’ve tried to be someone else as hard I’ve tried to be like my father.

As a child, I wanted the shoes he wore, I think I was and still am obsessed with my father.

He is the best human being as he’s one of those people you’ll adore after speaking with him for 10 minutes.

Everything I am today, I give credit to my parents, they’ve taught me everything.

My father is my mentor and idol.

Whom are you particularly looking forward to working with – as in actors and directors?

The next director I really want to work with is (again) Nitin Kakkar.

Honestly, everything that I’ve learnt about acting is from him.

Last year in January when the film was final and Nitin sir came on board, Salman told me to go and meet him so Nitin knew my fortes and weaknesses.

I used to go to the office in Andheri and was there for 7/8 hours per day quietly sitting down and listening to him speak.

In every conversation, Nitin will speak to you and that will change your life in some way.

In the process of finalising a director for Notebook, I met so many directors.

But Nitin sir is one guy who has only spoken about acting and filmmaking.

He has made Notebook possible. For him, it’s all about the script and nothing else.

Bollywood is extremely competitive. What is your plan to ensure you continue to up the game and reinvent yourself in order to survive?

I just want to do content-oriented films.

I believe now is not the time where you can get away with just being an expert in one area.

If your film does not have good content nor are you a good actor, then it’s not going to work.

There’s no way I intend to ‘reinvent’ myself in any particular way. That is something that happens organically in the process of making a film.

I just want to continue to do good films and work with good storytellers.

I’ve also realised that it is good to continuously brush up on dance skills so I’m ready to perform.

Notebook releases in cinemas on 29th March 2019.

Photos from Zaheer Iqbal’s Official Facebook Page.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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