'Behind the Moon' means so much to me as a Canadian, as a South Asian and as a Pakistani...there's diversity in the Canadian theatre fabric which has been embraced.
After seeing Ali Kazmi as part of a solid ensemble performance this past fall in ‘Uncle Vanya’ at Crow’s Theatre, I wanted to learn more about this extremely humble and grateful artist who has been appreciative of all his opportunities in the performing arts.
Born in Karachi, Pakistan, Kazmi has quite an extensive background in the performing arts according to his IMDB mini bio: [He] hailed from a family of creative juggernauts (actors and directors Rahat Kazmi and Sahira Kazmi, sister Nida Kazmi and Grandfather Bollywood actor Shyam)…Kazmi says: “It was like growing up in a warm, fuzzy and loving film school! [I] lived it, loved it, imbibed it, and have put it to good use since.”
Even at the young age of seven working in a studio on a show his mother directed, Kazmi said he felt so much at home and found beauty in the chaos in the production of a televised show. He didn’t feel out of place at all.
He continued in theatre, film, and even some clowning while studying and living in Pakistan.
Kazmi warmly stated his parents taught him about being an artist and setting a strong foundational base for him. The career can be a difficult one. It wasn’t about fame or money. It was always about the art first. Do your best and everything else will be a by-product. If it comes, it comes. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Kazmi says he wants to be performing until he’s at least 80 and then laughingly stated if he dies (literally) on stage, he will be a lucky man.
However, in his early twenties, Ali recognized he wanted to be a multidisciplinary artist and create his own path. He wondered how he can take the legacy forward from the foundational base established by his parents. Kazmi felt he owed to his parents, to himself and to the art as to what he could leave for the future performing arts community.
He wanted to study film. Alas with no film schools in Karachi, how could he evolve further as an artist in a community that was saturated with film and theatre?
Ali spoke lovingly about his childhood sweetheart with whom he fell in love in the mid-late 1990s. He credits his wife as a catalyst for his future changes and growth in coming to Canada. She came to study at McGill and, in 2001 (one year at university), she came back to see her parents for summer vacation. When he started dating her that summer, he kept thinking could he come to Canada, get his credits transferred and perhaps start film school? This all occurred in July 2001.
He was set to come to Canada in September 2001, and we all know what happened then:
“A single, Pakistani, Muslim male…there were no opportunities anymore, no visas, no nothing.” Ali recalled with a tone of sadness in his voice. “That was a very strange feeling coming from a decent family, an educated family, an artist family…I felt very strange…I’m not a terrorist.”
Ali and his future wife made their six-year long-distance relationship work and got married when they were 24. Then it was a choice – He had an established career as an artist in Pakistan. She had started her work in Toronto as an accountant and doing very well.
Forever the optimist, he called it an adventure and an evolution and chose to come to Canada in March 2008 and start from scratch. He attended the Toronto Film and Drama School while doing odd jobs. He also made a promise for six-seven years that he would not take any job offers from Pakistan because he really wanted to make a go of his career here in Canada.
Ali’s first love is the theatre. This month he appears in ‘Behind the Moon’ by Anosh Irani which just recently opened at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre. Directed by Richard Rose, Kazmi appears with Vik Sahay and Husein Madhavji whom he calls brothers. During the pandemic two years ago, Ali signed on to be a part of ‘Behind the Moon’ and be in on the creative process with Rose and Irani.
Set in a restaurant, Kazmi describes ‘Behind the Moon’ as a story about three men stuck in their own different stages in their lives. At times it’s a volatile story about humanity, a story about love and a story about how sometimes we misuse each other as humans and as people. Ali calls ‘Behind the Moon’: “a beautiful and poignant show”.
What has it been like to work with director Richard Rose:
“Richard Rose is probably one of the most interesting characters I’ve met in my life. I’ve learned so much…he’s a taskmaster. He got the pulse of the show. He’s so precise and at times you are at loggerheads, but that’s the beauty of theatre. Richard gives but also accepts the feedback back and forth between the actor and director. He thrives on it. And so do I. I appreciate that. On the inside, Richard is soft-hearted too where we would also discuss children and life. That’s what you want.”
During ‘Moon’ previews, Ali says there were lovely people who came to see the production. When the audience is there, Ali says that’s fun because they continue to discover new layers to the show as there is so much complexity in it.
He recalled how emotional he got the other day about the show:
‘Behind the Moon’ means so much to me as a South Asian, as a Canadian, as a Pakistani and as a human being. Anosh Irani’s story is simply beautiful and to share this play with two other brothers (Vik and Husein), two other South Asian Canadians, the impact of the reach of this show hit me yesterday. The magic of this show is the fact it hits on so many levels.”
He, the cast, and the crew continue not to think too much about Covid’s embrace. They continued to test throughout the rehearsal period and will continue to do so. Now that the show is up and running, he said: “To be honest we don’t have too many extracurricular activities outside our performances. All of us are making sure we keep our essential activities to a minimum. It’s full steam ahead with the play. That’s all we can do. We have to live life.”
There is a great deal of theatre going on in Toronto. Why should audiences come to see ‘Behind the Moon’?
Ali stated it has been an interesting time for Toronto theatre. There’s diversity in its fabric and Canadian theatre is embracing this diversity. ‘Moon’ is not just a play about three men in a restaurant. It’s a story about being human, Canadian, and South Asian. Once again, Kazmi acknowledges how much he, Vik and Husein connected during rehearsals. They didn’t know each other at all before this play, and Kazmi is the first to point out how this play is a true ensemble production.
What’s next for Ali once ‘Behind the Moon’ has completed its run?
Ali continues to remain grateful the Toronto theatre community has accepted him. He goes straight into rehearsal and working with Necessary Angel in association with Canadian Stage and The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in the production of Pamela Sinha’s ‘New’ to be directed by Alan Dilworth at the end of April at the Berkeley Street Theatre.
Tickets for ‘Behind the Moon’ are now available online through tarragontheatre.com or call the Box Office at (416) 531-1827. The production runs until March 19 at Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Avenue, Toronto.