After the success of Beauty and the Beast, Disney wants to continue the winning streak with a live action remake of its popular Aladdin. But after the early bout with controversy, when the decision to cast Caucasian actor Tom Hardy as Jaffar caused outrage and consequently Hardy’s decision to drop out of the project, Disney is now in a bit of a conundrum.
The company is still having trouble deciding on its leading actors.
Initial choices for Aladdin included Riz Ahmed (sigh) and Dev Patel. But neither will take on the role. As ever the internet has been more than willing to offer options.
An early issue with the casting choices was potential whitewashing. However, given that the company is still not prioritizing Middle Eastern casting, I’d say that the problem of representation still persists.
Needless to say I was conflicted about this list.
For far too long Hollywood has lumped minorities together. Often if a character is ‘brown’, studios don’t really pay attention to their ethnicity or heritage. And so you have Indian actors playing Arab roles and the like. With all the damage that Hollywood has done via its many stereotypes, Aladdin could potentially refurbish the image of Middle Easterners across North America. Hence I understand why people want only Middle Eastern actor for the movie.
But try as I might, I couldn’t not think of this. What if the movie had an all-Pakistani cast? So, I decided to give into the urge and just offer you my top Pakistani picks for the project.
Faran Tahir as Jaffar
Disney movie villains have undergone a bit of a transformation. Some recent releases don’t really have a clear villain (Frozen) while others try to give existing villains a backstory (Maleficent). Jaffar is one of the most Disney villains. He also has no qualms about being the bad guy.
And if Disney decides to keep his unabashed love for all things evil, then Faran Tahir would be the perfect pick. A gifted actor, Faran has been acting since 1994. But it was his bout with Iron Man that gained him mass fame, and proved that he has a panache for negative roles.
He also had a lot of fun playing an evil character in an episode of Supernatural. Clearly he loves being bad.
Arshad Mehmood as The Sultan
If there is one thing that Disney loves more than killing off mothers of their leads, it’s having their fathers be bumbling idiots.
Seriously, look back at your favorite Disney movies. Cinderella, the king is willing to stake the future of his empire on the girl with the prettiest feet. Hercules, Zeus, a Greek god, has no idea that his brother, the lord of the underworld, is up to something.
And when they did have a great dad, like Mufasa, they killed him off!
The Sultan was no exception. A king, sure, but an idiot nonetheless. The only way to make him redeemable for a live action audience is by casting an actor who could take all the flaws of the character and give him nuance.
Enter Arshad Mehmood. The PTV veteran has been part of some of Pakistan’s most iconic projects. And Portrayed some of our most adorable characters.
Who can forget his rendition of Chawdary Sahab in Angan Tehra? He was equal parts gullible and lovable.
Behroze Sabzwari as The Genie
The upcoming film is set to cast Will Smith in the iconic role, and I actually really like that idea. But if we could recast this film, Behroze Sabzwari would have nailed every aspect of the lovable Genie.
Originally enacted by the late Robin Williams, this role cries out for someone with comic timing. And as he proved via his rendition of Kabacha, Behroze Sabzwari has a knack for comedy.
Also, he has made the unfortunate decision of starring in Chain Aye Na, and that can’t be how he is remembered.
Sajal Ali as Princess Jasmine
There a number of reasons as to why Sajjal is my perfect Princess Jasmine.
Firstly, she has those eyes.
But also, amongst a multitude of local starlets, Sajjal stands out. This year has seen the debut of many pretty faces onto Pakistanis screens. But Princess Jasmine needs more than that.
She is headstrong, stubborn, vulnerable, brave, gentle all at once. And she is a bit left of centre.
This was a time when Disney wanted to rebrand its princesses. Rather than the one-dimensional damsels in distress that their early films projected (Snow White much?) their nineties heroines were nuanced and sure of themselves.
Despite the fact that Aladdin was the titular character, Princess Jasmine was really just as important.
And given the rave reviews her performance in MOM is achieving, and her past projects, Sajjal could to bring the role to life beautifully.
Zain Malik as Aladdin
It isn’t often than I agree with the internet. But in this case, I can understand the appeal completely. The rapscallion with a heart of gold; that is Zain through and through.
Some of you may argue that he has never acted. To which I will respond with three word;
Emma Watson singing.
For Beauty and the Beast, the studio decided to go for Watson despite the fact that she can’t sing. Why? Well, because she’s Hermione. When you cast a big-budget movie, you need a lead who can draw in crowds.
And Zain Malik continues to be a millennial darling. He could draw the biggest crowd of screaming pre-teens that we’ve ever seen.
So there you have it, there’s my list. Again, I realize that this won’t happen. And in all honesty, I’d like to see a completely Middle Eastern cast. But, these guys basically personify the characters for me. And while it isn’t going to happen, but a girl can wish upon a star, right?