Calgary actor Asif Raza Mir takes on Gangs of London in new Sky mini-series
Pakistani-Canadian actor Asif Raza Mir has a new mini-series on Sky Atlantic and Cinemax, the Gangs of London, which launched April 23 around the world.
CALGARY -- In the last two months, Calgary's Asif Raza Mir went from father of the groom to quarantined at home, to co-starring in Gangs of London, a big, splashy new international mini-series for Sky Atlantic and Cinemax.
The actor and producer, who has been mainstay of the Pakistani film and television industry for over four decades, in shows such as Tanhiyaan, a 1986 series that was so popular with Pakistani viewers that Mir still gets recognized from it, is experiencing some unique highs and lows these pandemic days.
High: the mid-March wedding of his son Ahad Mir, another Calgary actor (he won a Betty Mitchell Award for playing Hamlet in 2019) a rising Pakistani film and TV star who married actress Sajal Aly in Abu Dhabi March 15, a wedding that captured the attention of Pakistanis around the world.
Low: Literally the day after Ahad’s wedding, the world began shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Borders closed. People were instructed to return to their countries, return to their homes and stay in them.
For the entire family, it was so long Abu Dhabi, hello Calgary, Alberta.
“Ahad completed his wedding and then the whole world started shutting down,” Mir said. “So we came here.”
By the time CTV News tracked him down, it was the middle of April and Mir was, like everyone in the city, going a bit bonkers.
“We have completed our time (in quarantine),” Mir said. “The world has just gone quiet. And the funny thing is, it’s all across the globe -- not just one city, or country.
“And still the life goes on.”
All of it comes in the lead up to another professional high for Mir: the release of Gangs of London, a big-budget Sky Atlantic/Cinemax mini-series that is being released on Sky Atlantic April 23.
In the series, which features Colm Meaney and a huge, international, multi-cultural cast, Mir plays the leader of a Pakistani gang named, appropriately enough, Asif.
The series looks about as testosterone-laden as a show could be, but Mir said the appeal was that it takes a deeper dive into a testosterone-fuelled milieu and digs around a bit.
“The nice thing about this project that I personally liked is that it’s a typical crime gangster series," Mir said, "but every individual (in it) ... has his own backstory and at the same time has the human side of it, the family, the emotions.
"In many ways," he added, "if you remember The Godfather series, where the characters had their own emotional storylines.
“That’s when I read the script, it sort of looked very similar to that,” he said.
In other words, like The Godfather did so beautifully, Gangs of London deconstructs masculine mythology even as it delivers a huge whooping can of it over 10 episodes.
“These are all men looking after their own gangs,” Mir said. “There are women who are leading certain gangs, but that sort of reveals as we go forward -- but the women also very strong in it.”
The other asset for Gangs of London, for Mir, is that it reflects the world with its magnificently diverse cast.
“It’s a brilliant example of multicultural casting,” he said. “That gives an opportunity for every audience to associate themselves one way or another globally.
“Just picking up on my character -- it’s a Pakistani character and it’s played by a Pakistani,” he said.
“Otherwise in the past, it used to be a Pakistani played by an Indian, or played by somebody from the U.S. who was from an Arabic background -- but it never comes out as authentic as a Pakistani doing it.”
And although he’s made a career of it for over four decades in Pakistan’s film and television scene, Gangs of London is one of the first European productions tha Mir did, which was no small deal.
After all, there was another set of cultral norms to adapt to, after decades of doing things differently, but Mir is an actor at the end of the day and actors learn how to take the notes.
“The biggest difference between Pakistani style and that (European) part of the region, talking about the performance style and expectation, is our part of the world over there is slightly more melodramatic if I may say," Mir said. "More expression is loud and it’s expected you need to have that kind of expression.
“But in the west, it is much more subtle,” he added.
“Having said that, there are certain productions over here (in North America, andEurope) where you need to have that big expression, that loud expression. It was handy in that case.”
Particularly when the guns started going off and blood and guts were everywhere?
“The scale is pretty grand. The blood part is quite dominant,” he said.
Another high for Mir has been the success enjoyed by Ahad, who switched from business to studying acting at the University of Calgary, and is now a Pakistani heart throb -- think Brad Pitt -- who has already wowed Calgary audiences over the past five years with an array of theatrical talents, including singing (in Joe Slabe’s hilarious holiday show Naughty But Nice), comedy and romantic drama (he’s had roles in a number of Shakespeare Company shows as well).
Ahad said part of the reason why he came back to Calgary to play Hamlet was to show young southeast Asian youth who might aspire to the arts that it was possible -- and to drive home that message to their parents, many of whom first generation immigrants to Canada who steer their children into medicine and engineering and business majors.
Asif, whose father was a major Pakistani film director, was the exception to that rule.
“That is happening," he said. "That thing itself in his performance and how people owned him as an artist did actually excite a lot of kids. You can see people talk a lot in reference to that play (Hamlet) and to his career.
“So I think he is one of the artists who can bridge that gap between the west and the east and the thought process between the kids and their parents who are coming from that background -- that there is more to life than just being a doctor or an engineer.
“That role model will be helpful for many kids in the future -- and their parents.”