Exclusive: Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf on his upcoming biopic: ‘I cried’
It has been two years since Mohammed Assaf’s ground-breaking victory in the inaugural season of Arab Idol. Since then, the in-demand Palestinian superstar has toured the world, won an MTV European Music Award and played to more than 20,000 fans at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after-race concert. His rags-to-riches story — from wedding singer to superstar — is the topic of an upcoming, as-yet-untitled feature film directed by his fellow Palestinian, the Oscar-nominated Hany Abu Assad, which Assaf says is in the running to screen at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
Wait a minute it’s Eid. Aren’t you supposed to also take a break from the stage and chill with family and friends?
That’s rarely the case. For a singer, particularly from this part of the world, Eid is rarely a case where you spend time with family and friends. It’s definitely an intensive work period where you perform a lot of shows … I guess what I learnt is that life as an artist comes with hard work and it eventually becomes second nature to you. You also realise that in certain cases the times where you work and don’t is not in your hands.
It’s been two years since you won Arab Idol and you have embarked on this seemingly never-ending world tour. Do you fear exhaustion?
That is something to think about, but at the moment it is not an issue. You know, one of the things I did when I entered the industry is seek out the advice of my peers, particularly those I consider superstars, and they told me the same thing: that’s on the first years of your career you are going to work harder than you ever did before. Also, I have my own goals as well. I don’t want people to forget my name after I am done, so to do that there is rarely time for rest.
More people are set to know your name with the release of your biopic later this year. How involved are you in the project?
On the music sense I am involved in that I have been recording songs specifically for the movie — I actually completed a few songs in Dubai only a few days ago. On the acting front I am not part of it all. I am not ready to enter the acting world. If I do I will need to be very careful because I see others did it and for those who didn’t choose wisely it backfired on them.
How realistic a portrayal is the film?
It is not a 100 per cent true story of Mohammed Assaf. This is another reason why I didn’t get directly involved in making the film.
So would you say the film’s plot is inspired by your real life instead?
I would say that it is a drama and like most dramas there are certain things that are bit further away from what really took place. The film discusses my achievements and the challenges that I faced but in a different way.
The film is directed by Oscar nominated director Hany Abu Assad, so there should a ready made international audience anticipating the release. Do you feel the film could provide a fresh perspective into the struggle faced by Palestinians living under Israeli occupation?
What Hany did actually was not focus directly on the politics. Instead, he focused on the things that we all experience in life, someway or another. You know, the joys and pains of life. The main theme of the film is about success, how one can achieve it when you are surrounded by obstacles — which in my case remains the occupation and wars — and how despite all of these things you can still make something out of yourself if you strive hard and with the support of family and friends who provide you with hope.
Have you watched the film?
Oh yes, I did not long ago in fact.
What’s your personal review of it?
It’s great. That said, however, my only comment on is what I told you before: it is not 100 per cent accurate in terms of what happened in my life. It is more of a drama. Particularly the first half of the film. In the second part, which focuses on my Arab Idol experience, now that is very realistic. By the way, don’t take what I am saying here as criticism — it’s just my honest take on it. The film affected me deeply when I watched it: it made me laugh, I also cried and I connected with all of the characters in it.
Is there any word on the title and the film release?
Not yet to be honest. But there is discussion about having the film screened in the film festival in Toronto around September so that should be the beginning of things. It is going to be a busy year, I can tell you that.