Bilal Ashraf is punctual for the appointment, meeting me in the lobby of a picturesque hotel in Islamabad. As temperatures rises, so, too, does Bilal’s profile. He’s still busy promoting his film Superstar with Mahira Khan that releases today in Pakistan and has already been released worldwide. I’ve seen some clips from the upcoming release and it won’t be erroneous to say that it is none less than an award-tipped performance, that is going to win Bilal even more ecstatic following, and not because of his looks – but acting, all the way. His acting gig for Shan Shahid’s film, 021 (2014), is only half the story of his success. Although the film didn’t do well with cinegoers, but there was one face that was hugely recognised by the Pakistan entertainment fraternity: Bilal Ashraf. Post 021, he went on to play a romantic hero in Janaan (2016), a rockstar in Rangreza (2017) and an army personnel in Yalghaar (2014). All these years, Bilal, particularly, has weathered some very cruel reviews in the past, having even been coined a non-actor. But he intends to change that perception of him with Superstar. And it definitely seems to, this very time! Bilal Ashraf enrolled himself in the biggest acting academy in Pakistan this time where he took classes all over again to perfect the craft before returning to the big screen with also half a dozen abs, which he flaunts like any ‘Film Hero’ in the world. Becoming a famous actor was never something he ever thought of growing up — he was set on having creative VFX and animation aesthetics while working for the hedge fund in New York, with double major in finance and art when 021 came along his way. Ashraf’s capacity for expression is mesmerising. On his pleasingly fairly symmetrical face, his fierce eyes and smile compete to articulate most loudly. We discuss how he practices in between scenes, his first pairing with Mahira or with any star of that stature for that matter, and cautiously picking up the roles to take Pakistan film industry a step forward. You’ve been living abroad throughout your life. So how did everything fall into place for you returning to your home-country and working in Pakistan film industry? Was acting something you always wanted to do? I never wanted to be an actor. I was telling Mahira the other day, during the dubbing of the film, that I don’t know who that person is on the screen, it’s not me. My late sister was someone who was into film-making and wanted to make films in Pakistan. But unfortunately, that didn’t happen, so for me it was more about carrying her dream forward and contributing to Pakistan in any way or form I can. I couldn’t care less about competing with someone or something, because I’m not competing with someone, I just want to try and do justice to her (my sister) in some form. Now that I’ve gotten into it, I believe if you do something, do it with all your heart. You have been weathered with some very cruel reviews in the past, having even been coined a non-actor, so how you think you have evolved as an actor for Superstar? I’ll be very honest, I have not done theatre and haven’t done a drama — I had no desire to become an actor, so obviously for me the craft of learning is and was there, and that’s what I’ve done. I’ve tried to work on myself, on my skills. Did a few acting courses in England and for this film, Momina Duraid got me enrolled in National Academy of Performing Arts for theatre acting. So, we actually performed Superstar theatrically even before we had started shooting. So I’m always willing to learn you know. A lot of people ask me ‘Oh you’re dancing in the film?’ and I respond that I’ve been dancing throughout my life — it’s just that you didn’t know. I kept on telling different art directors and film makers to use me in the real sense for the camera. I feel an actor needs to be used properly because it is director’s medium. Like television, visions are the director’s medium; stage is an actor’s medium. And if someone doesn’t get the best out of you or use you properly, you can give the best shot but the world would never know. How important is it for a film industry like Pakistan to have a packaged actor, an actor who’s an aplomb of acting talent and physique? I feel Pakistan film industry is still fledgling. I wouldn’t call ourselves an industry as yet, we can say that when we’re churning out three to four films a month. When your films are up internationally — you are competing with Hollywood, Bollywood or Turkish cinema probably. And with the age of social media everything has gone accessible and global. My physical transformation for Superstar was something I came up with. I requested my producer Momina Duraid who had the belief in me. I think it added that extra dimension to the character I’m playing in the film. It took me an year for the transformation. At the end of the day, once that transformation was done, I realised it wasn’t just for the Superstar, it was much more than that: mental clarity and approach. I think youth looks at Hollywood and Bollywood and gets inspired by their physique and stuff all the time — and I felt why not if youth can look up to their own and get inspired. It’s just not me but there are other boys in Pakistan entertainment fraternity as well who works out a lot, but I believe there’s no concept of physique in our industry yet. I went through this physical transformation and did a shirtless song, not to gain appreciation for the boxes (abs) I’ve made, but to set a trend and to benchmark what Pakistani hero should look like, physically. People might would’ve questioned Momina Duraid on why did she sign a comparatively new comer opposite Mahira Khan. I would like to ask you, why Superstar? Because of several reasons. First and foremost, the script was fabulous. The music was out class and along with Momina Duraid Productions, everybody on-board was a maestro in their own field. From the director to the music. Second the angle of theatre and obviously then Marina Khan, Nadeem Baig, Ali Kazmi, Javed Sheikh and Mahira Khan — all acting legends. I signed also because I wanted to learn and it was a learning experience for me. This was your first pairing with Mahira or with any star of that stature for that matter. So were you intimidated at some point of time during the shooting process or a victim of unnecessary star tantrums? No, not at all. The energy and attitude she brings on set — was phenomenal. I’ve worked with other people in the industry as well, but would you believe it that she used to be on the set even before the call time and would be the last person to leave the set. No food tantrums — not buzzing unnecessary attitude. And she gives space to the other person to just grow. We didn’t know each other before, just some social meeting, but when we were doing theatre we got to know each other and get comfortable with each other and that is one of the reasons why you see such a chemistry on screen. I wasn’t intimidated by her because of who she is and till when we started shooting for the film, we knew each other. So, post films, can we expect to see you in theatre or dramas? I would love to do theatre. I have been offered many dramas for the past 4-5 years, although I feel that dramas are wonderful, but I just want to focus on films. Films are challenging to work more. Since you’ve studied animation, Pakistan doesn’t have to offer much when it comes to animated films. What or how do you think can be done to step into the paradigm of original animated films from Pakistan? We have small studios in Pakistan but unfortunately animation is a very time-consuming and expensive thing. Because of the budgets we have a set-back. But even films like Donkey King and Allah Yaar did well on Box Office. So there is market, people are working towards it, it’s just going to take a little time.
Her first ever interview came in Community almost more than four years ago. She was then all set for her silver screen comeback with Bin Roye (2015). Not much has changed for Mahira Khan. She is still the lithe, jaunty girl with the easy megawatt smile whose eyes grow big when she is excited. It’s the voluminous blow-dried hair and flawless skin that give her away. Mahira is dressed unobtrusively in a mucho simple deep-red slightly lower than knee length dress and blue stilettos, but she is unmistakable. Cameras have accosted her a couple of times in the past half hour alone. However, she continues to chat animatedly about her upcoming film Superstar. The title that goes so much hand in hand with the phenomenon that Mahira Khan is for the Pakistan entertainment industry. Mahira’s still as beautiful and cheeky as she was when she made her acting debut with Neeyat, drama serial in 2011, post her brief stint as a Video Jockey (VJ) on television. Neeyat and her first film Bol (2011), directed by Shoaib Mansoor, released simultaneously with a gap of only a few days, and the rest is history. Who knew the geeky Ayla from Neeyat would one day become the queen of Pakistan entertainment industry whilst making one of the most prominent debuts in Bollywood as well, and that too opposite none other than Shahrukh Khan in Raees (2017). Since turning out as the charming Ayla, Mahira Khan has come a long way, coursing her way through a hit list of serials, from Sarmad Khoosat’s Humsafar (2012) to Rukhsana in Sadqay Tumhare (2014), and silver screen prominence from Bol to 7 Din Mohabbat In (2018). It also won’t be erroneous to say that Mahira is indeed one of the most fashion savvy actresses Pakistan industry has ever seen. An actress that can never go wrong with how she steps forward on the red carpet; and that image was pretty much backed up when she had made her debut on the stairs of Cannes Film Festival in 2018 in an Alberta Ferretti number and Chopard jewels. Although Mahira made a successful Bolywood debut, but with the eruption of tensions between Pakistan and India, Mahira and other fellow actors such as Fawad Khan and Ali Zafar, had to abandon future projects in India. Community recently sat down with Mahira to know how she felt when her Bollywood debut film, Raees, got stuck at the censors and she wasn’t able to be a part of the then ongoing promotions of the film and what she dreams about now that she’s hit the pinnacle of stardom. From a girl next door – to a diva walking the red carpet of Cannes. Was there any specific moment when you actually realised that you’ve just made it as the superstar of Pakistan entertainment industry? I don’t know. I’ve never actually thought about it. But you know I was watching the Hollywood Round Table and whenever they ask such a question in that show, that when was that specific moment when you felt you had made it, it’s so hard to answer. It’s so hard to think what was that specific moment. You know, ever body has a dream, right. We work towards that. When I was little, my dream was to work with Shahrukh Khan. That’s it! I didn’t want to work, I just wanted to be in the same frame. And it was an unbelievable dream; something people thought was unachievable. But that’s what dream are. I think when I saw Zaalima or I stood there in front of him, I was like yes it’s done! You know honestly after that, since I had no other dream in life, something else then had to naturally and organically come. And that’s very hard. After sharing screen space with Shahrukh Khan, now Superstar is that next dream. Along with Superstar, you have quite a prominent cameo in Parey Hut Love as well, both releasing simultaneously on Eid al-Adha. What kind of pressure you’re going through? A lot of pressure! My cameo in Parey Hut Love is super special to me. One, because it’s Asim Raza (director of Parey Hut Love). Asim for me is somebody very special. We connect on a very soul level. There are very few people I speak to so much in the industry, and Asim is one of them. He’s been my guiding force although I’m a rebel! He’ll like it more if I listen to him. Morre Saiyan in PHL is a song that we both wanted to do and I would say it’s an ode to our friendship. How much can you relate to your character of Noorie in Superstar? I think Noorie is a lot like me. She has a lot of faith; unbothered and unfettered by anything around her. It’s her and what she wants to do but she also wants to be morally correct and wants to do the right thing. Does do the right thing! But, sometimes in your journey you get hurt and then you try to prove to the world then to prove yourself; you start off with the dreams that are yours but suddenly you’re doing things you never wanted to do. That way, Noorie is like me. And Noorie experiences love along the way. Well, I’ve experienced better love than Noorie! You share the screen space with Bilal Ashraf this time, who is relatively quite a new comer, so what kind of bond did you both really share? Did he look up to you since you’re a much-experienced actress? You need to ask him for that! I used to look up to him because he was much taller though, which is great. I felt like I don’t want to cramp someone’s space, even if I’m more experienced or I’ve done more films. So what! That doesn’t matter. I have to allow him to be him and he has to enjoy his time. I think that’s what important and we both really enjoyed it. We were strangers. Last time I worked with someone I did not know was Shahrukh and before that was Fawad. Other than that, I’ve worked with people that I’ve known or hung out with. Bilal and me were strangers, put in a closed space. I’m shy, so I give a little space. But I felt comfortable with him. If he had to hold my hand or come close to me, I never felt awkward. Which is very important. Even when I did feel awkward, it worked for the film — the initial love. But he has done a very good job! You hit a career peak with Raees. Do you think the artiste ban in India stole your best years on the big screen? No, not at all! Let’s say I had done another film. And I had been offered many films. But you know my dream was to share the screen with Shahrukh Khan and that was done, and that’s it! I didn’t want anything else. So, I’m very lucky and grateful. Did I feel bad because of the ban? Yes, of course. Politics is a reality in today’s world of art. Do you think artistes should take a stand on it? If so, do you feel disappointed that the biggest names in Bollywood shy away from doing the responsible thing? You couldn’t, after all, be even a part of the promos of a film headed by SRK! I can’t speak for Bollywood because it’s not my industry. I don’t think I have right to speak for that industry. I can speak for mine. It would be wrong for me to comment on something which is about them. But when it’s about our industry or our country, I do try to speak out through different mediums. Talking of politics, are you a regular Pakistani who cannot escape political drama that is a part and parcel of our lives, or you manage to stay sane? We’re all affected by politics. I am too. But I try to stay away. I don’t watch TV. I watch a few shows, say once in a while, on Netflix or Amazon and that’s why I feel like I’m very much out of the loop of what’s happening even. Because I’m just in my own little bubble. When I want to know about politics, I know who to call: Hamza Ali Abbasi. Did you vote last year? Would you tell us which party, if so? How can you ask me this? I did not vote last year. Because of HUM Awards. I was very upset actually for not voting because last time I had voted. And I’m a big supporter of Imran Khan. But when I think things are not going well, I also say it. I don’t think you should have blind support. So, for me to not have been here was huge and I think me and two other people really fought this case. But because I was one of the people who were performing, so we had to be there. We fought and delayed as much as we could. It’s unfortunate. How different is today’s Pakistan Entertainment Industry from the time you started out in showbiz? So much. First and foremost: social media! Everything is out there. Because I think I came at a time when it was just beginning, that’s when I came, and I remember, right before Bol released, I deleted myself off Facebook. That’s the only thing I had. Then for years, I was not on any social media platform. Finally, Hassan, my brother, convinced and requested me to join Instagram. Oh no! I joined Twitter first. And Instagram was just a joke, like a dare. And now I can’t get off. I try to keep it as authentic as possible though. What I don’t want, I don’t post – what I want to, I post. I think that has changed a lot. Other thing that has changed, look at where the films are. Look at how many options we have. Whether it’s the television industry or film industry, you are no more looking at five people, but in double or triple digits of talented people. Be it filmmakers or actors or any other kind of technicians, so I think that’s huge! On the personal side, tell us what is the most satisfying part of being a single parent and what the most challenging? Most challenging is time. I wish there were more hours in a day. That’s the most challenging part. You know, I was at the dubbing of the film, I don’t know for how many hours, it was four-five in the morning and Azlan (my son) kept on calling. He was like “Mama Mama”. First, he called at midnight, then he called at 1, then he called at 3 – finally when he called at 4 because I had told him I’ll be home by 3, he started crying. And I couldn’t hear him cry. I was like I’m coming and coming. I put the phone down and started dubbing the climax scene. And while I was dubbing, I howled. And I knew I was howling because my child is waiting. The feeling you know that I want to go home, I don’t want to be doing this right now, that’s my big challenge. The most satisfying thing is when I hear Azlan talk to other people or see him have conversations with other people or interactions. I can just sit back and say, me, my mother, my father, my ex-husband – all of us collectively have done a good job. What are your personal life goals? What do you think makes life whole? I think what makes life whole is… is… that’s a good question! I think if you can sort of strike a balance which is very hard, I don’t think I can. It’s very very hard for me. But you know the moment you strike a balance that I’ve done my work, I’m satisfied with my work and I have a personal life and I’ve tried my best in all of that– if you can find a moment to feel okay with everything and feel peaceful, happy and satisfied with it, that is feeling whole. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but it needs to be a little bit of contentment. Artistes are often asked if there’s any particular role they would like to essay. What about you; have you ever tried to pursue one? Superstar is the one! If there has been a dream, it has been Superstar. I’ve waited for it too long. I’m sure actors have faith in things, I have had insane faith in Superstar. I’ve given up everything for Noorie. Who is your favourite Pakistani film and TV artiste, and why? I’ve lots of favourites! But Sajal is just out-standing. I like all these new faces; I like Imran Ashraf and Iqra Aziz. And in my time, I like Fawad Khan and Humayun Saeed. I want to work with Nauman Ijaz.
Mahira Khan enters the board room at a picturesque hotel in Islamabad where I’m waiting for her with my questionnaire. She is dressed in a red knee length silhouette, and with her voluminous blow-dried hair, her delicate features are accentuated. Her makeup artiste gives her last touches, she looks in the mirror swiftly and dabs at her lips; hers is a classic beauty befitting a Pakistani movie star. Then she suddenly turns to me with a bit confused look, momentarily, and hugs me recognising we had met almost four years ago, when she was promoting her film Bin Roye (2015), that was her comeback on the silver screen post her successful appearance in Bol (2011), and in that moment I’m in awe of her memory. Now Mahira is all done with the promotions of her upcoming film Superstar, that is scheduled to release this Eid al-Adha, but apart from Superstar she’ll also making a special appearance in Asim Raza’s Paray Hut Love, that is also scheduled to release this Eid. I ask her, if she’s going through any sort of pressure since both of her films are releasing simultaneously. She responds, “A lot of pressure. My cameo in Paray Hut Love is super special to me. Morre Saiyan, my song in the film, is something me and Asim wanted to do for a long time and I would say it’s an ode to our friendship.” Mahira was very young when she felt in love with cinema and when she decided to be a part of the screen. She’s been mulling it over since forever, but it wasn’t until her teens that she decided to take action. Khan did what any enthusiastic teenager would do — jump into the bandwagon of auditions before landing up to something substantial and luckily everything did fall into place. Mahira started her career as a Video Jockey with the Pakistan’s show MTV Most Wanted in 2006, and everything else is a history. She made her acting debut with the 2011 drama Neeyat, however, it was her performance in Humafar (2011), Pakistani drama serial on entertainment channel HUM TV, that won her immense praise and is considered to be her shot to fame. If Mahira wouldn’t have been an actor, which career she would’ve opted for we wonder. “I would’ve been a junior artiste. Standing in the back doing something, in the hopes that I’ll get spotted. But I would’ve been in the show business still,” Mahira says. Mahira’s all time favourite film is Dilwale Dhulania Le Jayenge which is not a secret to anyone. But which actors Mahira is rooting for these days, she tells, “I’ve got a lot of favourites but Sajal Aly is just outstanding. I like all these new faces, I like Imran Ashraf and Iqra Aziz. And in my time, I like Fawad Khan and Humayun Saeed. I want to work with Nauman Ijaz though.” When asked for what has changed in her more than a decade journey in Pakistan entertainment industry, Mahira responds, “So much. First and foremost: Social media! Everything is out there. Other thing that has changed is, look at where the films are and how many options we have now. You are no more looking and five people, but in double or triple digits of talented people.”
Yami Gautam was one of hundreds of young faces, who arrive every year to Mumbai carrying sanguine, but mostly farfetched, dream of making it big. Before Yami found her calling, she was a teenage civil services aspirant. From a relatively moderate celebrity profile as a drama serial actress to making a star turn for the silver screen, Yami has traversed some distance. There are some people who radiate positivity and energy as they smile from within and Yami is indeed one of them. And she has all the reason to be. Not many actors make a successful cut from television to Bollywood and sustain it if they’re not from a film or star background, but Yami is that phoenix that has always risen from the ashes, not ashes in literal, but even when her few films didn’t do great on box office – she never felt short, rather clapped back with all the strength she could. And see where she is, celebrating her successful opening of 2019 with URI: The Surgical Strike. But how did a girl born in Himachal Pardesh and raised in Chandigarh land up in Bollywood in the first place? Yami was pursuing a law degree when her uncle sent her pictures to a production house. An audition for a television serial landed her in Mumbai and she never returned. Post wrapping up her debut in Chand Ke Paar Chalo (2009), a drama serial on entertainment channel NDTV, Yami also did a couple of South films before landing up a substantial role in Vicky Donor (2012). The journey from television to the movies was a long and arduous one. But Yami held on and now she has completed seven years in Hindi film industry. Although her debut Hindi film Vicky Donor was a sleeper hit, vowing both the audience and critics alike and earning her many female debut awards, her few choices post Vicky, except Badlapur(2015) and Kaabil(2017) and now URI, did not work at the box office. With her feet planted firmly on the ground, she neither lets success go to her head nor allow setbacks to drag her down. She’s the ultimate insider now and knows perfectly how to get going. Yami is a cheeky girl, and time and again it peeps through her not so conventional roles in the films that are not commercial but actually contribute significantly to the story of the film. Be it Kaabil, Sanam Re, URI: The Surgical Strike or Badlapur (2015) — she has gone grounded in the choices she makes. Yami was recently in Doha, for a magazine shoot with picturesque landmarks of Qatar providing a breathtaking background to her ever-glowing face. Dressed in her casual travel suit, all set to take her flight back to Mumbai, Yami spoke to Community in an exclusive interview and revealed how its doubly hard for girls from non-filmy backgrounds to keep going, her URI success and why it’s okay these days to be a brand ambassador for a fairness cream. She clears her stance and she does it well. Almost seven years in film industry, what’s changed? A lot has changed. The learning process is still going and I’m still learning with every project I do. Things have changed in the industry for good, we have more faces coming up, more genres been explored. And everything else is well on its way, just like it was before. After Vicky Donor and a couple of other films that couldn’t do huge on box office. What kept you going? That’s how the industry is: you fall down, be strong, get-up, keep moving on and grab the opportunities that come your way. Better scripts and huge projects might not happen instantly when you want, but it all takes time and falls into place eventually. This belief keeps me going. Coming from a middle-class family, and not a star background. How difficult was it to make it where you are right now? Any lessons learnt the hard way? I think the only difference, professionally if I say, is if you’re from the star background and your film doesn’t work out, you already have a backup and some sort of people or films to back you up or you can fall back to. And if you’re not from the star or film background then if your film does work great but doesn’t do well on the box office then the further options of the next one project to be chosen could not be perhaps what you immediately want to do or what you wish to do. That’s about it. Rest, there’s nothing else that I would like to trade from where I come from. I’m really happy to have the kind of family I have and I’m glad I have certain perspective which is outside film industry. I’m really happy where I come from, and where I’ve been raised. That perspective is something I always enjoy. Was acting something you always wanted to do? No, I wanted to join civil services but acting is something that just happened along the way. If I go back to my school days, my friends and I, all laugh about it that I was always that closet brand, a closet dancer, this closet singer. I used to love imitating and mimicking my teachers, whoever was around. But only my best friends knew about it. So, maybe deep down in my heart, I had a performer side in me. But I didn’t know. And never had I ever thought that from Chandigarh I’ll be leaving everything and shifting to Mumbai. I was very good in studies and was seriously preparing for civil services. But yeah it just happened. The new cinematic awakening has been a relatively recent development, triggered by periodic bouts of deep professional introspection. What kind of scripts excite you now? Anything which I’ve not done before. Something which challenges me. Something you would feel ‘Oh we’ve not seen Yami do this before or probably have imagined her doing something like this before. Anything that takes me out of my comfort zone. There’s a thin line between getting out of your comfort zone and something that is awkward for you. Even when you go out of the way to select your roles but that shouldn’t be that you’re trying too hard to prove a point or something. That shouldn’t be there. If there’s something that excites you as an actor, you feel you want to do this and feel you have a director whom you can fall back to and trust him completely and he can trust you – then you go for such roles. Any genre! I haven’t done comedy, action, costume drama. There are so many things which I want to do and will, eventually. I think slowly and steadily I’ll have it. And how would you draw a parallel between South film industry and Hindi film industry? I haven’t really been a South film actress. I did do two three films but it was just a part or phase where you’re doing work and Good work keeps coming your way. That’s it. You’re auditioning constantly, you’re trying every possibility to keep working in Mumbai. And in that auditioning spree I had Vicky Donor also. In that phase of my life I also did regional films because I didn’t see language as a barrier. Actually it’s even harder when you’re performing a language you don’t know. I saw it more as an opportunity to be a part of something that is for the big screen. Ofcourse there’s a difference in the culture, language and work atmosphere. But, it’s not that I was a very established actress out there. If I have to chalk out some difference for you, they’re very particular about their timings! They have some pretty strong technicians out there. Really interesting work is also being done there with so many remakes happening. There are some drastic beauty standards that have been set-up which are difficult for a common girl to follow? It’s considered a taboo now if an actor is promoting a fairness brand especially with the rise of social media, and you are. Your take on it? I’d say I’m doing my work. I’m working as a professional. Having said that, the kind of fairness cream ads, or any cream ads for that matter, you see now have been drastically evolved over the years. They’re not the same anymore, thankfully. Just to bring it out factually for you, there are no more four faces used in the TVCs and put out a narrative that if you’re not fair there’s something to be sad about. And I’m so glad. I’ve been associated with the brand long before Vicky Donor even, when I was exploring my work as a model. My contract became an ambassadorship post Vicky Donor. I did have a chat with the brand, did express my concerns exactly on the same line; that to promote a brand is fine as long as you’re following a legal line. But, otherwise to show that to be unhappy about not being fair is not right. And I’m so glad that it has been worked upon and those ads are not there anymore. Maybe, it’s the name Fair & Lovely, which has been there for the decades and I cannot change. Maybe that’s what gives out a different perception. All the ads that running on television right now have similar elements, but if I’m the only one being picked upon. No problem, that’s alright. I understand the concern and I’m with the concern. Now it’s just your choice that you want to buy it, buy it – if you don’t want to buy it, absolutely fine. Please be comfortable with whatever you feel is the best version of beauty is. You started 2019 with a very high note of URI. Has the feeling sunk in? Not yet! One is when your film is doing really well and people are congratulating you, you feel happy when your film has done well and the one is when people own and embrace your film. That doesn’t happen with every film. The kind of respect that has been associated with this film, I think that was phenomenal. We knew that it is going be a very good film, but we didn’t see that coming. The way it was shot, we knew it was a very very honest attempt. The way people all across the world embraced it that’s very endearing. How was your visit to Doha? This is my first visit to Doha and there is a lot of love I’ve felt here. I went to a mall and the National Museum of Qatar, and lots of people came up to me to show their love. It’s always nice to feel the love and warmth. It’s a beautiful place! And there’s so much more yet to be explored here in Doha. And I’d just love to come again and be back soon. Until next time!
Well, a few times in your life someone will tell you something so right, so deeply true that it changes you forever. In my experience this wisdom, perhaps without knowing it, that I have longed to hear about was the perfection trap, the price you pay when you become ensnared in it, and the key to setting yourself free I believe that when your success looks good to the world but doesn’t feel good in your heart, it isn’t success at all. Embracing imperfection has nothing to do with lower standards; rather it’s about accepting yourself the way you just are and embracing your unique qualities. Accept yourself completely, knowing you possess a combination of qualities. Instead of bringing attention to your weaknesses, view them as gifts to transform into the wholeness of your being. Its pointless striving to become you’re not. To maintain a façade overtime is exhausting and strips you off your authentic self. But at the same time, growth and change is also very important. Where these imperfections make you unique in every choice you make, you can definitely take steps for good to change that imperfection for better, not for somebody else but own self, if you’re obsessing over it for bad. It’s never too late to ask yourself, ‘Am I ready to change the life I’m living? For good? For myself? Am I ready to change within?’ Even if a single day in your life is the same as the day before, it’s a pity. At every moment and with each new breath, one should be renewed and renewed again. There’s only a one way to be born into a new life, embracing your uniqueness and your imperfections. In this world, it is not similarities or regularities that take us a step forward, but blunt opposites. And all the opposites in the universe are present within each and every one of us. Therefore, the believer needs to meet the unbeliever residing with it. And the unbeliever in us should get to know the silent good one in us. So does your evil schemer self makes you imperfect, or your choices of kindness? I don’t think any of them do. Imperfection is a perfection of a sort depending on how you nurture it. I’m wandering in the open, exploring the air and myself – finding myself, today and always. Are you up for it? Do you have what it takes? Bisou Bisou! — Text by Muhammad Asad Ullah, @asadullahgt; Photos by Syed Hasan Iqbal Zaidi @hasan.xaidi
Face your fears and the rewards can be profound. You can discover the true depth of a relationship. Or what you’re capable of withstanding. Some stories open the door for something more. And then there are fairytale endings. And endings that turn you introspective about your own life and your place in the world. And then there’s the ending that you saw coming a mile away, and yet somehow still takes you by surprise. But don’t worry, where the story ends, there’s always a start of a brand new chapter. The problem is, the more you gain, the more you stand to lose. Are you ready to find out what you’re made of? Because to survive in this glossy world, that is all about heights, you better be fearless. You can choose to go on the offensive and come out swinging. Or you can pack your bags and admit defeat. Or you can drink yourself into oblivion and hope it’ll all just go away. Whatever you choose to do, one thing is certain – that it is not the end, because try as you might to fight it, you cannot ignore the power of skyline and lights that shine in your eyes and spirits. Bisou Bisou! – Text by Muhammad Asad Ullah, @asadullahgt; Photos by Syed Hasan Iqbal Zaidi @hasan.xaidi
Performances at the Lux Style Awards (LSA) serve as dramatic punctuation in between ogling designer dresses and tuxedos, listening to nervous gratitude aimed at parents, spouses and project crew after a win, and the generally not so great scripted dialogue of presenters. As usual, music uplifts and 2019’s performances shouldn’t disappoint. The recently held Lux Style Awards 2019 in Karachi, Pakistan, was all high and low lows and it marked an occasion where Pakistan is heading to grasp the importance of stardust all too well and is happy to put out there, spending millions and showcase what talent Pakistan Entertainment industry holds; a celebration of films, music, drama and fashion. Meanwhile where the jury was out, the judges were in and LSA was besieged under controversies. LSA jury received backlash for snubbing some of the most prominent projects of 2018 and celebrities including actors, producers and influencers took over social media to express their concern without any curtailment. The Lux Style Awards (LSA) collaborated with Frieha Altaf’s Catwalk for production, Nabila for Makeup and Farishteh Aslam of Talking Point for PR. The Lux Style Awards 2019 was a finale of not so rehearsed scripts. The LSA you see on television is not the LSA on ground. From Yasir Hussain’s flawless act to Saba Qamar’s not-so-perfect stint with constantly repeating most of her script to get it right, and Ahmed Ali Butt’s witty sense of humour along with power packed performances — it was nice to see all coming together though. It was a fantastic night of racy performers, some of them a lot of fun — Maya Ali’s performance was by far the most rousing stage performance witnessed that evening. However, the most “dhuaandaar” (steamy) performance belonged to Saba Qamar who set the stage on fire as she arrived to move on Mera Babu Chail Chabeela; all those jhatkas and thumkas! Maya and Saba both performed on the remixed songs of Pakistani veteran actress, Shabnam, as a tribute to her, who also received the Unilever Chairman’s Award. Watching Meera shake a leg with all the energy of a diva was equally gorgeous. Meera’s 100-watt smile was enough to tell us how happy she is with her recent hit Baaji and now the LSAs being her celebratory premise. Talking of performances, let’s just ignore what Momina Mustehsan did and let’s pretend that her dance performance never happened, although as an opening act it set the bar quite low for the night. The award ceremony subtly touched upon the topic of cyber bullying as well. We couldn’t thank enough for subtlety – because an award show is an all masala and entertainment and if a certain issue is rubbed in the face or overdosed, people yawn and leave. Mehwish Hayat got on stage to express the bravery with which not only her but public figures have to face negative criticism, mockery, cyber bullying and hate. The highlight of the event was Yasir Hussain proposing to his rumoured girlfriend Iqra Aziz, making their relationship official. He put a ring on her finger as the stunned actress smiled tearfully and the couple indulged in PDA. Where the rumour has it that the couple has been engaged before the show and it was just a re-enactment, too much intimacy followed by the proposal between the two is to be noticed! Kids and families watch this show, for God’s sake! Unfortunately, despite having so many stars in the house, there were flaws that left much to be desired throughout the evening. A poor script and weak direction made some segments very dull and they were unable to hold the audience’s attention. While the show lacked the presence of some major stars of the Pakistani entertainment industry –Fawad Khan, Sajal Aly, and Adnan Siddiqui to name a few – Lux has patently raised the bar for acknowledging the fashion and entertainment of Pakistani industry. Well here’s Kudus to Frieha Altaf and her team for putting up glamorous show and a fabulous line-up of red-carpet appearances.
The year 2018 and early 2019 gave us a mixed bag of movies with many big budget A-list stars’ films being given the thumbs down at the box-office whereas low-budget movies with strong scripts worked well with both fans and critics alike. What will next half of 2019 have it store for us? We list some of the movies we are looking forward to now at the theatres including Mahira Khan’s Superstar and Hareem Farooq’s Heer Maan Jaa. These are some of the other movies we are looking forward to this half of the year as well, like Mehwish Hayat’s film based on the life of politician and first female Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto. The release dates of few other movies are not yet out but we will keep you updated as and when they are announced. Stay tuned! Paray Hut Love The powerhouse talent of Sheheryar Munawar Siddiqui and Maya Ali are coming together for the first time in Asim Raza’s Paray Hut Love which is releasing on Eid Al Adha. Sheheryar has worked in Asim’s previous film Ho Mann Jahan. This will be Maya’s first film with both Sheheryar and Asim, after giving a ‘heroine’ performance last year in Teefa in Trouble. Maya has defined her acting prowess on television and on-screen for us, but how different is this role going to be – we can’t wait to catch this movie at the theatre! The Legend of Maula Jutt Can we just confess that this is perhaps our most awaited movie of the year? We totally believe that the immense talents of Mahira Khan, Fawad Khan, Hamza Ali Abbasi, Humaima Malick and more will only bring magic on screen. The most loved, on screen couple are finally reuniting. Yes, Mahira Khan and Fawad Khan are to be seen together after Humsafar. What other better reason to watch it? No doubt, after Waar, Bilal Lashari is going to lit the Pakistani Cinema all over again. Despite the legal battles The Legend of Maula Jutt movie remains one of the most anticipated hits this year. It is a remake of the hit 80’s classic. The movie is out on Eid Al Adha. Superstar Momina Duraid’s film house brings Mahira Khan and Bilal Ashraf together in a story of stardom and perhaps a fateful romance? Guess we’ll have to wait for the teasers to drop. Bilal Ashraf and Mahira Khan are the Superstar cast for the film. The movie is said to be about the world of Pakistani celebrities. That won’t be hard for Mahira Khan. Though it should be said that Bilal Ashraf’s Yalghaar and Rangreeza tanked at the box office. The film boasts a stellar cast including the industry’s bigwigs Nadeem Baig, Javaid Sheikh, Marina Khan, Asma Abbas, Saife Hassan, Alizay Shah and Ali Kazmi. Reportedly, audiences will also see special appearances from the likes of Hania Amir, Saira Shehroz, Osman Khalid Butt and Mani as well. Superstar also features a dance number by Jawani Phir Nahi Ani star Kubra Khan. Ready Steady No After giving a stellar performance in Baaji, Amna Ilyas is all set for the release of her another upcoming film Ready Steady No this 19th July. The film revolves around a young, middle-class couple who are desperate to take the plunge. Which seems like a roller-coaster ride, the two lovebirds come across various hurdles and mix-ups while they try and make their nikkah happen. The upcoming film stars Faisal Saif as the male lead, who is also a debutant. Alongside Saif and Ilyas star Salman Shahid, Ismail Tara, Zain Afzal, Nargis Rasheed and Marhoom Ahmed Bilal. Heer Maan Ja After winning our hearts in Parchi, Hareem Farooq and Ali Rehman Khan are back with Heer Maan Jaa. They have already won us with the tagline. Both the actors are seen showing their whacky side in the poster of this rom-com. We are absolutely ready to go on this romantic yet crazy ride with these two insanely talented stars expecting tons of humour, goofiness, and most importantly, great on-screen chemistry! Well the rumour has it that the film also touches the bit of honour killing, however nothing has been confirmed yet. The movie is out on Eid Al Adha. Zarrar As you can see from the Zarrar’s movie trailer, this one promises to be an action thriller. This thriller will be about the life of a spy and feature Pakistani intelligence agencies. Veteran actor Shaan Shahid is the writer and director of the film, along with playing the protagonist alongside Kiran Malik, Adnan Butt and Nadeem Malik. British cinematographer, Timothy Hallam Wood is the Director of Photography (DoP). The film is scheduled to release on August 14.
From the moment Sheheryar Munawar Siddiqui and Asim Raza announced that they were making a rom-com feature film starring Sheheryar along with Maya Ali, it was a safe bet that it would be one of the most glitz-glam film of the year. Now, the first trailer for the drama, Paray Hut Love is here to confirm it. We see a stellar cast of characters in the film, featuring Maya Ali, Sheheryar Munawar, Zara Noor Abbas, Hina DIlpazir, Asad Siddiqui, Nadeem Baig, Ahmed Ali Butt, Sonya Jehan, Frieha Altaf, Faheem Azam and Shahbaz Shigri among others. The trailer opens with various visuals of grandeur, beautiful landscapes and wedding decorations. Sheheryaar Munawar wakes up from a nightmare and then we see him introducing himself as a struggling actor, in search of a role to Nadeem Baig’s character. He is later seen rehearsing a scene with Zara Noor Abbas Siddiqui who is paired opposite Ahmed Ali Butt in the love story. We also see the famous Momo aka Hina Dilpazir in this bit of the trailer. Sheheryar is a drama actor searching for a role of a lifetime and isn’t too keen to fall in love or get hitched. Munawar’s character is no different from men his age who fear the idea of marriage until they meet the ‘perfect one’. For Munawar it is Saniya played by Maya Ali who will change his perception as she plays his love interest in the film. But, the story takes a steep turn when Saniya reveals that she is engaged to Hassan (played by Shahbaz Shigri). Sheheryaar is seen questioning Maya about their relationship, which is followed by the scenes of a funeral. A lot is happening in this trailer, leaving one with conflicting feelings about the story-line: boy meets girl, girl is already engaged to someone else, boy falls in love with girl, girl warns him to not fall in love with her and the rest is a typical desi love story with different musical scores and fancy set-up. But if you look at the snippets of the story than that we felt has nothing new to offer as it is a romance based movie and where we agree that Shehryar is indeed a good looking star and a diverse actor, he definitely falls short in the scene where he is upset with Maya’s character when he discovers that she is already engaged and misread too much in to their relationship . Apart from Ali and Munawar’s on-screen chemistry, there are cameos that will definitely pull audiences to cinema houses this Eid ul Azha. We see Meera in a shaadi number and it sure looks engaging. Mahira’s performance is something that cannot me missed; we have a feeling that she is playing an actress here. A sneak peek of Mahira Khan’s look in the trailer leaves you awe-struck and wanting more. She is seen in a heavily embellished red number that made everyone swoon. Mahira donned the scarlet ensemble which was decked out in glistening jewellery for her dancing debut in the trailer. But, apparently the get-up was very ‘heavy’ for the diva, which she admitted to her Twitter fans recently. “This dress was so heavy that it gave me vertigo,” Mahira tweeted. Last but not the least, Fawad Khan speaks one dialogue sharing some wisdom on being successful in the end and we are hooked; that’s how much we missed him on any screen. The film has been written by Imran Aslam and is based on the popular 1994 British film, Four Weddings and a Funeral. Talking about the trailer of the film, Sheheryar said , “It’s just a trailer. We wanted to introduce our characters rather than giving out the whole story of the film. For the full story the audiences have to get to their nearest cinema this Eid al-Adha.” He added, “It’s not a very conventional love story. But for that you have to wait for the whole thing to come out. It has some wonderful sound tracks and performances by actors whose work speak volumes.” PHL has all the ingredients of an Asim Raza vehicle — beautiful people, costumes, whistle-worthy cameos, picturesque locales, great music and choreography — and we sure hope a memorable story line as well. Because if the storyline is meh, even the appearances of Fawad or Mahira won’t be able to save the sinking ship. Bisou Bisou!
Pakistani drama serials often highlight the issues we face in our culture – the ones that we all recognise at least subconsciously but which we ignore or repress. The harassment people feel in the workplace is one of the challenges television effectively explores. Talking about sexism and harassment in the workplace can be grim. Not because we’re reluctant to speak about it, but because it’s still so prevalent even after the outburst of #Metoo movement that spread across the world like a fire. However, things are changing now and people are realising the strength of coming forward and getting heard rather than suppressing themselves or getting silent in the dark. As #Metoo intended to give a voice to the silenced, one of the most literal ways it is now attempting to do so is through the stage, television and screen. It’s a much needed topic we need to see and explore on television to create an awareness. Because for a woman being intimidated into silence, harassed or passed over in a male-dominated working culture is all too easy. It doesn’t happen everywhere but we hear about the bad, much more than the good. The television industry in Pakistan dares to be more realistic than ever, exploring the grim issues of society today. Consider, for example, how Rehaai (2013), on HUM TV, dealt with child brides, which is a norm in several backward parts of the country; or Kankar (2013) that touched the base of domestic abuse or Udaari (2016) that touched incest and paedophilia; or Cheekh (2019), which tackles misogyny. And now, a new play is ready to take on the issue of women’s harassment at workplace. Titled Darr Khuda Se, the drama serial is a Geo TV presentation. The play has Imran Abbas and Sana Javed in the lead, and is directed by Anjum Shahzad. There have been drama serials shedding some light on workplace harassment, but how is Darr Khuda Se different? Abdullah Kadwani and Asad Qureshi, producers of the drama tell us. “Indeed there are a few projects that shed light upon the workplace harassment – but nothing since the #MeToo movement worldwide. We have been working on the projects and points towards the issues that are deeply rooted in our society. Darr Khuda Se follows that ideology. It highlights the brutal reality of our society and portrays how an employer destroys an employee’s life when she takes a stand for herself which is usually not practised in our patriarchal society. The fact that keeps a fine line between this project and others is the karma that follows, how he will pay for his wrongdoings, and how his life turns upside down.” They added, “The drama has been planned in a way that a lot of women (who are the primary television audience) and can relate to this content and the issue it highlights. We just want to try and take away the fear and hesitation they have with regards to coming forward if they are in such a situation, or even understand what is appropriate and inappropriate workplace behaviour and draw lines.” Ever since Anjum Shahzad’s Khaani (2017) went on air, on entertainment channel Geo, Khaani shaped a new paradigm and a path to success for Sana Javed, who played the titular role alongside Feroze Khan in the serial. Sana, who essayed the role of Khaani in the play, made her debut with drama serial Pyare Afzal in 2013, on premier entertainment channel ARY Digital. She ventured into cinema as well in 2017 film, Mehrunisa V Lub U. Although Sana did rise to prominence with Khaani, but when I saw her as Mahnoor in Zara Yaad Kar (2016), on premier entertainment channel HUM TV, I knew this girl would go places. Zara Yaad Kar had an emotionally invested-intense script, and the way Sana handled it all together as the protagonist proved her acting prowess. Sana is now all set to hit the television screens with this multi-layered message serial for the #Metoo era. Sana plays the victim of harassment at work place. Talking about her character, Sana says, “My character’s name is Afreen who goes through harassment by her boss every time they come across. When she decides to even the score, she faces a lot of hurdles and eventually loses her respect and dignity. But the drama then shows how she continues to struggle for her right and ultimately the ball comes in her court. My key reason to choose this script is to create awareness and boost the morale of our women to fight for their right.” Putting herself in a reel time situation of going through harassment at work place. What does Sana take out of the character of a victim as a person herself. She tells, “I believe every character teaches me something and this strong role has encouraged me to speak for myself and to motivate people to do the same. Now, I can actually feel for the girls who go through this evil on daily basis and don’t have the power to retaliate.” Sana believes Darr Khuda Se can change the game for women who face harassment at work or in life. “The drama will definitely create an awareness. This project is like an aid for an hour of need and it is designed beautifully to deliver the sense of legitimacy that one deserves in all circumstances. The worst reality we see is that a girl has to face a lot if she takes a stand for herself but Darr Khuda Se also shows how the harasser’s life turns upside down when the law of nature does justice – conversely and miraculously,” she adds, “This drama has been planned in a way that it would make a difference in lives of girls in Pakistan and boost the confidence of victims to speak for themselves instead of ignoring an extremely important issue.”
Meera likes to make an impact — and she doesn’t seem to care if it’s a good or bad one. Being politically correct doesn’t appeal to her, she’d rather deliver punchlines, create controversies or even allow herself to become the target of jokes. If she makes an appearance on any red carpet, there’s no way she won’t be mobbed by media and paparazzi; they want to talk to her and snap her, as she bats her eyelids and proceed to pass scathing commentaries on others. Deep away from the spotlight, ‘Meera’ just fades to be her stage name, Irtiza Rubab is just a wonted girl from Lahore – who likes her mixed tea just like everybody else, nothing too extravagant or pretentious. Lollywood starling in real sense, Meera made her film debut with Kanta in 1995. Little did she know that a film with an unpopular pitch would go on to put her on the path of becoming one of the renowned Pakistani film actresses of today’s time. From Kanta onwards, Meera has earned quite an acclaim for a string of roles portraying many versions of a real Pakistani ‘heroine’, a phenomenon that is well on its way for a change, for good. She is unabashedly proud of her acting repertoire; the bold Punjabi dances and the glossier roles. Although Meera didn’t really come forward to be a part of the new age changing Pakistani cinema in full of its form, however she did make a couple of cinematic outings that weren’t too great either. From Ishq Khuda (2013) to Hotal (2016) or Shor Sharaba (2018) badly bombed at the box office, Meera has gone all out in making her silver screen choices carefully now. Lover her, hate her, you cannot ignore her. The MeeraJee as she is known on Twitter and hence in real life is indomitable. She’s also recently been making waves for her witticisms on Twitter, delivered in English that is so fluent that it has followers wondering if it really is her on the other side. Yes, there are flights of fantasy and many a laugh, but this is a woman who has learned from experience. Community skims over some of her journey and her views on the new Pakistan film scene, its players and her new upcoming film Baaji, a Pakistani film of today’s time in real sense. Before she got into a conversation with us, Meera clarified how she charges PKR5,00,000 for an interview and this sitting was just because she felt like talking. Two decades in film industry and Meera has some important notions to look for in-order to get the fledgling Pakistan film industry well on its way to success. “I think the most important thing to do is to give respect to directors and film-makers like Asim Raza and Saqib Malik. They know about filmmaking better than anybody else in today’s time in Pakistan. Filmmaking is not an art, to know how to do it perfectly and engage the audience is a task in itself. They’re educated in filmmaking and unless they make 4-5 films an year, Pakistan film industry is going nowhere,” adds Meera, “Also, we need budgets for the film. Bollywood is successful and huge because their budgets are huge, they’re as glitz and glam as one can imagine. So, we need allotted budgets for these filmmakers to make wonders.” She particularly feels that local cinema’s young crop of actors refuse to show respect. “Today’s young actors haven’t done much work but they still consider themselves to be superstars,” she continues. “They may have strong followings on social media or they may have acted in a few movies but they are yet to build a body of work for themselves.” Why did she agree to work in Baaji then, co-staring young actors like Osman Khalid Butt and model-turned actress Amina Ilyas, in the lead roles? “I signed Baaji because of its big production size, script, director and everything in short. From stylists to their DOP and team, everything was top-notch and I wanted to be a part of such production, so yes, the director knows his craft and that’s what attracted me,” she continues, “I loved sharing screen-space with Amna and Osman. They both are very hard working, fashion savvy stars!” Directed by celebrated Saqib Malik, Baaji has yesteryear’s star Meera playing a fading actress who is now referred to as Baaji (Urdu for ‘older sister’), and whose existence is threatened by a young and scheming aspirant who shows up at her door in the guise of a fan (played by Amna Ilyas). Osman Khalid Butt is cast as a film director and Baaji’s former beau, who becomes enchanted with the fresh entrant. It’s a women-centric film through and through, with Meera and Ilyas at the heart of all action. For Meera, the film holds a special significance, as she has reached a stage in her career where she can understand the dynamics and motivations of the character she’s playing even better. “I’m the biggest movie star in real life and I’m playing the biggest movie star in the film. So yes, there’s a lot of similarity between Baaji and me in real life. I started working when I was extremely young, I was merely 12, I wasn’t even an adult,” says Meera. It is said that a heroine’s shelf life is short. However harsh this might sound, the fact remains that the entertainment industry anywhere in the world thrives on youth, and this is especially true of the ladies. There are no takers for an ageing actress, no matter how great she is. This isn’t quite the case with men who are known to set the cash registers ringing even when they hit their fifties — think Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt or George Clooney or, closer to home, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan. But an actress past her prime isn’t considered worth putting your money on. Meera responds, “I love my age. I don’t think age is anything. I’m playing a role of 16-year-old in as another upcoming film, and you’ll see what acting is. Hollywood and Bollywood has surpassed this age dilemma, it’s only in Pakistan now. As an example, look at Madhuri Dixit and Rekha Jee, they’re still performing exceptionally well. Age is just a number. Amir, Salman and Shahrukh Khan in their 50s play a role of school boy who’s merely 22 years old. If they can, so can we.” Meera Jee is known for her unbashful statements and tweets. Is it all part of a planned act, or that’s just how she is? Meera clarifies, “I just say what I feel strongly about. I don’t need to act, I don’t know how to do drama. I’ve been blessed with everything – fame, money, what have you...I’ve seen everything. Why would I act and lie. Why would I lie? I’m the most beautiful and richest woman. People love me. I’m the Meera Jee. That’s enough.” Meera has word for her fans and followers worldwide. “Please go and support Baaji. I need to raise funds for a hospital and support Pakistan film industry. I need to raise around PKR200 crores. Also, as a message to people, they’re not going to get Meera again. Meera is just one in Pakistan. If you’ll stand beside me, then the destiny of Pakistan film industry will change for good. Follow my foot-steps. Also, I am just not saying it randomly but I mean it; stand with me and I’ll take this industry beyond success. I’ve sacrificed a lot for this country, so if you’ve finally found the right person (me), then follow her and avoid all other liars and posers. I left Hollywood, Bollywood and foreign nationalities for Pakistan. Next, I’m also going to run for prime minister elections. I’m going to join politics soon just to take forward our film industry.”
— Dia Mirza, actress and environmentalist With former models turned actresses like Zeenat Aman and Sushmita Sen in Bollywood as proof, the leap from the runway to the big screen isn’t anything new, or hasn’t been since the Nineties. And in fact, for the previous two decades, it’s getting easier for runway beauties. But while many top models tend to be pushed into the mundane ‘it girl’ category, there are those who have been sinking their teeth into roles with more substance. The 37-year-old, half Bengali, half German, Dia Mirza is one of the finest examples in a long line of models who took the leap from fashion magazine cover girl and advertisements to the big screen starlet in India. Though her time in fashion was clamorous, winning the title of Miss Asia Pacific in 2000, she quickly made her way into the film industry with Rehnaa Hai Tere Dil Mein in 2001, starring opposite R Madhavan. Although the film didn’t do well at the box office, it developed a cult among South Asian youth and Dia’s performance was well received by the critics nationwide. Ziyaus Salam, Hindi film critique, in his review for Hindu, wrote “Dia can take heart. Lesser girls have gone on to greater things in Bollywood. She is better than many beginners.” Yet, there were several false starts after Rehnaa Hai Tere Dil Mein, she had indeed become the whipping girl for her movie turns. Two decades later, Dia is a movie star. With Sanju (2018) kissing the box-office mark, she’s grabbing the eyeballs, although her appearance in Sanju was post hiatus of six years from acting. Dia has never played by anyone’s rules. After about two decades in the acting business, she has made her name defying expectations, by coming forward in support of #MeToo movement in India and starting a dialogue about environment sustainability. Given her unique career trajectory, it seems fitting that Dia is Bollywood’s multi-hyphenate, adding ‘producer’ to her list of specialities. When Dia was not on the silver screen for six years, she wasn’t only producing films; she tied the knot with her long-term beau Sahil Sangha, Bollywood director and producer, in 2014, and joined forces with many local Indian organisations to create awareness about conservation of wildlife, environment and nature. In recognition of her contribution to environment conservation, joining the likes of global celebrities such as Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Angelina Jolie, Katy Perry and Emma Watson, Dia was recently appointed as the UN Environment’s Goodwill Ambassador for India on last month. Dia has been extremely busy recently mentoring Miss India 2019 contestants. As she takes a lazed breath from the clamour of work, Community talks to her about her upcoming web-series Kaafir that is scheduled to premiere on Zee5 Global on June 15, and her take on sustainable environment and #MeToo in India. ZEE5 is the digital entertainment destination launched by Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited (ZEEL), a global Media and Entertainment powerhouse. The platform launched across 190+ countries in October 2018 and has content across 17 languages; Hindi, English, Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, Oriya, Bhojpuri, Gujarati and Punjabi, and now also Malay, Thai, Bahasa, German and Russian. ZEE5 is home to 100,000 hours of on-demand content and 60+ live TV channels. ZEE5 offers features like 16 navigational languages, content download option, seamless video playback and voice search. Two decades in Bollywood. What’s changed? OMG! So much. I was very young when I started out and I think I had very little understanding of how I wanted to use my voice and what I wanted to do with it. Now, I think it has become abundantly clear to me than ever before. I think that is the standout juncture between the person who started out at age 19 and to the person whom you’re speaking to right now. Do you think web-series are somehow taking over the place of conventional cinema? I don’t think that is possible but I do believe that these platforms are giving much more moved imperative to the story tellers — without the conformities and with absolute freedom and devoid of the pressure of box office and censorship. These platforms are breaking all the loose end stereotypes and giving more people an opportunity who want to tell true stories and the stories they believe in. As an actor because I do know when you’re doing a film together there are so many permutations and combinations one has to worry and think about, that web series doesn’t demand of us. In web-series you just need to make sure you’re telling the story you want to tell. In a happy world, we would like to believe that the box office is the same for story tellers and actors but unfortunately, the economics of the box office hurdles the freedom. You’ve been very selective about the kind of scripts you choose. Is there any mantra to it? I find myself in a place where I believe that one has to give their voice to do something substantial. What drives me to work every day and have motivated, inspired and driven me all these years was being aligned with the voice that echoes everything I want to hear and express to the world. Many of my earlier choices were driven out by fear — the fear of losing out, fear of being out of mind and sight, fear of rejection … so many fears. When you evolve and mature, you realise and recognise that fears only handicap you when you really can go out there and do something with yourself. Why Kaafir? Kaafir is one of the most powerful, relatable story I’ve been exposed to as an artiste. It is everything that I hope for in the world. It is beautifully written, so nuanced, has so much gravitas and is so relatable and recognisable. The spirit of humanity that it has is just so compelling that I had to be a part of this story. When I met the producer and he narrated me just one line of the story, I was like I have to tell this story to the world. And then of course when I read the script, I was blown away by it. I consider myself privileged to have had the opportunity to play this part and embody the spirit of Kainaz, not because it was the right thing to do but I believe because it was the only way one could’ve done it. Perhaps, the first part in my career, that has compelled me at such deep human level, influenced my pursuits to become the part of the story as opposed to the actor part. Are there beauty secrets lying somewhere in the corner that other aspirants could make use of? I really think beauty is what beauty does. So much of how we choose or think, is how we look. So, I have always maintained that the primary focus is to align my mind space in the best way I can and then of course some regular exercise helps. A good natural vegetarian and fruit diet also helps. Look, I’m giving you all the secret answers! Diet, exercise and managing your mind space really really determines how you look. What issues are the closest to your heart? Is there something that you have found more fulfilling doing than what has made you famous? Planet and people. When I say planet, I mean all encompassing it, including children, health and environment. The planet is my primary concern. You’re UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador for India, so how do you plan on bringing about change? There’s such a strong disconnect between the science (of environmental degradation) and the people. And that people don’t have access to the science. I myself have been struggling to make this science accessible to people, and when they are, it’s going to affect policies, law and just how our government works. We are confronted by enormous challenge of being a Third World country with soon to become the most populated country in the world, but inhabiting a very, very small geographical landmark, which means that interdependence between people and natural resources lies in 90% progress. It is my mission to be able to advocate on the necessity for India to become absolute and total champion of climate action. There’s no other way we can comfort the people if we don’t become a primary climate active nation. You were an integral part of the #MeToo movement in India — among very few celebrities who came forward to talk about it openly. How do you think this movement has affected the film industry in India? Do you think this movement brought justice to those who needed or was it all in vain? I don’t believe it (#MeToo in India) was in vain at all. I think it triggered consciousness, understanding and education which I think was the most important thing it achieved. It is ongoing, it not going anywhere until there is justice and an equal opportunity. I think this movement would continue. I think because of it many workspaces have become safer. There are many, many companies who have implemented the guidelines, have understood them, but more than anything else what’s done is that it has given a very powerful message to women, which is that you DO NOT need to accept being mistreated at the work place, you DO NOT need to be sidelined. I think that in itself is very empowering. This whole tradition of silence has been broken and that is a remarkable transformation. Any message for your fans in Qatar? I want everybody to watch Kaafir. It has been an amazing journey and means so much to me. People would get to see a side of me they never have. I simply love Kainaz and Kaafir as much as I loved playing a part in it.
The best collections at a fashion show are the innovative ones, playing along the lines of international appeal but still encapsulating the traditional silhouettes and crafts. There are pretty designer wears and wearable ones but then there are those that push the fashion envelope, setting aside any commercial concerns and diving into a new blend of colour, craft or technique. Experimenting with fabric and couture is the haute trend in fashion but creating wearable pieces with edgy structure is what makes a designer a fashion aficionado. Qatar’s fashion industry, too, enjoys these moments and often delivers a heady whiff of innovative fashion. Maserati Qatar recently organised a fashion event at its showroom, The Pearl-Qatar, featuring an exclusive Ramadan collection by Qatari designer label Al Bacarrat Fashion. Amid the traditional late dinner, exclusively for women only, the event was organised by Ali al-Sayer, fashion director. The hair and makeup was done by Maison De Joelle Qatar. The collection had a bohemian tribal vibe, a laidback glamour that screamed “easy breezy”, clothes for the modern girl who loves fast fashion even in her formal evening wear and wardrobe. Traditional embroideries were placed in unconventional ways around necklines, pockets and chiffon gowns that were sewn with perfection for a flowing silhouette. There were vivid tie-n-dyes, block prints, gota, pearls, and dashes of brocade and while one is familiar with all these design elements, Bacarrat’s prowess lies in breathing new life into them. The colour play, the geometric patchwork, the mix of gota-pearl-print-embroidery and the cutting-edge, neat silhouettes all worked out into a line that proves that the designer is quite there to make to the top of its game. Many Kaftan-like pieces caterwauled modest fashion. Nothing too revealing, nothing too under the fabric. It was a perfect balance that started with vertical linings in blue, transformed into grey and ended with the tail of black. The knee length gowns with tukri, gota and mirror-work, the capes and the shirts glistening with heavy-duty embroideries were beautiful and thematically continued to follow the ‘folk’ theme, but sometimes one could feel a bit too much of hanging tassels and applique work repeated on net, repeatedly. And that is a wrap, fashion wise. One can perhaps sit back and say that now the fashion episode have ended finally for the season; that started off with Fashion Trust Arabia and was followed by the Heya exhibition. Or is it? With the lucrative wedding season and Eid right around the corner, one never knows if there’s yet another fashion show ready to unfurl the runway once again, waiting right around the corner.
To achieve any fitness goal, having a well-drawn plan is the key. But if you’re fasting during Ramadan, it gets a bit crucial. Aimlessly training without a plan can be dangerous and also put your results on the back burner. The holy month should not be when you give up on your fitness goals. Rather, make Ramadan a time to recharge so you can hit the gym strong after these four weeks, keeping yourself fit at core and just maintaining enough stamina to increase your metabolism. Consuming large quantities of food or an unbalanced diet for Iftar – mostly fried food, can often lead to upset stomach or in most cases over-eating. Ramadan is the time when one cannot really count on the intake of calories, often leading to weight gain and obesity as well. But, this Ramadan, Bia Feroz, aspirational athlete, speaks to Community and instructs the right way of doing some beginner exercises at home, before Iftar. These exercises do not require some external equipment, but internal strength of perseverance and belief of keeping one’s mind and body healthy. “Exercising and fasting can go together, there’s absolutely no harm in it. Exercise while fasting may actually keep your brain active and healthy. When we exercise during fasting, it essentially forces our body to shed fat, as our body’s fat burning processes are controlled by sympathetic nervous system, which in turn is activated by exercise and lack of food,” says Bia. The best timing for indulging in these exercises? Bia says, “After the Taraweeh prayers at the night and an hour before Iftar. Exercising an hour before breaking the fast rejuvenates the body immediately.” Since high intensity exercises that throw the pulse rate to above 150 per minute are advised to be avoided during fasting in Ramadan, slow and moderate exercises are preferred. Here are three exercises Bia Feroz suggests for more sustainability and strength of the core. Air Squats: Stand with your feet a little wider than hip-width apart, your toes turned out slightly and your arms resting at your sides. Engage your abdominal muscles and broaden across your chest by gently pulling your shoulder blades in towards each other. Bend your knees slowly, pushing your butt and hips out and down behind you as if you are sitting down into a chair. Keep your head and shoulders aligned over your knees and your knees aligned over your ankles. Tense your abs like someone is about to punch you. Planks: Start on the floor on your hands and knees. Lower your forearms to the floor with elbows positioned under your shoulders and your hands shoulder-width apart, forming 90 degree angle from the side. Step your feet back, one at a time. Maintain a straight line from heels through the top of your head, looking down at the floor, with gaze slightly in front of your face. Burpees: Bend over or squat down and place your hands on the floor in front of you, just outside of your feet. Jump both feet back so that you’re now in plank position. Drop to a push-up, your chest should touch the floor. You can also drop to your knees here, which makes the impending push-up easier. Push up to return to plank position. Jump the feet back in toward the hands and explosively jump into the air, reaching your arms straight overhead.
Ramadan is not just a month of hunger for Muslims. Considered to be the holiest month of the year for Muslims, this month goes far beyond fasting before sunrise to sunset. It is a month for spiritual connection, self discipline, reconnecting to faith and religious practices, remembering those who are less fortunate, and spending time with family. With about 7.6 billion people in the world, around 24% of them, 1.8 billion, are fasting from sunup to sundown. Every day. For an entire month. In a population of about 2.74 million people in Qatar, more than 80% being expatriates from different countries around the world, the religious spread of the population residing in Qatar is split at roughly 67.7% Muslims and 32.3% population belonging to other religions. In a Muslim majority country, Ramadan is celebrated with a passion of longing and love. But what if you’re not a Muslim – just a caring, considerate person. How do non-Muslim expatriates in Qatar spend their Ramadan? Sharice Tan, a makeup artist from Philippines residing in Doha for the previous 10 years, talks to Community about cherishing the month of Ramadan and standing side-by-side with her Muslim friends and acquaintances. The Islamic holy month of Ramadan is a time for Muslims all over the world to renew their focus on spiritual life and its practical application in daily life. Sharice completely agrees that a conscious fasting develops a sense of compassion in an individual especially towards the needy and poor along with spiritual well-being. Over to Sherice, “Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims as they show their submission to their higher authority, Allah, through fasting. Living in Qatar for 10 years with Islam as the state religion, I’ve had my fair share in witnessing this most sacred month of Muslims — I believe that it should be seen with admiration and respect as we observe this type of sacrifice despite our differences of beliefs and spiritual principles,” she says. Where Ramadan is a time of increased devotion and moral conduct, there’s a considerable change in the working routines and schedule of people for an entire month as well – to make sure that work timings do not clash with the prayer timings of the ones fasting. Office hours are waned and so are the timings for other businesses. “Ramadan does affect people’s regular routine because of the change of environment including the work and public timings, the observance of fasting and several aspects of how people and things work around the city,” says Sherice on how Ramadan affects people’s regular routine and businesses. She adds, “I mainly work in film and TVC productions and this means that projects are less in Ramadan because shoots are tough physically and mentally. The workload is far less then regular in Ramadan. Moreover, from the previous years, Ramadan has been on the same time as summer season and because of these two challenging factors, lots of projects and work are loafed.” Sherice also appreciates the spirit of socialising and networking in Ramadan. She has been regularly taking part in Suhoors and Iftars with her friends, as a moral support to them and their beliefs. She says, “It has been a yearly occasion for me to join in selected Iftars and Suhoors, especially that the hotels here in Doha tries to top up their Ramadan tents from their last year’s outputs, both food wise and aesthetics decoration wise.”
Nothing is excess for Karan Johar till it is all about beautiful people and expensive things – designer bags, labels and an attitude that can raze the wrath. Johar creates a quixotic world full of such content and high in emotions way too well. The world has moved on in the seven years since the phat college caper Student of The Year (2012) that launched the careers of Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan and Sidharth Malhotra and so has Johar and his filmmaking, for good. Where the first part of the franchise caterwauled glamour all along, even in the tiny bits, Karan has played sensibly with this one. Directed by Punit Malhotra, nothing seems too vacuous and over-designed, it’s all within the limits which is what holds the essence of the film. Loose ends? Yes – a bit, but come-on that’s with every other Bollywood entertainer. The actors in the follow-up, Student of the Year 2, are a fresh bunch led by Tiger Shroff paired with Ananya Panday and Tara Sutaria – millennial cast with a sexy appeal to their acting. Much to the joy of SOTY fans like myself, we are happy to pronounce that the second edition is equally glossy and picture perfect. Rohan Sachdev played by Tiger Shroff and Manav Singhania, played by Aditya Seal, spend an entire academic year preparing for the prestigious Student of the Year Competition, that can merely be achieved by winning a Kabbadi match. The only thing which wasn’t really striking was, why a huge trophy in college without even a whiff of academics in general? I agree, in the first part there was all that pizzazz glamour and Hermes bags, but there was also an entire sound track which was about academics and doing well in the aptitude test to qualify to take part in Student of the Year Competition in the first place. Something that should have been included in this franchise as well. However, KJo did his bit of promoting the lesser popular sport. He infused a cool factor to the game with his players doing back flips and slow-mo jumps. Manav Singhania is a rich brat, while Rohan is a middle-class scholarship student, who barely makes it to Saint Teresa, IVY school, on sports quota just for the sake of his girlfriend Mia, played by Tara Sutaria, to be closer to her. Like Rahul and Anjali in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, the story of Rohan and Mia’s love, friendship and falling out is a school legend. But the pretzel is the introduction of Manav in the love triangle at first, which fades away post intermission and you see a whole new love triangle in the making. Where three fall apart, with well-done fight sequences, Shreya, played by Ananya, takes the screen space with Rohan and you know the rest. Ananya is Manav’s younger sister and in the first half of the film is presented as the spoiled mean girl. She’s the leading lady; carries Louis Vuitton bags and wears Dolce and Gabbana. She’s like Shanaya (Alia Bhatt from Student of the Year) but without the killer attitude. Shreya is substituting her lack of family ties with designer labels and snobbish setting. All three, Rohan, Mia and Shreya, might be emotionally damaged but their physical perfection is established with numerous shots. This is youth without awkwardness or vulnerability. There are ‘two’ many love triangles. Too often, the storyline is swallowed up by the overwhelming gloss, perfect styling and set-piece songs. Drawing a parallel where the competition in first part was so silly and shallow that it was hard to take any of it seriously, but this time it is out-done. The Kabbadi sequences are well-shot and athletic in every sense. Yet, Karan creates moments that are genuinely moving and humorous. Karan also deserves applause for putting his faith in new actors every time. He elicits commendable performances from his cast of debutants. Tara and Ananya’s brief is to be pouty and attractive, which they manage to do. And Tiger has evolved in appearance and acting and on big screen it’s a treat to watch him. Student of the Year 2 is a love story that traverses the trodden path (a high school romance). But KJo is an artisan with intellect and taste and he ensures that the script is spruced up and modernised with such elan that it doesn’t offend the spectator’s wisdom or intelligence. The accomplished director takes on familiar material and gives it an entirely new twirl. Do not miss a second of the song Yeh Jawani to get a glimpse of Will Smith’s Bollywood cameo and also wait for the credits at the end of the film to see Alia Bhatt in a spooky hot item number – which is nothing but something haute all the way.
“You have learnt so much. And read a thousand books. Have you ever read yourself? You have gone to mosques. Have you ever visited your own soul? You are busy fighting Satan. Have you ever fought your ill intentions? You have reached into the skies, But you have failed to reach what’s in your heart!” says Syed Abdullah Shah Qadri, popularly known as Bulleh Shah, a Mughal-era Punjabi Islamic philosopher and preacher poet. These verses from Shah’s poetry exemplifies how exactly we should keep up with the spirit of Ramadan, how we need to find that positive light in our heart in the first place to drive us for the greater good. What is a pure heart? The pure ones are those who clean themselves from sin, doubt, cheating, lying, and jealousy. That’s pretty much the very first step – the light to shed off the barriers of sins, finding peace within and then heading towards Almighty for forgiveness and a spiritual quest. These lanterns in the desert are just like that – that little light of faith that breaks up the vehement darkness of the night. If you have faith from within, nothing can tear you apart. Have you ever wondered, why lanterns become so popular during the time of Ramadan? Because they have been exemplifying breaking the tangent of darkness and spreading light – just like the holy month of Ramadan for years, in which the Ultimate Guidance for mankind — the Holy Qur’an — was revealed. It is believed that the tradition of lantern was started in Egypt more than a thousand years ago when lanterns were used by people to light their homes and the streets at night. Lanterns have always been spreading the light. You need to find a spark of positive light in your heart and you’ll accomplish His contentment. – Text by Muhammad Asad Ullah, photos by Syed Hasan Iqbal Zaidi
In Anglo-American countries, in Asia, and especially in Middle Eastern countries like Qatar, if any label says ‘Made in Italy’ it has immediate connotations of beauty and chic. The phrase, in fact, resonates with the hundreds of years of Italy’s cultural and artistic heritage, which even today continues to attract and fascinate travellers, consumers and curious art lovers worldwide. Where the runway shows of international designers and international films often draw an inspiration from Italian art, the manner in which Italy, Italian things, and the Italian language are portrayed and exploited as a signi?er of the chic and the stylish, leads one to take notice that the association of Italy with style has a long history, deep roots that reach down well beyond the immediate past. Think cultural legacy, think Italy. From Pompeii to the Colosseum, from Venice to Florence, the country’s massive tourism industry thrives on its heritage. Italy boasts more than 200,000 archaeological, monumental and architectural sites, without considering areas of major interest in terms of their landscape, environment, culture and traditions. Its 53 Unesco World Heritage sites, more than any other country in the world, is a sheer proof for us for its rich heritage appeal and amidst those cultural sites and archaeological importance lies the Island of Sardinia. Sardinia is the rugged Mediterranean island that became a white-hot jet set destination in the Sixties, lapped by eye-popping aquamarine waters. The landscape of Sardinia is paradisiacal, but mastic trees gnarled with age and ruins, more than 7,000 ‘beehive tombs,’ or Nuraghes, tower throughout the island, suggest a hard-earned wisdom. In between those beehive tombs still exists a heritage and cultural values – worth sharing with the world. Although the world has heard quite often about the island via notable personality spottings, from George and Amal Clooney, Rihanna to Elton John and Barack Obama spending summer holidays, the world doesn’t really know about the heritage importance and history the island preserves in itself. The island has not yet been discovered with that aspect. Keeping the narrative on hand and to create awareness about Sardinian culture, Campagnia B, Theatrical Production House from Italy, in association with Italian Chamber of Commerce Qatar, recently presented a short play ‘The Dress of Memories’, which was followed by a photo and traditional costume exhibition and ‘pecorino sardo’ cheese tasting at Al Mirqab Boutique Hotel, Souq Waqif. The play was a romantic journey set in the era of World War I; a conversation between a husband heading for the war and his invisible wife, hesitant of seeing him off for a battle of life. How he tries to convince his wife to keep up with the society and her happiness during his absence and his promise of returning alive takes the centre stage. The plot is an intense drama as it touches the base of tearing families and loved ones amidst war and the agonising decision for leaving everything and everyone behind for their own welfare and betterment. It’s a two-man show but the expressions of both the protagonists speak volume. The play also highlights the love of Sardinian women with the fabric of silk and colours. “It’s an authentic Italian performance. The story is about the relationship between a man and his wife during the First World War and the conversations that they have about the fact that he had been conscripted to go to fight in the war. They speak about the dress of the woman and the meaning that they attribute to those clothes as well as all the stories and the memories related to the clothes that they are wearing,” said Alice Capitanio, scriptwriter and director of the play. The photo exhibition featured photographs of the models dressed in traditional Sardinian silhouettes of the 19th Century to display a connection for how heritage and culture remains relevant in every period of time. The pleated skirt with minimalistic lined straw hat is still wearable. Isn’t it? Well the photo exhibition was a definite proof that it still is. Talking about the Island of Sardinia and its recent developments on the international scope, Palma Libotte, Chairperson of the Italian Chamber of Commerce, said, “Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean and a very popular holiday destination, thanks to its beautiful sea and eco-system. The main asset of the island is its hospitality and tourism. In 2017, 14 million people visited the island. The most exclusive location of Sardinia is Costa Smeralda and since Qatar has invested in it, there has been a further growth of +5.2% for the summer season 2019. The growth potential is enormous. For some years now, Qatar has made significant investments in this beautiful Island that remains the favourite destination of the international Jet Set. There have been investments for more than one hundred million euros. 120mn of investment are planned until 2023.”