CANDID: Despite being the only mother to play the lead in both Pakistani and Indian films, Mahira isn’t chuffed about it, saying it may be a unique milestone but a sad one, questioning why women are subjected to stereotypes.
By Muhammad Asad Ullah
Who knew the geeky Ayla from Neeyat — a TV drama serial aired in 2011 — would, one day, become the queen of Pakistan’s television and film industry whilst also making grounds in Bollywood.
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 to her most recent role as Rukhsana in Sadqay Tumhare.
Thirty-year-old Mahira’s elegance and understanding of the craft paved her way into the industry when she burst into limelight with the critically-acclaimed Humsafar. She will be completing half of a decade in the industry with Momina Duraid’s upcoming venture Bin Roye.
Written by Farhat Ishtiaq, the film features Mahira Khan, Armeena Khan and Humayun Saeed in the lead roles and looks to be an intense romantic drama.
“I would say it is what attracts the audience to watch our dramas. So the writing has the drama flavour — it’s an intense story of a childhood love. It has lovely music, too,” says Mahira Khan in an exclusive interview with Community.
Being the only mother who has played the female lead in both Indian (Raees) and Pakistani (Bin Roye) films, Mahira Khan nuances an otherwise unique distinction in the industry.
When asked what she makes of this, Mahira pulls no punches in shredding what she calls a clichéd culture of the subcontinent.
“I realise that it is a unique distinction, but it’s sad that it is unique. This only happens in this part of the world. Why must a woman not be able to get married, have a child or stay single — whatever she chooses in her personal life for that matter? Most of our heroes are fathers and it doesn’t affect their popularity.” However she also adds, “As an actor in this competitive business you have to do the right project. If you decide to give your personal time then you lose out on a lot of projects. That’s why I think it is not recommended for an actor to get involved in a marriage or have kids because then your priorities change. If you look at my career I would’ve done a lot of projects after Humsafar, but I didn’t because my priorities are a lot different and my career is not my first priority but once I am into a project I work really, really hard.”
Not delving too much into Raees, her forthcoming film with Bollywood icon Shah Rukh Khan, Mahira is not so sure if would do better at parallel cinema considering her intense small screen prowess.
“I have no clue. I wasn’t sure if I’ll be successful as an actor even, but I wanted to do it since I was a small girl. Nothing is a sure short success formula. My first serial was a huge flop even though I was touted to be the next big thing… All I know is to give of my best and work hard. I want to do good roles; I want to be part of good writing … work with directors and actors who can challenge me as an actor. In short I don’t follow career paths,” says Mahira.
Most of the Pakistani female leads in Bollywood have been one hit wonders. When asked whether or not she would beat history with her debut in Bollywood, she retorted: “Who wants to beat history? I would rather create history! On a serious note, I haven’t planned my next step there, nor do I plan stuff in Pakistan. If I get an opportunity which I find right I will do another film there and same goes for Pakistan.”
Asked to compare the fledging Pakistani film industry with its Indian counterpart, a philosophical Mahira said while she admired Bollywood, “A good film is a good film anywhere. Our great actors are as good as their great actors, their great stories are as good as our great stories, but yes, as an industry they are far ahead of us. We have not grounded as a solid industry yet, we need to very strategically plan on the release of the film specifically, giving space to each other and making sure everyone earns a profit in such a limited number of screens because right now we don’t need to compete. We need to build it!”
Despite Pakistanis making their mark, particularly male leads, in Bollywood in the last few years, there appears to be no real initiative for joint ventures. With only 70 screens in Pakistan, Mahira thinks it’s the profitability that is holding back such explorations.
“Well, it’s too early for joint ventures right now. We need to have our grounding right as a film industry and soon enough there will be joint ventures where both counterparts reap the benefits,” Mahira enthuses.
The Pakistani beauty stands out as a rare female lead who seems to have bucked the trend of appearing in revealing attire. In a highly commercialised industry many would consider that an achievement, but she concedes having to adapt given the demands of a certain role.
“I’ve had to let go of a lot of my previous “don’ts”. I realise —and was to made to realise with time — that I’m an actor and it’s a part I’m playing. Sometimes a hug is necessary, a song in a choli lehenga is necessary. I’ll bicker and argue, but I’ve become way more chilled out,” Mahira declaring that she has gone down the road standing her ground, not considering it as an achievement and not judging any actor/actress for appearing however they want.
Generally, Indian films are considered a powerhouse compared to Pakistani ones, but Pakistanis are deemed to be streets ahead in television drama with some pundits suggesting it might be due to the shorter, crisper and pacier scripts Pakistani dramas have to offer.
“I’m not sure if it’s about better — it’s just that our format is different. This, in turn, gives you more solid stories, solid performances from artistes. You see TV is our film industry in a way. We have all come together in building it, especially the veterans. You will also find that, resource wise, there is a lot of investment that has been made into the TV industry only because unlike the film industry (at the moment) it is a profitable market and has been for years,” Mahira explains.
She adds, “Pakistani drama industry has got the best of writers, directors, producers and actors contributing to the growth of the industry as a whole.”
Asked to name her favourite films, Mahira mentions Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa and Madhuri Dixit’s Ram Lakhan. She heartily concedes to being a huge fan of her Raees co-star Shah Rukh Khan.
Mahira is not just about enacting intense roles even though she thinks art is a medium that can be effectively used to drive home issues of national concern, too.
According to the actor, intolerance is the most outstanding issue her country is faced with today. Mahira thinks in its capacity as an industry — a medium which goes to people’s homes everyday, it can do a lot to help the ongoing plight. “I think we should introduce all kinds of characters, stories about people from different walks of life, stories that can tactfully and subliminally fight stereotypes.” Adds Mahira, “Our lead actor can be of a minority religion, our heroine need not necessarily be a fair girl to be called beautiful, nor a girl in Western attire dubbed “fast” etc. TV/film plays an important role in influencing the way people think, we could make use of it.”
In conclusion, Mahira thanked all her fans in Doha, and the readers of Community for their love and support. “For all the Pakistanis and Indians in Doha, I would love to thank you for being extremely supportive from the time of Humsafar and I hope everyone who’s looking forward to my films and shows will come out and watch Bin Roye — and subsequently, all the films after that.”
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