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.
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“We’re all affected by politics. I am too. But I try to stay away”— Mahira Khan, Pakistani actress