This is Pakistan shining. Amidst all the negativity there are individuals who propel spirits and blow optimism into the daily drudgery of our lives. Music, film, fashion…these are all silver linings now. They are flashes that shine brightly and bring out stars from behind the dark clouds.
That said, stars today are no longer the glamorous, untouchable icons that they once used to be. Just like the Royals – who have transformed from being power houses of glamour and rich lifestyle a la Princess Diana to Top-Shopping, jeans and t-shirt new age Queens like Kate Middleton – twenty first century celebrities too want to be lifelike rather than being larger than life.
That holds true for Pakistan’s brightest star Atif Aslam as well as rising star Mahira Khan, both of whom come together in Shoaib Mansoor’s Bol. They lend the film its desperately needed breathers and that couldn’t be closer to reality as we experience it everyday.
In Conversation with Mahira Khan
(Mahira’s portrait by Mallika Abbas)
Bol has turned VJ Mahira Khan into an actor and therefore a star of another world. She’s suddenly a role model known to everyone, piquing their curiosity as to which role she will undertake. She’s very clear about the figure she wants to cut: it’s a no-glamour, no fuss and no pretence role. She wants to continue wandering around in jeans and a t-shirt. She wants to convey a strong message that women in films can be real.
Real life for Mahira is her family: her childhood love of a husband Ali who’s working on creating Pakistan’s first animation series for TV. Family is also her 20 month old son Azlan who accompanies her on foreign shoots. And of course her friends – Feeha Jamshed being one of her closest – for whom she has sacrificed mid-term exams.
She is role model for the modern Pakistani star: beautiful, confident and great at multitasking all the roles given to her.
How did you find working with Atif?
Atif keeps denying it but there was a lot of quarreling. But Atif is amazing. I keep telling him that he’s God’s favourite child. He touches something and it turns to gold. He’s great and he’s sorted.
Would you have made any changes in Bol?
I feel that they should have made the love story a bit stronger and I wish that I had been slapped at least once. I’m the only one in the film who doesn’t get slapped and my friends came out of the cinema saying that I never cooked, I never cleaned and I never got slapped around. All I did was scale walls!
Where does an oppressed girl find the confidence to sing at an open concert?
That was the only place I disagreed with Shoaib Mansoor’s vision. I wanted this girl to sing in her shalar kameez and dupatta. I didn’t want to give out the message that to sing, play the guitar or pursue your dreams you have to change who you are.
Your second acting experience was with Mehreen Jabbar?
I shot Mehreen Jabbar’s Niyat in New York this March. My second acting experience was very different from my first.
I learnt how to act with Mehreen. Shoaib saab treated me like a baby; Bol didn’t depend on me. Niyat was different and I play the central role of an immature girl studying for my Masters at Columbia. It’s a complicated, urban love story and in a way too close to reality for comfort.
Does the immature girl reflect your own personality?
No, considering I dropped out of a full scholarship at UCI to get married! (laughs)
Has working with Mehreen spoilt you?
Once you’ve worked with MJ you have to unlearn everything she’s taught you. She pushed me to stay natural whereas other directors push you the other way. She grilled me. She had a tough time taming my eyebrows that she said had a life of their own. I’m only doing two series; the other with Sarmad khoosat, Irfan khoosat’s son, and thankfully both my directors are gifted in their own way so I’m lucky.
You’ve also done the Lux ad with Meera, Reema and Humaima. Are you the next style and glamour icon?
I’m constantly told that I’m unstarlike and that I don’t have the attitude that it takes to be a star. I’m constantly told I need to be more like Meera or Reema or Iman and I’ve thought about it. I spent a day giving this some serious thought.
And the answer to your question is no. Why can’t I, the next generation of film actors, change the way people think of film stars. That is my responsibility. The reason why we taken for Lux is because we were in a film. That’s it. Even a two-part role makes you a film star and overnight you’re a third world celebrity. It’s stupid. So I thought about it and take it upon myself to change the perception of what a film actress in Pakistan should act like, think like, speak like and dress like.
But I’ve decided every once in a while I’ll turn up in a gown with coiffed up hair and fake eye lashes.
How do you want your fans to perceive you?
I’d rather people were curious about what I have to say rather than what I am wearing. We’re not living in the fifties anymore. We have to come to terms with the fact that stars nowadays will be different. They will not have that enigma about them because there’s no way the media will let them be.
I would like to be true to myself. I’d like to be a role model for the youth so that they can connect with me.
What is the strongest message for you in Bol?
That would have to be stereotypes. My favourite character in the film is the brother and I wish he hadn’t died and that they shown a solution to that problem. But for me the film is about stereotypes.
The biggest message in Bol isn’t women’s rights – it’s far from a feminist film – it’s about killing stereotypes and stopping oppression on a daily basis. It’s a gutsy film.
Was it difficult to act in a gutsy film?
It was difficult to act. Atif and I had it the hardest because we had never read lines before. Even the kids in Bol were theatre actors and experienced. We had to work much harder.
Did the hard work effect your personal life?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I did the film then I took up the serials but after completing them I’ve decided that I won’t take any more serials till October. I want to put Azlan into schedule. I can’t do what someone who is single would be doing.
Is it worth it?
It’s worth it as long as I know my child isn’t suffering which I don’t think he is. There are days when I go back and I know he needed me and I wasn’t there. When you work for more than eight hours a day you return and get the ‘silent treatment’. They look at you different.
Is it just the child or the husband too?
Of course it’s the husband as well. They can be much more difficult than children.
A man is a man is a man. But because he’s the creative type he has his own dreams and he understands mine. And we’ve been together since I was 14 and he was 16. He understands me.
(Mahira Khan was talking to AHI at Café Flo)