I am genuinely fond of Mehwish Hayat. She has a beaming smile that comes straight from the heart and she is passionate about her work in a non-self-obsessed way. She isn’t full of herself and she’s pleasant and always happy to talk when she can squeeze in some time between her crazy work schedule. It has been crazy for her in these past six or so months, ever since the filming for Punjab Nahin Jaongi began. I wanted to catch up with her but she was shooting all over the country, filming all night and sleeping all morning and so our schedules clashed until this weekend, when we connected while she was on her way to the last day shoot of PNJ. It was post-midnight but I could sense her happy self at the other end of the line.
“It’s a fifteen-minute drive to the location,” she exclaimed. “Let’s talk!”
I’ve been feeling frustrated at the choice of roles actresses have been agreeing to in film and television; everyone’s crying and yet in the last two years, Mehwish had made a conscious effort not to be a weeping willow. I wanted to talk about that.
There’s money as well as ratings in playing the damsel in distress or weeping willow. How have you resisted that road?
“It’s a conscious effort,” she replied. “I’ve done the damsel in distress enough times. I’ve done the tragic roles. Now I want to explore myself as an actress. I want to take on roles that empower women, strong characters. People need to know that these kinds of women also exist. They’re not evil because they have an opinion. They’re just strong women.”
The four recent and popular characters you’ve played – from Billi to Anmol, Marina and Meena Screwala – have all been exceptionally strong women. Will your character in PNJ be the same?
“Yes, I play a very confident girl in PNJ. She knows what she wants. She is fun-loving and very confident and yet she is family oriented even though she has studied abroad. She believes in family and the outside world has not effected her morals and values. She’s confident and understanding and compromising. There is magic in playing this kind of character.
I think I’m very motivated by my mother, who is such a strong woman; I am the way I am because of her. So this is who I am. She always spoke for her rights.”
Do you think people have people accepted you as this headstrong, badass girl?
“Yes, definitely. If you do anything with passion it becomes believable. I think they have. People forget the stories but they remember the characters. People remember the characters I played.”
Do you think women should accept roles that portray the female stereotype in society or should they challenge their characters?
“Most writers are happy to brainstorm. We all brainstorm and connect on a certain level. Once the director knows that you’re an intelligent person they will trust you. Nadeem discusses things and so did Feeza and Nabeel. It would be unfair to expect them to change the character but modification, yes. But actors must choose their roles carefully. I would want to do a project which gives me an equal opportunity. The girl should have equal screen time. So a director may not change the character but then I have the option to chose the right project that is good for me and that I believe in. You should do what you believe in.”
Is there any character that you wish you had done in a drama or film?
“I would have loved to do Salt, a Devil Wears Prada or Queen.”
Do you relate to Kangana Ranaut?
“She’s phenomenal. There’s no one like her and I would love to be known as someone as exceptionally good as her as well as being strong. She’s a fighter and a winner.”
- News has just come in that Mehwish Hayat has been nominated for Best Actress (TV – Dillagi) and Best Actress (Film – Actor in Law). Just the fact proves that the audience does love strong women. She’ll beat the odds even further if she wins!