It’s been eight months since Sanam Teri Kasam released to reviews projecting Mawra Hocane as Pakistan’s first fresh-faced and talented female export to Bollywood. From being praised for her delicate beauty to her acting prowess – “she is a natural scene stealer filling the frames with her sunny splendor,” Subhash K Jha wrote – she is even compared to a teenage Jaya Bahaduri in Milli. Eight months, 1.3 million Instagram followers, 191,000 Twitter followers and over 891,000 Facebook followers later, Mawra Hocane is a sensation and she’s just 24. These numbers add up to ‘superstar’.
A beaming smile lights up Mawra’s face as we meet for this informal interview, prompted by a provocative news update from one Indian film director Abhishek Jawkar claiming that he has “dropped” Mawra from his upcoming film, Not a Prostitute, after Uri. Mawra’s persona is nothing like the weeping willow she played in Sanam, but she talks about that later. She walks in, on time, with a big hug and smile and settles down with youthful excitement twinkling in her large, expressive eyes. It really is refreshing to see someone so young and unguarded as she is; she is enjoying her wave of success and is unaffected by criticism and scandal.
“I don’t even know who that guy is,” she laughs as she denies being “dropped” from Not a Prostitute, “but I want to call and tell him I was never doing it (his film)!”
“So (even) before Sanam I was getting a lot of offers from Bollywood,” Mawra continues, “but I had done projects like Mariam and Mein Bushra (TV serials in Pakistan), that I had led. I wanted to do a film that could not happen without me and I was declining offers that could have worked with anyone. So when I got Sanam they called me and said, ‘you know Mawra, we have auditioned 200 girls and not a single one can cry and look pretty at the same time’. This was my first conversation with my director and he said they were talking to a few people from Pakistan and were looking for a girl who could cry and look pretty and unanimously everyone suggested my name. So yeah, that changed everything. They finalized a hero after I was onboard and they even changed the original look of Sara – which was quite modern – to a girl in a shalwar kameez, on my insistence. So that gave me the push that I’m important.”
Mawra was an integral character of the film and she got great reviews even if the film didn’t do too well.
Why did she think India was so interested in casting Pakistani actors, I asked her?
“I think because of the same reason Quantico has taken Priyanka, it creates a buzz that you’ve taken a different species. They feel oh wow! When I go there they ask me how is Pakistan because that level of interest is there, in us and in them. Even if I do a film in Hollywood, when I come back everyone would ask me how it went and their people would ask me ‘Oh you’re from Pakistan, we thought this and that of Pakistan.’ It’s that buzz.”
Keeping that buzz alive on social media and red carpets post Sanam Teri Kasam, Mawra recently announced that she had signed up as Sammi, for Sammi, a HUM TV drama serial that would air in December. Motivated by the single-most influential person in her life, her elder sister Urwa, and the success of hit drama serial Udaari, Mawra felt that this was something she really wanted to do.
“Sammi revolves around a social cause and is a John Hopkins-HUM joint project, like Udaari was with Kashf,” she explained, careful to not give away too much detail. “I’m most influenced by Urwa and maybe had it come earlier I would have said no, give me a love story, but now that I have seen what a social project can do on TV, I really want to do it.”
Would she be weeping throughout the drama, I asked, since she had commented innumerable times on how weeping on screen came naturally to her.
“I don’t enjoy it anymore,” she confessed with a grimace. “During my film I really had to cry my heart out because even a second of fake emotion really comes out on 70mm; on TV you can get away with it. Plus I’m someone who went to the directors and said that I love crying on screen so they also thought it was no big deal and they had started to say that crying was Mawra’s home turf, which appalled me!”
“Crying is much more than an actor is supposed to be doing,” she added. “It’s emotionally draining. During filming I was crying for six months and during that time I went to Sydney to meet my parents for just 20 days and I just wouldn’t talk. I don’t use glycerin to cry and think of sad, depressing things in my life…little tragedies and I try to relive those emotions. By the end of Sanam I was a wreck because I kept revisiting sad moments. I decided I wouldn’t do it again.”
That said it’s not difficult to relate Mawra to a weeper. Despite her cheerful and sunny disposition she also comes across as an extremely emotional person; she cried when she saw Urwa on the big screen for the first time and she cried when she faced her first army of trolls on Twitter, after she had written against the Phantom ban in Pakistan. #BanMawraHocane went viral and she, who until now was a loved figure, couldn’t understand what went wrong. It was a learning curve, one that helped her mature.
“I’m mostly loved by everyone in my fraternity so I never thought I’d be picked on,” she remembered. “I thought it (social media) was my playground and I could get away with anything. After the controversy I became careful and a little defensive, which I don’t enjoy too much.”
Do you regret the Phantom controversy?
“I don’t regret it. Maybe I matured a little over those seven to eight days. I didn’t think my tweets were so important that national media would pick them up. But I don’t regret it. Things said on social media anymore don’t offend me. I do get emotional and I do feel my whole universe is falling apart but it’s a matter of three days. You just have to get off Twitter for three days. Not reacting to it is the best way to deal with it.”
There’s honesty in the way Mawra discusses herself and the trajectory of her career. The way she opens up about stardom and social media is refreshing as she quickly admits that trolls and haters are also part of the massive fan following that every actor wants.
“Social media does play up everything but I’d be a hypocrite if I said I didn’t like my own memes,” she says. “I enjoy the reactions and the feedback. That shows how popular you are. No matter what I do I am going to Google myself and see how popular I am. There’s a reason why an actor is an actor; they like what they’re doing.”
Sanam Teri Kasam released at a good time but relations between Pakistan and India have plummeted in the last two weeks, post the Uri incident. How has the hue and cry over Pakistani actors working in India affected her train of thought and work plans?
“The prevailing situation cannot influence the way I want to plot my career in my head. I’ll keep thinking the way I was thinking,” she says, quickly adding that, “political things keep happening; you can’t re-track your graph every time something happens. But of course, you also don’t want to offend anyone; you need to be wise enough to see what is happening and what you should be doing. Why would I make any announcement (of a Bollywood project) right now?”
Right now it’s Sammi that Mawra is excited about; hers is a socially responsible role with three male protagonists, which she smiles when clarifying that it isn’t a love quadrangle. The conversation steers towards the role of television versus film when it comes to message-driven stories.
Does cinema have a social responsibility, I ask Mawra as she chooses green tea over coffee in preparation for a shoot she has the next day…
“I really don’t think cinema should be over-intellectualized,” she responds without a second’s delay. “Cinema is all about entertainment. You go into a dark theatre to get entertained; you don’t go for a sermon. Drama is something absolutely different; you can switch channels. TV is a medium in which you need to talk about issues. But not film. If there’s a lesson in the film I’ll wait for the DVD so I can fast forward it if I’m bored.”
And which Pakistani movies has she enjoyed watching, I ask?
“I loved Na Maloom Afraad,” admitting that she had an obvious bias towards the film because of Urwa, whom she dotes on wholeheartedly. For her, home is where Urwa is and Urwa is her complete support system as the two sisters choose to live in Karachi while their parents are settled in Australia. “Also, Nabeel can never disappoint us. I absolutely loved Actor in Law as well,” she adds.
Coming back to her love for cinema, Mawra concludes that she is yet to sign up for a Pakistani film and she is quiet on any Bollywood projects she may be considering, for obvious reasons.
“I was a piece of a puzzle that fit in perfectly for Sanam Teri Kasam,” she remembers. “I may not be a perfect fit for all the other offers I’ve gotten. Let’s just say that I may go again when I feel that I am that one important piece that’ll fit into the puzzle.”
This article was first published in Instep, 16th October 2016.