There’s nothing commonplace about Urwa Hocane. She’s not your average pretty face and she’s definitely not the smooth, glamorous person that one expects to find behind the gloss of a rising star. She is evasive when it comes to interviews, she avoids the cameras and even when caught on the red carpet, her sartorial choices are picked on for being eccentric rather than outstanding. Urwa is left of center, she’s unconventional and if I may suggest, almost awkward. I also have no qualms in saying that in her unusualness lies her appeal.
“I actually don’t like doing interviews because I’m usually trying to say one thing, but I end up saying another,” she chimes in as we meet before she leaves for a promotional tour of Rangreza, her upcoming film. “I’m always short on words in regards to what I want to say, and that sometimes goes wrong. I usually end up clarifying myself; I think I have a hard time explaining myself.”
Is that a reason why people consider her difficult to approach, almost arrogant at times?
“Yes. I don’t want to get misunderstood. That’s often too much to handle.”
What she’s all too happy to handle, however, is the fanfare that has come with a great, “amazing” year, as she puts it herself. Hot on the heels of the success of TV serial Udaari, 2017 for Urwa began with the promise of three big banner films – Nadeem Baig’s Punjab Nahi Jaungi, Nabeel Qureshi’s Na Maloom Afraad 2 and the upcoming Rangreza with Bilal Ashraf and Gohar Rasheed. She’s the only actor who has done three films in a year, two of which are already considered blockbusters and the third expected to find the same fate.
Her breakthrough performance, everyone would agree, was her characterisation of the now infamous Durdana in Punjab Nahi Jaungi. Though Urwa had almost three years of work including a feature film behind her (she debuted in Na Maloom Afraad in 2014), it was Durdana that shot to the top of the charts, making the line “Help Me, Durdana” a bumper sticker statement.
Urwa isn’t a very loud person so I was curious to know how much effort went into developing that loud and brash Punjabi character that everyone fell in love with.
“No, I’m not loud at all and I think when we were making PNJ we’d all be sitting together and talking so everyone would give their input. When we were having reading sessions, I felt that Durdana was everyone’s favourite character; you know everybody wanted to say those lines and give their input on how to deliver them so that character grabbed everyone’s attention. Humayun would give his input, Nadeem would give his input, Mehwish would and all the other actors as well – everybody would have a say. So I just kept picking up things from here and there.”
So how much was your own input?
“Quite a lot but the beauty of the process is that you can’t really tell afterward that this is what I said and this is what they said.”
Durdana is one of the three characters she has portrayed this year; the other two being Naina in Na Maloom Afraad 2 and then Reshmi in Rangreza. Three very different films in one year must have been challenging but exciting as well. Did she have a favourite?
“Punjab Nahi Jaungi,” she said without a blink of the eye. “I think I know that already, even though Rangreza isn’t out yet. We had such a good time on set; everybody was just up to something all the time. And in the meantime, we shot the film as well. I think I was really sad when we wrapped up the film. Usually, you’re like ‘Woohoo, I’m done! The shoot is over! What’s the next project?’ But this one made me really sad when it ended.”
How important is it for an actor in a Pakistani film to know how to dance, I asked, keeping in mind the unceremonious criticism her wedding song in PNJ received.
“What’s more important is to know how to act,” she responded. “That’s what I feel and I’ve probably come into this business because I wanted to act. So dancing, yes, is something that we need nowadays but I want everybody to realise we don’t have dancing schools in Pakistan and we are expected, after a 3-day rehearsal, to blow up on screen and to do the best dance of all time – that can’t happen. But I guess we’re all learning, I’m learning.”
There was a huge difference between your moves in ‘24/7’ in PNJ and ‘Bagiya’ in Rangreza; was there a lot of practice and rehearsal for the latter?
“No, I think there were rehearsals for both but there was a difference in the choreography,” she said. “But you keep learning and improving with each film.”
Having three films under her belt this year alone, and having worked with production units in both film and television, I wondered how she felt about the global epidemic of sexual harassment and gender inequality in the entertainment industry. Had she ever experienced anything unpleasant, I asked her.
“I have,” she replied honestly and much to my surprise because many women before Urwa had refused to share their experiences at the risk of being ostracized. “I objected to the way I was being presented on one of my film posters and I was told, ‘Urwa you need to realize this is a man’s world.’ We were just discussing the poster and promotion and I was really offended. Why have me there if I don’t matter? I have a personality that I bring to the screen and I don’t want to be ‘just another piece of eye candy’.”
“I was never led to believe that it’s a man’s world,” she continued. “My father never restricted me, my brother was always more of a friend and even the man that I live with, my husband, doesn’t feel that way. I don’t think it’s a man’s world and that I have to compromise because I’m a woman. I wouldn’t say that I’ve been harassed per say but the behavior of men around us is very odd at times. When a man makes demands, he’s ambitious but when a woman makes demands, she’s difficult. That’s how it is.”
Is there gender discrimination on the pay scale too?
“I’d have to say no. When it comes to the pay scale, I would say it is as much woman’s world because our top-billed actresses are paid well,” she said, visibly pleased with that information.
Steering the conversation from one tough subject to another, I asked her about being a social media star and the fact that she got trolled so much, especially on her fashion choices.
“I’ve never bothered about convention or expectations that I’m supposed to dress or behave in a certain way. I’ll wear a dress when and if I want to,” she said. “Yes, there is a lot of trolling on social media and I can handle most of it but I have to say one thing. Women should at least stop pulling other women down.
When this trolling is happening, it hurts most when other women join the witch hunt and pass cruel judgment on morals and sharafat. Yeh nahin hona chahiye. Support each other, yaar. I’m sure everyone has days when they want to do something that isn’t necessarily ‘allowed’.”
I couldn’t resist bringing in Urwa’s red carpet choices and the fact that she was almost always criticized by the proverbial ‘fashion patrol’. Did it ever bother her?
“I am the fashion patrols’ favourite person to criticize and to comment about, and I don’t think I’ve ever been able to impress them,” she replied, with a generous laugh. “So, I’m not running that race at all.”
“Usually I wear things which I feel comfortable in. I am lazy in this way,” she continued. “I get told off by Mawra because of this. She says, ‘Okay, you’re comfortable in this but you’re going to a red carpet event so you need to do something about it!”
Where did she think a celebrity’s moral judgement came in, I asked her? Did she feel she had a responsibility on the way she influenced her fans, especially her young fans?
“Yes, of course there is a sense of responsibility, which is why stars never smoke in public, for instance. But to dress the way you want to is something very different.”
What about political inclinations. Did she believe in being apolitical or in voicing opinions when it comes to national politics, because most stars prefer to play it safe.
“I believe in saying something if you feel strong enough about it. But if you’re getting into a serious debate about something then have the thick skin to deal with the criticism that is bound to follow. You should know how to deal with reactions. I’m not very interested in politics so I prefer not to talk about it. I avoid making tall claims or making strong statements because I don’t know, my opinion or stance on something could change. We’re all learning and evolving every day.”
And what does the next year look like for you?
“There’s something else I should tell you about myself,” she said. “I don’t plan. I’m a very bad planner. I think if my mum didn’t do my savings, I wouldn’t even plan that stuff for myself. I’m reading a few things. I’m reading a film and a drama as well, and they look really nice so far but I’m not entirely through them as yet so I can’t really say more right now. I’ll tell you when I’m finishing reading them.”
Urwa Hocane on Mawra Hocane
It’s no secret that Urwa and her younger sister Mawra are as close as it gets when it comes to siblings. But they’re also as different as they are alike. Mawra is easy with company while Urwa keeps to herself. “Brands love Mawra,” Urwa says, whereas Urwa ends up getting more acting assignments as opposed to endorsements. Needless to say, the two have a great and almost enviable relationship…
You’re very close to your sister. Has there ever been an inkling of rivalry?
Urwa: At most, we fight over shoes or clothes. Mawra steals a lot from my cupboard so we fight about stuff like that. But even those are cute fights. I have to share my clothes because she is a big thief; I don’t have a choice. In terms of career, we’ve both been offered projects that match our interests. I think we are two very different types of actors and we each have our own strengths, so that’s never been an issue. And if there was an issue, we would sort it out.
You come across as being very protective of Mawra…
Urwa: I’ve beaten boys in college for Mawra. There was one boy who had said something. I punched his face while sitting on him, so I was that kind of a girl.
What’s the one thing that Mawra advises you on?
Urwa: I am lazy about what I wear and I get told off by Mawra because of this. She says, ‘Okay, you’re comfortable in this but you’re going to a red carpet event so you need to do something about it!”
- This article was first published in Instep on Sunday, 17/12/17.