If I ever do an Indian film, I would love to represent my country with dignity: Mehwish Hayat

If I ever do an Indian film, I would love to represent my country with dignity: Mehwish Hayat

The actor gets candid about working in Bollywood, her singing talent and dancing in item numbers
03 Sep, 2017

Mehwish Hayat has been riding the wave of success for the last few years. She is one of the most sought-after actresses in the country. Adding to her impressive repertoire, she is now also known for her singing.

Naturally, when an actress achieves that level of success, it creates an aura of mystery around her. The only way to unravel that mystery is to have a heart-to-heart talk with her. So we meet.

In the overcrowded café where Mehwish and I meet up, kids flock to her for selfies; others around us look in our direction to make sure that they are in the presence of the Mehwish Hayat.

“It’s good to be loved by all,” she says with her megawatt smile. Although these days one can see her face everywhere — in films, on TV, singing on a big music show — Mehwish has many secret lives.

Actress, singer, TV-show host and the face of numerous advertisements, Mehwish Hayat opens up as she gears up for the release of Punjab Nahi Jaungi, her first female-centric film.

“I like to stay mysterious as I like to surprise people,” she says. The actor-turned-singer believes that a person should live his or her life fully. “Coke Studio is the ultimate platform for an aspiring singer but it was certainly not the first time I had sung.”

Director Nadeem Baig selected her to sing the title track of Man Jali and later she was chosen to sing the opening theme of Nida Yasir’s morning show. “I have always been fond of singing and was lucky enough to debut under the supervision of talented people such as Strings and Shiraz Uppal in Coke Studio. Critics were out with their knives but since I got more positive feedback than negative, I am content with my performance. I have just completed a US tour where I performed in Houston, Dallas and New York... that wouldn’t have been possible had I been a failed experiment.”

Many actors have trended on social media for their acting prowess but Mehwish became even more famous (and trended on Twitter) during the Pakistan Super League cricket tournament earlier this year. Be it the falling of a Lahore Qalandars’ wicket or a Lahori bowler getting one, the pretty face from Actor In Law (AIL) was all over the stadium’s large screens and TV screens across Pakistan.

“I had no idea my name was trending on Twitter during Pakistan Super League,” she says. “Bilal (Ashraf) and I were there in the UAE as brand ambassadors for the Lahore Qalandars and when our team played, we prayed and cheered like fans instead of celebrities. Sadly, our team lost most of the matches but since all the teams were Pakistani, we enjoyed the event even more. Although I hadn’t been a cricket fan before PSL, I would love to be a part of it next year as well.”

She expresses her disappointment on missing out on this year’s Champions Trophy which Pakistan won against India because she could not get a visa to travel to England.

We also talk about working in India which leads us to Hindi Medium in which her contemporary Saba Qamar impressed viewers on both sides of the Indo-Pak border.

“I have always maintained that if I get a role like Saba’s in Hindi Medium or something along the lines of Queen, Heroine or Jab We Met, I will accept it,” Mehwish points out.

“I don’t want to be cast as a showpiece or an object of desire in a film on either side of the border,” says the actor.

She claims that she gave up the biggest offer of her career to date when she was approached to play the second lead in Dedh Ishqiya opposite Naseeruddin Shah and Madhuri Dixit because she was uncomfortable doing an intimate scene required for the role in the film.

“If I ever do an Indian film, it will be on my terms and conditions and not theirs, because I have made a place for myself in Pakistan with honesty and dedication. I don’t want to be cast as a showpiece or an object of desire in a film on either side of the border,” she explains. “I would love to represent my country with dignity.”

People have criticised Mehwish for doing item numbers to get into films, but she rejects it. “When I started my career, the quality of films was going down and that’s why TV actresses didn’t switch to films by default. I wasn’t the first choice to play ‘Billi’ in Na Maloom Afraad but when I was approached, I liked the concept and went ahead with it.”

“I will not term ‘Billi’ an item number because it was important to the story — the Don would never have found the Na Maloom Afraad had it not been for the Billi character. Yes, the song did bring crowds back to cinemas but had that been the only reason of my success, I wouldn’t have had a song-less role in AIL.”

Mehwish has had a fantastic last few years: whatever part she’s played in different media has been successful. Be it Alyy Khan’s stage play Aapki Sonia with Sajid Hasan, her debut feature film Jawani Phir Nahi Ani (JPNA) directed by Nadeem Baig — that went on to become the highest-grossing Pakistani film ever — followed by the same director’s Dil Lagi that saw her return to TV, or Nabeel Qureshi and Fizza Ali Meerza’s AIL in which she played the role of a Parsi so convincingly that even the late Om Puri congratulated her on her performance, it seems she can’t put a foot wrong.

Speaking about her break from TV a few years back, Mehwish says she “had left television because of a few issues with some people.” It was during that period that the actor found the time to explore and try her hand at other projects.

Aapki Sonia is a Javed Siddiqui masterpiece and would have done better had it been staged somewhere in the city instead of the elite club where it was staged. JPNA and AIL made me a film star while Dil Lagi was a way to reach out to the audience all over Pakistan — especially those who don’t go to cinemas to watch films.”

While Mehwish claims to be choosy about selecting film roles, she doesn’t seem to take much time pondering over TV commercial offers. The advertorial segments seem to show that the actor easily agrees to take up TVCs. Does she prefer to be recognised as an actor or a model?

“Both,” comes the prompt reply. “Both professions are two sides of the same coin. I consider working in TV commercials a bonus since it is one of the best ways to reach a wider audience. You get to play a character in less amount of time for more amount of money. But there is a problem. The ad people must have a policy of discarding an ad after it has run its course over a few years. There are a few commercials of mine in which even I can’t recognise myself.”

There was a time when Mehwish was the brand ambassador for a popular skin whitening cream, something that is now criticised as ‘discriminatory’ and ‘racist’ by the artist community all over the world. “I am against discrimination myself but when I agreed to do the commercial a long time back, I was naïve and had no understanding of how things worked. With the passage of time, I have learned that a beautiful heart matters more than one’s complexion.”

“That’s why now I am very careful in choosing what brands I represent. When you go abroad you realise that a wheatish complexion is preferred over being gori which sadly still remains the beauty standard in this part of the world,” she says.

“I’m more interested in doing a film based on women’s issues,” says Mehwish of future projects.

Interestingly, she has featured on lists of most desirable celebrities in the last 10 years. “I don’t make an effort to be on such lists but feel honoured if they consider me as someone with good looks.”

Mehwish may be one of the most recognised faces in the country but she doesn’t have an award shelf at home that proves her to be an actor to reckon with. “Awards don’t matter to me. I hardly attend award functions as I don’t really feel that getting an award is any criterion for deciding who the best is.”

She was recently snubbed in two categories — Best Actress TV and Best Actress Film — at a celebrated award show. “I am my own competition. I respect everybody’s view, be it someone who likes me or not, because it’s due to them that I strive to become even better at what I do.”

She feels that in the coming days, there will be an improvement in Pakistani films just as there was in TV dramas some time back.

“When I started my career, Star Plus dramas were a rage, much like Turkish plays these days, but thankfully due to some well thought-out characters and intelligent choices, I broke free of that monotony by playing real characters. That was one of the main reasons the audience switched to Pakistani plays and that’s how we plan to revive cinema as well.”

And then there is Punjab Nahi Jaungi (PNJ), her upcoming film. She has impressed all in the trailer for the film with her expressive acting besides sharing the screen with Humayun Saeed, Urwa Hocane, Ahmed Ali Butt and Azfar Rehman. While some claim that her character is an extension of Anmol, her role in Dil Lagi, Mehwish doesn’t think so.

“It might look similar to JPNA and Dil Lagi because it has more or less the same co-actors. People who know me weren’t surprised when they saw me playing basketball in the teaser. As for the character in PNJ, we have tried to make her different from all characters we had done before.”

Not many Pakistani actors can claim to have worked in films with female-centric titles. Mehwish believes that such a chance occurs once in an actor’s career and she couldn’t have asked for a better one. “Carrying the responsibility of a film is the best thing that could have happened to me. This film is the struggle of a girl who embarks on a beautiful journey.”

“Khalil ur Rehman Qamar’s script was a bonus since the dialogue is both a challenge and a treat. The best part of the film was our staying together as a family for the entire Bahawalpur spell. The weather was cold and freezing when we shot the rain song and I had to look both comfortable and beautiful.”

Now that PNJ is about to release (the film releases on Eid ul Azha) what is next for Mehwish? Another rom-com or something different?

“I have a number of offers to act in films but would be more interested in doing a film based on women’s issues. I am also open to doing quality theatre where the play gets at least 15 days to make its presence felt. There is also an option to turn to direction which is something I would like to do in the long run.” And will she go to Punjab or not? “Well, that’s something you will have to find out,” Mehwish says.

Originally published in Dawn, ICON, September 1st, 2017


Nitin Sep 03, 2017 10:33am
Wish best of luck for Indian film
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L Sep 03, 2017 10:51am
A big blow to Bollywood. Really proud of her for her bold opinion.
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Indian 1 Sep 03, 2017 11:03am
Best of luck Babby ... but represent your country in your own film. Why should you coming to India ???
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JEHAN MIR,MD Sep 03, 2017 11:45am
Just came home watching 'Punjab Nahi Jaungi' playing in Norwalk, California. In the next few days the movie is going to open in several other movie theatres. Loved it . A must see movie. Beautiful Mehwish Hayat and Greek god Humayun Saeed make a perfect pair and are superb. I urge Pakistanis and Indians in U.S. to support Pakistani, Indian movies.
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SAmeer shinde Sep 03, 2017 12:16pm
In the first place, why bother to work in Indian films?
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gulab Sep 03, 2017 01:07pm
That's funny
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mady Sep 03, 2017 01:20pm
Best of luck, do represent your country for what it is and its betterment.
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Manish Sep 03, 2017 01:29pm
If you are so proud of where you come from, please don't harbour any Bollywood ambitions. Stay where you are and do your bit for the pakistan film industry
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Aryan Sep 03, 2017 01:43pm
I don't think she is A lister or even got an invitation to work in Bollywood, to dream of working on her own terms. Odd wishful thinking.
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rich Sep 03, 2017 02:11pm
@L A big blow to Bollywood. Really proud of her for her bold opinion. how may i ask?
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KH Sep 03, 2017 02:54pm
Mehwish is free to make her terms to act in Bollywood. Even I could make my term to act in Bollywood... This can happen only if there is a chance!
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Ashok Sharma Sep 03, 2017 03:05pm
Be proud of your talent,your ambitions,your goals and don,t look the market to sell your qualification,the people will ask you and beg for your yes or no to join Bollywood,Hollywood,Tollywood or whatever they call...........Good luck Mehwish.......
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Pardeep Sep 03, 2017 03:56pm
Why one is so eager to work in Indian movies when now our movies are being made here. How can one assume that while going there would be able save our pride.
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Mohit Sep 03, 2017 04:01pm
Easy girl easy! Otherwise you have to eat your own words.
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Fffff Sep 03, 2017 04:31pm
Who is she?
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Fiqa Sep 03, 2017 04:43pm
@Indian 1 they don't come on their own , dear. Someone on the other side always desires to cast them in their movie. Ask THEM to stop desiring. Got it?
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KB Sep 03, 2017 04:44pm
Why you ever want to go to India?
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isha Sep 03, 2017 05:12pm
at this time the most useless question a journalist can ask Pakistani artists is will you work in Bollywood
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k p rao Sep 03, 2017 05:15pm
@L No.she will be welcome addition to Bollywood alongwith other glamorous actresses. There will not be any blow as you said. there are many actresses in this and more are coming too. She will be also ran.
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Ali Sep 03, 2017 05:45pm
To all the Indian comments on this forum saying she has no chance in Bollywood, the article clearly states that she turned down a role in Dedh Ishqiya with Naseeruddin Shah and Madhuri Dixit. Reading carefully is not an Indian habit.
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Arshad Sep 03, 2017 06:09pm
So far only Lux Award for Best TV Actress. Loooong way to go madam.
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gopal Sep 03, 2017 06:11pm
''If I ever do an Indian film, it will be on my terms and conditions and not theirs, because I have made a place for myself in Pakistan with honesty and dedication.'' Really? Then forget about Bollywood.
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waleed fakhar Sep 03, 2017 06:46pm
Who is offering her?khee khee khee
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Kalyan Sep 03, 2017 07:02pm
I don't know why an individual professional should carry so much baggage and feel the need to "represent their country" in today's world of globalization. Just do what you are good at,get paid and go home.
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Scientist Sep 03, 2017 07:36pm
Represet your country by sitting in your country...Don't come to Mumbai to "represent" your country Please!!
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bharat Sep 03, 2017 07:40pm
She has more avenues in Pakistan
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Bjk Sep 03, 2017 10:00pm
I don't know how good she acts, but she certainly is a big taller!
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Monish wahi Sep 03, 2017 11:13pm
Best of luck for Indian films...we would love to have you showcasing your talent with India actor/actresses. Your acting is very good...Fan from India.
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Kunal majumdar Sep 04, 2017 12:22am
I presume even Katrina Kaif had declared that she would love to work in Hollywood on her own terms. Pretty Woman, Titanic, La La Land etc would be her types.
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Cricket-one Sep 04, 2017 04:05am
Good thinking, but please be rest assured, that no one thinks, that you represent all of this country. Do whatever you can.
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Akil Akhtar Sep 04, 2017 05:00am
Hope at least one Pakistani actor has the self respect to not work in an indian film or at the least not one with anti Muslim or Pakistan propaganda.
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Imajes Sep 04, 2017 06:32am
@Indian 1 .Films at Bollywood are not produced for magnifying dignity of another country except India. If Mehwish wish to act in an Indian film, she must know she had to act,dance, and may be an item dance, in a purely professional way.
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MUHAMMAD Sep 04, 2017 11:00am
@Imajes u guys know very well that Pakistani know how to act very well , just compare our tv serials with ur Ekta Kapoor run of the mill trash and u will know the difference
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NOT_SURPRISED Sep 04, 2017 11:08am
No Thanks from India. Please stay put where you belong to (Pakistan). Please be assured - you wont be missed.
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LOVE YOUR COUNTRY Sep 04, 2017 11:48am
@SAmeer shinde - money is everything for this type of so called talent.
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common & immaterial Sep 04, 2017 06:42pm
@Ali dear, thanks for reminding me of that movie, couldn't notice when did it came & went
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Efti Sep 04, 2017 07:02pm
I wonder why you want to even work for Indian movies??? 90% of their movies are Dabba movies. They are running this show sheerly because of their population size. What quality they got now a days? None. It's simply a number game!!! Eye on bigger screen...Hollywood. You are good looking and talented. Don't stop!!!
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Ali Sep 05, 2017 02:06pm
Why my Indian friends seem so offensive in the comments? Don't indians go in Hollywood? Everyone wants bigger pool to swim. Why you guys become so offensive when someone even says something like that?
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n khan Sep 07, 2017 01:12am
Again BW films are watch by pak, because they are allowed to come to Pakistan. Artists should work where ever they are welcome, and their talent is appreciated. The politics are the narrative of BW, the ban exist, yes, it is the official ban against pak artists. Thus, respect it , move on ! create you"re own narrative about pak artists and films and music. It's has it's own worth. You're movie proves , the good story, directions, and artists of pakistnan can stand proudly on international stage.Lastly, be positive about all artists and art , no matter where they from, enjoy it, give the praise for their efforts! Goodness above all!
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Aamer Sep 07, 2017 10:31am
Mehwich is the most beautiful actress of our modern Pakistani cinema. Mehwish Hayat and Sohai Ali Abro are the 2 actress who dont have Bollywood lable on them and still very successful. Loved Mehwsh in Punjab Nahi Jaungi.
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syed ahmed Sep 07, 2017 11:16am
@Pardeep comparing with Mumbai is absurd, one actors fee is whole films budget in Pakistan. It's not a derogatory statement.
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Aamer Sep 07, 2017 02:08pm
@syed ahmed still we are making much better movies. This proves you dont need huge amount of money to make a hit movie.
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Aamer Sep 08, 2017 11:08am
@Kunal majumdar No one will give her the main lead. we all saw what kind of roles Priyanka and Depika did in Hollywood.
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