Mahira Khan is in the limelight again. Then again, she never is too far from it.
She’s veritably the country’s most famous actress and whatever she does tends to make news – and even raise controversies, as we saw recently. But over a career that spans more than a decade now, Mahira has learnt how to live life in the spotlight, to make mistakes and to brazenly move ahead of them.
“I have friends who have often advised me to become reticent in front of the cameras, to not be so easily accessible. They say that it allows me to interact with fans but simultaneously it gives leeway to others to attack me,” she says. “But that isn’t who I am. It would be a façade that I wouldn’t be able to keep up. And when I go out and meet the people who love me and have faith in me, it makes it all worth it.”
And regardless of the occasional scandal, Mahira is very well-loved.
Currently doing the promotional rounds for her upcoming movie Verna, the actor has been flitting around malls and college campuses, welcomed by enthusiastic crowds. It is during one of these whirlwind trips that we catch up with her.
Wearing an off-shoulder ruffled top with her hair open, Mahira is still quintessentially diplomatic with her words but she also seems wiser, having just surfaced from an ugly period in her career and now, ready to take on the world with some good old-fashioned cinema magic…
Images: Let’s start with talking about Verna. Your last movie was a big Bollywood project opposite Shah Rukh Khan and in contrast, it seems as if the burden of making Verna a success is squarely on your shoulders. Even the promotional posters declare your name in bold. Does that put a lot of pressure on you?
Mahira Khan: Yes, of course, it does. I actually asked them not to put my name on the poster but apparently they thought that it was a good idea.
Verna has been a difficult movie to take on. It’s different from Shoaib Mansoor’s previous ventures because it has a one-track plot. There are no songs or romantic elements to lighten the plot every time it gets heavy, there’s no masala. It’s purely the story of a woman who decides to make the men who have wronged her pay for what they have done.
Images: Was it slightly demoralising to return from a big budget Bollywood movie to a nascent Pakistani film set where luxuries and fringe benefits for actors can only be limited due to budgetary limitations?
Mahira: It didn’t really matter. I am not the sort of actor who puts on unnecessary airs and graces. I don’t mind making my tea myself should I have instead of a spot-boy serving it to me. The vibe on the set matters, the people I am working with matter and ‘Verna’ gave me a chance to prove my acting mettle further. That matters.
Images: It seems like a heavy duty role to take on. Wouldn’t you have had preferred to take on a lighter character in a more commercially safe movie at this point in your career?
Mahira: It was a role that I liked in a movie being created by one of the country’s finest filmmakers. I knew that there was a risk to it but I wanted to take it on because I felt the need to test myself. Even if I fail, at least I would have tried. Yes, Verna doesn’t have the typical, commercially safe storyline but it has great content and I believe that there is always an audience for great content.
"Verna's purely the story of a woman who decides to make the men who have wronged her pay for what they have done."
Images: There has also been the criticism floating about that it is yet another character where you will be playing the wronged, crying woman…
Mahira: First of all, I don’t think that there is anything wrong with crying. We all cry at some time or the other and it makes us stronger. I feel that the women that I have enacted in dramas have been bold women who cry but are also willing to stand up against the odds.
Having said this, my character in Verna doesn’t cry at all. There’s a certain dialogue where this man tells her that no one will feel sympathy for her because she is dressed properly and isn’t crying. At this, she turns around and tells him that ‘Logon ke saamnay rona mujhay acha nahin lagta aur darr mujhay lagta nahin hai’ (I don’t like crying in front of people and I don’t get scared).
Shoaib Mansoor told me that she’s just the kind of woman who doesn’t have fear in her DNA. This woman isn’t moping or weak at all.
Images: Even you, personally, seem to have gotten stronger over the past few months. When you were announced as the Pakistani ambassador for L’Oreal Paris at the PFDC L’Oreal Paris Bridal Week in Lahore last month, you clearly referred to the recent controversy with Ranbir Kapoor, advocating that a woman should not let anyone define her worth. It was very unlike you considering that in the past you have always steered clear of controversial statements. What brought on this change of heart?
Mahira: I had just never needed to make such statements in the past and even my speech at the fashion week wasn’t pre-planned. The L’Oreal personnel told me that they wanted me to walk the runway alone and I could say whatever I wanted.
It is very difficult to introduce yourself to an audience and I was very nervous. It had only been a few weeks since the Ranbir Kapoor controversy had gone viral.
I went in front of the audience, talked about being a brand ambassador for L’Oreal Paris and then chose to add that no one in the world should be given the right to define a woman’s worth, regardless of who she is, what she wears or anything at all.
Images: Given the backlash you had suffered because of the controversy, did you feel apprehensive about making public appearances while promoting Verna?
Mahira: Yes, I did. I won’t deny that I felt very hurt by what happened. My friends tell me that it will make me stronger and I will only realise this in a few years’ time but right now, it gives me sleepless nights. So of course, I have had apprehensions. I will be about to enter a venue and I will tell my co-actor, Haroon Shahid, that I am feeling too nervous about facing the crowds.
But then I would enter and there would be so many fans who had been waiting for me and who would call out my name and I would just feel incredibly thankful.