In her Twitter profile, Nadia Jamil identifies as an actor, an educationist, a mother, an activist and a food curator.

Although she hasn't been on TV as much as her contemporaries, she is planted in her fans' consciousness through the strong characters she played in plays like Meray Pass Pass and Durr-e-Shahwar, and the award-winning telefilm Behadd.

After being on a hiatus from acting due to her health issues, Nadia has made a comeback to the small screen with Angeline Malik’s directorial Mujhay Jeenay Doh, made in collaboration with John Hopkins University tackling the issue of child marriages in rural areas.

All the way from her home in Cambridge, UK, Nadia has a heart to heart with Images about her return to television, the position of women and their portrayal in the media and living her life to the fullest.

Images: You’ve spoken about your illness and how that has made you even more selective. What made you choose Mujhay Jeenay Doh?

Nadia Jamil: I don't have an illness, per se. I have a form of epilepsy known as focal epilepsy that was triggered by a neck injury, post a terrible car accident. It has taken a strain on my body so I am careful about the roles and the team I pick.

Nadia Jamil in the play Mujhay Jeenay Doh currently on air on Urdu1.
Nadia Jamil in the play Mujhay Jeenay Doh currently on air on Urdu1.

Plus, I am teaching more so between that, home, kids, friends and myself, it has to be a really good project for me to take it on.

Mujhay Jeenay Do had a fantastic cast, the ultimate DP Mirza sahab and a director (Angeline Malik) I really wanted to work with. Most importantly the theme was one that was just too close to my heart - children's rights.

Images: Mujhay Jeenay Doh also features a couple of new actors. Do you think talent has been replaced by social media presence? What do you think is the criteria of fame and acclaim now?

Nadia: There is plenty of good talent out there. It needs focus as there's too much mediocre work to choose from.

I'm no one to judge since I still have a lot to learn myself, but social media is truly a huge hype-creator. An actor won't survive long on just social media, the public is way too clever and if it's only hype without talent, the bubble will burst fast (laughs).

Images: You’ve also spoken about being a victim of child abuse. Was doing a project like Mujhay Jeenay Doh emotionally demanding in any way?

Nadia: Not really. Yasmeen, my character, is not really exposed to scenes with intense abuse. However, anything I come across in life that helps create awareness about child sexual abuse is important to me.

It is important that children learn they were not at fault, they don't have to focus on the abuse, and that they can transform the negative energy into amazing positive, creative energy.

Wherever and however I can be a part of the healing process for the kids who have survived sexual abuse... it just means a lot to me.

On the sets of Mujhay Jeenay Doh.
On the sets of Mujhay Jeenay Doh.

Images: A lot of actresses worldwide have spoken up about harassment from within the industry. How do you think the local entertainment industry responds to women?

Nadia: Patriarchy comes with the objectification of women. As long as we pander to it, women in all fields of life will continue to face violence and sexual objectification men subject them to. Even women sometimes subject other women to objectification and sexism.

We still need to deal with many stigmas and stereotypes in this industry, as well as unsolicited creepy attention and offers from men. Having said that, I’m really proud of some incredibly strong, empowered women the media and showbiz industry is producing these days in Pakistan.

I am now waiting for some exciting Pakistani men to embrace gender equality in their productions and scripts.

Nadia Jamil with Noman Ijaz in her play Durr-e-Shahwar.
Nadia Jamil with Noman Ijaz in her play Durr-e-Shahwar.

Images: You’re known for your strong characters. However, television now is increasingly speaking of social taboos. Do you think writers are more aware and socially responsible now?

Nadia: I think writers had more honesty and courage in the past. Nowadays, they write formulas. Few of them have the courage to write what they want to.

My favourite writer nowadays is Vasay Chaudhry. He has focused on comedy so far, but he doesn't force social commentary in his work and down our throats, but writes wittily and writes what he is good at.

However, issues and truths like rape, child marriage and child labour are being talked about more in stories these days. Sadly, they are often not written well enough to have the impact that they can.

"It's a torture to read most scripts. One of the reasons I don't work anymore is the boring women roles I am offered."

So on the one hand, we are breaking taboos but on the other, the market-driven industry doesn't allow for some true, raw, gritty writing or characters the audiences will empathise with. Oh, and I'm also a huge fan of Umera Ahmad's. You can tell she truly loves and empathises with her characters.

Images: Many plays are criticised for lacking the sensitivity needed to address issues. Do you feel social commentary is being overdone to win the ratings' race?

Nadia: I agree. The ratings race is really bastardising our industry. Motives are important in the creative process and a true labour of love will be different from a product catered for the rating race.

Images: There's been a lot of denouncement for damsel-in-distresses and meek female portrayal on local television. What do you think about that?

Nadia: Uff! I can’t stand the stereotypical, self-flagellating, weeping bags of misery they write for women. We laugh, we play, and we rock! We are layered and complicated and full of good and bad at the same time. Where are we in the stories and scripts? It's a torture to read most scripts.

One of the reasons I don't work anymore is the boring women I have to play. Bushra Ansari has done some really powerful roles and risen above the stereotype. Kudos to her and the people who produced roles like Bilqees Kaur. But they are still too few; we have many headstrong women in Pakistan, in our villages and small towns as well as bigger cities. There are many women who laugh in the face of adversity and don't let life bring them down.

Make a film on Muniba Mazari for God's sake! Or Malala, or Bilqees Edhi, Tehmina Durrani, Asma Jehangir, Sabeen Mahmud, Fatima Jinnah, Nighat Saeed Khan, Sultana Siddiqi, Samina Bano Rahman, Shukriya Gul, Sana Mir. Even in homes and on lands, in factories, hospitals, football pitches, NGOs, from Lyari to Lahore, Sindhi, Balochi, Kashmiri, Pashtoon, Punjabi, Urdu-speaking; there are countless amazing women. They are incredible with incredible stories full of sensuality, survival, laughter, tears and resilience. Where are they in our scripts?

Images:What's next for you? Are you planning to work on films? and any particular genre you wish to pursue next?

Nadia: As for film, I am writing for Haissam Hussain and Gohar Rasheed; really excited about it. I am also working on TV scripts I hope to finish. If an exciting offer comes my way, I will definitely take it up, but till then writing is something I want to commit more to. I have a one-woman performance I want to edit and tighten for stage.

I hope to move back home soon, get my health sorted fast, be with my parents, parents-in-law, foster sons at the SOS and my dogs, in the beautiful Lahore. My main commitment is to my sons and the children I teach. Till then, I’m enjoying the simple, beautiful details life brings.

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