Mehwish Hayat's fast becoming a regular on the big screen. It's no surprise then that the star was roped in for Fizza Ali Meerza and Nabeel Qureshi's latest venture Load Wedding due to release this Eid ul Azha.
Besides the fact that the directorial duo has a preference for their Actor In Law couple Fahad Mustafa and Mehwish, the star says the team is 'family' and of course, there's no denying that she has a deep appreciation for their work.
"Working with Fizza and Nabeel never seems like work; there is such a relaxed atmosphere on set. I have worked with them for five years and done two movies with them previously, we have built up such a rapport that it is always like returning to your family," Mehwish told Images in an interview.
"They know how to get the best out of their actors. What I love about their work is that while the industry struggles to find a Pakistani voice, Nabeel and Fizza are producing movies that I would term as closest to being quintessentially Pakistani."
The actor is playing Meeru, Fahad Mustafa's love interest in Load Wedding, in which the two are desperately trying to get hitched but external forces and societal norms keep wrecking their plans.
"Our job in the industry is to reflect and highlight the realities of our society and to stimulate debate on issues," says Mehwish.
One would think it would be easy for Mehwish to slip into any role with hits Jawani Phir Nahi Ani, Actor In Law and Punjabi Nahi Jaungi under her belt - she's slowly conquering the big screen, people - however, Mehwish admits that it was a challenge for her to get into Meeru's character.
"I think being an urban Karachiite, playing the role of a Punjabi dehati girl was totally out of my comfort zone. Getting the nuances of the language and mannerisms right was difficult," she said, adding that she didn't take accent lessons for her role. "Punjabis are often played as over the top caricatures. I was very keen that Meeru was believable in every respect. That meant a lot of observation and hard work."
What did make it easier for her was her co-star, Fahad Mustafa, not because the two played lovers previously in Actor In Law, but because their off-screen relationship helped build a connection. "For me what is key to on-screen chemistry is sharing an off-screen rapport."
She added, "We are very good friends and goof around a lot between takes. When you are enacting a scene with a co-star be it comedic or romantic, it is very important that you trust each other. Having done Actor-in-Law, we had already developed that bond and knew each other well. That enabled us to bounce off each other."
Like Fizza-Nabeel's previous offerings, Load Wedding also serves to send a message to the audience. Mehwish explains that as public figures it’s their responsibility to shed light on social issues in our society: "There are a lot of messages in the film for audiences to take away centered around marriage customs in our society. Our job in the industry is to reflect and highlight the realities of our society and to stimulate debate on issues - and if we can do that in an entertaining manner we will have succeeded."
"I talk about issues that matter to me and people end up making comments about my appearance. Only when we get over this superficiality and focus on the real issues will we be able to make some progress," she says of online abuse.
"The key thing the audiences need to take away from Load Wedding is that they have been entertained and got their money’s worth. If we can go beyond that and raise discussions on some of the issues plaguing our society then that is a bonus. I always find that it is more effective to cloak sensitive issues as entertainment."
Still, it isn't easy raising your voice for what you believe in in Pakistan. As a public figure, Mehwish Hayat has attracted trolling and online criticism even when she's trying to highlight issues she cares about.
"Online abuse comes as part of being a public figure. When you have 1.5 million followers you know that there will be a few negative people. You cannot please all the people all the time. Yes, it hurts at times," admitted the actor.
"But I guess what irks me the most is that I have been using my platforms to talk about issues that matter to me and people without bothering to read what I have said make comments about my appearance or what I am wearing. It is only when we get over this superficiality in our society and are able to focus on the real issues at hand that we will be able to make some progress."
Speaking of social issues, it seems like this year’s Eid releases are more centred towards providing a good entertainer. If that's the highest benchmark then local audiences are going to be spoiled for choice as three heavyweight films are clashing at the box office - Jawani Phir Nahi Ani 2, Parwaaz Hai Junoon - including the Mehwish-Fahad starrer.
"This is not an ideal situation by any stretch of imagination," said Mehwish. "No doubt it would have been better if the films had been staggered. All three are very different films and will appeal to different audiences. It is great that the audiences have a choice of three great Pakistani movies. That being said, it will obviously affect the business potential of all three. These decisions are not mine, I just give the best performance I can and leave the rest to the powers who know better."
I'm not sure that the Pakistani box office is mature enough for female-oriented films - and nobody here is prepared to take the risk. Currently, traditional masala entertainers are what's working with the audiences," says the actor.
Surprisingly though, none of the upcoming projects are female-oriented - even though women's empowerment has been a much-talked-about issue in Pakistan recently.
The films feature strong female actors, however only the male leads have been portrayed as the protagonists while the women are mere side characters.
Since Cake and Motorcycle Girl hit screens, one would expect a surge or an inclination towards women-centric films from the local entertainment industry. Sadly, this has not been the case so far.
Mehwish sheds light on why that is. "This is down to box office dynamics. Unfortunately, producers are not prepared to take any risks and stick to tried and tested formulas. We really need a breakout film that is female-oriented for the tide to turn."
"Motorcycle Girl and Cake were by all accounts excellent films in their own right, but they did not do that well at the Pakistani box office. Isn’t it ironic that Cake actually did better outside of Pakistan where there is a greater appreciation for different genres? These sort of films will come but it will take time to educate audiences and it will take brave producers to take the initiative and they will have to keep sticking to it."
Is there any hope that an all-female ensemble film like Veere Di Wedding and Ocean's 8 will be made here? Perhaps not yet, replied Mehwish.
“I am not sure that the Pakistani box office is mature enough for these films to work just yet. We are in our infancy and traditional masala entertainers are working for audiences."
And she got straight to the point. "Films are a business at the end of the day and investors will only back subjects that will make money. Biopics of females are important to inspire and give women in our country role models that they can look up to, but there really isn’t a demand for them. Even the Benazir biopic is not Pakistan driven - nobody here is prepared to take the risk. Hopefully, the interest that the Benazir biopic has piqued will inspire other producers to look at these sort of subjects."