The long-awaited period play Aangan begins airing today and lead star Mawra Hocane is nervous — but in a good way.
In a chat with Images, Mawra talks about her character Aaliya, why she is the first of her characters that she actually admires and why she might tune in to watch the drama with the rest of us (she usually doesn't). Read on:
Images: You're said to be the narrator of Aangan but of course, you're more than just a voice in the background. You're also a character in the flesh. It's almost like you're doing double duty in this drama. Is that what it's been like for you?
Mawra: Not exactly... when we were shooting on sets, I didn't do the the narration then and we're doing those recordings now. Besides, Aaliya becomes the narrator later in the story when she grows up and develops an understanding about her family and the political situation around them. So I don't think it's so much of a double duty, it's just the way the character is. She has a lot of insight to offer about what happens [in Aangan]. I don't think the audience will [be able to distinguish between me as Aaliya and me as the narrator]. Both roles go hand in hand.
Images: Aangan is set in pre-Partition times... how did you ensure that your portrayal is authentic? Especially considering that there may be people who have actually lived through that era and are watching Aangan?
Mawra: I have an excellent team to make sure of that. There's a set team, a costume team to make sure everything looks like the 1940s and the 1920s. So you start to feel it too. But it has been surreal because for example, in an emergency situation, Aaliya is writing letters to her father, not reaching for her phone and that's not my first instinct. Being an actor, I'm very lucky to experience this old-school era. But ensuring authenticity was my team's efforts and I can't take credit for that.
Images: But even the language, the mannerisms were all so different... what was it like for you to enter that era?
Mawra: It was my director's priority for my character to behave like someone from that era and to bring that tehrao in my personality, that was the subject of our first meetings.
Perhaps, in that time, people wouldn't immediately react to situations [like we do today]. They would really think about the consequences of a situation and then react and that is Aaliya's nature too. She can actually look at the big picture all the time. She knows what chaos is occurring outside the house, so she finds a lot of solace and peace in the house...
Images: Aangan is a partition story told from the women's perspective. There's a lot of interest in female portrayal these days and usually when we think of women during partition, we think of their vulnerability, their possible disempowerment but also their courage. What kind of women will we see in Aangan?
Mawra: As far as women's perspective goes, most of the story will be told from Aaliya's point of view. In the serial, you'll get the impression that Aaliya is not just a girl at home who doesn't know anything. She, in fact, knows everything. Her father has empowered her enough, her baray chacha thinks her capable enough to be told everything and to ask for advice.
All the characters I've played since 2012 so far have been hugely regressive. I used to wonder if I'd ever behave like a Sammi or a Bushra or a Mariam because I really wouldn't. I would always question my directors about why these young women don't stand up for themselves. He said your TV screen is a mirror of society. Our society at large is regressive, we can't represent the 5% of women who aren't. It doesn't appeal to the masses. Their problems are closer to Sammi being subjected to vani than my JPNA 2 character Zoe. Even though when it came to love, she was weak. But still she was too bold and free for Pakistani standards.
Still I was very impressed by Khadija Mastoor who wrote a character like Aaliya so many years ago. Even though men did call the shots at the time, Aaliya wouldn't submit to them simply because they were men. She would demand justification from her father, baray chacha and love interest Jamil for their actions and decisions. She would always have a conversation with them, always question why something was being done. So I found Aaliya to be very progressive and the rest of the women quite empowered.
I aspire to be Aaliya. Even though the character is from 1940s, I feel perhaps I'm not as strong as her. I want to be as determined as her... she was compassionate to everyone but not at the price of her own happiness.
I would like to be Aaliya one day. And it'd be very nice for Aaliya to influence people in this manner and the girls and women watching us today.
Images: Now that it's all over, how do you plan to let go of Aaliya? You sound very emotionally invested in her right now...
Mawra: Actually we haven't wrapped up Aangan yet and we have another week or so to go. And then we have a lot of dubbing left. So I can't let go of my character just yet.
And even after, I feel there are some qualities of hers that I would like to keep on. I feel going through Aaliya has made me a stronger girl. When you're playing a character, there's not a lot of clarity that 'this is Aaliya' and 'this is Mawra'. And even when you're letting go, there's no conscious effort to shrug it off. Perhaps it's easier to let go of villainous characters because they're more likely to be unlike you. But when you're playing a character who is just another girl of your age, but in a different era, and you also find her stronger and a better human being, you actually want to imbibe her spirit and take it forward with you.
For my characters in Sammi and Sanam Teri Kasam, I had to make a real effort to shrug them off because they were really depressing. Bohot bechari larkiyan thi. I really had to get rid of them in order to function in my real life.
I don't think Aaliya is a harm to me, she has enriched me. I hope she stays with me longer than my other characters.
Images: Will you watch Aangan or are you one of those actors who do not watch their own dramas?
Mawra: To be honest, it's not something I look forward to. We do see it in bits and pieces during dubbing and things. But it's difficult for me to sit down and watch it at 9pm every week or stream the entire 40 minutes. Having said that, I feel Aangan is the first project I'm curious to watch.
When its teaser came out, I realised how different every scene looks on screen from what we shot. The grading, the way music has been used, it's a totally different experience. And of course, all those scenes that I am not featured in would also be very fascinating to watch.
Aangan begins airing on Hum TV at 8pm today.