It seems strange talking to you from such a distance?
Yes, it does seem strange. But then, what can we do?
Is there a deep sense of regret for not being able to be in India during this time when Raees is so much talked-about?
You know, I was telling a friend, that very few actors here in Pakistan have got an opportunity like this. And it fell in my lap; due to whatever hard work that I may have done earlier. I didn’t have to look for it. I feel blessed. But at the same time I feel like that marathon runner who during the last lap just before the finishing line, is made to drop out of the race. There was this feeling when it happened, ‘Oh Man, not right now. Now just before the release!’
It’s like not being allowed to be in your own party?
Something like that. I so want to sit with the audience and watch the film. That doesn’t seem possible so far. But after the release I feel a certain sense of closure because of the love I’ve been receiving from the people. The stuff that I read online is heart-warming. So maybe, okay, this circumstance that happened is something I couldn’t control. I am going to let go of it. I tell myself this every day. I try to look at the brighter side. I put all the good wishes in one box and take one out every morning.
I saw you doing a video press conference from Pakistan in India. It shouldn’t have been that way?
Again, what can we do? But then I really don’t know what I am missing out on because I haven’t really experienced what it feels like to be there. But I do know that we were all like one big family during the making Raees. And I just felt happy connecting with them long-distance. I know we’ll celebrate whenever I am able to visit again.
The saddest part was when some of your random utterances were taken out of context and used against you in India?
I felt it was so unnecessary. Because the fact is, I’ve always been such a big Bollywood fan from when I was very young. I remember I’d watch new Bollywood films every Thursday night on a video cassette. The entire week I’d wait for that Thursday-night treat.
Who are your favourite actors in Indian cinema?
I’ve a deep admiration for Guru Dutt. I discovered him when I was 16. I saw Pyasa and it changed my life. I can’t explain what it meant to me. It opened a whole new kind of Indian cinema to me. Prior to that I was into the song-and-dance films, the Anil Kapoor films and so on. After watching Guru Dutt’s films I became a huge fan of Sahir Ludhianvi’s poetry and the songs of Guru Dutt’s films.
Are you a singer too?
No no. Although Shoaib Mansoor feels I am a singer. He feels I am better at singing than acting. He wants me to sing in our new film together called Varna. He knows his music. But I can’t! I am extremely self-critical.
Mahira, we’ve known you from long before Raees through your wonderful Pakistan television soaps. Tell me, why is the quality of your television so much better than ours?
I don’t know about it being better. But yes, we pour a lot of creative juices into our serials because the television culture in our country is very strong. The reason for that being the relative lack of growth in our movie industry. If we had a flourishing film industry here, perhaps television wouldn’t have evolved so much.
You have a point. Humsafar on television made you a star much before Raees?
And even before Humsafar I did a film Bol with Shaoib Mansoor—I am now working with him again—Bol was that one film in Pakistan in five years that made an impact. I was lucky to be in it. Right after Bol, Humsafar happened on television. Everyone associated with Humsafar saw a kind of success that had not been seen on television for a decade. Television was the growing medium. All of us—Fawad Khan, me and the whole team—were at the right place at the right time. Television just grew because the talent bank in Pakistan, the literary minds; it all went into the television.
Your performance on Pakistan television is subdued and subtle, quite unlike what we see on Indian television?
You know, I feel television has been a good training ground for my acting skills. The medium is very challenging because everything is shot in close-ups. On the big screen one gets a far larger canvas and you can use your entire personality to express myself.
You are your career woman and a single mother. Is that tough?
Yes, but it is something which women all across the world do. I do only one film at a time. My first priority is my child. So it’s a lot of hard work. But it can be done. It’s all about choices. Many times I have to let go of good work. Fortunately the work I’ve done has worked for me.
In your country it is far more difficult to be a career woman and a mother?
Yes, I am an anomaly in my country. I hope in the coming years there will be more women like me.