By Aarti Kapur Singh
Pakistani soap ‘Humsafar’ catapulted Mahira Khan to the pinnacle of popularity a few years ago. But while her co-star Fawad Khan made a lot of hay under the proverbial shining sun, Mahira barely cashed in on that wave of hysteria. But things are soon to change as Mahira gears up for her Bollywood debut opposite Shah Rukh Khan in Rahul Dholakia’s ‘Raees’.
I enjoyed an exclusive chat with Mahira Khan, who is a head-turner, evoking both envy and desire in women and men who either want to be like her, or simply want to be with her. But she’s blissfully unaffected by both, and is refreshingly un-awestruck by co-star SRK. Although King Khan made Mahira blush by complimenting her Spiderman-inspired nail art straight, as she came on set straight from her son’s birthday party. “I had just forgotten to take it off! I was so embarrassed, but I got over that feeling because I am a busy mom too,” asserts Mahira, rolling her hazelnut eyes.
The Karachi-based, US-educated stunner began her career as a VJ and played a bit role in Bol (2011). But now, Mahira’s ready to roll. Here are excerpts of our meeting.
Aarti Kapur Singh: From the small screen to the big one – what is the difference like?
Mahira Khan: Hardly any! There’s a camera, people, a director and a script so I don’t find it any different. But yes, when I did ‘Bin Roye’ and ‘Ho Mann Jahaan’, I realized that there is a difference. Films are larger than life. I have done drama very successfully, and what I like about films compared to drama is that films are not never-ending or repetitive. You are going to entertain for two hours, so you can’t be repetitive. In drama, you come on screen every Friday and you have to remind the audience what happened on last Friday. But for me, film or drama, it’s only acting.
AKS: Surely, there must be some difference in the effort?
MK: It was more to do with my effort to get a foot in the door! To get into films, I had to change my modus operandi. I have invested two years of my life in ‘Bin Roye’, and solely because I had decided that I don’t want to do drama. And this was right after my serial ‘Shehr-e-Zaat’, which I did after ‘Humsafar’. We began ‘Bin Roye’, but it ran into a few issues and difficulties. I stayed with it for two years and I came out as a better actor, maybe. It taught me so much. I don’t think I’ll ever invest so much emotionally, in another character or film. It will break my heart if people don’t see that.
AKS: How did ‘Raees’ happen?
MK: I hadn’t read many scripts from Bollywood. When I got a call to audition, I wasn’t told the exact details of the film, except the names of the producers and the director, both of whom I liked. Once I read the scenes, I found them to be interesting and went ahead and auditioned for the role. I learned my lines and gave it my best shot. I was nervous before the audition and thought I’d forget all my lines. I did meet Shah Rukh. He was very kind.
I was nervous on my first day on the set. But credit must be given to the entire crew for putting me at ease. It wasn’t difficult – in the sense, it didn’t put me on edge. Having said that, it was a privilege to be in an environment like that which existed on the sets of ‘Raees’.
AKS: How different is Bollywood from your past work?
MK: Honestly, I did not know how people would react to me, but it was a very different experience. I went there like a sponge, taking it all in. I didn’t want to step in on anybody’s toes because in Pakistan, I’m very nosy and in everybody’s space and job. Everyone warned me not to do this in Bollywood, so I listened to them. I tried to match Mr Khan. I couldn’t, but I tried to make it better. Bollywood is definitely far more advanced, while the film industry in Pakistan is still in its very nascent stages.
Sometimes I used to miss home in the initial 10 days or so, when I was getting into character. After that, they were all my people. Now I go back a lot more confident and happier. People were very kind and the crew was amazing, and kept rooting for me. Even when I couldn’t
get a dialogue right or a dance step right, they encouraged me. I had this experience in Pakistan, but thought I would miss it in Bollywood.
AKS: What was it like working with SRK?
MK: I actually got to learn so much from Mr Shah Rukh Khan, I realized this when I came back and shot for a song in ‘Ho Mann Jahaan’ and my director was like, ‘What has happened to you!’. He said, ‘You’ve shed a layer. You’ve grown as an actor.’ And I think it’s because I moved out of my comfort zone.
AKS: Do you feel any pressure debuting opposite notable actors?
MK: Well, yes. There is always a bit of pressure when performing with such good actors but luckily, I’ve performed with some of the best actors in Pakistan, who helped me out a lot on set. I also learnt a lot from them and from the Bollywood stars. Insha’Allah.
AKS: Female actors have made very little impact in Pakistani cinema; will you make a difference?
MK: I hope so! I’m very aware of the choices I make. I think about my roles and how I perform them.