Meera likes to make an impact — and she doesn’t seem to care if it’s a good or bad one.
Being politically correct doesn’t appeal to her, she’d rather deliver punchlines, create controversies or even allow herself to become the target of jokes. She’ll bat her eyelids and wonder out loud why she gets bashed so frequently, and in the very next breath, proceed to pass scathing commentaries on others. Contradictory, confusing and very, very filmi, Meera is inimitable in her ways.
I meet the actress during her recent trip to Karachi and I wonder if it’s all an act, the statements that don’t make sense, the allegations she makes as part of normal conversation, her domesticated views on how ‘good’ women should be and her frequent references to how ‘beautiful’ and ‘famous’ she is. I come to realise, though, that this is just how Meera is. Like all of us, she may go through her low phases but a supreme self-confidence refuses to let her deflate, keeping her floating in a shiny, happy bubble.
“I don’t take myself too seriously,” she tells me. “I like to laugh and I plan jokes beforehand when I am about to make a red carpet appearance or have a press conference. I want people to enjoy themselves with me. They keep asking me about my age and so I let them. I just joke back about it. I am the most famous actress in the country and these things are unimportant to me. I can’t let them become the focal point of my life.”
Desired and mocked in equal measure, the star’s greatest creation may be herself. She opens up to Icon about her fame, her mistakes and her contemporaries without pulling any punches
“This isn’t even something worth discussing,” she tells me. “Ask me other things, about my career, my marriage, my family, my future plans.” And so I do. And since it’s Meera, she packs in the punches in droves…
“2017 is going to be an exciting year for me”
“I am going for a new look,” she says, “and I have some exciting plans.” One of her projects was aired this Eid on TV, a comic telefilm produced by MD Productions and directed by Kamran Akbar titled Socha Tha Pyar Na Karengay. She was also seen in a small role in Shor Sharaba, one of this Eid’s more questionable threatened cinematic releases (it never made it to screens) on Eid.
“I loved working in the Hum TV telefilm because it was the first time that I acted in a comedy,” she says. “I am not too happy with Shor Sharaba. I was supposed to have just a guest appearance in the movie but the makers deliberately elongated the role and because I had already signed on, I couldn’t say no. The producer of Shor Sharaba even owes me money. We worked together in the 2008 PTV drama Iqra and since then, he owes me 60 lakh rupees.”
Why did she agree to work in Shor Sharaba, then? “Sometimes you get convinced by the director,” she hedges. “We have to work in this industry and there are good and bad people everywhere.”
“’Hotal’ was a mistake which is why I am now going to be directing my own film”
Meera’s last cinematic outing wasn’t too great either. The 2016 cinematic disaster Hotal stumbled through a ridiculous plot, bad cinematography and bombed badly at the box office. “Yes, the script and the direction were weak,” she admits. “When the idea was pitched to me, I thought it would formulate into an impactful movie that would tackle abortion. Instead, it was executed very badly. We were already halfway through shooting when I realised that the movie was not making sense. I tried to guide the director but he wouldn’t listen to me, telling me that this was his style.
“This is why I am now going to be directing my own film,” she continues. “I have been part of this industry for 20 years now and I feel that I understand filmmaking. The movie is going to be called Shohrat and I am going to write the script, direct and act in it. It’s a concept that I have already discussed with my friends and patrons in India, Mahesh Bhatt, Pooja Bhatt and Madhur Bhandarkar. Actors Nadeem Baig and Imran Abbas have agreed to be part of the cast and we will begin shooting soon.
“I also am looking into working with a range of new brands,” she adds. “I have made plans with Imran Aslam to head a dancing competition also. It will get aired on TV regularly and we have come up with a name already: Meera Nachay Gee.”
“I don’t take myself too seriously. I like to laugh and I plan jokes beforehand when I am about to make a red carpet appearance or have a press conference. I want people to enjoy themselves with me. They keep asking me about my age and so I let them. I just joke back about it.”
“It has always been my dream to work with the Khans in India”
In the past, Meera has also acted on Indian soil, in a smattering of dubious Bollywood films that can, at best, be described as ‘bold.’ “I am proud of the work that I have done in India,” she professes. “I debuted with one of the biggest movie camps there, the Mahesh Bhatt camp. I had a lead role in my first Indian movie, Nazar, and my songs in it are still listened to worldwide.”
Given the currently volatile cross-border climate, has she dismissed future aspirations for Bollywood? “It depends on the situation, if the opportunity arises, why wouldn’t I want to work there?” she says. “It has always been my dream to work with Shah Rukh Khan, Amir Khan or Salman Khan. SRK is King Khan and to be honest, even if a donkey was cast opposite him, it would be appreciated.”
I wonder if she’s making a jibe about Mahira Khan, the actress who actually did manage to latch on to the coveted slot of a SRK leading lady. What did Meera think of Mahira’s role in the movie? “I think I’ll let the film critics assess Mahira’s role in the movie. She has the support of corporate entities in Pakistan which I think has really helped her in the generation of positive reviews,” she says. “I think it’s very impressive that Mahira managed to land such a major role and we should appreciate this.
“In Pakistan, though, we are always trying to bring each other down. I worked in India, too, but I was always criticised for it.”
Had Meera considered that this could possibly be because of the sloppy, risqué roles that she had chosen? She mulls over this before agreeing that she shouldn’t have had opted for Kasak, opposite Lucky Ali — apparently, to her, the rest of her Indian releases are absolute entertainers. “I know that I have made some mistakes,” she admits. “But still, the Pakistani film fraternity has never acknowledged the efforts that I have made. I went to India and represented Pakistan. I didn’t work for free and charged a considerable remuneration for my work. I refused to be part of any indecent activities in order to get roles. I worked with decency and dignity. Shouldn’t I have had been respected for it?”
“Fawad Khan has never come and said to me ‘Let’s do some work together’”
She particularly feels that local cinema’s young crop of actors refuse to show respect. “When we were new to the industry, our seniors — legends such as Shamim Ara, Babra Sharif, Mahesh Bhatt and Subash Ghai — taught us to go and acknowledge older actors.”
When did she ever work with Subhash Ghai, I interrupt. “I didn’t. But he taught me a lot,” she explains.
“Today’s young actors haven’t done much work but they still consider themselves to be superstars,” she continues. “They may have strong followings on social media or they may have acted in a few movies but they are yet to build a body of work for themselves. The industry was always based in Lahore. Now, most of the new filmmakers are based in Karachi and they don’t believe in giving a chance to actual talent. Why is Babra Sharif not seen anywhere? Why are young non-actors hired and experienced actors ignored? Good films aren’t even being made; they are all like television dramas!”
Whose work has she liked in the recent past? “I enjoyed Jawani Phir Nahi Ani, Na Maloom Afraad and Salute. I think Humayun Saeed does great work and Fawad Khan is also a very good actor,” she says. “Fawad Khan, though, is very disrespectful. He has never come up to me and said salaamto me. I am a senior, I have won many awards and worked in 155 films and 15 TV serials. And yet, I have appreciated his work. Why can’t he reciprocate by at least greeting me? He has never approached me and said ‘Meera, let’s work on a project together for Pakistan.’ These attitude problems need to be corrected.”
“HSY is unfair and prone to favoritism… and Reema has never encouraged me”
Meera pinpoints a similar callousness in the attitude of HSY, who was appointed show director for the annual Lux Style Awards (LSAs) this year, replacing longstanding mainstay Frieha Altaf. “The LSAs were too elitist this time,” she observes. “There needed to be more masala dances that the masses would enjoy. Also, HSY is fond of creating lobbies. Frieha treated stars with respect and recognised talent. HSY, though, chooses to place just his favourites in the limelight and ignores all others. I was a Lux girl and I am the country’s most established actor but at the LSAs this year, he didn’t even come to say hello to me.”
Does her dissatisfaction with the LSAs have anything to do with the fact that the event marked the stage comeback of her long time arch-rival, film actress Reema? “I have always wished Reema all the best,” says Meera. “She is my senior and yet, she always considered me a rival. She never supported me and instead, would say things behind my back to corporate sponsors. She is is accustomed to the ways of the film fraternity. I am from a non-film Syed background. I entered the industry at a very young age and it took me time to understand how things worked. Reema always tried to put me down.”
“It is the love of my friends and fans that keeps me going”
There are many others, though, that Meera cites as her support system. “Shaan is my favourite co-star,” she says. “There are many others who have always advised me and supported me: Nabila, Akif Ilyas, Khawar Riaz, Ather Shehzad, Nilofer Shahid, Nomi Ansari, Deepak Perwani and Tapu Javeri. These are the people I trust. They have groomed me and stood by me for years.
“Perhaps it’s because I have never really wined and dined critics that they write such horrible things about me,” she conjectures. “The box office and the love of my fans is what matters. Whenever I say something, viewership ratings rise high. People follow what I say just the way they follow Imran Khan.”
She’s also recently been making waves for her witticisms on Twitter, delivered in English that is so fluent that it has followers wondering if it really is her on the other side. “It is absolutely me but sometimes my friends help me,” she declares.
“My English is actually exceptionally good. There was a time when I was learning the language and people would make fun of me when I would fumble. This just shows how complexed and insecure our society is. I now speak very good English and I would love to one day be interviewed by an international English-speaking channel where I could talk sensibly instead of the snickering journalists that pervade Pakistan.”
“I’m getting married in August”
One thing that she hadn’t yet revealed on her largely-followed Twitter account was her impending marriage. “I am telling you first,” she smiles at me. “I’m getting married this August. It’s going to be a big celebrity wedding after which I will be moving to New York.”
Who is she getting married to? “I can’t reveal that right now. He is a family friend. This is my first marriage. I have never been married before. All the earlier rumours of marriage were lies. I think I’m now ready to get hitched, mentally, scientifically, physically. I want to experience motherhood. I’m already like a mother to my younger siblings. I guide them with their careers, watch over what they do, make sure that my mother’s diabetes stays in control and even when I am traveling I am in constantly in touch with my family. I enjoy housework and taking care of my family. I am a good God-fearing girl. I think I am ready for marriage.”
Will she be leaving her acting career post marriage? “Not at all,” she states. “My fans love me. I would never disappoint them by leaving the profession. I am, after all, the most beautiful, the most in-demand actress in the country.”
And she says this with ease because for Meera, her many declarations aren’t part of an act. She genuinely believes every word. Life, to her, is much like a film where she delivers confessions, contradictions and accusations with ease, always playing the lead role, most beautiful, most successful. The world may think what it may but Meera floats on — in a bubble that refuses to pop. Her greatest role may be as herself.
Originally published in Dawn, ICON, July 2nd, 2017