Madiha Imam’s Bollywood debut is out and she is ecstatic to say the least.
VJ-turned-actress, Madiha Imam bagged a leading role in veteran actress, Monisha Koirala’s comeback film across the border, Dear Maya which is helmed by first-time director, Sunaina Bhatnagar, only after a handful of acting assignments on local television.
All set to star in Mehreen Jabbar’s upcoming Eid telefilm, Madiha speaks to Images from the sets about her film debut and more. Excerpts follow:
Images: Unlike other Pakistani actors’ debut across the border, we weren’t aware of yours until Dear Maya’strailer came out. Why did you choose to keep it so low-key?
Madiha Imam: A lot of people have been asking me that. I think I’ve never really been very vocal about my projects. Whenever an offer comes my way and I feel I can comfortably perform and would creatively enjoy the process, I take it up. Be it a music channel or an acting assignment, as long as I get to explore myself, I take it up. That’s how I took this offer as well.
I never took it as an ‘Indian’ film. I calculated what good it would do for me and I simply said yes. It’s funny now that I think of it because I understand the need of spreading the news, but I guess I didn’t really feel the need to tell the world when it was in the process of becoming. However, I wasn’t really hiding it either; my colleagues from Pakistan knew I had shot for a film across the border last year.
Images: Your film released at a time when political relations between the two countries are unstable and that has adversely affected the film industry. Do you believe in the trade of talent?
MI: I am aware of what is happening and I feel it’s my social responsibility to closely look into the kind of project I sign. I have to keep certain aspects into consideration and I need to know that my country will always come first.
I did want to be a part of the promotions, in fact I did whatever little I could do here, but I couldn’t go all the way to India and understandably so.
On the whole, I do believe that talent has no boundaries. It is, indeed, true that we live in a world which functions in a certain way and there are things that one cannot control, but what I can assure is that I do my work with dignity, respect and make my own people proud, and while also creatively better my craft. One does always opt for better options, but I guess we all do have limitations and we should.
Images: Tell us a bit about how the film was offered to you and what is it that made you take it up?
MI: Well, basically my director, Sunaina had previously assisted Imtiaz Ali and was looking for a young girl to play the protagonist in her first directorial. While searching for the right fit, she actually went through MTV India’s website because VJs are very comfortable on-camera; they’re young, confident and very spontaneous.
That’s where she saw a video of mine and it wasn’t until she has seen the entire thing that she got to know it was from MTV Pakistan instead. After that, she basically started tracing me down and called me towards the end of 2015 for the film.
At first, I thought of it as a prank call because I had always wanted to do a Disney tale and Dear Maya sounded the closest to that.
I just had to take it up. I was comfortable and the narrative was of a project I had always dreamt of. I feel I’m an extremist – either I look for fantasy, or realism and Dear Maya offered me both. It had a world of its own and I absolutely loved working on it.
Images: Dear Maya also marks yesteryear actress, Monisha Koirala’s return to the cinemas. Tell us a bit about your experience working with her and what do you think you’ve learnt from her as an actress?
MI: Well I didn’t get a chance to shoot extensively with her, but she is an amazing actress. She’s very involved in her work and since she’s also fought cancer, she’s a very brave woman, who brought so much optimism with her presence on-set.
She’s not very talkative. She likes to be in her own zone and I would just carefully observe her. It was slightly difficult to bounce off her incredible acting prowess while sharing the screen with her, but I tried to make sense and she told me that she liked my performance.
I can’t specify any one thing I feel I’ve learnt from her, but the experience of shooting with her on the whole has taught me a lot. She takes her work very seriously and I think once you do that, people can’t just take you for a ride either. Her dedication will always stay with me.
Images: How do you think the release of your film has changed your own self and the way people look at you, particularly from within the industry?
MI: I don’t expect a lot once I’m working on a project. I thoroughly enjoy the process when I get to work with good a good team and on a strong script; I feel that’s what makes me give my absolute best. I was overwhelmed by the response in Pakistan, even from India for that matter of fact.
I never realized how huge a platform Bollywood is until the trailer came out and I came across such humbling articles and social media pages. I also received a lot of messages and calls from my seniors and contemporaries here in Pakistan only and I think that’s all you want, your co-workers to appreciate your work.
I believe since it’s not a typical Bollywood masala flick, it drove more attention anyway. Now that the film is out, I feel different as an actor only. I think I’ve started taking my work more seriously and I aspire to do even better.
Images: Do you think you’ve been getting more offers with better monitory, now that you’re also an export to India?
MI: We all know Bollywood is a bigger platform. And I feel it’s not only about working there, even in Pakistan if you’re a part of a mega-project, you obviously get better offers. It’s work for me and I take it very positively. I am getting great offers, but I was even before people knew I am doing a film there.
It might have slightly changed, but I don’t think experienced a lot of that. Everyone I know is appreciating my work and I am truly grateful for that. So I’d say it’s all still the same for me.
Images: Do you think you had the baggage of being a true ambassador to Pakistan and its talent on your shoulders? Tell us how it was being on the sets shooting.
MI: I wasn’t worried about that at all. Dear Maya was a challenge for me on various levels, but definitely not that. I belong to an Urdu-speaking family, so I had to make a conscious effort to doing like a 14-year old Indian girl from Simla. I had a dialect coach and our casting director would always be there helping me out.
Also, I had to play Anna as a 14-year in the first half of the film, but post interval, I am supposed to be 20 in the film. The transition needed to look smooth yet drastic, so I did have to work on that.
Lastly, I had to learn cycling. I did not have much time to practice and it was hilarious how I would ask people to push me and I would paddle after that since I am actually alien to the concept of cycling. Nonetheless, I wasn’t worried about the film. You need to know what kind of a film you’re taking up, but once you’ve signed it, you can’t really think of that.
Images: Are more offers from across the border coming your way?
MI: Yes, people are approaching me. Producers have been offering me films even when I was in India shooting. But, like I said earlier, there are certain things I can and cannot do. There are certain aspects of a project that I need to look into before making any decision as an actor. At this point in time, I also don’t want to bother the team that I work with in India, myself, my country and my people. When circumstances aren’t really favorable, you have to figure a way out and for now, I can’t seem to find a solution.
Images: Lastly, what’s next for Madiha Imam – are you focusing on television assignments or we’ll see you on the local celluloid anytime soon?
MI: I have been offered a number of films in Pakistan as well, but I’ll only take up the one where I know I could do it with all my heart and give it my absolute fullest. For now, I’m focusing on two TV projects. I want less, yet quality work. I want to work-hard and collaborate with teams that I resonate with and who understand the work I want to do.