By FATIMA PATEL
She has just become the first Pakistani spokesperson for Loreal, is one of Pakistan’s most popular and highest-paid actresses with several awards and accolades to her credit.
Her last film was with none other than India’s biggest superstars Shahrukh Khan and now the actress is returning with Shoaib Mansoor’s hard-hitting, ‘Verna’. Yes, we are talking about super talented and the ever so beautiful Mahira Khan.
The single mum has become a powerful and respected name within the Pakistani entertainment industry. Such is her following and support that despite her upcoming film being embroiled in controversy, the support Mahira has been receiving from all corners of the world has been overwhelming.
‘Verna’, which is a hard-hitting film directed by Shoaib Mansoor, who also gave Mahira her first break in films, has been denied a certificate by the Central Board of Film Censors (CBFC) following its viewing.
The move to ban the film has left many fans on social media outraged. Film and television personalities have come out in support of the film which also includes support from across the border in the name of Deepika Padukone.
At a promotional event for ‘Padmavati’, Deepika Padukone backed ‘Verna’ and said that it was “sad” that it was banned. Deepika is quoted by media as saying, “Yes, it’s sad that a small section of people don’t understand the power of cinema and what it can do to the world. It brings people together, it spreads love, it’s fascinating what cinema can do and it’s sad that a certain group of people choose to not recognize that.”
This controversy has just added interest and curiosity to the film and so expectations for the movie is rocketing.
Mahira, exclusively spoke with Asian Style Magazine, prior to the film had run into troubled waters.
The conversation started with an apology from the Bol actress for sounding groggy, as she had just had a power nap to help overcome a little cold and was settling her son, Azlaan to sleep. Behind all that glamour and bright lights came a simple single mum, who sounded deeply passionate about her work and just couldn’t wait to share everything about her intense and dramatic film ‘Verna’.
Fatima: Verna is your next release after the mega-successful SRK film, Raees. So, expectations are sky high. Does that make you nervous and if so how are you managing to control your nerves?
Oh my God, Fatima I mean someone has to give me some remedy for the nerves haha. But the truth is it’s actually not really because of the Bollywood film that the expectations are so high. It’s that I have not done a film for the last two years in Pakistan and Raees didn’t come out in Pakistan either, so technically speaking they haven’t gone into cinemas or had me on their television screens in the last two years, so the wait is there. Secondly, the fact that I and Shoaib Mansoor are coming together that’s actually where the expectation lies and that’s scary because my first anything that was related to acting was Bol. So, six years ago I made a debut with Shoaib Mansoor, six years later he decides to make another film and here I am in this film and sort of spearheading it or the protagonist, whatever you would like to call it. So, that’s the reason why the expectations are so high and honestly, it’s very scary. Because while doing the film I didn’t realise that the expectations were going to be so high and now its just everywhere I go. Obviously, we’ve been promoting, and we speak to you guys. Actually, when the first poster came out, I was so surprised that people were talking about it in a way that ok let’s see what she does now and let’s see how they do this and I’m like I am not sure if I want the onus to lay on me. But it is what it is and I’m dealing with the nerves not so well.
Verna looks like a very interesting thriller based on a social cause. What else can you give away about the film?
You’re actually right. I agree with you, it is a thriller actually, so even though obviously you can tell it is about a woman seeking justice, but as a genre, if you’re asking me as a genre it is a thriller. Otherwise what I can tell you is that even though people will know it is a film about rape, it is about the kind of abuse that happens to women and men all around the world. You know when I was researching for it, I was like Oh my God, this is unreal stuff, I mean every two hours a woman is raped in Pakistan. These are just numbers that are reported. We don’t know what’s happening really, we don’t know what the numbers are in actuality. So, it is about rape. But more than anything if you were to ask me, this film is about power. How the power dynamics work in a society because rape at the end of the day is not a show of sexual frustration not at all. That’s not what it is. It’s not an act of sex for pleasure. Most of the time if you hear activists talk about it if you hear survivors speak about it, if you read about it, the one common thing that everybody talks about is that it is a show of power and so that is what Verna is about. It is about power dynamics within a society, country, in the world and how that power struggle affects people. So that’s what I would like to say, otherwise, if you would like me to elaborate on my character I could do that, but you know if I tell you a little more…
You’ll be giving the storyline away.
But yeah you know I am already like half asleep and I know I am going to get better at this at the next interview and I hope I don’t give away too much (laughter).
So again, about this girl, which is an interesting character for me to play because I relate to her in many ways, but I also don’t relate to her in many ways. You know me, Mahira the person I have nervous energy, I have been told that I should be much more confident and that I should act like who I am, which is I don’t know for people I guess some hugely successful actor, but what people don’t understand is that I am not what I am in my head you know, or that there might be this nervous energy. This girl does not get nervous. Fear is not in her DNA. She doesn’t understand fear at all. So, she is a very interesting girl that I have played. I think we are all very strong, I think I am a very strong person and I am sure you are too as a woman, but it’s not about being strong, it’s just that there are certain things she just doesn’t have. She is fearless, she’s not nervous, she doesn’t get scared easily, right! So, she is almost like you could do anything to her and she’ll just be standing tall in front of you. I remember playing her I thought to myself that OK what are the things that I can add, little things you know. And I remember telling myself, just don’t bite your lips, because I do that all the time. If you notice in every single movie of mine I am biting my lips and I hate it, and I’m like why, why doesn’t someone tell me to stop. That’s me, right? And they just let it go and now people think it’s a style. It’s not a style it’s a very bad habit. I was then conscious of not having this girl bite her lips, she just doesn’t. It just doesn’t come to her.
In the film’s trailer, we get to see you in a very fierce yet gruesome scene, where you are beating the daylights out of someone in a bathtub. Can you talk us through your preparation for this scene, how long did it take for you to get into the skin of the character and do that shot?
I was very excited for that scene. I was excited because I had never read anything like that. I don’t think I have ever seen that in mainstream Pakistani cinema. So, it was on paper and on paper what are you reading? You’re reading that this girl is angry and that she comes in and she goes into the bathroom and someone is lying in the bathtub and she has to beat him. So, you’re like how do I do this you know? It was December, it was minus some degrees in Islamabad there was no heating if I may say so and the water itself was very very cold and I knew that even if I do this in two to three takes, the truth is that I can’t do this in two or three takes because once I’ve entered and I start hitting inside the tub, the water splashes up and I am drenched, so I had to really get it right the first time and I remember standing waiting for Shoaib saab to call action and I just stood there and started getting angry and anger doesn’t come to me easily you know. When it does I see red for sure, but it doesn’t come easily. So, I just stood there, and I was like right OK let’s just do this and I kept thinking about the character and I had about two minutes before to go in there and do this, because you’re constantly shooting back to back. So, he (the Director) said action and I remember going in there and when I was beating whoever I was beating in that bathtub, I got hurt very badly, because I hit my wrist on the marble tub. I got bruised very badly, but the things that I was saying they were not written in the script, so he has retained all those things. But I went crazy, I mean it was because I knew this is all I have, this is it and my God, I had so much fun doing it. I went home thinking wow I know that this scene has gone well and then the next day I came on set and my AD came to me and said I have good news and bad news – By the way, this was every day. So, I was like, oh ok bring it on. So, he says the good news is that the scenes were fantastic last night, so I was like oh my God that’s amazing. Then he says, the bad news is we have to shoot it again. I was like WHAT! He’s like ya and I’m like why and he’s like it was because the camera’s shadow was coming in the glass and I am like no you can’t do that. Fatima, I cannot tell you there is no way we could replicate what we did. Trust me what we did in the first day and it’s a shoot that lasts all night because when we went into close-ups when we went into the bathtub and I was in the tub – we shot it all – it was insane. But yes it’s a very powerful scene and I do hope that people in the cinema will like it and love it the way we did it.
Thank you and we wish you all the best with the film. ‘Verna’ is expected to be in cinemas on 17th November.