She Came, She Saw, She Acted

By Sonya Rehman

The girl has the golden touch: endorsement deals, new mom and singer, Meesha Shafi now tries her hand at acting in an international production.

With her short, spunky cut, sporting a purple tank top, jeans and a multi-coloured scarf, Meesha Shafi looks like a livewire pixie as she saunters her way into the Toni & Guy salon in Lahore.

Photo: Waheed Khalid

Shafi is no stranger to the media industry in Pakistan. Having kick-started her career as a model, her acting and music pursuits soon followed. However, it must be stated that Shafi’s recognition in the music industry came as a result of her inclusion in the local percussion band, Overload, led by drummer Farhad Humayun.

Perhaps that’s what Overload needed: a female vocalist. And the model bit? An extra bonus.

Having parted ways with Overload, Shafi’s debut on the Coke Studio series (season 3) with Arif Lohar – a song called ‘Jugni’ – was a phenomenal success. The Lohar and Shafi duo worked remarkably well: with complementing vocals, the Coke Studio number was a raging hit both within Pakistan and overseas.

Fast forward to the current day, and L’Oreal Pakistan’s Spokesperson is all set to make her debut in the Hollywood production: Mira Nair’s ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist,’ which, you might recall was the book penned by the ‘Moth Smoke’ famed Pakistani writer, Mohsin Hamid.

The movie is set to feature Riz Ahmed (the snarky lead in the flick, ‘Four Lions’), Om Puri, Shabana Azmi, Kiefer Sutherland and Kate Hudson. If that isn’t big news for a local artiste, one wonders what is.

With Ali Zafar making his mark in Bollywood, Shafi stands as the second, young Pakistani of the same generation to make her mark in the highly cut-throat competitive, dynamic waters of mammoth media industries abroad.

When asking Shafi about how she managed to snag a role in Nair’s latest production, she states – in a somewhat offhand manner: “I don’t know, I don’t have an answer to that really. She [Nair] was visiting Pakistan and was meeting a lot of actors – they had short-listed a lot of very familiar names from the industry, people who’ve acted a lot more than me. So there was a day of scheduled meetings, and I was somewhere there.”

Photo: Waheed Khalid

Interestingly, Shafi’s meeting with Nair was “almost two years ago,” and shortly after, the cast was finalized. “When the call back came,” Shafi smiles, “I was quite pleasantly surprised.”

Shafi, a “big fan” of Nair’s says that she was pretty excited about meeting the Director. “She’s so warm,” Shafi says enthusiastically.

This was perhaps the only time during out interview that Shafi looked animated, because initially, she can come across as slightly guarded.

“She’s extremely down to earth, there is understandably and quite obviously, such intelligence that Nair exudes. In her company, you can tell in a second, that you’re sitting with someone who is really, really good at what they do. At the same time, being this big film Director, there was this sensitivity about her approach when she would talk about where this project was going, what it meant to her, why she was doing this particular film, why she’d chosen this book, and what she felt about it. Even when she spoke about the people she was considering and had her heart set on to cast, you know she gets very animated – there’s this sparkle in her eyes.”

Shafi states that she was first introduced to Nair’s work many years ago when her mother made her watch the movie ‘Salaam Bombay.’

Given that Nair’s parents were born in Pakistan, Shafi says that the Director does feel strongly about the issues that the book addresses, in addition to the story’s setting. “It’s also about a region that she does relate to, and I think she [Nair] feels a certain affiliation to Pakistan.”

Having read the book, Shafi says that although brief, ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ is a narrative which is exciting; “Because with a narrative you can do so much, since the director can then translate it the way they see it. That’s the thing about reading books; everyone will see a certain book in a different way.”

But given the sensitive nature of the book’s storyline, how would the Director bring forth its essence in the form of a film production?

Shafi states: “I think it’s just very straightforward storytelling. There’s no bias, there’s no stereotyping of any sort, no pigeonholing – as far as the screenplay’s concerned I don’t see it that way at all.”

Given that the movie revolves around the protagonist – the lead role that Riz Ahmed is slated to play – Shafi states that the movie is primarily about the protagonist’s life, “his downfalls and his achievements.”

Since the finalization of the cast, the script was shared amongst the actors. Having over a year to prepare her lines, Shafi says that she consults her mother – a well-known local actress of the small screen – when she needs “specific tips.”

“It’s not like she gives me exercises because her school of acting is very self-taught, and her generation of actors became good at it through working with very talented coaches back in the day. They had far more rehearsal time back then, not anymore,” Shafi says, “But yeah, my mother’s very useful and helpful that way. But no, I don’t do any exercises; I don’t have a fixed routine as such. I try to understand the character – and as far as your tone and actual acting is concerned, you can’t really decide from before – sitting in a room – what you’re going to do when you say this or that line etc. Because there will be other characters who will bounce their energy and their performance off you – and that’s when the scene actually takes place.”

With less than a month to go, Shafi is all set to soon leave Pakistan for a good 2-3 weeks to begin shooting her scenes in the movie, primarily in New York and Delhi.

Particularly excited about working with Om Puri, Shafi states: “Even Riz Ahmed, very excited about working with him, and of course, Shabana Azmi.”

Photo: Waheed Khalid

Having almost wrapped her acting for local filmmaker, Bilal Lashari’s production ‘Waar,’ which features Lollywood actor, Shaan, Shafi states that her role in ‘Waar’ is very different from how women are usually portrayed in local productions.

Does she then, appear in the movie guns blazing?

“Yes,” Shafi says laughing, “I have a few automatic weapons and wear leather pants in the movie.”

Instep, The News International

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