'You think of Bollywood when you think of India'
Pakistani actress-singer Meesha Shafi talks about working with Mira Nair and why Pakistani artistes flock to India
Although she had been a popular figure in her country, the unprecedented success of Jugni on Coke Studio only enhanced her reach. If it weren’t for that song, it’s a bit difficult to imagine Meesha Shafi in a Hollywood project (The Reluctant Fundamentalist) followed by a Bollywood one (Bhaag Milkha Bhaag). Moreover, to her credit, the Lahore-based singer-actor says she is patient enough to wait for quality work. Over the phone, the 31-year-old shares her views on popular culture, cinema and much more…
Coming from a family of creative personalities, was it easy to keep up with them?
As a child, it was wonderful to be surrounded by people who aren’t from the corporate world! (Laughs) Some of them are veterans and even legends in writing and fine arts. Growing up with those who understood what I wanted to do was an added advantage. That gave me a lot of confidence because choosing an art form for a career wasn’t something most other families I knew encouraged their little girls to follow.
And how did The Reluctant Fundamentalist happen?
Mira Nair was in Lahore and I met her. I didn’t know the purpose behind her visit. It was only later that I learned that she was keen on making The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Several days passed by and I got a call. One call led to another and there I was singing as well as acting in a film for the first time! (Laughs) I guess it was meant to be.
How do you prioritise when it comes to singing and acting?
Both aspects need a strong presence as well as an awareness of what your audience wants from you. I consider both of them under the broad umbrella of performing art. So, as far as prioritisation goes, I keep few commitments and don’t get myself involved in too many projects at one time.
Do you see yourself more in Bollywood in the near future?
Yes, sure. Not only acting, I’m also looking forward to playback singing for Hindi films. I’m glad to say that Bollywood has really diversified itself and there is a lot happening on every level — not only in the mainstream but also in indie and alternate cinema. The same is true about the music scenario.
What do you have to say about the perception the media has about Pakistan?
See, you think of Bollywood when you think of India. Unfortunately, Pakistan doesn’t have that endearing image. The country is going through instability but at the same time, something very interesting is happening on on the creative front. The current scenario has given birth to new contents in literature, comedy, cinema and so on. They have so much to say and are literally fighting to express themselves. The sad part is the artistes don’t even have basic infrastructure to make their voices heard.
And how does the recent twist in the Indo-Pak relationship affect you?
Well, it affects me negatively on a human level. It’s very immature of us to not be able to move on. Perhaps letting go off past wounds so that the future generation can have an optimistic present is too much to ask for. On the brighter side, I’ve noticed that cinema — and music, more so — helps a lot in bridging the gap between the two nations. And artistes play a huge role in this regard.
But don’t you think only Pakistani artistes flock to India — not the other way around?
Your stars are here too. It’s a question of infrastructure more than anything else. Unlike Hindi film industry which is strong and structured, things are very basic here. Artistes have to literally swim against the tide for work. The only positive outcome of this sad state of affairs is art is not compromised for commercial sake. There’s nobody to tell us ‘Thodha masala daal do toh yeh bikega’.(Add some spice to make it saleable).That’s blissful!