I discovered Mathira. Way before some X-rated telephone calls catapulted her to fame, before “Gujji gujji muah” became a popular catchphrase, before people barely knew what VibeTV was. I discovered Mathira.
Channel surfing on one idle night, I came across a show featuring a striking young woman who dished out love advice to despairing callers… and I was hooked. I was soon posting Mathira links on Facebook, uploading videos of her on YouTube and making my friends tune into her show. And I watched with pride as this once-unknown anchor shot to the fame she so rightly deserved…
So when my editor tells me to interview the firecracker, that too so close to Valentine’s Day, I get ready to dazzle her — I wear my best shirt and splash on some new cologne. I’m about to meet the beautiful, daring woman who touches thousands of hearts every day. This is my chance!
I do a double take when I catch my first glimpse of Mathira, entering the Vibe office apologising profusely for having made me wait all of five minutes. Sans makeup and dressed down in an oversized yellow shirt and black pants, one would be hard-pressed to recognise “Love Indicator’s” famous host.
I feel like I know her already, but can’t wait for this brazen femme fatale to reveal some of her deepest, darkest secrets. She doesn’t disappoint. “My love life is very complicated,” she says intriguingly. “I do love someone, but I believe you don’t always have to go express your emotions to the person you love. Being happy for a loved one, even if you are distant, is also love.”
All very profound, but hardly promising. What I want to know is: What’s her ‘relationship status’? Is she single? Is she looking?
When pressed, Mathira falls back on the safe old standby, “I am in a relationship with my work. This is the right time for me to concentrate on my professional life. I’m single.”
Great. That means I still stand a chance. Now if only I could get to know more about her past.
Who was her first crush? “My first love was quite fun but as they say jitna jannat dikhata hai utna jahanam bhi dikhata hai so after I went through that, I said no, never again!”
Single, with Valentine’s Day around the corner, Mathira remains unfazed: “The great thing about Valentine’s Day is that I get a lot of gifts, from 10-rupee bangles to really fancy stuff. This is so much better than when I was in a relationship — at that time the day would inevitably get spoilt and I’d be crying by the end of it.”
No wonder her ideal Valentine’s Day celebrations do not involve big plans. “My ideal Valentine’s Day would be me and the guy I like, in a nice, quiet, candle-lit room. Sweet music would be playing on the stereo and we’d have some homemade dinner, maybe two scrambled eggs.” Very do-able.
Less do-able is being the Heathcliff that Mathira has in her mind as her ideal guy. Despite her tough veneer, Mathira wants a husband who is assertive and her notions of being subservient to her husband are fairly typical — fine by me, I’m a fairly typical Pakistani guy myself. “My ideal partner should be mature, and at least five to six years older than me,” she says, and I do some quick mental math. “He should be gutsy and demanding or he’ll become a doormat. He has to be so strong that when he walks into a room he creates an immediate impression. With a beautiful girl like me by his side, he needs to know how to protect his woman like a shield. Hundreds of guys will be looking at me and I don’t want to be just eye candy. He faces a big task — the task of being with me.”
But until Mr Perfect comes along, Mathira can take care of herself — she carries pepper spray and pocket knives for protection and isn’t afraid to use them. “I have a black belt,” she says. “When I got my first salary, I decided to buy myself something. I had taken a rickshaw to the bank and when I was getting off a man snatched my purse and started to run away. At first, I didn’t know what to do, but then I flung my heels over my shoulder and ran after him. And I remember that day I wore a miniskirt and I was still running and jumping. When I finally got hold of the man, I hit him with a rock. He said he needed money so I felt really bad and later gave him Rs1,000.”
She displays the same mixture of gutsiness and sympathy to callers on “Love Indicator”. The show’s raciness is unprecedented and for that very reason, irresistible. Even those who tut-tut and shake their heads can’t say that they haven’t been titillated by the late-night show. Time delay switches and censorship guidelines seem to fall by the wayside when it comes to this show and Mathira has handled some decidedly dirty calls with aplomb.
“When I am on the show, I believe I am open to all forms of criticism. People say all sorts of things and I say koi baat nahi. Sometimes it gets too much and I start crying on-screen but I then shake it off and carry on with the programme. If someone swears at me, it just shows what family background that person has. Mera gunnah meray sar pay hai. Mera khuda janta hai mein kya karti hoon kya nahi karti. For God’s sake don’t blame people. Don’t label people. Not everyone is the same.”
She believes that the worst quality one can have is too much patience, which she possesses. “Having too much patience is not good. I cannot shout at anyone, I end up crying.”
With over a hundred calls on her show every day, she certainly has struck a connection with viewers. Is her social life just as happening? “A thousand people say they know Mathira. So many people come talk to me but when I leave the room, the same people start criticising me,” she says. So yes I have a thousand friends, but if you ask me about my very close friends, that number will come down to two or three.” She also says that although she used to be a bit of a “party-freak”, she has now become more of a homebody. “Hazar log hazar baatain so I don’t socialise much anymore.”
With three different shows, including a sports show, a cooking show and a yoga show, Mathira barely has time to socialise… unfortunately for me, it seems. Her mentor and boss Babar Tajammul compares her to Priyanka Chopra, and says Mathira has done wonders for the Pakistani television industry. “Top government officials monitoring the media have personally told me that they tried their best to curb the popularity of Indian TV channels in Pakistan,” he says, “but it is Mathira who struck a chord with Pakistani viewers and made them refocus their attention on local media. We are proud of creating a brand like her.”
Her co-host on her Geo Super sports show, Khurram, says: “There is the occasional ‘Oh my God you work with Mathira’ but she is actually a lot of fun to work with – well-informed, professional and punctual. Above all, she knows what people want.”
And she has high-profile admirers. “She is one of the gutsiest girls on late night TV,” says fashion photographer Tapu Javeri. “None of us have the guts to take live callers without a delay. She is quick on her feet and it’s nice to have her on TV. I’m a fan.”
Stand-up comedian Sami Shah, who shared the stage with her at the last Lux Style Awards, says: “Every guy at the show who knew me even the slightest bit was after me to introduce them to her. That is Mathira’s power. She is controversial, hated, judged and critiqued – she may even represent everything you think is wrong with the country – but you still want to say you met her. That is why she wins.”
So Mathira is an independent woman who remains unfazed by anything said or done against her. She deals with calls questioning her character, and threats to her life… But there are days when it all gets too much, and this is how she deals with the stress when she goes home: “I get under a blanket and I cry for an hour. Then I go to sleep.” Mathira looks up and smiles. “After all, tomorrow is a bright new day!”
Mathira on Bollywood
“I would love to go to Bollywood, but not to ‘massage’ someone. I wouldn’t play any vulgar roles. Regarding Veena, I would like to ask Pakistan — when her nude pictures showed up on the internet and she was in Pakistan, where was everyone then? Why didn’t anyone react then? Now people are reacting at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. The nude pictures are worse than what happened in India. She made a mistake, maybe she wanted to stay in and become Rakhi Sawant Part Two and played her cards wrong, but I would like to tell people kay theek hai yar ghalati ho gai, humari bandi hai woh. Let’s forgive her. There are a hundred ways of entertaining. She was wearing perfect clothes [in “Big Boss 4”] and I loved her dressing but I didn’t like the way she was behaving. Jab pyar ka bhoot ata hai toh bohat kuch barbad kar kay jata hai. To her a little message would be: just say you’re sorry.”
Mathira on ‘Love Indicator’ and the concept behind it
“I did not start off with the aim of solving people’s problems. It just happened, one person called in and asked something and I gave him my advice which turned out to be good. That is how the calls started rolling in. And not every other guy calls in to share issues. Some tell me their problems off screen some talk to me on screen. The show is still a lot of fun. Mera programme dhabay tak mein chalta hai. It is just a normal concept where, despite all that is going on in Pakistan there is a place where a girl can sit wearing normal clothes. My concept is that I am a young girl and I want to sit the way I am. Meri jo personality hai mein woh badloun gi nahi.”
Mathira on rumours and criticism
“Actresses in Lollywood flaunt their stomachs and their legs, uss pay koi kuch nahi bolta. But when one girl wears normal tops and jeans everyone sits down to criticise her. When someone becomes succesful, people don’t want to compete with them on fair grounds — they want to sabotage them and halt their progress to feel better about themselves. This is the problem with Paksitani society. I believe if you have to move forward, you cannot do that by bringing anyone else down.”
Mathira on a woman’s role in a relationship
“Aik aurat ki hazar responsibilities hoti hain. A woman should learn to compromise but that does not mean she should switch off her feelings. Before getting married, aap ko apnay banday kay samnay har cheez crystal clear rakhna chahiay. You should not change for the man. Trust and openness are more important than love. If a relationship fails it fails because of both the parties involved. Before being husband and wife or Romeo and Juliet, you have to be best friends. There is a certain age in everyone’s life when their sexual desire dries up… I mean, after the age of 50, many marriages fail. So to avoid this you have to be best friends. You have to look at a relationship in the long run not in the short run.”
Mathira on her perfect wedding
“I do not want a grand wedding with a lot of people around. I want to get married on a beach, in a long flowy gown — something really Hawaiian. After the wedding I want to have a party and then go sailing somewhere far away.”
Mathira on men
“I don’t believe ‘all men are dogs’. I believe when you are a wife, in the first week you should learn how to leash your dog and if you fail then I am sorry your dog will go wild and if you manage it, fine he is with you. A dog is a man’s best friend and can also bite the man. It depends on how you treat it.”
Mathira on husbands
“I believe even if a man cheats on his wife, there is some fault in the woman. She is either not compromising or she is not being open with him. I believe that a woman can do wonders. And if a woman wants to sit like a garbage truck jis tarha humari khawateen karti hain ‘Oh shaadi ho gai mein nahi kuch kar rahi, oh bachay ho gai mein wazan bhi nahi hata rahi choro’ tau mard kya karay ga. Men like change. A woman should be willing to change.”
Mathira’s words of wisdom
- Her message for Valentine’s Day: “Go ahead speak your heart to the right person in the right way at the right time. And if it is a no, don’t be sad — just back off.”
- Worst rumour she’s heard about herself: “That I’m not a ‘good girl’… that I take money for one night.”
- What she’d do if she became prime minister: “I will create more employment opportunities because unemployment creates criminals.”
- What she’d legalise if she became prime minister: “Freedom to wear what you want, within a limit. The freedom of wearing what you want to wear starts at your own house and in front of your own parents.”
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, February 13th, 2011.