Meesha Shafi is a force to be reckoned with, being the face and brains behind the most popular campaign of 2016, the only Pakistani female musician to perform live in a multi-city tour, an advocate for UN Women Pakistan’s #BeatMe campaign and landing the lead role in Pakistan’s most elaborate fantasy fiction television series, Mor Mahal. In a candid chat, Meesha Shafi gives us insight into how she does it all.
Meesha Shafi is no newcomer in the industry, having started her career at the young age of 17 as a model, she has evolved into a powerhouse. Over the years she explored other creative inclinations that she had, making her screen debut in 2006, and starting her professional singing career in collaboration with Arif Lohar on Coke Studio: Season 3, with the song Alif Allah. She gained critical acclaim and love from all over, year after year, as she juggled her parallel careers, but 2016 was a special year for Shafi. A year where the model turned actress and singer shone the brightest, conquering all that she set her eyes on.
Zalima Coca-Cola Pila De was not only the most popular campaign of 2016, but a tune that Pakistan hums till date. Shafi is not only the beautiful face of the campaign, but also the brains behind it. “The idea came in 2014 during Coke Studio: Season 7. The original composer actually planted the seed in my head to collaborate with the brand. I took it to Coca-Cola, and suggested we did something with the song, and we ended up doing it a year after my meeting with the General Manager,” she explains.
Another significant cam-paign Shafi was a part of was UN Women Pakistan’s #BeatMe campaign, which highlighted the issue of abuse against women. In a country like Pakistan where crimes against women are on the rise, this campaign proved to be powerful, motivational and more than anything else, necessary. “The campaign is really important to me because I have reach, people watch me or hear me, and I wanted to put that reach to good use. I have not been abused, but that doesn’t mean I cannot feel someone else’s pain. I know people who have faced abuse,” she continues, “Privately I have had many conversations with the UN, and this was an issue I felt strongly about. Whether the situation improves or deteriorates from here, at least there is conversation — and we have to speak up! As women we hear ridiculous backlash. I have come across people who have made me feel like I’m inferior to them because of my gender, my only grace at the time being my family, who celebrate uniqueness and freedom. Due to their support I was able to brush it off, but I want other women who face this to cut out the noise too.”
Shafi was also cast in the role of Wazir Begum, in Pakistan’s most elaborate fictional television period series, titled Mor Mahal, also starring Umair Jaswal, along with a host of other prestigious names in the film fraternity. The fantasy-drama is also the most expensive television series of Pakistan after Bashar Momin. Shafi recalls: “Sarmad Khoosat brought the script to me directly, and at the time he had given me a choice between two roles. But I was keen on playing Wazir Begum,” she continues, “There are many dimensions and layers to her character which made her very real for me. It is very easy for period dramas to be unrealistic, but not her. I could relate to her. I saw her pain, her strength, and her confidence. She was such a modern woman written 200 years ago.”
What also didn’t go unnoticed was Shafi’s powerful presence all over the world, as she toured everywhere from the Far East to the United States. 2016 marked the year when Shafi became the only Pakistani female musician to perform live in a multi-city tour. We ask her how different is it to perform abroad and she matter-of-factly says: “The biggest difference is the ability to connect to the public abroad. In Pakistan, selling tickets is risky and unsafe, thus it needs to be contained, but when I do international shows, we don’t have to think about that. It allows us to reach out to anyone. 90 per cent of the shows here have guest lists, and true fans don’t get to see their favourite artists. It’s a bitter sweet feeling to be able to connect with an audience as opposed to people.” Performing live is not unfamiliar to Shafi, having performed a number of times over the years, but what goes through her head, standing in front of massive crowds, all eyes on her? She answers: “With live performances there is no margin for error, there is definitely adrenaline, that you take from your audience. I get excited and maybe even a little anxious as every audience is a different package.”
As the new year approaches, we ask her what more we can expect from her, after having an exceptional 2016. “It’s going to be a big year. I can’t talk about specifics, but I do have big plans, opportunities, and I’m exploring different markets. I’m in a good place, and a lot of great stuff is happening for me as far as music and cinema is concerned,” she says smilingly. Seeing how fabulously she represented Pakistan on the global platform this year, we sure can’t wait!