ISLAMABAD : Nadia Khan’s energy is contagious. You can either love her, or you can’t, but you cannot deny her impeccably real and candid presence. She’s a “realistic feminist” as she puts it and cannot be taken for a ride for she declined to host a major award function very recently for the lack of the budget she demands, and more importantly, deserves.
Constantly travelling from Dubai to Pakistan, Nadia’s had a happening 2017, swiftly becoming one of Pakistan’s highest paid actors despite a hiatus of 17-years, and has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.
According to her, Dubai charges her creativity and the exuberant person she is – no wonder millions adore her. She very vividly recalls her hatred for the self-proclaimed Future City for her first three years there, but calls it her “drug” now. She loves every part of being on set and acting is her first love; enjoying it more than her claim to fame – hosting.
Khan left acting in 2000 with a few stints here and there, but her journey is in fact, liberating if anything. “I fell very, very ill last year and I couldn’t walk for a couple of months. At that point I made some promises to myself of what I’ll be like when I get better, and one of them was to act again,” she revealed of her rebound.
Having had a supportive unit herself, one wonders if there’s still a stigma attached to the entertainment business, Nadia thinks not. “Its funny how back in my days, people within the industry wouldn’t find it a respectable either. If their son’s an actor, they would never want their daughter-in-law to be an actress,” she said of how the dynamic has evolved for the better. “Now, there are fewer families who think that way. More and more people are dying to come, work on-screen. There’s an artist in every Pakistani that is now being utilised.”
Nadia’s comeback vehicles, Aisi Hai Tanhai, Zan Mureed, which just went on-air and the upcoming Kaisi Aurat Ho Tum have all shed light upon taboo subjects. From the adverse consequences of social media to assault, for the past year, she’s seemingly been committed to mirroring the society as it truly is. But as it’s uncovered, Khan hasn’t consciously hunted for socially relevant scripts, but instead hopes to strike a balance between realism, burlesque programmes amongst other genres.
“I am an entertainer. For me, any project that is entertaining and challenging, I’m up for it. It’s not a conscious choice. I find Bellapur Ki Dayan equally interesting and had I been offered the role, I would’ve loved to do it. It’s just a coincidence I guess because it’s a great period for dramas,” she begins.
“And when I used to do dramas back in the day, there were so useless stories, now; such pertinent subjects are being tackled. But for me, be it comedy or a social commentary, I’m willing to do everything as long as it manages to compel me. I wouldn’t want to restrict myself to anything; TV should be as entertaining as educational.”
Her latest offering, Zan Mureed promises to highlight domestic violence and abuse. According to the latest movement, however, the sensitivity needed to delve into topics that haunt the society has been lost in the ratings’ rat race. Nadia clarifies that her serial, co-starring seasoned actors, Omair Rana, Hina Bayat, Shamim Hilali and Khaled Anam, aims at speaking of the women’s protection bill instead, encouraging female emancipation over imposing a level of moral culpability on men at large.
“People are talking so much about it, but nothing is really happening. I can cash in on simply talking about domestic abuse, but I’m a very simple person. It’s very unfortunate that domestic abuse exists in households across the region; it’s embedded in our society,” she speaks of the subject. “But more than anything, what Zan Mureed speaks about is the separation of both, a man and a woman. It’s about a couple very much in love and how after a decade, something happens and that’s exactly when Tabassum (my character) feels like her husband must be punished.”
“When you complain, all that happens is divorce or the introduction of some bills, but nothing would actually happen. It won’t solve anything,” she continues of the gradual impact that TV can have. “You can’t make tall claims with a drama serial; let the message sync in, there will surely be change, but let the product do its job first. What we must work towards is education, independence and teaching young girls to aspire beyond their marriage; self-sustenance and how to make money by following their dreams.”
Though actors tend to intimidate the makers once they’ve reached a certain point in their careers, it’s refreshing to know that a performer of Nadia’s caliber is eager to be taught. She says she’s a director’s actor and no matter how different her interpretation of a scene must be, she refrains from arguing with the captain of the ship.
Fond of donning hazel-lenses on the screen, Nadia reluctantly, but surely took them off for Zan Mureed, trusting director, Syed Ahmed Kamran of Digest Writer and Mohabbat Aag Si and award-winning writer, Amna Mufti. And from a “boot-camp exercise” of an emotionally taxing and grueling schedule, Khan’s learning curve served satisfying.
“After Aisi Hai Tanhai and Kaisi Aurat Ho Tum, by the time I started this production, I was completely blank. I just knew I wanted to look different and with a very little gap, I got into Tabassum and I had no clue on how I would do it. I was very upset when I saw the wardrobe, because it was very unlike me,” Nadia shared, opening about getting into the skin of her character. “I didn’t want to wear baggy linen attires, but I did and that helped me become the character, which I’m not. But most importantly, our director was incredible, he created Tabassum.”
“As a person, I’m very loud and dramatic, but he worked with me on mellowing my tone and would give our instructions before every scene and I loved that. I love learning, but people think I’m some expert actress, whereas I desperately need coaching and guidance,” she added. “For him, I was simply an artist. He knew exactly what he wanted from the very first day and I respect him so much for that. Also when I saw the actors around me, Tabassum just came into being because of the environment; I didn’t conceive her.”
Nonetheless, her decision of taking up acting assignments over the years has only been determined by her instincts. “When I’m offered my drama, I visualise myself in it. Now, all these big production houses contact you with lavish sets and screens, but the role would have no substance. So I’ve declined many roles that didn’t excite me,” Khan disclosed.
“Whenever something connects, it automatically starts coming to me. For Tabassum, I didn’t have the luxury of time unfortunately, but when I first heard the story, I knew I wanted to do it. Everything else from the cast to the set is secondary to me.”
Her very own endeavour, Outstyle established Nadia as Pakistan’s very first fashion and lifestyle v-logger to hit 100,000 subscribers over YouTube. Second time lucky, the platform is Nadia and her husband’s brainchild, who designs the segments and their postings. With a team comprising of members from Lahore and Dubai, the veteran compere sees her going digital as catering to the most current and contemporary viewers.
“When I was in Dubai, I realised I would always be ahead of time considering the amount of exposure one can gain from being there. They’re not letting women explore beyond weddings and the kitchen in Pakistan, so in Dubai, I could see the online trend increasing and how nobody was talking about it in Pakistan,” Nadia commented on her switch to the digital medium.
“So I developed it for a year; I basically wanted to do the same thing on the web-space as I did on my morning show(s). I love style, fashion; wearing makeup and Western clothes, and I wanted to be comfortable the way I am, also because the audience online is a lot more open-minded and lesser judgmental, it really caught my attention.”
Known for being her genuine self on-screen always, the contemptible and distasteful progress of morning shows (or the sheer lack thereof) convinces Nadia that the web-space remained the only platform for her to continue communicating without settling for mediocrity. Starting off with fashion and lifestyle, she plans on soon expanding to medical knowledge and remedies, bringing forth the very same content that she once displayed every morning on every television-set nationwide.
“My audience missed me and I discovered that I could have that very same audience online. From India and Europe to people in Turkey, I’m able to reach out to everyone now. I realised I didn’t need channels, which make you do all these nonsensical and cheap things. The ratings lie where there’s a wedding, they don’t want philosophical lectures and the audience at the time can’t be forced to watch an issue-based show either,” she exclaimed on a parting note.
“I tried to bring a change, but you can’t dictate channels, then I actually tried following that format and I was extremely uncomfortable. There was a deadlock and I ended up with my own channel.”
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