ISLAMABAD: Maya Ali established herself as one of the leading ladies of Pakistani television with a string of successful serials, namely Diyar-e-Dil and Mann Mayal. However, for over a year now, she has been on a sabbatical, shooting for her much-awaited film debut opposite Ali Zafar: Teefa in Trouble.
Mind you, the starlet doesn’t intend on quitting television though, and hopes to return with the right script and the right team, which she says is her criteria for any project. “Even TVCs,” she points out. “It’s because of dramas that I’ve gotten to do Teefa and for me to completely forget about my roots would be unfair.”
But Maya isn’t sure how she will do on the big screen. “I haven’t seen myself in the film so I can’t really say if I’m made for films. But I do enjoy it more for now and I do believe in an ‘x-factor’ that makes a TV actress into a film star.”
Well, film star or not, Maya remains Pakistan’s sweetheart. Her girl-next-door charm was in full swing as she chatted with The Express Tribune about her upcoming film, career prospects and of course, her co-star Ali’s ongoing tryst with Meesha Shafi.
‘The Express Tribune (ET)’: First and foremost, how was your transition from TV to film?
Maya Ali (MA): Initially, I felt like I was missing TV but after I wrapped the first spell of Teefa in Trouble, I realised this was a lot more fun. With dramas, you have very long hours and shoot about 12 scenes a day. Whereas you shoot only one scene a day on a film and it’s not that you’re acting differently, but you’re able to focus on that one shot and give it your all. Also, I got a chance to dance here!
ET: Your claim-to-fame has been the typical, damsel-in-distress character. But Anya from ‘Teefa’ shows promise in terms of substance. How was it different for you?
MA: It’s important to understand Anya and let’s just say Mannu from Mann Mayal, both have their own set of challenges and arcs and it’s my job to perform them both to the best of my abilities. Unfortunately, it’s true that we don’t get opportunities like Teefa on TV and I’ve been lucky that this is my debut film. When I was reading the script, I kept thinking about body-doubles or stuntwomen being used for me, especially or an underwater scene I had to do. But when I found out I had to do it myself, I knew it would be difficult.
But at the same time, I don’t think any other Pakistani film has given an actress this space before, where she’s jumping off buildings, driving and dancing as well. I remember we’d shoot these extremely tough scenes after extensive rehearsals and I’m glad I got to do it. Ali, I think, always wanted to show Anya as very strong. I hope going forward, we realise girls can do anything in a film and that’s the way it should be.
ET: How did you get into the skin of Anya?
MA: We rehearsed for about two weeks before going on floors. Our director Ahsan Rahim, Ali and I would repeatedly read out our scenes and at so many occasions, alter them for the better. I think while reading the script, I felt Anya was Maya at some points, especially the romantic scenes because I’m very filmy in-person (laughs). So getting into her skin never really troubled me.
Also, I think when you’re acting with your colleagues on-set, there’s a very different energy, no matter how much you’ve rehearsed. It does help in building your character, but it’s all about action and reaction. It’s about how you respond to your co-star. I, for one, have always performed better when the director calls “Action!”
ET: You’ve been titled the future of Pakistani cinema. Considering that, where do you think local cinema is headed?
MA: Whenever you set out to achieve something, there are all sorts of hurdles to overcome. But that doesn’t mean you go back: you have to reach your destination. I think we’re all working very hard, nobody’s making a film hoping it won’t do well. With Teefa, we wanted to show everything from action and romance to comedy, but we never knew we’d receive such a massive response.
Like when I saw Motorcycle Girl, I thanked the makers for finally giving us something different. I wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle and for about two days, I did! That’s what our pursuit is. I hope the audiences are able to appreciate a film for what it is and not draw parallels with TV or Bollywood. A film is a film.
ET: Your co-star Ali has been accused of sexual misconduct by singer Meesha Shafi. What do you make of the accusation and has it affected ‘Teefa’ in any way?
MA: This episode is very separate from Teefa and there are a lot of people associated with it. Had it been in hot waters, would blame everyone who’s helped in making it? Also, I believe everybody has their own opinion and experiences.
Of course, Meesha said something based on what she’s experienced but I haven’t seen any proof, from either side actually. Not to support or defend anyone but I’m waiting for things to come out in the open. This can happen to anyone, even me, and I hope we can be more patient and question people without judgment. Now that things are in court, I hope that the truth prevails. It’s important for people to know who’s right and what the repercussions of something like this might be.
ET: How relevant do you think #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are to Pakistan, especially in the entertainment sphere?
MA: I don’t think we had #MeToo when I started off but I’m glad it’s here because it’s important. If something is benefiting people, it should be done. We need to eradicate evil doings. How we do it is something collective but we need to be mindful of what we say. I strongly believe we cannot judge a book by its cover.
ET: Nonetheless, what was your own experience like working alongside Ali for over a year?
MA: I don’t think this affected me at all. Honestly, I didn’t think about it even. Shooting with Ali was loads of fun and we really enjoyed ourselves. For the first few days, I was really intimidated but he was so very sweet!
Since Ali has co-written Teefa, he would be discussing how to approach every scene with me. And not just me, he’d look after everybody on-set. He was an actor, but the first one to arrive in the morning and check up on things. To take care of such a massive production and act in it as well is not everybody’s cup of tea. I’ve learnt so much from Ali! If I do well in my next project, somewhere, he is to be credited.
ET: Speaking of that, you’ve already signed your next film with Asim Raza, ‘Paray Hatt Love.’ It also stars Sheheryar Munawar. How did you get the project as Mahira Khan had reportedly taken the female lead already?
MA: Well, I can’t talk about the film at this stage but I’ve worked with Asim previously. He and I had been speaking for about a year with regards to the script and the character but there were some date-related issues and we decided that we won’t be working this time around.
However, when I was shooting a recent commercial with him, Asim asked me if I was available post August since there were delays on Paray Hutt Love. I fortunately did! So that’s when we started talking about working together again. And finally, when everything felt like it was in the right place for both of us, I said yes. How can one possibly turn Asim down anyway?
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