The real Mahira

Published: February 19, 2012
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Despite her raw beauty, she is just not the kind of celebrity who demands to be noticed.

Despite her raw beauty, she is just not the kind of celebrity who demands to be noticed.

Despite her raw beauty, she is just not the kind of celebrity who demands to be noticed. Despite her raw beauty, she is just not the kind of celebrity who demands to be noticed. Despite her raw beauty, she is just not the kind of celebrity who demands to be noticed. Despite her raw beauty, she is just not the kind of celebrity who demands to be noticed.

Actress Mahira Khan writes obsessively. Everyday she fills page after page of her journal, writing letters to her two and a half-year-old son Azlan…just in case she dies, you know. “You never know what can happen” she says.

In her journal she chronicles the thoughts that spill out of her head at an excessive, incontrollable rate. It is in these pages this former bubbly VJ, and now breakthrough star of the most popular drama serial in Pakistan, is struggling to figure out what on earth is going on.

“These days the pages have so many emotions crammed in them,” says the actress, sitting in a cosy café in Zamzama on a chilly Karachi evening. “But I think one that really stands out, is that I’m desperate… willing to do almost anything to find an answer to the questions that I have.”

Mahira is seated in a corner booth, her clear hazel eyes scanning the menu. Despite her raw beauty, she is just not the kind of celebrity who demands to be noticed, someone who sits with the air of entitlement one would assume an immensely popular actor would have. In fact, she almost seems to shrink into her clothes, a seven-year-old peach-pink georgette kurta. She is smiling, but there is something startlingly vulnerable about her. She is not one of those women who look as if they’ve just stepped out of a salon: her long hair is uncombed, she doesn’t have a speck of makeup on her porcelain skin, and her eyebrows are still trade markedly un-plucked. She still looks stunning.

She says she’s starving, and orders the first sandwich the waiter recommends — all she wants to know is whether there will be ample fries with her meal. He assures her there will, and scurries off with a goofy smile on his face.

For the first few minutes of our conversation, it is obvious that Khan goes through a silent struggle with herself, of whether she should talk about what she “should”, the way Pakistani girls do to convince boys they are good girls, parents that they are innocent, and journalists that they are cool and confident. Or to just shed the facade and tell it how it really is — which is, in all honesty, not that great. Luckily, today the truth wins.

 

“The past year has been nuts,” she explains with a sigh. “I’ve lost two very special people in my life and I’ve seen two friends go through the worst times of their lives because of it. I’ve been struggling to give time to my family, and I’ve seen this sudden fame which I just can’t really sort of enjoy,” she says.

A pretty heavy statement coming from someone who has recently hit a career jackpot most actors can only dream about.

Mahira has struck it big with her latest drama serial “Humsafar”, based on a novel written by Farhat Ishtiaq and directed by Sarmad Khoosat, creator of sitcom “Shashlick”. And we’re not talking about just any big, but instant-recognition-by-Pakistanis-world-over, Bollywood-offers-on-the-table, moral-policing-aunties-scrutinising-her-every-move big. For most people,
Mahira is simply Khirad, the small town girl with stellar principles that she portrays in “Humsafar”.

 

It was the kind of success she hadn’t anticipated, especially because she had already worked in much larger productions like Shoaib Mansoor’s blockbuster Bol, and with award winning directors like Mehreen Jabbar, on drama serial “Neeyat”. While making “Humsafar”, Mahira and the director never spoke about the people who would watch it, and whether they would like it or not. When the show swept the ratings, Khan was in shock. “I still call up Sarmad or Fawad or my producer and we laugh,” she says with a smile, “and we’re like ‘Dude! Can you imagine? Can you actually imagine?’”

Before “Humsafar”, Mahira was lost as an actor. On the sets of Bol, Shoaib Mansoor didn’t give her much direction, preferring to let her be. Mehreen Jabbar taught her how to discipline herself as an actor, but it was Khoosat who gave her the faith. “He would sit with me during the times I would doubt myself, and tell me, ‘You have no idea what you can do’.”

Despite all this support and encouragement, the months spent shooting the serial were some of the most trying for Khan personally. If it’s true that Pakistani drama ratings are derived from how hard someone can cry, Mahira was the best choice for the role of Khirad. Besides losing loved ones, the burden of constant shoots and media attention took a toll on her family life as well. “When all my time is being spent out shooting or on the phone, that’s when the problem comes in and yes, that has had an effect on my closest relationships.”

For the irrepressible former VJ, trying to get into the character of the reticent, almost stilted, Khirad was a constant personal battle. At a time when Khan could only think about defending her right to spend so much time at work because it was something she really wanted to do, she just couldn’t wrap her head around why Khirad embodied a tattered punching bag in the first half of the serial. “I would wonder: ‘Who is she yaar?’” she says with an annoyed and quizzical look. “When will she stand up for herself?”

The cosmopolitan actress is a far cry from the poor country cousin she portrays in the drama serial. Possibly the worst financial crisis that Mahira has dealt with in her real life was during her time at college in the US when she worked two jobs to meet ends meet, but as the shooting progressed, Khan took Khirad’s character and made it her own. “I kept her herself, very desi and chup chaap, but then Khirad became me. And I’m going to take a little credit for that,” she adds smiling.

According to a regular drama critic, ‘Drama Buff’ who writes for dramapakistani.net, Khan’s performance in “Humsafar” was far superior to her acting in any of her previous roles, where it was at times labeled “wooden” and her presence disparaged simply as the “eye-candy” of the production. Drama Buff says, “In “Humsafar” Mahira was great for the role because she looks innocent and is a strong, independent woman at the same time, this way she played the “victim” well and could also stand up for her character.” He adds, “Still some scenes were difficult for her to pull off, but if she continues working with good directors and tries to emote more she is on her way to becoming a really talented actress.”

And Khan is willing to do all it takes to get there. She reads every single review that is published or posted online, and is extremely self critical, “If I find a piece where there are 10 good things about me and one bad, I obsess about the bad,” she explains. Mahira, more than anybody else, is aware that she has a long way to go. “When they introduce me on talk shows, they always say something to the effect: ‘Now please welcome the very pretty Mahira Khan,’” she shouts, her voice booming in a parody of the announcer’s stage voice. “I won’t be happy until they say ‘Now please welcome the brilliant actor Mahira Khan.’”

The curse of beauty is something Khan has been compensating for her entire life. Ever since she was in school, and had blossomed into a beauty — one that boys, girls and teachers alike were smitten by — Khan tried to downplay her flawless magnetism. “Even when I was young I was always conscious about it,” she explains, “I always felt that if I downplay my looks I can prove myself in other ways.”

Fellow students remember her in her Foundation Public School uniform, her thin sash of a dupatta trailing on the floor behind her, hair strands straying out of her pony tail in disarray, and her pillowy lips chapped in the dry winter air. Even then, she stood out amidst rows of other girls in the monotony of beige, white and pony tails.

As she grows older though, she has begun to question this resentment. “How can I be embarrassed by myself, and something that I have? I should be embarrassed about other things that I lack. I’m not proud of my Urdu, so I should work on that, but I shouldn’t consciously remove the makeup from my face so I can look real in front of the camera. I am coming to terms with the fact that I have to stop being apologetic.”

And maybe she has. The pink kameez she’s wearing is shorter than the cut off length fashion trends today would dictate. Mahira, who is usually on trend, explains that it holds sentimental value: it was something she wore when she had a fight with her now husband, Ali Askari, 7 years ago, when both of them were in college.

She may be one of the most adored actresses in the country right now , whose childlike innocence, girly sophistication and flawless looks many look forward to watching in the evenings in order to forget the tribulations of their day. More so than before, many are also supporting her struggle, as she evolves serial-by-serial, film by film, into a mature actress, and a strong human being. Mahira is grateful for this, but has decided not to pretend that she knows what she is doing. “I had it all figured out a while ago,” she says. “Now I’m trying to find it again. I am at a point where I am reassessing everything in my life. I’m full on with my hands in the keechur, trying to figure out things, you know?”

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, February 19th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (53)

  • Pinky
    Feb 19, 2012 - 12:51PM

    er ET the paragraph about her “obsessing about one bad thing” has been included twice, once in the middle, once at the end..

    nice knowing her though :) ….i just want to ask her one thing, her style is VERY similar to that of her friend Feeha jamshed…the uncombed hair, the loose fitting kurtaz, the black rings and bracelets etc…who copied whom? ;p ;p

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  • smssr84
    Feb 19, 2012 - 12:59PM

    Proud to be her fan since the her VJ days!!!….

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  • Blooper!
    Feb 19, 2012 - 1:36PM

    she was from the same school where I studied for a decade! I feel PROUD! :D
    Hats off to her acting, simplicity, and not letting-fame-go over head! Keep it up Mahira! <3

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  • Haris Javed
    Feb 19, 2012 - 1:39PM

    well yes!! undoubtedly she has
    childlike innocence,
    girly sophistication
    and flawless magnetism.. .
    i’m anticipating much from promising Mahira.. . Good Luck!!

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  • Haris Javed
    Feb 19, 2012 - 1:40PM

    @Pinky:
    who is Feeha Jamshed? unable to google it

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  • Faizan Afzal
    Feb 19, 2012 - 1:45PM

    Thanks tribune for this interview

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  • ayesha azeem
    Feb 19, 2012 - 1:52PM

    We love you Mahira…You are the BEST…

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  • Feb 19, 2012 - 1:52PM

    No doubt she is facing the difficulties every working women in pakistan does. But how can we expect everything to be perfect. There has to be something to keep you concerned that you have to improve your life-
    :)

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  • Feb 19, 2012 - 2:57PM

    You’re doing a great job Mahira :) Cheers!

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  • Sajid Ali
    Feb 19, 2012 - 3:04PM

    she is good lookingRecommend

  • Salman
    Feb 19, 2012 - 3:08PM

    @smssr84: Same Here !!

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  • maria tahir
    Feb 19, 2012 - 4:05PM

    i dnt knw wt the big deal is here ?? she is pretty and she is nt happy about it ?? or she wants to be appreciated fr other things tht she dsnt have in her ??? im confused!! fr wt i can see is she has a very mundane life nthn to goo oooh aaahh over she is a struggling actress who made it big ! great enjoy it while u can then y tryin to keep a low profile coz tell u wat things like these dnt last much

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  • Shayan
    Feb 19, 2012 - 4:10PM

    Without any stories on drug addiction any article just seems boring!

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  • Pinky
    Feb 19, 2012 - 4:11PM

    @Haris Javed:
    Feeha is a famous Pakistani designer associated with the TeeJays!!!
    here is her pic with Mahira and here is a 95video95 of them together..

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  • zehra
    Feb 19, 2012 - 5:52PM

    Mahira is very much gracious lady , no doubt she is very much talented. i personally didn’t noticed her but after BOL she became one of my favourite .she is doing great job , she is facing some sort of problems and still working so good . love yu Mahira

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  • LOK
    Feb 19, 2012 - 6:19PM

    Yo are a decent actor. Well done and keep up the good work.

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  • jam safdar
    Feb 19, 2012 - 6:34PM

    there is no denying the fact that Ms khan have done extremely good job in husmsafar. her role was strong and she did honesty with the role.

    but i still believe that she has a long way to go to achieve perfection, some body would like to say there is no perfection in any thing.

    yes it is,but if somebody work with honesty and hard work, i have firm believe, there is reward. ms mahira performance was good, some more humsafar 2, 3 would give her immense maturity and a good actor.

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  • Feb 19, 2012 - 9:20PM

    Mahira is not brilliant actress, but she is definitely a great actress. She did justice with her character Khirad, as a daughter, as a wife, as a mother. She is not very beautiful by looks, but her innocency, and beauty of heart makes her more beautiful than any other girl. She is definitely a great achievement of Pakistan. Good luck to her for all the future venture!!

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  • PakArmySoldier
    Feb 20, 2012 - 12:20AM

    Celebrity fetishism at work.

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  • Madi
    Feb 20, 2012 - 12:29AM

    @Sweet Dee:
    I agree she is NOT pretty. I do appreciate her as a young actress though

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  • Parvez
    Feb 20, 2012 - 1:04AM

    When you have what she has then clothes or make-up really does not matter but then my wife thinks on the same line about Fawad the dolt of a husband in Humsafar.

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  • ALI
    Feb 20, 2012 - 1:23AM

    love you mahira

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  • Feb 20, 2012 - 5:52AM

    Mahira’s performance in Humsafar is superb. She has set the bar so high, new roles will be challenging. She will have to avoid playing exact same type of role in new dramas as in Humsafar. She will also have to be careful in selecting roles that she feels comfortable. To be recognized as truly great drama actor she will have to make sure each role is entirely different from the others.

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  • Feb 20, 2012 - 5:54AM

    I still remember as if it were yesterday, when I was in O levels, Mahira Khan of FPS was the talk of town, people used to talk a great deal about her beauty even back in the day. That same FPS girl is now a major film and television personality in Pakistan. To be honest before Humsafar I did not think Mahira Khan could act, kudos to you Mahira, you proven just how good you are as an actor and your ability to shape your self into any role and character demanded off you. You have done a remarkably good job in the role of a girl from a lower middle class back ground who has had to deal with endless tragedy, I am saying this because I have met girls in real life, who have life stories similar to that of your character Khirad. Keep up the good work, the industry needs fresh, talented and energetic faces like you.

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  • fan
    Feb 20, 2012 - 9:44AM

    Mahira, you are a superb actress. We all friends are your fan. kudos.

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  • Feb 20, 2012 - 10:30AM

    Great article, Anum! Really loved it. AND thank you for mentioning our website and my spot on comment:). It was great talking to you!

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  • umair
    Feb 20, 2012 - 10:46AM

    she is such a sweet heart ;)

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  • Keen Eyes ...
    Feb 20, 2012 - 11:08AM

    Good work Mahira, really impressive performance. But one advice;
    Please don’t get lost in the glitz and glamour of show biz and keep your personality intact, dont loose it. and always watch your back. their are many haters and less lovers.
    God Bless You!

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  • Feb 20, 2012 - 4:44PM

    great post…
    i really like alot mahira…
    love u Mahira…
    May Allah Bless you

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  • sara
    Feb 20, 2012 - 5:02PM

    ‘she suffered the curse of beauty’… and says who she’s beautiful???

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  • not usually impressed
    Feb 21, 2012 - 12:11AM

    @Pinky:
    they’re best friends from childhood pinky :)Recommend

  • Ashs
    Feb 21, 2012 - 1:16AM

    Why is Mahira desperate?We pakistan TV viewers worldwide are desperate to see her in new acting roles depicting the true Mahira(bold, brainy & funny)as she come across in her conversations,One Elegent Pakistani Woman.Good Luck.

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  • Cynical
    Feb 21, 2012 - 8:33PM

    You are very special,Mahira.Way to go.
    Wish you great success.

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  • Razia Sheikh
    Feb 24, 2012 - 6:37AM

    You are superb, talented, good actresst, I like to so much. All the best for your future endeavors. Keep coming.Recommend

  • imran
    Feb 25, 2012 - 12:19AM

    Great mahira.. Wish you good luck. keep it up and be smiling…

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  • Feb 25, 2012 - 4:53PM

    two jobs to both* ends meet

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  • Asma
    Mar 3, 2012 - 11:50AM

    Lovely Mahira !! you are awesome , brilliant and inspirational.. i like you humble attitude

    good interview tribune
    thanx

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  • zenab
    Mar 4, 2012 - 6:07PM

    good job

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  • Hafeez
    Mar 6, 2012 - 9:30PM

    Totally impressed!

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  • mahixa khan
    Mar 9, 2012 - 1:17PM

    mahira is such a sweet heart n talented actress….proud to b her fan she is simply stunning n gorgeus

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  • Muhammad Ikram
    Mar 12, 2012 - 12:34AM

    Simply Amazing….. KAAASH…..Recommend

  • Imtiaz Ahmed Azmi
    Mar 15, 2012 - 3:41PM

    No doubt, Mahira simplicity is her beauty.

    Imtiaz Ahmed Azmi

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  • Mar 18, 2012 - 12:21PM

    Thank you Team Tribune, you added in our knowledge about our most desired actress in Pakistan.
    Mahira Khan is simple, stunning actress who not only attracts with her beauty but her expressions and voice is also marvelleous… we love you Mahira <3 … All the best :)

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  • A.
    Mar 19, 2012 - 9:41AM

    aaah! so good to read the truth coming out! Good work Anum Mansuri! The thing with keeping a journal is commendable, I bet she will make it through the tough times and one day look back at it, laugh it off and enjoy the success and glory awaiting her!

    Give a big round of applause to the brilliant actor, Mahira Khan!

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  • Arslan Nawaz
    Mar 20, 2012 - 10:42PM

    Thanks Tribune telling us about real mahira.

    Yes she prove herself that she is not only beautiful but also very talented. Excellent Mahira keep it up. Its your hardwork and your effort that you get such success. Hundred percent credit goes to you. Now you have many fans and I am also one of them. I never like any pakistani actress but after watching drama humsafar now you are the my only favt actress. Boht sy duaey ap ky ley ap ky family ky ley azlaan ky ley or ali bhai ky ley. Many people proud you for this this and this…. but may kya proud kro……..???? I proud to be Pakistani and I proud you to be Pakistani.

    Ever you read this just smile plz

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  • Mar 22, 2012 - 3:33AM

    thanks for telling us. .

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  • Amna
    Mar 28, 2012 - 7:15AM

    Mahira Khan is one of the few Pakistani actresses who have managed to make their mark and prove themselves and the best thing about her is that she’s humble and seems like a good person too unlike many celebs. She knows how to carry herself in a decent, simple yet stylish way :) .. Lookin forward to see you do more similar stuff to Humsafar which i watched like crazy on youtube :D .. Much love from London <3

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  • apparently u is getting no action
    Apr 1, 2012 - 11:45AM

    @Pinky:
    Seriously?
    Everyone copies every one.
    I had a cat named pinky……………….. so ease up on the copying part!

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  • Mahi
    Apr 3, 2012 - 1:29AM

    She’s definitely one of the prettiest girls in Pakistan TV industry but she has long way to go,good luck with your other projects Mahira,you did a fabulous job in Humsafar.

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  • qazmeen
    Apr 8, 2012 - 1:24PM

    mahira you are simply amazing. you know you are just like “Qazmeen” – an iranian princess- I love you for your simplicity. stay blessed

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  • Tahir
    Apr 8, 2012 - 2:53PM

    This woman has grown on me. First time i saw her interviewing Atif, i never thought she could go that far. Good for you Mahira! You are beautiful and talented. All the best for your upcoming projects.

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  • princess adie
    Apr 10, 2012 - 3:14PM

    she is so cute. i like her acting, expressions and voice

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  • siam
    Apr 18, 2012 - 1:57PM

    i like ur comments , she is beautifull

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