Pakistani-American actor Fawzia Mirza has been touring the country to perform her one-woman monologue Me, My Mother and Sharmila, as well as conduct workshops on art activism. Organised by the US embassy, her three-city tour in Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore comprises monologue performances, improvisational theatre workshops, and interaction with schools of underprivileged children for teaching and learning purposes.
The lawyer-turned-actor narrated her creative journey at the Lettuce Bee Kids School for underprivileged children in a slum locality in the capital on Monday, where she candidly interacted with young schoolgirls. Speaking about the monologue, she said, “It is about me and it is a story of my relationship with my mother, told through a shared love for the famous desi actor Sharmila Tagore.”
In essence, it is a story of love, family, relationships, identity and an eternal struggle of children, who may be different from, yet similar to, their parents. Presented in a classic one-person show, the play has minimal staging, costuming and lights and bare sound cues throughout to texture the stories. It is essentially what Mirza calls “very raw theatre.”
Mirza has been to Pakistan around nine times, including the current trip. “I feel very connected to Pakistan, to the people. My dad is buried in Karachi. I sometimes call myself a ‘slash’ – I’m American/Pakistani, so it’s half-and-half.” Born in Canada, Mirza moved to the United Stated when she was 17. Mirza practiced law for three years in the US, where she is currently based.
“I was a litigator and I quit the field to become an actor. I loved some work, which I started doing in law school and it felt more like acting than it did ‘lawyer-ing’ and so, I started taking acting classes,” she shared. She kicked off her acting career at the Catharis Productions, where she still works, and the company has produced her monologue. They also run sexual-violence prevention shows all over the world.
The actor-writer-producer’s work often deals with dispelling the myth of what she calls the ‘model minority’ and breaking stereotypes across race, religion, gender and identity. “A lot of times in Western media, if you are a person of colour or any sort of minority category person, you’re either shown as somebody really bad or somebody, who has to fit into a series of roles considered as safe.”
For instance, she explained, there might be a show of all desis but, because they are funny, they are safe. “If there is going to be a show about this awesome Muslim character… well, the Muslim character better be really rich or belong to the upper class so that we feel safe.”
Disarming her audience with wit and humour, Mirza aims to humanise people across different sections of society. “From my perspective, all of us – whatever kind of minority or category we fit into or identify with – we are all flawed and we’re all just human beings,” she stated. She added, “So, instead of having to portray this perfect version of a human being in order to be in movies or on TV, I just want to be able to portray people and those people end up being whatever identity they are, but I don’t think they have to be ‘safe’ to make the majority feel better about themselves or about us.”
For Mirza, every show of the same monologue is a little different and every audience is a little different. “I improvise some lines here and there. It’s a comedy and a drama with educational stuff in it. The most painful things can be so funny. Humour is the most common emotion we have.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 1st, 2015.