Is she a symbol of better times between India and Pakistan' Or, is she a symbol of how brittle relations between the two countries are'
Actress Meera, the Pakistani actress who stirred up controversy by kissing co-actor Ashmit Patel in Soni Razdan’s maiden film Nazar, doesn’t claim to be a symbol of any sort. But she has been bowled over by the hospitality on this side of the border. “I am mesmerised by the love and attention I’m being showered with in India. In return, all I can do is offer Nazar, a small gift from a Pakistani to an Indian,” she smiles.
Certainly, the cameras love to follow her every move and she’s the darling of the shutterbugs. And Meera is enjoying every part of the camera-lights-action bit. The Pakistani diva, more famously known for being in the eye of a kissing storm, is trying to come to terms with the hospitality of a country that has traditionally been known as enemy territory.
The controversy snowballed a few months ago when the newspapers reported that the Pakistani government had imposed a heavy fine on Meera after she had kissed co-actor Patel. The actress even complained that she received threatening phone calls from people claiming to represent religious groups in Pakistan.
As the controversy became more heated, some newspapers reported that a Pakistan ministry of information spokesman had said that, “Meera’s actions were against Islamic ethics and moral values.” The reports even said that the government might ban Pakistani actors from acting in Indian films. Only now it is a matter of the past. The Pakistani government denies all such reports.
The actress refuses to be ruffled by the sticky controversies dogging her. “Acting calls for freedom of expression. I have not come here to solve Jammu & Kashmir issues or to play cricket. I am an actress who is in Bollywood, a place with no hang-ups about kissing. So why entangle me in such issues'” she says. But the controversy was kind of expected, as the lady herself puts it, “There are some people in Pakistan who do not want me work in India.”
As she takes off her shades, you see the face that has made some refer to her as the “Madhuri Dixit of Pakistan”, or as filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt says more eloquently, “She is a blend of the beauty of the actresses of yesteryears, Meena Kumari and Madhubala”. The actress started off her professional career in Pakistan in 1996 with the film Chief Saab and has acted in around 38 films. For obvious reasons she had never been in a kissing scene before. Even Meera is eager to play down the scene, saying it is only an “impression” of a smooch.
Fame came quite early to her when at the age of 16 she became a superstar in Lollywood. Some of her hits include films such as Khilona and Inteha. “I have seen fame since I started early, so it does not mean anything to me. I used to walk on the roads and college kids used to run after me,” she recalls.
She’s an easy person to work with, according to director Soni Razdan. “She is an instinctive actress who just does what she is asked. She surrendered to me completely in spite of the fact that I am fresh in the business of direction.”
Nevertheless, she has a reputation as something of a dreamer. Says Razdan, “On the sets of Nazar, Meera seemed to live in a world of her own. Often I would wonder if I had got through to her with my instructions.”
Meera, 24, was looking for a break in the Hindi film industry. It came in the form of Mahesh Bhatt who bumped into her at the Kara Film Festival in Karachi. “Her naivete struck me at the time. And I detected a kind of madness about her that I identified with,” he says.
Bollywood has always held a dream-like quality for the actress who claims it is easier to reach the United States than travel across the border. But she grew up watching movies such as Arth, Aashiqui and Sadak and she was obsessed by Bollywood. As she talks about the film Zakhm that particularly touched her, she breaks spontaneously into a number from the film and goes on to talk about her mentor Mahesh Bhatt and her favourite filmmakers ' Yash Chopra and Karan Johar. She says, “Basically I am fond of Hindustani culture and traditions. And I had a dream of playing a Hindustani girl in a Bollywood film.”
The dream’s come true ' she is playing the role of Divya Burman, a dancer and choreographer who has visions that come true in Nazar, a mystery thriller. Says Meera, “It is an entertaining film. The audience should take this film lightly because there is no Veer Zaara touch to it, no India-Pakistan issues here.” But now that new roads are opening in the Indo-Pak affair, Meera hopes her efforts will make a tiny contribution to relations between the countries.
Meera doesn’t like talking much about her personal life but she has six brothers and sisters. “They are happy for me and proud of the heights I have scaled in my career,” she says. The person she is closest to is her mother and Meera’s launched a foundation called the ‘Shafqat Welfare Foundation’ in her name.
Entertainment should extend beyond reel life to real life, believes the Pakistani beauty. The foundation helps out women in need with issues such as education, housing facilities and health facilities. Also, it helps with the rehabilitation of women prisoners and gives monetary help to widows and orphans.
Now that she is a star in her own right in her hometown back in Lahore, and on the path of stardom in Bollywood, what next' “Life is pretty hectic, what with shoot schedules. I have put on weight, with no time for even gymming in the interim,” she grimaces. Now she is all geared up for the shoot of her next film, Lal Haveli, that is again from the Bhatt camp. “I am going to the UK for this project. It is about a Muslim dancing girl and a Hindu lawyer who fall in love in Rawalpindi, but are torn apart by partition,” she says.
She’s also getting offers from Bollywood biggies like Subhash Ghai. And she’s talking to several producers about doing music videos. In fact, she has been asked by musician Adnan Sami to star in his video. If she takes the offer she will be stepping into the shoes of actresses such as Mahima Choudhry and Amisha Patel who have been seen cosying up with the roly-poly musician on the small screen. “We both are from Pakistan and I have known his former wife Zeba Bakhtiar for a very long time. I had planned to work with him some day,” says the actress. But the deal will be final only after the singer returns from a trip to London.
Of course there are offers back home ' Hassan Askari’s Josh and Javed Sheikh’s Khule Aasmaan Ke Neechay. Meera is also playing the lead role in Pakistan’s most expensive ever TV serial, Anarkali.
Will she be staying on here' “Pakistan is my country and India is the place where I am working. I am the ambassador of peace. India and Pakistan are like two sisters. If I desire I will go to any of the sisters whenever I want.”
Photograph by Rupinder Sharma