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MAHIRA KHAN & BILAL ASHRAF

Mahira & Bilal sit down with OK! Pakistan for an exclusive chat about their movie, Superstar, the fantastic response to the trailer, their striking onscreen chemistry, plus lots more

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MAHIRA KHAN & BILAL ASHRAF

“Having a fantastic co-actor helps the chemistry”

Mad about Mahira Khan? Why? Let me answer this – her sheer charisma and intelligence. She empathises with the weak and wins hearts at work. She is a businesswoman who banks on exclusivity – she is generally seen on the big screen just once a year around Eid, and she is always given a boisterous welcome back! You could dub this as ‘perfect timing’ or being ‘selective’. With advertisements and an all-new genre of films, Mahira has a sumptuous buffet spread before her. She also has a strong online presence, running the popular fashion and lifestyle website, ‘Mashion’.
What completes her ‘picture perfect’ life is the support she has from her fans and family. Some women surely have it all…perhaps because they give it their all, and this is true of Mahira Khan.
From Bin Roye to Verna and now Superstar, Mahira has grown as an actor and graduated to roles that complement her talent and maturity. At the time of writing this feature, the Superstar trailer and a few songs from the movie are out and her role is garnering much interest. Mahira admits that her character in Superstar will be forever cherished and re-visited as it’s closest to her heart. And her on-screen chemistry with Bilal Ashraf is most talked about these days. While Mahira Khan has had many hits before Superstar, this film brings out an unseen side to her personality.
Mahira Khan as Noori is every girl today, with her lively expressions, jolly attitude and spectacular dance moves that complement the film’s iconic songs.

One word for you, Mahira: “Superstar!” Has the wait been worthwhile? Do you believe everything has the right time and one can’t fight destiny?
Mahira Khan: I think you have sort of answered the question you were trying to ask me, but yes, it’s been worth the wait. Everything has the right time and I think Superstar needed to sort of mature, maybe. It needed to come into its own; it needed to wash off its sins [Laughs]. This was just the right time and maybe it wouldn’t have looked like this at any other time; the people who are in it may not have been in it otherwise. When it actually started, it finished so soon that we are all feeling sad now that the shooting spell is over.

What was it like on the first day of shooting? Also, was leaving Parey Hut Love a tough decision for you to make?
MK: The first day of shooting was emotional, especially the scenes that I had imagined a certain way or always obsessed over. My first scene in the film was shot during the first day where she goes into the make-up room and you see her for the first time. That was quite emotional for me in the little dingy room with a picture of Noor Jehan and Meena Kumari that I will always remember.
Yes, leaving Parey Hut Love was a tough decision because I can never say no to Asim [Raza] and I will never say no to Asim, which is why I didn’t completely leave it.

MAHIRA KHAN

A leading newspaper writes “Superstar might just give Mahira the material and depth her career needs at the moment: a role that is unlike her previous characters”. It also adds “The starlet channels her inner Madhuri Dixit in the song Noori”. Do you agree?
MK: The thing is that I feel like I have been working for many years and I have done the films that I wanted to do. I have been part of films that I believe are amazing. The roles I have been given hold so much, whether it’s a comedic role in Saat Din or my role in Verna, which was totally me trying to explore the dark side for an actor. That being said, this question will be asked till I’m 80 years old. When I think I’ve come to some sort of realisation, the journalist or the people will always believe I can do better. They will always be looking for more in my career. Maybe I haven’t tapped my potential…whatever that means. It’s just that I will always be asked this question about whether this is ‘that’ film and whether this is ‘my year’. For me, it’s not about that. In fact, it’s very simple – if I do a film and it does well then that’s amazing and if it doesn’t then I try harder next time.
Yes, I channel my inner Madhuri in whatever I’m doing.

Your past two films haven’t been successful at the box office. Do you think the actors are equally to be blamed? If you could go back in time would you still do Verna and Saat Din Mohabbat In? Would you have liked to change something in their scripts?
(Saat Din Mohabbat In – Budget: PKR 10 Crores, Earnings: PKR 10.6 Crores (Domestic Total), Verdict: Flop, Source: Galaxy Lollywood)
(Verna – Budget: PKR 5 Crores, Earnings: PKR 6 crores (Domestic Total),Verdict: Flop, Source: Galaxy Lollywood)
MK: Since you brought it up, Verna and Saat Din both got huge openings. Verna was not an unsuccessful film; it was a successful film and it made its money. That being said, maybe both of them weren’t blockbusters in the typical sense of what was expected of them as blockbusters.
I would still do Verna and Saat Din. I wouldn’t change anything about their scripts.

Superstar boasts a stellar cast. The public is appreciating the fact that two equally good-looking actors have come together for the first time in Pakistani cinema. Does being inherently good looking help with the chemistry? Do you believe that the right mix of talent and good looks are important to this film?
MK: I disagree with the fact that this is the first time; I think there have been many times in the past where very good looking people have come on screen together.
I do think this part required a certain kind of look that Bilal was absolutely perfect for. However, beyond that, after a while what will you do by looking at somebody? One has to perform, they have to play the part and Bilal does play the part. If you see some form of chemistry, it’s because the characters are written in a way where there is chemistry.

MAHIRA KHAN & BILAL ASHRAF

As an actor did you manage to find an on-screen chemistry with Bilal Ashraf that resonated off-screen as well? Is he the serious one or the fun one on the set?
MK: Part of whatever is on-screen is because our off-screen chemistry is comfortable. What made it all work was the fact that I could trust him. Also, there was this unsaid respect which existed, which I think is great. When you genuinely like your co-actor, you like their work ethic and you are comfortable around them, you are just generally happy and you perform in a flow.

You recently tweeted, “My chin just had a word with me. Says I need to stop eating burgers and biryani.” Are you celebrating the completion of the film or is this due to anxiety before the release of the film?
MK: It’s just because I eat so much junk and it has nothing to do with the film. I was in Lahore and I used to have a burger for lunch and biryani for dinner, and vice versa everyday…So my chin sort of started hanging out with me on set saying: “Hello, please help me out; I can’t be hanging this low.” It was just my chin having a word with me and nothing more than that.

Does your son understand the magnitude of his mother’s success and fame? How do you prioritise between work and home? Is it difficult to strike a balance?
MK: I don’t know if he understands. I don’t think we look at our close people, whether it’s our mother or father or friends, from outside. I don’t even look at myself from outside in; I look at myself from inside out. For me, I’m just another girl hanging around at home while my mother’s telling me off and my father has issues and all of that – for me that’s my real life and that’s the same for Azlaan. Of course he gets it when we go outside and people come to me for autographs and pictures. I’m on TV all the time, but i don’t think he sees me the same way other people see me. He sees me as his mom.
It’s definitely difficult to strike a balance like it is for any working mother but I try my best. I prioritise in a way so I’m there for all the important stuff that Azlaan has and I try to take out as much time for him as I can. Work comes second.

“I don’t feel the need to explain or comment on my personal life”, you said in an interview with OK! Pakistan previously. Do you think as a public figure there is a greater responsibility on you for your actions and words? Also, given that your personal life is always under the radar, have you made peace with this?
MK: I made peace with it but I will not give any personal information unless I really want to. My life is under a microscope; it’s under scrutiny and constantly being talked about. The only thing I have is my personal life and I’d like to keep it like that and protect it, unless it comes out, but for me to comment on it, that’s one thing I won’t do and that’s not for the public.

MAHIRA KHAN & BILAL ASHRAF

Asim Raza always felt that you were under-utilised. Do you think his opinion will change after Superstar? Also, did he utilise you well in the song O More Saiyaan? In an interview you jokingly said, “I do films for the song and dance”. How was it shooting Noori and O More Saiyaan back to back? Did it make you the happiest?
MK: Asim has always truly felt that I’m under-utilised. In fact, a lot of my directors have felt that – Asim feels that, Sarmad feels that and Momina feels that, but Asim knows me very well. He has seen me grow through all these years so he understands there is a lot more that I have to offer. With every passing film I will show what I have to offer so yes, I myself believe that I’m underutilised.
I’m very lucky that I could do More Saiyaan and Noori in the same year. I had two days to rehearse for More Saiyaan, which was a kathak performance. If you see the full song, it’s amazing. I went straight from More Saiyaan to shooting Noori, and I was not well those days. I had severe muscular issues and I powered through both these shoots. I don’t know how I even did it! Noori was a complete 360 degrees from More Saiyaan. In More Saiyaan I had to be poised, elegant and every hand movement had to match the feet, which was difficult. I was wearing a 100-yard outfit, which was being carried around by two or three people and I had to carry it on my shoulders. Then there was Noori, which was something I haven’t done before. I’m very happy that I did both and people will see that.

“I don’t look at myself from outside in; I look at myself from inside out.”

Tell us more about your work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). How did you feel when you met with the Afghan refugees? Also, are you actively working with Shaukat Khanum for fundraising?
MK: UNHCR is something close to my heart. I wasn’t aware of the magnitude of refugees around the world, let alone Pakistan. When it comes to Pakistan, we have kept them, fed them and given them jobs for the last 40 years.
I’ve met these refugees who are now being sent back home and who actually don’t even want to go back home because they have been settled here with the first, second and even third generation. Pakistan is amazing as a country. People look at us negatively, as a terrorist-ridden country, but here we are – a poor nation that is looking after refugees better than any other country that looks after refugees. This has even been stated by UNHCR officials. In September I will be working with them again and I’m looking forward to that Insh’Allah.
I have been working with Shaukat Khanum for the last six to seven years. It’s truly what makes me the proudest as far as associations are concerned. Getting the opportunity to go out and make people aware of breast cancer just gives me so much. It’s something that is always scheduled in my calendar and I take out time every October, no matter what is happening, to help spread awareness. I have said this before and will say it again – I will always be at their service. I have been to the hospitals and been with the patients and it’s amazing. It’s one of the best experiences I have had!

MAHIRA KHAN

Congratulations on launching Mashion! Are you enjoying your new venture? Is creating good content more difficult in Pakistan as there are fewer celebrities and there is global competition?
MK: Yes, I’m loving it! It has very little to do with me and much more to do with my brother and Maha Rizvi. They have set up a place that I had thought of. I told them what I wanted Mashion to be like. I wanted it to be a positive space for women, very focused in terms of the curation of fashion, lifestyle, health or beauty and that’s exactly what they have done.
Yes, it’s difficult to make good content. We are struggling every day to make good content. I would be worried each day about what was going out from Mashion’s platform. Initially, they went through a lot as I was standing there with a stick saying, “Do you understand this is going out with my name?”, and there were times when I would ask them a question and they would turn around and say “we are being fair”. So like I said before, it’s not easy to curate content every single day and to write every single day. I have not seen any other blog or website do that but I think it’s important we do that. I do not disapprove of any other blogs or websites; in fact, I enjoy their articles a lot. We are very focused in what we want to do and that’s what I enjoy about Mashion the most. Even boys like Azaan Sami go on Mashion and tell me they read this or that article [Laughs]. I’m proud of Mashion and there is a lot more that we will be doing at Mashion.

 

BILAL ASHRAF
Why do we love Bilal Ashraf? Because he is extremely good looking, with his dimpled smile and chiselled features. Plus, he is incredibly gifted. Somehow, the extremely talented actor never got his due. Why not? Perhaps due to the vagaries of his own choices or just lack of foresight, but one thing is certain – Superstar will change a lot for him (as we can already see from the content that has been released), due to his remarkable performance and dance moves.
When Janaan released he became the nation’s sweetheart overnight. He is all things lovely and his fans want to see him in one movie after another. With his acting in Superstar, it’s almost as if he is making a promise that things will get better. He performs with his eyes, his expressive face and his body language. When he dances to Dharak Bharak, one realises that just this song is worth the price of the ticket. Bilal shows you the truth and allows you to make what you will of his craft. One thing is certain; he shouldn’t rest on his oars as his sea of talent needs to travel many more nautical miles. His best is yet to come!

 BILAL ASHRAF

Life takes a full circle. Superstar was first offered to you three years ago and you couldn’t do it. After several auditions done by various different actors, the makers came back to you. What made you take up the role this time? How did you prepare for it?
Bilal Ashraf: This time around I didn’t have other commitments like the last time [working on Rangreza and Yalghaar]. Over time, this project had become more wholesome in terms of the right director, MD Productions, the cast, songs; everything came together and I felt like doing it.
Preparing for it consisted of a year’s hard work, which included building a physique and following a vigorous routine consisting of theater and dance lessons. I learnt how to play the whole theatrical style from the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA).

Health and fitness has become an important part of today’s life. That being said, it’s not essential for an actor to have a six-pack. What was your driving force? Was this necessary for your role in Superstar or was this how you envisioned Sameer Khan?
BA: Fitness is important in every aspect of life. One should remain fit and healthy. God has given me a body so I should make the most of it. I felt that part of dance would help build the character. It added to the character. It shows how different he is initially and how he changes over time. I requested to go shirtless and the director believed in my vision.

MAHIRA KHAN & BILAL ASHRAF

How did the body transformation happen? Was it all organic? Tell us more.
BA: My body transformation was all natural; it was completely organic, which is tougher. Faisal, my trainer, worked really hard on me. It’s been a tough journey but the idea was to motivate people. If I can motivate even one person, my job is done.

“It’s a dream role, I love action and couldn’t have asked for a better role,” you said in an interview while promoting Yalghaar. Your role in Superstar is the complete opposite of your role in Yalghaar. Was it difficult to play Sameer Khan, a superstar?
BA: I still love action. Sameer Khan was extremely challenging. It’s a romantic role and romance is not easy. I’m glad Mahira is my co-star. She is a very giving actor in terms of space, energy and positivity. She has been wonderful in every aspect and that has helped me play Sameer Khan. Of course Ehtesham’s direction and Momina Duraid’s vision had a lot to do with it. Azaan has written the character of Sameer Khan so it’s his baby and the dialogues added to the character. It’s been a team effort in bringing Sameer Khan to life.

We hear you’re a good cook – you bake your own bread, make your own chocolates and protein bars. Tell us more about this hobby of yours. Are you going to take this ahead and turn it into a business venture?
BA: Business venture… I don’t know but maybe at some point in life. Yes, I can cook. I love to cook my own food and that was part of my transformation because you are what you eat. I had to learn what food is about, which food works best and how to maintain a healthy body. Hence I started cooking my own food.

MAHIRA KHAN & BILAL ASHRAF

You were part of a dance group called Masala Boys while growing up. Do you think your dancing talent finally got the right platform with the song Dharak Bharak? Your thoughts?
BA: Masala boys was completely different – that was just fun for friends’ weddings. Dharak Bharak is a different animal altogether. It’s the first time in our industry that such a dance number has been done. If you ask me…I’m expecting mixed reviews as something like this hasn’t been pulled off before. People are very quick to judge and compare you to Bollywood. I knew all that going in but again the idea is to motivate someone, start some trend somewhere…where I feel that years down the line someone’s going to do it bigger, someone’s going to dance better, someone’s going to have a better physique, and so on. So I’m glad I’m part of this process.

“It’s been a tough journey but the idea was to motivate people. If I can motivate even one person, my job is done.”

“The industry is new and there is still a long way to go. This is the best time to develop our skills and take the Pakistani film industry forward. I’m learning new things and evolving everyday,” you said in your interview with OK! Pakistan two years ago. Has your learning curve become steeper? What have you focused on during these two years?
BA: My focus has only been on trying to improve my craft and for that I have done acting lessons at NAPA as well as dance lessons. I hope it works.

MAHIRA KHAN & BILAL ASHRAF

How was it hosting the Pakistan Premier League and interacting with the football greats – Figo and Kaka? Is hosting tougher than acting since it’s in front of a live audience?
BA: Acting is very different from hosting. You just go out there, say whatever you want, have fun with the audience and get away with it. Acting is more focused. They’re both different but they’re both fun. In a way acting and hosting compliment each other, I guess, as one is in front of the camera for both. Hosting football legends was a dream come true. I have grown up watching Figo and Kaka, and they’re both phenomenal players. I’m glad I was a part of this historic event in Pakistan.

Superstar boasts a stellar cast. The public is appreciating the fact that two equally good-looking actors have come together for the first time in Pakistani cinema. Does being inherently good looking help with the chemistry? Do you believe that the right mix of talent and good looks are important to this film?
BA: I feel there are some great looking people in our industry. I don’t know about my good looks. I feel our theater classes really helped develop our chemistry because it’s about getting comfortable with the person and of course the different personas, and how they come together on screen.
So far, people have appreciated it and liked our chemistry. I’m glad they have. Also, having a fantastic co-actor who’s hardworking and passionate helps the chemistry.

MAHIRA KHAN & BILAL ASHRAF

As an actor, did you manage to find an on-screen chemistry with Mahira Khan that resonated off-screen as well? Is she the serious one or the fun one on sets?
BA: To be very honest I got to know Mahira during promotions after shooting the film. She has a great positive vibe and energy. She’s always dancing, pushing things in the best possible way, very giving, will sacrifice her own scenes to make your scenes better, and that’s a sign of a true superstar.

What are your five-year goals? What makes Bilal Ashraf happy?
BA: I don’t have five-year goals.
To answer your second question: great food, travelling, and playing lots of sports.

MORE ON BILAL ASHRAF


The last text you sent?
BA: These voice notes answering these questions for OK! Pakistan.

Hashtag that describes your life?
BA: #Believe.

One social media account that we have to follow?
BA: Superstar.

One app we should download?
BA: Pinterest.

Favourite website?
BA: Cricinfo – the only website I visit to get cricket scores.

TV show you love right now?
BA: I love Stranger Things.

Last book you read?
BA: In-Depth Acting (which is an acting book).

Who would play you in the movie of your life?
BA: Absolutely no clue. I don’t think I have done enough to have a movie based on my life.

Favourite fictional character?
BA: Batman, I guess.

What’s your karaoke song?
BA: Songs from Superstar.

Last movie you saw?
BA: The Lion King.

Last holiday destination?
BA: London.

Last thing you bought?
BA: Phone charger.

Best thing you can cook?
BA: Burgers.

Favourite sandwich filling?
BA: Chicken with BBQ sauce.

Favourite pizza topping?
BA: I prefer plain cheese pizza.

Favourite restaurant in Pakistan?
BA: Evergreen.

Dream dinner party guest?
BA: My best friends.

Favourite hotel in the world?
BA: None – they are all the same after a while.

Favourite designer?
BA: HSY.

Favourite fashion capital?
BA: London and New York.

Your biggest fear?
BA: I have no such fear but maybe injuries, God forbid.

Best gift you ever received?
BA: Headphones that I use.

Personal motto?
BA: Dream big and believe.

Word or phrase you say the most?
BA: “Ho jaye ga – fikr ke zaroorat nahi.”


Interview and Styling: Rao Ali khan
Edited by Maira PAGGANWALA
Make-up: Babar Zaheer
Hair : Dani Hairstylist
Photography: Shahbaz Shaziok logo


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