One of television’s most successful actresses, Maya Ali speaks to Instep about her upcoming debut film opposite Ali Zafar, the need for strong writing for women in television and more.
In this increasingly competitive age, with new actors entering the world of television and the movies and the emergence of several TV channels, each with its own demand for content, it is no longer easy to make your work known. It is the age of quantity and not always quality. Therefore, the fact that Maya Ali has managed to establish herself as a credible actor in a short span of time is commendable. And though her entrance in the world of entertainment was by fluke - when she was spotted by acclaimed director Haissam Hussain – she has proven with serials like Diyar-e-Dil, Mann Mayal and Shanakht that she has the skills to deliver.
Currently starring in Sanam, Maya became the talk of tinsel town after she beat out several contemporaries and bagged the lead role opposite Ali Zafar in Ahsan Rahim’s directorial debut, Teefa in Trouble. The film is also Ali Zafar’s first major film in Pakistan after starring in several successful Bollywood ventures like Mere Brother Ki Dulhan and Tere Bin Laden among others.
“We are happy to oblige when asked to audition in India, then why can’t we do the same in Pakistan?” questions Maya as we sit down to chat about Teefa in Trouble and how she was roped-in for the project.
“I remember when I was first auditioning, I was really confused and it was surely my worst audition till date. It was the first time I felt the pressure of a ‘film’. I had no idea what was going on, since unlike drama serials, I had no script – I was asked to do a scene with no background or plot outline, yet Ahsan and Ali were both extremely supportive,” she recalls how events unfolded. “I had assumed that I got rejected, but when I got the final call for signing the contract, I was overjoyed because despite knowing that I may not have gotten the part, I told Ahsan that this is the kind of film I would look forward to as a viewer.”
Maya announced the big news through her Instagram account where she enjoys the attention and admiration of over one million followers. What caught attention of many was the video of the script that she posted where director Ahsan had a message for her which read “Kindly stop training” whereas a copy of the same was given to Zafar which read “Kindly start training.”
When asked Maya laughs before adding, “They were just humorous notes that our director had sent us. He asked Ali to start training and thinks that I don’t need to hit the gym.”
When we got hold of Ali Zafar and asked about Maya, he simply stated, “I find Maya to be a very talented and hard-working actress. She is beautiful and I believe her potential as an actor hasn’t yet been explored fully. However, with this film you’ll get to see what all she is capable of.”
The actress, who is currently preparing for the shoot, which is slated to begin this month in Lahore, feels that she is venturing outside of her comfort zone. “It has become very easy for me to do a drama, but to appear on the big screen is a major shift. It’s such a larger than life canvas that you’re noticed every time you blink. I’m sure it will be tough for me, but I am trying my level best. We’re carrying out a lot of rehearsals and I just hope that I don’t leave the audience disappointed,” she says.
After having conquered the television scene, Maya describes her character in the film, Anya, as a woman she had wanted to portray for a long time. “I wanted to do a character that is different from everything I have done. I don’t want people to relate it to any of my previous work(s) and that’s exactly why it took me a while in finalizing my debut film. Anya is very similar to who I am in person. She’s not dependant on anyone at all, she doesn’t need anyone to save her and she enjoys life and is a very free-spirited soul.”
Despite having won several accolades, Maya has stereotyped herself as an emotionally, morally and socially deprived woman in plenty of productions. Surprisingly enough, she agrees to the analysis and says on the matter: “I started my career with characters that I enjoyed, roles that were very ‘happening’ but I ended up playing the proverbial damsel-in-distress because those were the roles that were being offered to me.”
Maya is hoping to change both her image and the criticism that follows such regressive roles with her work in Teefa in Trouble. “I guarantee you that you’ll experience all the emotions, be it drama, romance, comedy or action. I trust my director completely and I’m sure he’ll make something different from what we’ve seen so far. Ali has worked in so many Bollywood films and has such a vast exposure that I’m sure I’ll get to learn a lot from him. At the end of the day, I’m relaxed because I know I’m in safe hands now.”
Moving away from Teefa in Trouble momentarily, Maya notes that substantial characters for women on television need to be written. Joining the feminist club, Maya has grown selective about the roles she takes up and is critical of the growing trend of women portrayed as helpless and vulnerable beings.
“I remember getting no feedback at all for Sanam when my character wasn’t crying. There were no ratings at all,” she disclosed. “In Zidd I played a woman who lives without her husband and that wasn’t accepted by the audience. I think we need to start writing drama serials that show woman as strong, independent individuals, but more than anything, I blame the audience for that. We tried but it didn’t happen because it didn’t work. Through art, I believe we must give out subliminal messages and Teefa in Trouble does exactly that.”
As our conversation moves toward the recent low local cinema has witnessed due to the unofficial ban that was placed on Bollywood movies from playing at Pakistani theatres, Maya is vocal about her views.
“I’ve always known that at the end of the day, Pakistan is the country from where we come and where we all go back to. I was hurt to see how cinema hasn’t been doing well lately but to totally depend on Bollywood is incorrect. How long will we blame them?” she observes. “The problem is with the quality of our films. Until and unless we don’t give it our fullest, we can’t achieve the level we aspire to. I am sure it will take time, but I honestly feel that Pakistan can make a Dangal or a Sultan, but it needs devotion, dedication and a lot more hard-work. There is nothing celebrative in the ban being lifted; it’s about time we start working on ourselves.”
Most of Maya’s serials have done well in India and the actress ended up getting opportunities to work alongside the seemingly persistent, Akshay Kumar in Rustom and the yet-to-begin, Ikka as his leading lady.
“I love my country and the only reason I was offered movies in India was because I was already working extensively in Pakistan. I didn’t feel bad when they didn’t happen. At this point of time, I want to stay here, in Pakistan and earn enough love and acceptability by my own people. That’s what matters to me the most,” she said on a parting note.