Watching Nimra Bucha onstage, onscreen, or even across the room is usually a memorable experience. She’s less like the wind, not at all like a storm, and not anything like the gentle greeting of morning rain. If you can’t tell, this story comes to you from Karachi, Posterchild For Climate Change.
Nimra Bucha, who also comes from Karachi, is the threat of a storm. She is the clouds that weigh the horizon down, promising an explosion of the skies. Whether you have watched her masterful turn as the titular character in Javed Siddiqui’s Begum Jaan (2011), as the young Saabrina in Kamra Number 1801 (2001) adap-ted to Urdu by writer/ journalist Mohammed Hanif, the very dejected Aasma in Daam (2010), or most recently as the charming but scary Najma in Ms. Marvel, chances are, she left an impression.
“I auditioned for another role for Ms. Marvel,” says Bucha, on a rainy summer afternoon in the flooded artist formerly known as Karachi. “But I hadn’t heard back from them in three months, but I wasn’t really pushed.”
The nonchalance of her attitude towards one of the world’s largest comic book and cinematic universes may strike some as arrogant, but really, part of it was that Bucha admits she had no idea what the MCU was and never knew what people meant when they referred to themselves as ‘Marvel fans’.
The other part, which she touches upon briefly now, and then later in the conversation more deeply, was the singular thought: “that’s okay – I don’t get mainstream parts.”
At the point of her career that she did audition for Ms. Marvel, she was auditioning for more work, and had an idea that a Marvel outing would bring her mainstream recognition.
“The thing is,” she says later, “there are stereotypes we are all slotted into, and we try to fit ourselves into them too.
“One of these is the understanding that you can either be good, or you can be pretty. There was this very clear line, growing up, that girls who are pretty and attractive and have fun, aren’t good students.”
Bucha lost her mother around the same time as she began shooting for Ms. Marvel, and speaks of her with the awe all daughters view their mothers with, the nature of their relationship notwithstanding.
“She exuded a feline beauty,” says Bucha. “So I decided that if I wasn’t beautiful like her, then I would be good. That materialized into focusing on school and being responsible at all times, and just [being the opposite of what a ‘beautiful girl’ would be] – that kind of experience de-womanizes you, it takes away from the feminine.”
This sentiment, though never spoken about much, does linger within many women, and women from Bucha’s generation, and latter generations, however progressive, tended not to speak of this particular aspect of being a woman.
The actor speaks of the experience translating to professional life as well.
“In cinema, the pretty girls were…usually not good, or not perhaps given the opportunities. The ‘off’ looking actors would make it big, be part of arthouse cinema, be taken seriously.”
Looking at Nimra Bucha walk across a room or a stage or speak during her television interviews, one is instantly hit by the intensity of her very being. Her eyes speak volumes, her voice projects like the voice of only the very self-assured, she remains composed at all times, never once gesturing nervously, or even laughing with any sense of self-consciousness.
This is of course, in direct contrast to how she describes herself, as she did during the promotions for Kamli, many months ago. “Not all actors are confident people, and I am one of those actors. In my real life, I’m a bit shy, I prefer to be the observer.
“In my real life I wouldn’t dress like this, I wouldn’t speak like this. I know right now when they put me in these beautiful clothes because the look is somewhat connected to Zeenat (in Kamli). I like having a fortress to hide behind, and my characters are my fortresses.”
In the present, months away from the critical acclaim Kamli won, and with a fabulous turn on Ms. Marvel, Bucha is once again self-deprecating, and speaks about how promotional tours tend to make actors sound a bit robotic. At the same time, she remains wary of the questions asked on the promotionals because inevitably, the odd personal question will pop up, and many times be used out of context or not recreated properly. Clearly, like so many of us, Nimra Bucha, world-class actor, plays the greatest hits of The Things I Wish I Never Said on repeat when her brain has a minute.
At the same time, while craving some form of anonymity, a younger Nimra Bucha found herself seeking the validation that only an audience can bring.
“Hanif (her husband), and I moved to London very soon after we got married and had put up the play Marne Ke Baad Kya Hoga? an observation of the times we lived in in the mid-90s.
“Then of course, half a decade or so later there was Kamra Number 1801, but I still hadn’t found my direction as an actor, nor did I find the validation you would want. Sure, performing in theater will give you self-satisfaction, but you’re performing in front of an audience of 200. Validation is one thing you’re not really getting.”
Their 12 years abroad were somewhat solitary for Bucha, who raised her son, now 24, without the chaotic cheer family brings. By the time her second child was born in 2014, she had found her groove, workwise, and worked while she was pregnant, and took her baby on set with her for Ho Mann Jahaan. For Churails too, she asked director Asim Abbasi how many days they would be working, and how many out of those would be out of station.
“The way we do it is that we take turns, Hanif and I, and he will go do something for a bit, and then I will go and do some work, and the result is that we will never be super rich, but then we also have the feeling of, we were able to be there.”
At this point in time, Bucha, who says her focus is never trained on neither the present, nor the future, but always the past, has started thinking about her legacy.
“When you lose a parent at a certain age, where you have fewer years of life to live than you spent being around them, your priorities and views change,” she says. Anyone who has indeed lost someone close, and especially a parent, can probably confirm that the grief doesn’t increase or decrease over time, it just takes shape of the life you live at that moment. And sweetly enough, life also shifts around to make room for the grief.
“I am someone who looks to the past and the familiar for comfort,” says Bucha. “In art, and music and books – or maybe I will be at a shoot and listening to the soundtrack for that, and even in that way, every piece of music becomes associated with a person, place or circumstance.”
She takes a question about fame – or rather mainstream/widespread fame – coming to her later in her career, very gracefully, and asks: “what is fame?
“An actor’s path is never linear,” says Bucha. “It is not like I try to materially best myself with each project. But I do want to be able to make more money, get better projects, be able to contribute to the family income. In order to do that I might have to take on work I do not find agreeing with me, and so [not doing it] that is a choice I make.”
But we bet they are beating the doors down, post-Marvel! Apparently not, according to Nimra Bucha, who then admits that she’s done a project with Nida Manzoor, who created, directed and wrote We Are Lady Parts.
Still though, the actor points out that there are enough gaps between projects that appeal to her to give her time to regroup. At present she wants to focus on building more physical strength, because of the feats she saw actor Farhan Akhter perform in Ms. Marvel.
“We’re the same age,” she marvels, “and he is just so much stronger!”
The fantastic Nimra Bucha may not have begun her journey as a Marvel fan, but at the end of her experience within the universe, has given in. “I definitely am a Ms. Marvel fan now!” she says.