Instep Today

Hira Mani, unfiltered

By Buraq Shabbir
Sun, 04, 20

She’s a rising star, with a credible body of work to her credit. Titles like Yakeen Ka Safar, Sun Yaara, Thays, Dil Mom Ka Diya, Do Bol and Mere Paas Tum Ho are drama serials that catapulted Hira Mani to new heights; her chemistry with Affan Waheed in Do Bol was so powerful that she signed on another serial, Ghalati, with him. There’s no denying Hira’s prowess as a performer and yet she’s almost always in a pickle for saying the wrong thing, at the wrong time. She has 3.5 million followers on Instagram and her popularity constantly swings between adulation and disapproval.

At home, she also plays the role of wife to VJ/actor Salman Saqib Sheikh, better known as Mani, and they have two children together. Twelve years into marriage, these days Hira has put her work on hold and is finally enjoying the role of a housewife. “Right from the time I got married, I started working,” Hira recalled as we finally managed to speak for this extensive telephonic interview.

“I was always popular in school, college and even where I lived due to my many talents (singing, acting, etc.) but I never thought of pursuing acting professionally,” Hira shared, adding that it was Mani who encouraged her to act.

Beginning with co-hosting a show in 2011 alongside her husband, whom she is grateful to for sharing the spotlight with her without any insecurity, Hira received a lot of criticism for being very blunt. People told her to talk less and let Mani speak. But all she cared about at that time was the money she was getting for the job; beginning from Rs. 12,000 as an intern to getting 5 lacs for the show.

Hira saw a bright future for her kids and her family. Some people shamed her that she married Mani for this reason. She says that she if she wanted to become an actor first and foremost, she wouldn’t have given birth to two children. She loved her “six packs” prior to that.

“I treated it like any other job one takes to earn a livelihood; Mani and I are self-made and we share the financial responsibility of our families,” stressed Hira, who was pregnant with her second child when she hosted her next show with Mani. However, she admitted that this changed after she began acting and felt as if she was rewarded for her efforts. “I am glad I listened to Mani and switched from hosting to acting because morning shows saw a downfall of sorts at that time.”

Hira made her television debut in 2015 with drama serial Preet Na Kariyo Koi in which she played a politician opposite Ahsan Khan. However, it did not turn out the way she’d expected; she thought she would become the talk of the town but nobody watched it even though it was a good story. She decided to take a break because Ibrahim, her second child, was very young then and her debut didn’t go as planned. The next drama offered to her was Sun Yaara opposite Junaid Khan, in 2017, which garnered a lot of praise for her and became the turning point in her acting career.

According to her, Do Bol in which she was cast opposite Affan Waheed (the two will soon be seen in a web series too), was the second biggest hit after Humsafar, until her next, Mere Paas Tum Ho launched. “TikTokers went crazy after Do Bol’s OST that has the highest number of views on YouTube,” Hira reflected, adding that this was her climb to success.

“Somewhere between raising my kids and being an actor, I became a heroine and that is a blessing. I have come to prominence with acting gradually; it did not happen overnight.”

The actor has played a mix of lead and supporting roles till date and to one’s surprise, it’s her side roles that attracted more appreciation; Do Bol being an exception.

Cases in point: Gaiti in Yakeen Ka Safar, Tamkinat in Dil Mom Ka Diya and Hania in Mere Paas Tum Ho.

“I think your work has to be exceptional to stand out irrespective of the screen time,” Hira said about the roles she took on. “Viewers notice you for your performance and I work for them, not for the industry, so it doesn’t matter to me whether I take the lead role or the supporting one, as long as it is not a negative character. Highlighting a negative character is easier than making a simpler character stand out; I don’t find it challenging.”

Despite an overflow of socially relevant dramas on local television these days, she hasn’t been a part of any of them. When asked if it was a choice she made, she informed that she wasn’t offered many but she believes an issue-based drama needs to be executed properly. If that’s not the case then she prefers scripts that revolve around love and romance; she is offered more of those too.

Things, however, are changing for Hira Mani. Her upcoming drama Kashf, directed by Danish Nawaz, highlights a unique theme in addition to a romantic sequence with Junaid Khan. She will be playing the titular role of Kashf, who suffers from a nightmare disorder. “Written by Imran Nazir, it revolves around the story of a father-daughter duo,” Hira revealed, adding that she is very close to her father in real life and the drama offers a completely contrasting relationship between the two.

As for Hira’s most popular drama till date, it has to be Mere Paas Tum Ho that recently went on-air once again. The actor was in U.S. last month as part of a promotional tour for the drama, with co-actors Humayun Saeed and Adnan Siddiqui. She was not only criticized for taking the trip amidst the outbreak of coronavirus but was also bashed for multiple statements she gave after that.

First, a video clip went viral, in which she was suggesting that she thought Americans were weak for staying in their homes. Later, she was questioned on not isolating herself after returning, unlike her fellow actors (Humayun Saeed, Adnan Siddiqui) who self-isolated themselves in a hotel room. Then, she posted a picture with Mani in which she is facing him (literally) with their masks on and that didn’t go down too well either; it seemed that they were not practicing social distancing.

Taking the opportunity to address all of the above and more, Hira admitted that though she did not understand the seriousness of the matter initially, there is always another side to a story.

“I made a blunder when I said Americans are weak; I wasn’t taking the pandemic seriously then,” she accepted, explaining, “I visited one of the malls in Houston, which wasn’t completely shut. I went to a shop where there were two Pakistani sales girls while their American counterparts were off-duty and they were making up for their absence too. They conversed with me for long. After listening to their story, I made a video in which I made that statement very casually. Even my American friends didn’t mind but people here made a big deal out of it. I didn’t intend to demean those Americans but rather wanted to praise Pakistanis.”

She continued, “As far as the trip is concerned, I had to take it because I was under a contract and tickets for the shows were sold already. It was very tough for me to leave my kids behind in this situation. Once I was back, I kept myself isolated for a few days, got my test done and took all the necessary precautions. I don’t sleep with my kids either. Why would I cause any harm to my kids? It is like doubting a mother’s intentions. Coronavirus is a very new concept for us; some people understood it before others and I am among those who understood it later. But when I did I became very cautious and took all the preventive measures.”

Hira went on to share that negativity spreads quickly. Now that she is engaged in charity work, no pages on Facebook such as Soul Bitches are making statements so that she gets more contributions. She is of the view that people should promote good deeds too.

“I understand that being a public figure I should be responsible, but I’m not causing any harm to anyone; I’m not spreading any negativity,” the actor reiterated. “With so much hate around, this charity work has become a tough task for me, even though it is a good thing. Should I use my emotions to gain sympathy? Did I need to make a video when I was panicking in the U.S. for my return? I don’t want to stoop that low. One should be strong and brave in these times. There is just one Hira Mani and she can’t behave like everyone else does.”

As a defense mechanism, Hira stresses on staying lively and cheerful as much as one can during the lockdown. It is not possible to be serious all the time, she says. She, along with her husband Mani, goes live from Instagram every evening to spend time with fans and followers while they also take other prominent personalities on board. According to Hira, they are the ones who started the trend and suggested others to follow suit too. Hira has been engaged in dispatching batches of ration that she collected on her own and now has some brands supporting her too. This is how she is trying to play her part.

“We need to normalize things; freedom of speech is very important as long as one is not making personal comments. One should be able to take criticism; I don’t get offended by it. We cannot control this anyway,” she concluded.