There is something about Meera Jee. "You can love me, you can hate me but you can never replace me," her character, Shameera, says at one point in the film (Baaji) and rightly so. Despite a daunting acting career and acrimonious controversies surrounding her, the charisma, the energy and the wit she brings along is irreplaceable. She proves it yet again with her performance in Saqib Malik’s recently released debut feature film Baaji, which is being thumbed up by audiences and critics alike.
Meera Jee, as we lovingly call her today, returns to the big screen after a huge hiatus and spells magic, leaving her legion of admirers in awe. There is never a dull moment whenever she appears on screen and one can witness a strong reflection of Meera in Shameera, who is desperate to stay relevant in a rapidly changing world.
"When a star takes a break from the screen, they are in search of something striking to mark their return," she asserts in an extensive interview with Instep prior to the release of Baaji. "My relationship with cinema had ended sometime back because none of the scripts appealed to me; I was bored of the characters I was offered. Fortunately, Baaji fell into my lap. Saqib Malik is a big name and I wanted to work with him. First, because he is a perfectionist and secondly, I knew whenever he makes a film, it will be a masterpiece. Baaji depicts classic cinema; it is going to be one of the few legendary films that will be made in Pakistan."
Reflecting more on why she chose to go off the radar, Meera recalls, "Given the critical situation between India and Pakistan, I returned the money, around 1.5 crores to be precise, that I had taken from Indian producers. There was an Indian film called Jhansi Ki Rani that couldn’t be completed, Simran didn’t conclude either. I work for peace and I didn’t feel like working there. In Pakistan, I signed a contract for a show called Kon Banay Ga Meera Ka Pati but I returned the money for that too. There was another contract with a leading local channel that too didn’t materialize."
"It wasn’t about money," Meera insists, adding that she wanted to do something that people will remember for long - a film like Pakeeza. "I did a lot of work and made a lot of money but I wanted to make a comeback that stays even when I am gone. I was in search of a good filmmaker. I have worked with a lot of people but I wasn’t satisfied. The money I returned was because I had a hunch that those people would not make a good film (or a show) and would not do justice to the story because their intentions weren’t right."
Optimistic about her comeback, Meera is certain that her name will last after Baaji and the film industry will remember her as ‘Baaji’. It’s a delight to interview her; consistently inarticulate, she makes sure to not miss out on even the minutest of details. She doesn’t appreciate even a slight disturbance during the course of the interview and her face relays exactly what is going on in her mind. She knows what she has to say and you realize the height of her self confidence when she says, "I think I am better than Priyanka Chopra." It’s classic Meera!
"Sometimes I wonder why I am wasting my time in Pakistan because I know I am a very good actor," she asserts. "At times I feel I am better than Priyanka Chopra because there is so much talent in me. Art knows no boundaries; I really want to go to Hollywood, I want to explore. I want to work in Iran’s film industry as well as in Indian cinema and I really want that we collaborate with the Chinese film industry. Anywhere in the world where good work is being done in cinema, I want to contribute to it."
Rewinding to her hey days, Meera stormed the screen with a slew of films during the 1990s and was at the top of her game at that point. However, every rise has a fall and Meera too witnessed a decline of sorts in her career; she was not completely out of the game but the projects she took up didn’t resonate well with fans. Besides, her enigmatic private life has always been under the scanner, leading to unnecessary drama surrounding her name.
"So many films have been made in Pakistan; even I worked in a lot of them but I don’t approve of all the work I did," she admits, adding that she feels embarrassed at times when she sees her past films. "I didn’t have awareness then but now I’m very mature as an actor. After doing Baaji, I understand cinema even better. I am getting older and I have realized that I belong to cinema, it is like my family."
In Baaji, Meera essays the role of Sha-Meera that is strongly inspired by Meera’s persona in real life. From the time she conquered Lollywood, to the controversies surrounding her ‘secret marriage’ to finding her way back to films, Shameera stands quite close to Meera as we know her. One could spot Meera in many frames; the way she talks, the way she walks and even the way she gets aggressive and argues.
When quizzed about taking up a role that is close to her life and whether she had any reservations portraying it onscreen, she is quick to deny the latter.
"Not at all! I really wanted to do this character because it reflects reality. It was a very powerful and interesting character as it veers towards decline. Her [Shameera] career is ending; she is so desperate for a comeback and is trying hard for it. She is really looking for the right people, the way it happened with me in real life."
"I can relate to my character because I am the superstar and I am a living legend right now," she continues. "Shameera is very relatable to me and is very close to my heart. It was a challenging character but at the same time I am living it in real life. I have lived the character in the film; I have not acted it out. There were some scenes that I have actually experienced myself. A lot of the scenes are related to my life with some where you can see the real Meera."
If you observe Meera at events, pre and post the release of Baaji as well as during the film’s promotions, you will always find her very chirpy. She will never miss out any opportunity to praise Baaji and share how confident she is about the film. For her, this is the time when she really needs the support of her fans; she wants them to realize what real talent is and not be fooled by fake artists.
"It is time to stand with the right filmmakers and right stars, and boycott fake stars who aren’t doing good work but are only here to make money," she stresses. "They have succeeded in pushing real talent away; there are so many of them and they need to be taken into accountability. I’m aware of the politics within the film industry. The audience needs to come out and support good work. It is very difficult to make a good film these days; people think it is very easy. That’s not true, one has to sacrifice a lot and leave a lot of things behind for the kind of dedication and focus required to make a good film."
On a parting note, I asked her how she feels about promoting the film compared to how it used to be back in the 90s and how does she look at social media which is a completely new phenomenon for her.
"My mother is very strict. She still thinks that the heroine shouldn’t come to the front, she should be kept under wraps, she shouldn’t talk to anyone," shares Meera. "But the time has changed now. Earlier, I wasn’t allowed to interact with fans and press directly. We were kept hidden from the public and our families were trained the same way as to how to protect a star. Today my mother asks me what kind of a film industry it is that you meet and interact with people, give them interviews. I tell her we need to do this to promote the film."
"I am very active on social media but everyone judges me because I don’t have many likes and followers. I only have over 80K followers and it upsets me that everyone isn’t following me. I want all my fans to follow me on Instagram, where I keep posting updates about myself. I really like this direct mode of connection with my fans; whatever I am doing I want my fans to know about it," she concludes, wholeheartedly embracing the future of digital technology and film.