A progressive thinker, actor, theatre artist, singer, and a trained painter Jenaan Hussain has chosen not to draw lines between different forms of artistic expression.
Jenaan Hussain is quite busy, and rightly so. She has been creating buzz as the disguised Bengali domestic helper entrapped in a scheme of sorcery, spirit possession and shape-shifting in Neeli Zinda Hai and as Sheema in Pardes. Her role as a mentally challenged child in Raaz-E-Ulfat was commendable as she played Ismail’s (Gohar Rasheed) younger sister Mohini, who was essentially a five-year-old child trapped in an adult’s body. Spiritually drawn to singing and creating music, she’s also training as a vocalist and absorbing music theory as part of a women’s music fellowship at the Arts Council. Jenaan is also a part of Push Arts, a new production, curation, label and artist management company that is spearheaded by Ahsan Bari. She is also a featured artist in Sounds of Kolachi at present and has played a few shows with them, confirmed Bari to Instep.
After about two months of back and forth, she graciously took out time to chat about her journey as an actor, her experience in Pakistan’s entertainment industry, what obstructs her from undertaking leading roles and what exciting projects lie ahead of her. She specialized in painting during her time as a fine arts student at National College of Arts (NCA), and believes there are parallels between painting and acting because she is expressing and emoting in both. Her paintings were mostly portraits of herself emoting, and she says she has progressed from painting on canvas to a version of painting characters on screen and the stage through acting. “Every field of art is meditative, and I just keep changing my mode of meditation depending on what my heart and soul desires.”
Jenaan’s recent roles have all been distinguishable and noteworthy. So what is her process as an actor when she has to embody challenging and different characters? “I first ask for the entire script and read it to grasp the whole story and then I give it a second read, focusing on my character. I highlight my script and write all my questions, doubts and concerns for the director so it can be clarified. If the role isn’t clear in my head, how can I give my hundred percent? I then work on my character’s wardrobe, look, accent, walk, hair, make-up, overall appearance and every minute detail that I can plausibly think of. I go to bazaars and hunt for everything on my own for my costumes and accessories. I haven’t hired any stylist; I’m quite particular about my characters and their requirements.”
As an actor who has been around in the industry for almost a decade and has the experience of theatre, music, film, television and a web series under her belt, it is still puzzling to comprehend what has prevented producers and directors from casting her in the lead and what stops her from getting meatier roles. “The audience wants to see a prince charming as their father, lover, brother and a fair and perfect-looking damsel in distress who they can picture as their wife, daughter-in-law, sister and mother. Casting decisions are made based on ratings that are (apparently) in sync with what the masses want; then the brands (advertisers) come in and the channel’s diktat ensues. 85 per cent of the industry is ruled by money, and creators only desire the ‘it buoy’ and the ‘it girl’. The remaining 15 per cent of the industry is working with actors like us, who are not the leads in any high profile commercial project. Unfortunately in our industry, no one really cares about your acting ability; they just care about your hierarchy in a drama, unless of course you’re playing the lead. 90 per cent of the leading characters I see on screen don’t have substance. I can’t just smile or just cry with a flat face for 35 episodes. We are living in a highly disposable era and I have seen people come and go before me, but I have stayed on because for me my craft comes above everything.”
Nagina, Jenaan’s most recent role in Six Sigma’s latest desi horror offering Neeli Zinda Hai, shows her levitating, shape-shifting and sorcerizing while being disguised as a spirit-spying domestic helper. Intriguing audiences even after her character died in the story, Jenaan shares she did have her fair share of concerns of being typecast before she took on the role. “I got three calls to play the role of a domestic helper (maasi) after I appeared as Nagina. I politely refused those offers trying to explain to them that I don’t have any problems playing the role of a maid on screen, even though Nagina is not even an actual maid, as long as my character has some significant contribution to give to the narrative and how it moves forward.”
Jenaan explains the mindset of serial creators. “The mindset here is that if someone is playing a supporting role, their performing abilities must be low, and they are inevitably rendered and denounced as a low-level supporting character by the industry. I’m here to act and I am an actor. I don’t even like using terms like ‘supporting actor’ or ‘character actor’, because at the end of the day you’re still acting and you’re an equally active storyteller. ”
Talking about her experience of working with a string of women directors, such as Marina Khan, Angeline Malik and Yasira Rizvi, Jenaan says she is looking forward to her next breakthrough television project titled Working Women. Scripted by the critically acclaimed playwright and screenwriter Bee Gul, and directed by Yasra Rizvi, it is first and foremost fascinating that a prime time television series is helmed by women not just on-screen but off-screen as well. And like the title, off-screen, it has five working women. The primary cast apart from Jenaan comprises Maria Wasti, Anoushay Abbasi, Faiza Gilani, Srha Asghar. “All women in the play are trying to break the regressive norms while balancing their personal and professional lives. It is for a new and upcoming channel, and there are a couple of days of shoot remaining so you can expect for the series to go on air probably at the end of the year.”
Jenaan Hussain is among the breed of actors who are more interested in improving their craft and the stories that are being told. Given her preceding performances, it looks like she, too, will be a part of the change-makers, and remembered for it as much as she will be for her roles.
Bio: Afreen is a professional creative writer and a multimedia artist with a special focus on TV, Film, Performing Arts and Pop Culture. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org