Mawra Hocane joined the world of show business less than a decade ago and, in a matter of a few years, established herself as one of Pakistan’s most successful show business personalities. An immensely popular actor, model and media icon, Marwa will soon be seen in Hum Television’s serial ‘Aangan’. In an exclusive interview for the Daily Times, she talks to Ally Adnan about ‘Aangan,’ the world of show business, women’s rights, the #MeToo Movement, her sister Urwa, and her plans for the future.? Your upcoming television serial, Hum Television’s ‘Aangan,’ is based on Khadija Mastoor’s famous 1962 novel of the same name. Have you read the book? No, I have not. Mohammed Ehteshamuddin, the director of ‘Aangan,’ had asked me to focus on the screenplay and, being a director’s actor, I decided to comply with his instructions. Mustafa Afridi’s screenplay is truly wonderful, and I have read it more than 20 times. It has a lot of nuance, sensitivity and complexity. I discover something new each time I read it. The moral, cultural and political mores depicted in ‘Aangan,’ which is set in the first half of the twentieth century, are completely different than those that we have today. How did you familiarise yourself with the values, morals and sensibilities of the period depicted in ‘Aangan’? The values, morals and sensibilities of the period depicted in ‘Aangan’ were not new to me. I had grown up listening to tales of partition and the past. Discussions with the writer, director and co-actors helped me get comfortable with the period and delve into the role with confidence and assurance. ‘Aangan’ is a celebrated novel that has won numerous awards and been translated into 13 languages. It has also been criticised for being excessively melancholic and morose. Is the criticism valid? No, the criticism is not valid. ‘Aangan,’ of course, is melancholic and morose but that is the truth of partition. People were uprooted from their homes, separated from friends and family members, and gave up lives that they had led for years. How can that be anything but intensely sad? The partition came with a lot of sacrifice, tragedy and heartbreak. That cannot be ignored. The script of ‘Aangan’ touched my heart but not because it was excessively sad; I connected with it because it allowed me to be a character of the story and experience the sorrow that accompanied freedom. I always get a lump in my throat while reading the screenplay and often got emotional while playing the role of Aaliya. The gloom and sadness of partition is overwhelming. You play the role of Aaliya in ‘Aangan.’ A young girl caught in the cruelty of politically turbulent times, she gets displaced by partition, ends up becoming responsible for her mother, and decides to assert her independence by remaining single. How did you prepare for the role? My incredibly devoted mother and my wonderfully talented sister have always had a great influence on me and my life. In fact, I grew up surrounded by ladies who had tremendous strength, grit and resilience. My mother, my sister and friends embody a lot of the values that I saw in the character of Aaliya. I used the knowledge of those values, along with related traits and behaviors, to bring Aaliya to life. Mustafa Afridi wrote the character of Aaliya with great sensitivity and intelligence. His heroine grows during the course of the story and shows her evolution as a woman of great strength with meticulous care, tremendous detail and a lot of sensitivity. The screenplay helped me get into the skin of one of the most complex characters of Urdu literature. Mohammed Ehteshamuddin spent a lot of time with me and made sure that I was comfortable with each aspect of Aliya’s character and her story. His contribution to my preparation for ‘Aangan’ was truly invaluable. The fashion sense and style of early twentieth century India, albeit austere, was exceptionally distinct and specific. How much effort has been put into costume design for the serial? MD Productions’ costume designer Rabab and her team designed the costumes for ‘Aangan.’ My makeup artists, Baber and Beenish, created the look. The results of their talent and hard work shine brightly in the serial and have been noticed in the teasers already. All I had to do was adorn the clothes gracefully, carry the look, and maintain body language – poised and nonchalant – appropriate for the era. It did not require a lot of effort. Are you enjoying dressing up in the style of another era? I am enjoying wearing the clothes but must say that the real pleasure comes from living the life of someone from another era and enjoying its charming simplicity, full of old-school romance, understated flirtations, charming letters, modest pleasures, and emotional purity. ‘Aangan’ explores the politics of power, sex and, class in pre-partition India, through the lives of women forced to lead isolated lives in the courtyards – the titular ‘Aangan’ – of their sad homes. Are the themes of the story applicable today? ‘Aangan’ explores the impact of partition and its aftermath on human lives, emotions and dynamics. The themes are entirely applicable today because they deal with the complexity of humans and depict the pains, fears, loves, and crises that are a part of life. People watching the serial will see a reflection of their own selves in the characters of ‘Aangan.’ The story portrays true human emotions that are naked, raw, potent, and, decidedly, unvarnished. I believe that viewers will find it liberating to watch genuine emotions presented with a candid honesty that is rarely seen in society these days. Do you believe that women are treated well in Pakistan today? No, the majority of women in Pakistan are not treated well. I am in a very privileged position but, in spite of that; occasionally I find myself in situations that are both intimidating and disturbing. I also feel that, to a certain degree, I have been conditioned to surrender to patriarchy, like the rest of Pakistani women. We are moving towards a better future but the pace of progress is very slow. It is being set by privileged women like myself and not by women from rural areas, who are most vulnerable and have the greatest need to have their voices heard. What do you think of the rapidly growing #MeToo Movement against sexual harassment, abuse and assault? The movement has been a long time coming. It is important, necessary and vital. Sadly, our country may not be ready for it. Nine out of ten abused women are certainly not ready for it. So far, the movement has only created a furor in the media, both traditional and social, and produced no positive results. It will take a few determined, strong trailblazers to lead the movement in Pakistan and make sure that it produces desired results. We need to pass proper legislation to protect the rights of our womenfolk, make sure that the laws are enforced, and, most importantly, develop a culture where treating women poorly is shunned and deplored. How can the rights of both the accused and the accuser be protected while dealing with cases of sexual harassment, abuse and assault? Our legal system needs to protect the rights of the accused and the accuser, so that there is no possibility of exploiting the movement for personal gain. Most stories of abuse and mistreatment never reach the courts and, even when they do, it takes years to prove discrimination, harassment, rape, and other heinous crimes against women. It is only possible to protect the accused and the accuser if we are ready to face the truth and hear stories of harassment with courage, integrity and fairness. This requires a society that is exceedingly honest, more tolerant and lesser chauvinistic towards claims of sexual harassment, abuse and assault, irrespective of gender. I also feel that there is a need to separate sexual harassment from gender battle. It is not about women but about our society and its future. Pakistani women are overwhelmingly petrified of bringing claims of abuse out in the open. We need to change that. Do you think that, when compared to other industries, the problem of sexual abuse is more common in show business? Not at all. Sexual abuse exists in each and every industry. Everyone knows that and turning a blind eye to the problem does not make it go away. The truth is that sexual abuse and harassment is a real, pervasive and dreadful problem in Pakistani society. It is widely-spread and hugely-ignored. This needs to change. It must change. We have tolerated it for far too long. Did you and your equally famous actor sister, Urwa Hocane, face any opposition from friends and family when you decided to take up careers in show business? Urwa and I draw our strength from our mother who is a strong woman, a true visionary and the reason why we have done well. She may have secretly fought some battles with the family, but never allowed the opposition to touch or discourage us. She has always been the wind beneath our wings. We have never feared opposition, criticism and unwarranted opinions, and have always been very clear about what we want to achieve. You have been in the world of show business for a number of years now. How have you been treated in the industry? I have been in the industry for little over six years and have seen my due share of ups and downs, love and hate, and praise and criticism. I have never allowed the way the industry has treated me to define me and my career. The idea is to keep going and not care about hurdles that are put in one’s way. The journey, albeit inspiring and constructive, has not been an easy one. How did you learn to act? I developed a love for acting and started working in the theater when I was barely a teenager. I learnt to act in the theater and polished my histrionic skills on television and cinema. That being said, I should add that I feel that there is a whole lot left for me to learn. Acting is not easy and asks for a lot. I plan to continue the process of learning and come to be known as a particularly resourceful and competent actor. I will not settle for less. You have worked in more than 20 television serials and 2 feature films. What do you think of your body of work as an actor? Wow! I had never really counted my projects. I am humbled and surprised by the numbers but want to do more, much more. I need to do more and better television, work in many more movies, and master the art of acting. I am grateful for what I have accomplished in show business thus far, but a lot more needs to be done before I will be satisfied with my body of work. You did one film, ‘Sanam Teri Kasam,’ in India and one ‘Jawani Phir Nahi Ani 2,’ in Pakistan. How is the style of making films in the two countries different from each other? Films are made on a much larger scale in India compared to Pakistan. Bollywood is huge, successful and very prolific. It has worked hard and long to get to a place where it can invest huge amounts of money in movies. Pakistan is not there yet. Our financial model does not support large investment. Moreover, our society is not entirely comfortable with show business and often creates problems based on religion and culture. That hampers growth. In spite of the issues, cinema is picking up in Pakistan. That is good but there is a long road ahead. What is your opinion of Pakistani cinema? I think it is great and has produced some wonderful movies of various genres in recent years. I believe in the future of Pakistani cinema and hope that a greater number of movies will be produced in the future, ones that will appeal to both local and international audiences. What do you think of Pakistani television dramas? I think they are truly excellent. It would not be wrong to say that Pakistan produces some of the finest dramas in the world. I am fortunate to be a part of the Pakistani television industry. Your famous tweets in support of controversial Indian film Phantom generated a lot of criticism and a huge storm on social media. Do you regret having made the tweet? No, I do not regret making the tweet. I know what my intention was and what I meant to say in the tweet. I do feel that I could have crafted the tweet in a more sensible and public-friendly way but stand by its message. It is impossible to make everyone happy with one’s opinions, views and ideologies. The only way to do so is not to have any. Fellow actor Shaan Shahid took exception to your tweets and suggested that you should be banned from working in your own country. Why do you think he reacted so strongly? I do not know. What do you think of Shaan Shahid as an actor and as a person? I do not think of Shaan Shahid as a person but as a representative of an important era of Pakistani cinema. His contribution to films has been outstanding and he will always be respected for the work that he has done for the industry. Did you ever talk to Shaan Shahid about his statements against you? No, I did not. You are phenomenally popular on social media and, at three million followers, have a greater following on Instagram than any other Pakistani actor. How did you build such a large base of fans on social media? I did not work to create a large base of fans on social media. It happened on its own perhaps because people like reading my posts and seeing my photographs. I enjoy using the various platforms afforded by social media and am very active in the area. I like to share my thoughts, achievements and happy moments. I love connecting with fans. I relish sharing my joys with people who have helped me get where I am today. And, I like to keep people informed of my projects. Social media allows me to do all of that in a fun and effective way. Is popularity on social media an accurate gauge of an actor’s merit and popularity? Absolutely not. It is only one of the many factors that determine an actor’s merit and popularity. Do you feel that it is important for an actor to have a following on social media? Well, to each his own. I think it is important for me to have a following on social media. I enjoy communicating with my fans. I love all the love that I receive on social media. I also feel that the criticism one gets on social media is important, as long as one is able to separate constructive criticism from negative noise. Your sister is very popular on social media as well and has a little over two million followers on Instagram. The number is impressive but significantly lower than yours. What have you done to become popular that she has not? I think I have always had a greater interest in social media than Urwa. She started using it much later than I did. Neither one of us is in a race to achieve a large number of followers nor to exceed the other’s following. We enjoy staying in touch with fans and keeping them informed about our personal and professional lives. The world of show business is known for being intensely competitive. Has it fueled sibling rivalry between you and Urwa? Not at all. I find the question odd. While others have a one in ten chance to score a project, we have a two in ten chance to do the same. That is a beautiful perk with no downside. Who is the better actor, you or Urwa? Urwa. I should add that the two of us approach acting in very different ways and can barely be compared as actors. And who is prettier, you or Urwa? Urwa, without a doubt. What does it take to make it big in show business in Pakistan? A lot of hard work and a bit of luck. You are a successful actor who has found fame, fortune and glory. What is next? I think that I have only just started. There is a whole lot more left for me to do. The quality of scripts in Pakistan has seen a substantial improvement in recent years. Actors have a lot of choice and can pick from a number of very good television serials and films being made today. I plan to make the right choices and work in many good projects in the future. I will also start studying for my bar-it-law in London, next year, which is very exciting. ‘Aangan’ will be on air soon. I have worked very hard and totally invested myself in the serial. I am very, very nervous about the reaction people will have to it. Aangan has been a true labor of love for me. I hope people will enjoy the serial. Ally Adnan lives in Dallas and writes about culture, history and the arts. He tweets @allyadnan and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Published in Daily Times, December 20th 2018.