She arrived in showbiz as the popular radio and television host Mani’s newly-wed wife. Her gift of the gab got her chattering away in guest appearances and soon she was seen co-hosting a chand raat show with hubby dearest. Then followed Hum 2 Hamara Show and soon they became a popular star couple doing the Hira Mani Show. Then, in 2015, the host turned actor as Hira Mani bagged her first Momina Duraid serial Preet Na Kariyo Koi (PNKK) opposite Ahsan Khan, directed by Mohammed Ehteshamuddin. Today, she has cut a niche for herself as an actor with hits such as Bilqees Urf Bitto, Pagli, Sun Yaara, Yaqeen Ka Safar (YKS), and, the currently on-air, Thaiss and Mera Khuda Jane.
Contrary to her ultra-feminine TV serial persona of flowing chiffon dupattas, long lustrous hair, ankle-length kurtas and chooridars, I find her wearing a white tee with black tights, sans makeup and her hair tied up in a high ponytail. She has just returned from the gym, her skin glowing and eyes sparkling. As we settle down in her minimalist white bedroom, she speaks to her young sons Muzammil and Ibrahim playing in the living room: “Meeting ho rahi hai, ab Mama nahin hai” [Meeting is underway, Mama’s not available now]. Ibrahim carries away a basket of nachos and his mum’s mobile phone as she smiles and sits cross-legged on her bed, her eyes intent as though awaiting an onslaught of questions.
I deliberately began with a ridiculous question to relax her. Did she marry Mani to come into showbiz? She laughs, “No, it is the other way round! I’m still a die-hard fan of Mani,” she adds. “I would do anything for him.”
She started off as the young wife of a celebrity, became a TV show host and then established herself as a popular drama actor. What else does Hira Mani have up her long-flowing sleeves?
Would she give up acting for him? “Acting? Mein duniya choor doon uss ke liye [I would gladly leave the world for him]. He is my mentor, my best friend,” she says, a bit emotional.
So how did they meet? “Meeting Mani is quite a dramatic story,” a naughty smile flashes across her face. “A friend of mine used to talk to him on the phone while I would be hanging around doing this girl’s assignments. One day, I asked her who this person was that she would endlessly talk to and she asked me if I had seen Mani on TV [at the time Mani used to do Street on TV]. I replied in affirmation and I’m sure I must have gotten starry-eyed because I had the biggest crush on him. I just knew that I had to get hold of his number. So I stole the number from my friend’s mobile phone and called him,” she smacked her hands together. “I told him that I wanted to meet him and asked him if he would marry me,” she says, her eyes suddenly becoming intent again.
“Then one day [I was about 17] I went to see him at ARY News with my friend. I hadn’t told her about my crush but just that I wanted to see Mani in person. Of course, I was dressed to the hilt, hair blow-dried. I didn’t let him know that I was the Hira who had already proposed to him on the phone. Later, he called me and told me about how this girl all dressed to kill had come to see him, saying that she is his fan and although he didn’t think much of her, his friend Boni [who does the scripting for Mani] liked her very much and that Mani’s mission now was to find out the girl’s address and take Boni’s proposal for her. This scared the life out of me and I told him that it was me! And he said he knew all along,” she said with a look as though she had won the lottery. “We got married not long after that.”
And then showbiz happened. “I was camera-shy but would talk so much that [Hum TV chief] Sultana Siddiqui thought I should host shows,” says Hira, who refused an offer to do a morning show because she thought she was too young and inexperienced for that kind of responsibility.
Her first major drama serial PNKK, she claims, is one of the best experiences of her showbiz life. “At the time Ibrahim, my youngest, was still a baby and at one point I had to leave him for a couple of weeks to go out of the city. I still feel really guilty about that.”
Since family comes first for Hira, she took a three-year-break from showbiz. When she returned, the serial Sun Yaara came her way along with a couple of others. With direction by Danish Nawaz, Hira and Junaid Khan were much appreciated in Sun Yaara along with their outstanding chemistry.
“Junaid is a great co-actor and a very good person. I rejected a few roles before I chose to play Roshane. It was somewhat of a romantic serial and since then people wanted Junaid and me to work together so we both decided to work again in Thaiss which is currently on-air.”
“Although the stories of most dramas on TV these days are quite similar, I try to treat each role differently.” But your costumes are still similar in all your serials, I intervene. “That is my style. I feel comfortable in a long, flowing kameez, chiffon dupatta and full sleeves because I believe I look good wearing them whether I’m sitting, lying or standing up, and viewers who watch our serials can easily relate to Eastern outfits. Above all, when I’m comfortable I can focus on my performance.”
In Pagli, a serial based on Shaukat Thanvi’s novel, Hira chose to play Gulrukh, a girl who runs away from home because her stepfather has molested her. “Although it was a complex character with psychological issues that Gulrukh wanted to hide but couldn’t towards the end of the serial, I instantly chose it because I have a fascination with running away from home. At one point I was contemplating eloping with Mani if our families didn’t allow us to get married,” says Hira as she shakes her head in amusement. “Most directors have toned down my expressions and this role allowed me a range of expressions and voice tones so I enjoyed playing Gulrukh,” she explains on a more serious note.
Right now, our cinema is passing through an experimental phase. But when I work in one, I don’t want it to be a flop. Whatever dramas I have done may not be excellent but people remember me for my roles. That is how I would want my film to be.”
When Kashif Saleem, the director, briefed Hira about Thaiss and she read the script, she thought her role as Rabab was quite unrealistic. “Here’s this dreamy person who hugs a cushion when she sleeps, thrives on unrequited love, has a dominating mum who controls her university-going daughter. I actually did it for the beauty shots. Since the girl is in love [for most part of the play] she is always dressed up, wearing make-up and looking her best. This part I could particularly relate to as it harked back to the days when I had just fallen in love with Mani and I would always make sure I looked my best. When you are in love, you are in a happy bubble and can brave even the negative things in life,” she explains. “I enjoyed that aspect very much. Rabab tolerates her mum pulling her strings because her heart is full of happiness as she loves Asher and believes that he loves her back. Kashif, who paid special attention to my wardrobe for this serial, wanted me to do hairstyles too but I’m not that fussy about my appearance.”
Hira also sang the OST for Thaiss with Junaid Khan which was lauded by fans. An actor emerged out of the host, should we now expect a singer to come out of the actor? “I won’t show all my cards in one go, but one by one,” Hira says, sounding a tad saucy.
Compared to the love-lorn Rabab in Thaiss, in the also presently-running Mera Khuda Jane Hira plays the rape victim Roohi. “It’s a sad and difficult role where I have to portray a tormented girl who is pregnant with her rapist’s child while her husband, who doesn’t know it yet, has remarried for different reasons.”
Her role as Gaiti in Yaqeen Ka Safar remains closest to her heart. “It was a very subtle role and a challenging one because there was no actor opposite me to lead me on. For instance if you have a character opposite you, your performance gets a range, even if there is the stereotype mum-in-law, you can act opposite her.”
Hira’s father-in-law, Saqib Sheikh, a senior actor from PTV’s golden era has been her guide for hosting and acting. “He always encouraged me to take up acting as compared to hosting. He would tell me what I should say and what topics I should stay away from. He taught me about voice control, monotone etc.”
Among her co-stars, her favourite is Sajal Aly. “I like to keep an eye on what she is doing. I watch all her plays. She has done some amazing, hard work to be where she is today.” Is Sajal her competition? “No, I don’t see her as competition,” Hira is quick to respond. Why do most say actors say that? Is having competition not a good thing? “That’s not it. If I wasn’t also multitasking as a mum and a wife, I would be a dedicated actor regarding everyone as cut-throat competition. I’m not battling against anyone, really. You know how my mind works? For example, I might be getting ready for a shot but in my head I’d be silently praying that Muzammil would do well in his test or Ibrahim would behave in class.”
She claims to be lucky that she has had the opportunity to work with some good directors, especially Ehteshamuddin. “It is an actor’s dream to work with a director like Ehtesham. I have just wrapped up Aangan with him, a period play where I have played Mawra Hocane’s sister. Mawra’s a beautiful person. Shehzad Kashmiri is also amazing to work with.”
Hira has watched all the current Pakistani films and is waiting to do one someday. “Right now, our cinema is passing through an experimental phase. But when I work in one, I don’t want it to be a flop. It should be a memorable film. Whatever dramas I have done may not be excellent but people remember me for my roles. That is how I would want my film to be.”
Published in Dawn, ICON, August 26th, 2018