THE ICON INTERVIEW: TALK OF THE TOWN

February 23, 2020

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Photography: Fayyaz Ahmed | Hair & Makeup: Babar Zaheer | Styling: Mavi Kayani
Photography: Fayyaz Ahmed | Hair & Makeup: Babar Zaheer | Styling: Mavi Kayani

Hania Aamir just turned 23, and her surprise birthday party was all over social media. ‘Close friend’ Asim Azhar led her, blindfolded, into an amusement area where she was greeted by shrieks of surprise. She cut a cake titled ‘Stranger Things’ and, then, she and her friends ran all over the place — less celebrity, more happy people let loose amongst dodging cars and video games. Hania laughed, navigating a ‘haunted house’ passageway, posing for silly photographs — young, gregarious, famous, high on a glitzy life dotted with parties, international trips, designer-wear and famous friends.

I meet Hania with this image of her in my mind. I knew, thanks to social media, that she is an outspoken actress, never afraid to speak her mind, but she also seems to be the girl who is always having a ball. Climbing the staircase to the studio where we are meeting, she bustles in with plenty of noise, calling out to her friend, make-up artist Babar Zaheer, who had arrived there beforehand, and flashing her renowned dimples. 

In her basic white shirt and jeans with not an ounce of make-up on her face, Hania enamours me all the more: a young star with a massive fan following, a selection of hits to her credit and a promising career ahead. “Let’s talk,” she tells me and proceeds to answer my many questions like a pro. Do you sit through detailed interviews regularly, I ask. “No, but I love to talk,” she laughs.

And as we talk, I discover that there was so much more to her. Hania Aamir may merely be 23, but there is a wise soul underneath the bubbly, girlish exterior. She knows a lot, has seen a lot, and has big plans to fulfill her dreams while doing things her way...

Young, gregarious, famous, high on a glitzy life dotted with parties, international trips, designer-wear and famous friends, actress Hania Aamir has never been afraid to speak her mind. But underneath her bubbly, girlish exterior, she is also vulnerable and becoming wiser with age

The importance of staying honest

“There’s so much that I want to do,” she smiles into the distance. “I wouldn’t want to ever restrict myself to a single medium. TV, cinema, YouTube, web-series, learning how to produce and direct, I want to do it all. And I don’t ever want to be slotted into a box as the pretty, subservient girl. I’m an actor. I want to play exciting roles.”

And right now, five years into her career, what does she think is her claim to fame? “My relationship!” she declares and bursts out laughing.

How refreshing. In a world bursting with self-promotion, Hania is relaxed enough to make jokes, instead of waxing lyrical, about her achievements. I rephrase my question: professionally, what is your claim to fame?

She ponders. “I think it would be the way that I am on social media. Fans appreciate that I’m willing to put my personality out there, and be completely honest with them. I started work at 18, made mistakes, learnt from them and throughout, the audience was there with me, watching me grow into who I am today. There was a time when I was more interested in having fun but, now, things have changed, I have changed. I feel a responsibility to speak out against something that I feel is wrong. People message me and tell me that they really appreciate it. It’s just that I have seen negativity in the industry that I work in. People bully each other and put each other down. This is my way of showing the good that is there, that you can also exist here by staying firm in your beliefs and standing up for what is right.”

Her honesty isn’t just restricted to social media. She recounts how she has often called out friends who have turned out to be backstabbers. “It’s a strange world we live in. You’ll travel with someone, shop with them, joke around and then, two weeks later, you’ll hear that they are saying the most awful things about you. I don’t hesitate on calling such people out and then, making sure I keep my distance from them.”

One particular time when she decided to do so was when her friend Yasir Hussain had made a joke about her skin. “I had written a heartfelt post about my skin problems and I had really deliberated over writing it. Skin trouble is a very sensitive topic. It can cause anxiety and trigger insecurities. Having experienced it, I just wanted to tell people that it was all right and that they should not let these problems define them.

“At that very delicate time, Yasir decided to make a joke about the issue. People began to comment on what he had said, and I felt that I needed to say something. When we meet personally, Yasir makes so many jokes which I don’t mind at all. But this was a public forum. In my post, I had written that there was no need to tolerate people who put one down. And now, when my own friend had done so, I felt the need to address him on a public platform, just like he had. If he wasn’t my friend, perhaps I would have ignored the matter but I couldn’t in this case.”

The two are friends again now, having put the episode behind them. Does Hania ever fear that her forthright demeanour might dissuade people from working with her? “I think it would be very sad if that would ever be the case. How can people take offence to someone speaking the truth? And it does not mean that I’m difficult. Anyone who has worked with me knows this.”

“There was a time when I was more interested in having fun but, now, things have changed, I have changed. I feel a responsibility to speak out against something that I feel is wrong. People message me and tell me that they really appreciate it. It’s just that I have seen negativity in the industry that I work in. People bully each other and put each other down. This is my way of showing the good that is there, that you can also exist here by staying firm in your beliefs and standing up for what is right.”

Speaking of work, she was seen in a pivotal role in 2018’s cinematic release, Parwaaz Hai Junoon and, then, seemed to have taken a hiatus all through last year. She has only recently returned to the spotlight with her new drama opposite Feroz Khan, Ishqiya. Did she deliberately opt to take a break last year? “No, I ideally like to do one TV project a year as well as work in films,” she says. “But I don’t want to work in just any role just in order to remain visible. The character I play needs to add value to the storyline. There was an entire period where I was reading multiple scripts every week and not liking anything at all. Also, we have very few young actors that I can be paired with. I have to take that into consideration as well.”

So, she doesn’t like working with actors older than her? “If it makes sense, I would love to. It’s my dream to work with Humayun Saeed and Shah Rukh Khan,” she laughs.

The Asim Azhar factor

Does she also often get offered roles opposite her real-life love interest, singer and occasional actor, Asim Azhar? The two are one of the most well-loved — not to mention, good-looking — celebrity couples in the business and, surely, producers and directors must want to cash in on their chemistry? “I do get offered such roles frequently. Honestly, when Asim and I are paired together, it works out really well because we have the same on-screen chemistry as we have off it. But neither of us would sign on to a script just because it would be an opportunity to work together. If a character interests me, I will consider it and the same goes for him. Work is separate from our personal lives.”

The two of them have been quite public about their relationship. In a culture that is quick to judge, troll and brandish insults, do her family and friends ever advise her to be more private? “My mum sometimes tells me to keep my life private but I have never been someone who hides away the people who are important to her. I have never shied away from my relationships, or from owning the people that I like and love.”

Hania continues, “There was a time when I would focus only on the negative comments directed at me on social media. I suppose that it’s human nature — we focus on the bad rather than on the good. I have now tuned myself to look at the positive comments, that are always far more in number. There are good and bad people everywhere and I want to believe in the good.

“A lot of people love us and basically, Asim is so likeable,” she grins. “Sometimes, I think that if something ever happens, people are immediately going to assume that I am the evil one. They think that Asim can do no wrong!”

The battles within

Hania Aamir in Parwaaz Hai Junoon
Hania Aamir in Parwaaz Hai Junoon

We move on to more serious topics. Hania has often mentioned her battle with anxiety. Did this condition get triggered by her being in a high-pressure career? “I think I was always anxious as a teenager. I would go through phases when I would be crying for no reason. Back then, I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I think the condition escalated once I entered this career and was constantly working. I was enjoying it too, but there were times when I would be putting in all my energy into too many things, traveling from one shoot to the other, back to back. I was always drained out and it took a toll on my mental health.”

She continues, “A lot of people don’t understand that there doesn’t have to be a reason for feeling anxiety. It is an ailment that has to be dealt with, just like the flu. There are times when you can’t enjoy even the happiest times of your life.” She pauses, mulling over her words. “Like at my birthday. I was screaming and jumping around, surrounded by my loved ones, but my heart was beating loudly and I knew, deep down, that there was far too much chaos around me. The next day, we were having dinner and I just burst out crying. And when my anxiety acts up, sometimes even the smallest things seem difficult to do, like taking a shower, or deciding on what clothes to wear.

“It’s a very personal internal battle. There was a time when I would expect other people to understand, but I have now realised that it is unfair to think that they will be able to fill the void for me. I have to be my own happiness. And when I talked about it on social media, that’s what I wanted to tell the people who follow me: that it’s all right, this does happen, but it is very important to know how to deal with it.”

So how does she deal with it? She smiles. “I read somewhere that the maximum natural time for crying is eight minutes. If I’m going on for beyond that, it means I am self-inflicting pain upon myself. I think that, as I get older, I’m becoming more practical and that helps. I know how the world works, how my mind works, what I need to do to make myself feel better, like rest or eat the right food. Or take time out and just talk to myself, tell myself that I will get through this. Then, I just do.”

We change tack again. I mention that she’s going to be very much in the spotlight this year with a drama that is currently on air, and plans to shoot two upcoming movies, one directed by Wajahat Rauf and the other, a Hum Network production, launching Azaan Sami Khan as a hero. “I think that I have always been visible,” she points out, “but yes, there are a lot of plans.”

What kind of role does she dream of doing? “I would have loved to be part of Stranger Things — or be a Marvel superhero!”

I can just imagine her as a caped crusader; dainty and young on the outside but strong and sensitive underneath. Hania Aamir, as I had assumed, is a bubbly young girl who laughs often and lives a rollicking, high-flying life. But beyond the glitter and the designer-wear, she’s a thinker, a loyal friend to those who understand her and an actress set on doing things the right way. Quite the superhero.

Published in Dawn, ICON, February 23rd, 2020