She has generated more buzz than anyone else with her pictures adorning Arif Mahmood and Tapu Javeri’s latest coffee table book, Do Rukh, along with Reema Khan, Shakeel, Haseena Moin and the ‘in your face’ Mathira. But Kanga holds her ground strongly. While Mohsin Sayeed expressed his concern over the ‘marketability’ of Kanga in an article recently published in a newspaper, many have lauded the move, stating that she makes for an intriguing choice as cover girl.
The tall and blonde Kanga is exceptional when it comes to witty one-liners and innuendos. “Darling, I say what is there in my heart,” she says to me as she makes herself comfortable in her spacious apartment which is an eclectic blend of old world charm and present-day décor, and reveals much about her refinement in taste with carefully picked and placed trinkets which she has articulately collected during her travels alongside cherished family heirlooms.
In her husky voice, she goes on about sharing more anecdotes, talking about her fascination with shimmer and shine. “I like sequined clothes and even now I wear them. My family would tease me and call me chamak dhamak, but I am fine shining away merrily,” taking care to point out that it was something she picked up from her mother and Madam Noor Jehan. “These two were my style icons. I feel blessed that I had the privilege of their company. I can say it with pride that Madam treated me as one of her daughters.”
So deep is her reverence for her mother and Madam that she says a part of her died when both of the women passed away.
On her decision to become a cabaret performer way back in the ’60s, Kanga says, “For me, dancing is a passion. Ever since I was a youngling, I loved to dress up but more so shaking a leg. My mother’s cousin, Amy Minwalla, was a superb dancer and she was inspirational in her own way.”
For someone who wanted to chart out a different map for her life, Kanga says the choice was controversial. “Way back in the ’60s and ’70s, Karachi was a very different place to be.
We had bars and dance shows and the society was free and not ‘frustrated’ like it is now. Even then, it was very difficult to become a dancer as it was not a choice many parents would approve of. I enrolled in a medical college but dropped out in the fourth year. My father was horrified and worse still my grandmother,” Kanga remembers. The elderly lady was completely shocked at realising that Kanga would become a dancer in a nightclub, and was furious “that you will mess up your chances of finding a decent Parsi match.” But Kanga had her heart set and she says her father’s words still ring clear in her memory that do whatever you want to but studies come first.
She went on to perform at the city’s leading nightclubs at the Inter-Continental, Palace Hotel, and the Playboy at Taj Hotel — she was the one breaking boundaries with teasing cabaret performances.
“The society here was becoming more and more rigid and finally the nightclubs shut down and we lost the little bit of freedom that we had. Dancing was not only looked down upon but the performers were equaled with prostitutes. The false sense of ‘superiority’ has harmed us so much and whatever is happening now is a reflection of that mess,” she charges.
Here she quotes a recent interview of hers where the interviewer asked her all sorts of embarrasing questions such as her age, about her being a true blonde, smoking and wrote that the Parsis are a conservative community. “Our community is anything but conservative. As for the rest of it, I just don’t know what it has to do with me as an artiste,” she says.
Later, she joined the Pakistan International Airlines as a cabin crew member and served the national flag carrier for over 25 years. Meanwhile, she continued to perform internationally, synchronising her flight schedules and performances accordingly.
However, she had to put everything on hold and opt for retirement when her mother fell ill. “I moved from being an entertainer to a primary caregiver and it wasn’t an easy transition. It was like taking care of a fragile child and at times it scared me that I might not be doing it well. I hope that I was able to provide comfort and relief to my mother during her last days,” she says, tears welling up.
As she calmed down a bit, she started talking about her ‘new-found fame’. “TV is huge, it made me a star in no time,” she says winking. Looking forward to some challenging roles, she is proud of the fact that her character, Bibo Begum, made her a well-known face amongst the masses. “I played her in Tauqeer Fatima B.A. The whole ‘madam’ bit was such a hit.
People loved to hate Bibo and anywhere I went people recognised me immediately.” She has also starred in Dil Dena Seekho, Taka Ki Aayegi Baraat, Parvaaz and Mere Tumhare Hamaray which is soon to go on air. Being a dancer, her body language is very powerful and it talks more than her when she’s on screen. She also points out that Huma, Wajid and Waqar do her makeovers for the small screen while she trusts Saqib and Sabiha with her evening looks.
On a personal front, Kanga says she is ‘single and always ready to mingle’. “Love is a precious commodity,” she adds. In between work and leisure, she fell in love with a Greek gentleman who was “fascinating and was the best man anyone could ask for.” They met at the Samar Nighclub at the Metropole Hotel after his ship docked at the Karachi port and it was love at first sight.
But though she pushed the limits with her dance moves, she failed when it came to convincing her family to let her marry him. “Had I married him, my family would have become outcasts in the community. So while we could not be together, what did survive was our love. I don’t know if anyone would have cherished me as much as he did by not marrying anyone long after we parted ways,” says Kanga with a tinge of sadness.
Of the countless photographs that adorn her home, there is a picture of the two, her looking like an Amazonian and him no less a Greek god with a warm smile. “You are the happiest when you are in love,” she says dreamy-eyed. Years later, when their relationship was over, her mother sensed her unhappiness and said that she should have allowed her to marry him. “By then it was too late. All I have now are good memories of the time we spent together. Why worry about what could have been,” she says poignantly.
Years ago, I read a mini book titled Old Age is not for Sissies. The crux of the book, that was a wonderful compilation of quotes about coming to terms with maturity, was that it is not for the faint-hearted. In a culture where youth and beauty are worshipped, very rarely does one come across people who reinvent themselves. Marzi Kanga is one of those precious few.