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First person: Rider on the storm

April 14, 2013

Mohib Mirza. -File photo

Mohib Mirza is a rare breed. He has none of the airs of a star accustomed to people flocking around him and no pretensions whatsoever. With wife, model and actress Aaminah Sheikh travelling and both their schedules booked solid, it is not surprising that it is taking the couple longer than usual to settle into their new home. Mirza says that he is waiting for Aaminah’s approval to spruce up the place, “She has finesse, while I tend to have rugged tastes.”

In spite of their hectic schedules though, he says they still manage to spend time together and since they understand the dynamics and implications of their vocation, it makes it that much easier to understand the other’s commitments. “We don’t make an issue of not being available for each other all the time, but we do try to give gaps between assignments so we can be together. If we have back-to-back projects, I go off to see her on the sets. But, no matter how tired, at the end of it all we sit down to discuss our day and the next day’s schedule,” shares Mirza candidly.

Explaining the long gaps in his theatrical acting career — he began in 1999, then did theatre four years later, and then again after three years, and nothing in the last seven years — Mirza says, “I was 18 when I began theatre acting and there were around 18 or 19 of us who had started the group. I was the only one who went on to make a career out of acting, even though some of the others were 10 times better at it than me. I was left on my own, and since theatre wasn’t financially viable then, it wasn’t much of an incentive for me. That’s when I moved to television. Of course, theatre has its own high as you get instant appreciation, and I would still love to do it, provided its pure entertainment as I’m off social issues and preaching.”

Talking about the intensity of Seedlings the film and how difficult such an emotionally taxing film can be, Mirza says that it was a very depressing film and Amna’s role particularly, was heavy with emotions. He feels, however, that God forbid if they ever had to face a similar traumatic situation in real life, their reactions would not be as negative as that of the characters they play. “It all depends on your nature, how you take a tragedy of that sort — I don’t think either of us is the kind that would be so hard on ourselves or so unforgiving. I have seen my father suffer when my eldest sister died at the age of 21, and know how killing the silence can be even when you are with family. But I know how to handle Aaminah when she is down, and she in turn knows what will uplift my spirits.”

Interestingly enough, Mirza regards himself more as a film actor than anything else. He says “I know how to sync my vocals, body and expressions in a way that a hero is required to and have no qualms saying I would love to act in commercial films. For any actor, films constitute the pinnacle of their career and it is my dream that Pakistani cinema gets revived once again and we get the opportunity to appear on the silver screen time and again. It is all very well to do an occasional art film for festivals, but commercial cinema providing pure entertainment is where one should be really concentrating.” And this coming from a man who has mostly done art films so far, two of which were critically acclaimed. For the first, Insha-Allah, he won an award for the Best Supporting Actor at the International Filmmaker Film Festival held in Kent, England, while for Seedlings, Amna bagged the award at the New York Film Festival.

But Mirza’s love for commercial cinema is obvious and perhaps best demonstrated by Silent Cinema — his pictorial book and passionate tribute to our silent cinema industry featuring Sanam Baloch, Juggan Kazim, Sunita Marshall and himself in garbs and roles that are reminiscent of popular films, whether Hollywood or Bollywood, to drive home the point that all is not lost and such films can be made here.

While Mirza had also been a nominee for the Best Actor award for Seedlings, he says candidly that he had not thought for a moment that he was in the running for the award. “It was clearly Amna’s who had moved everyone with her performance, while Gohar Rasheed was a close contender as he had also performed very well.” However, it had been another story at Kent where Mirza did bag the award. He says with a grin “I kept thinking I have to get this; I was totally connected to the project, and felt like a child when the awards were being announced. I had planned the moment to a tee, down to my gift for Amna which I gave her the minute my name was announced.”

His own worst critic, Mirza says his most challenging roles have been the simplest ones where he has been required to do nothing. Citing his performances in Shehrezaat and Aqs as among the most difficult ones to date, he also recalls some of his earlier plays such as Patriyan, after which he became very depressed, and Ward No. 7 where he played the role of a mentally challenged person which were quite taxing. Recently, he says he did a shot for a play, Dukhter, which was also difficult because of the environment in which it was shot. “I had to do it at 6.30am in -12 degrees Celsius wearing only a kurta shalwar with just a shawl covering me.”

As for film direction, Mirza says he is not cut out for the nitty-gritty that a director has to get involved in. “Unless I have a free hand with the budget and don’t have to fret about things like the actors’ availability, etc, I would not want to get into it. You can’t tell an artist when he is about to start work that he has run out of paint.” So true.