Mahira Khan is a dreamer. Judging from her career trajectory, it’s quite easy to say that she will go where her dreams lead her. Though, in her own opinion, she’s “also very lazy” and might sometimes need that “push.”
Over a decade since she entered the entertainment industry, while she’s still the pretty face that would launch a thousand brands, the ‘Raees’ star has evolved remarkably as an artiste. Her range as a performer has clearly widened — a recent proof being 2019’s blockbuster ‘Superstar’, which fetched her top acting honours at all the leading awards events in Pakistan.
Her next few films — ‘Neelofer’, where she plays the eponymous character, said to be a challenging one, and the much-anticipated ‘Maula Jatt’, both featuring Fawad Khan; and director Nabeel Qureshi’s potboiler, ‘Quaid i Azam Zindabad’ — are tipped to consolidate her position as the queen of marquee.
But box office measures of success don’t seem to rule her life. She has the grace to step back and let a younger actor take the spotlight wherever there’s an occasion. A case in point: ‘Parey Hut Love’, where she gave up on the lead role in favour of Maya Ali, and opted for a special appearance instead. Which shouldn’t be taken to mean that she lacks ambition — she has only set her sights higher. Her latest venture is a web series, titled ‘Baarwan Khiladi’ (Twelfth Player), where she goes behind the camera.
Khan recently made the big reveal by sharing the logo of her freshly set up production company, Soul Fry Films, on her Instagram account, following it up with the announcement that she was producing the web series in collaboration with Nina Kashif from Tapmad, a local streamer which will release ‘Baarwan Khiladi’ as their debut original drama.
Again, she chose not to cast herself in it. “There wasn’t a role that suited me,” she tells Gulf News in an exclusive interview. “Maybe if I was younger I would have played a character in it.”
As the title suggests, ‘Baarwan Khiladi’ has cricket as its backdrop. According to Khan, it’s a “coming of age story […] about friendships, relationships, unity, failure, success, love and courage.” It is scripted by Shahid Dogar and directed by Adnan Sarwar, whose credits include the small-budgeted but impactful films ‘Shah’ and ‘Motorcycle Girl’, both based on sports (boxing) and adventure travel respectively.
‘Barwaan Khiladi’ will be released after the Pakistan Super League (PSL) final. As such, it is expected to benefit from the cricketing season. It boasts a largely new cast, led by musician turned actor Danyal Zafar (Ali Zafar’s youngest sibling), fitness trainer and model Zarrar Khan, vlogger Shahveer Jafry, model Meer Yousuf, and content creator Khaqan Shahnawaz. Popular TV actress Kinza Hashmi plays the female lead. Sarmad Khoosat, Saba Faisal and Mira Sethi are part of the supporting line-up. Sadly for Khan’s fans, she won’t be making an appearance in the series.
Excerpts from the interview follow...
You’ve surprised many by stepping into production. Tell us what prompted this? What are you hoping to produce under your banner?
To be honest, I’ve always been inclined to getting behind the camera, always wanted to direct or produce. But I am also very lazy when it comes to finally deciding and doing something. My co-producer, Nina Kashif, gave me that push! It’s very small at the moment. I want to get my hands dirty with smaller projects first, make stories that get me excited.
Soul Fry is an interesting name for your production company. It calls to mind the Bollywood movie title, ‘Bheja Fry’. Also, tell us about the shepherd girl’s silhouette against the full moon in the logo.
Soul Fry has a back story, will reveal one day; now isn’t the time. It’s a special name for me; have kept it with me for years. But the logo is a combination of things I love and relate to. I love the moon. My idea of being a heroine was always wind blowing and my hair flying. Anytime that happens I feel like a little girl whose dreams have come true. So yeah, it’s a shepherd girl on the moon, wind blowing her hair, searching for the stars!
A sports-based web series is a rather unique choice for your debut production. Do you agree?
I have to admit — I’m not a sports fan at all, so I could have never imagined wanting to make my first series about that. But when I heard the story and read the script, it got me excited. Also working with younger/newer people was something that I really wanted to do — be it the actors or the writer or the art director etc.
Would you say that you chose Adnan Sarwar to direct the series because of the fact that he had a well-made sports-based film to his credit?
Not just that! I loved Shah as well as ‘Motorcycle Girl’. I like the way he tells a story — he does it simply and with heart. We were lucky to have gotten him on board!
The lead cast looks very fresh. As a producer, how much were you involved with the casting as well as other departments of the web series?
Completely involved. Nina got both Shahveer [Jafry] and Danyal [Zafar] on board. We got everyone to audition for most of the parts. Sarmad [Khoosat] was a huge bonus, because his is one of the main characters. I got Kinza Hashmi on board. That’s the fun of being the producer — you can put together a team that will enhance your vision for the project.
Why Tapmad (and not, let’s say, Zee5 or Amazon Prime)?
Why not Tapmad? I wanted my first to be on a Pakistani platform. I would love to produce for Zee or Amazon or Netflix, but I also feel we need to empower our local OTT platforms. Hopefully this will start a trend of local content being made for local online platforms.
When are you hoping to release it?
Right after the PSL final, Insha’Allah.
Finally, will your fans get to see you in the series, maybe in a special appearance?
[Laughs] You know, I might be the only actor whose first project does not have themselves in it! And maybe that’s a bad ‘marketing move,’ but I don’t look at it that way. There wasn’t a role that suited me. Maybe if I was younger I would have played a character in it. Kinza Hashmi has a very cool part. I made sure the girl’s character is something I want to see on screen! I hope my fans enjoy the series because of that.