Although she is mostly remembered for her lively roles from Tanhaiyaan and Dhoop Kinare, Marina Khan is someone who has played all kinds of characters, be it that of a bereaved mother from Parosi, of a conscientious teacher from Ehsaas, of a neglected daughter from Kohar or of a model turned housewife from Nijaat. After also directing multiple dramas for more than a decade such as Tum Hi Tou Ho, Tanhaiyaan Naye Silsilay and the Barat series – and spending her time as the content head of GEO TV – Marina Khan has re-entered the arena of acting, usually appearing in motherly roles in serials, long plays and movies.
The Friday Times caught up with her to ask some questions.
Muhammad Ali: Besides Dhoop Kinare and Tanhaiyaan, there are innumerable, lesser known projects of yours such as Khali Haath, Kohar, Ehsas, Parosi, Kaise Kahoon, Bewafaiyaan and Wafa Ke Mausam. Which of these is your personal favourite – one that you would want people to be acquainted with?
Marina Khan:Tanhaiyaan is my all-time favourite, as it introduced me to an entirely new world that I had found. I got to work with people that I had been watching on television for so many years and had a lot of fun while shooting for that serial. We became a family. Apart from Tanhaiyaan, the serial which I really enjoyed watching later on was Nijaat. Although my role was not a very conspicuous one in it, I realized that the project was very finely executed by Sahira Kazmi. Everything was perfect about it, be it the shots, the music or the issues which that serial addressed. Another personal favourite of mine is Tum Se Kehna Tha, which was an adaptation of Bill Pullman and Sandra Bullock’s While You Were Sleeping. I have also always enjoyed working with Mehreen Jabbar, but the three serials which I have mentioned stand out as my favourites.
M.A.: Lately, we have started seeing you in domestic roles. Is that a deliberate, experimental act or a compromise?
M.K.: It is what’s available right now! Besides, considering the age bracket that I am in, domesticated roles are what suit me and they are what will be offered to me. But I really enjoyed doing Bandish, the horror serial which I recently did for ARY. Although my role in Bandish was also of a domestic woman who falls into a predicament – it was a character that I enjoyed playing. The binary of good and bad which Farah Shah and I were enacting came up as quite interesting to me. But yes, these are the kind of roles which are being written. Even in my upcoming serial titled Aulaad, my role is highly domestic, but that of an emotionally charged woman.
M.A.: What were some of the main challenges which you faced as the content head of GEO TV? Do you think you succeeded in producing the kind of stuff you wanted to?
M.K.: It was a period of turmoil, as too much was taking place at GEO TV. A lot of groups were co-existing and yet acting against each other, and my voice was not being heard. More than the content, what mattered to me in those days was the production management, which had become so difficult a task, owing to a lot of chaos. I nevertheless am grateful to Baber Javed for hiring me for that position, as I needed that kind of task in those days. Although I faced disappointment because what was expected of me was to just work for the channel and not give my personal input, I got to learn a lot.
M.A.: You started directing serials at an earlier stage in your career. Was direction always your real calling?
M.K.: Yes, I believe it has always been my real calling. I love the process of creation. You put your energies into characters developed by a writer and you get to manipulate them and infuse various shades into them. I love the creativity which this process demands. Unfortunately, it’s not the director’s medium these days as much as it is the channel’s medium. They are the ones who tell you how things are supposed to look on the screen, which is actually an injustice to directors who have received training in the field but are dictated to, instead of being trusted with the work. Direction requires a lot of hard work and a fine attention to everything from the writing process to the final execution. But if people are not confident about how you are going to direct a serial and do not allow you to work with the actors that you want to work with, one doesn’t feel like putting in so much effort. Acting, thus, becomes an alternative in which you do your work, come back home and shut the door to what’s happening.
“Talking about Farar, I am not sure what the response would be, for it’s been quite long since we have stopped testing our viewers”
M.A.: Between acting in Mohammed Ahmed’s projects and directing his scripts, what have you enjoyed more?
M.K.: I haven’t acted in his plays as much as I have directed them. I really admire his scripts, as I believe that they a carry a perfectly balanced approach towards life, in which people both laugh and cry. This is quite realistic, as people with happy-go-lucky temperaments also encounter phases in which they break down. These varying shades of life are finely blended in Mohammed Ahmed’s scripts which has always attracted me towards his writing and has made me enjoy directing it. Sadly, we do not see much of his written stuff on screen now, since there’s a lack of demand for intelligent content.
M.A.: You have worked a lot with Mehreen Jabbar. What do you think sets her apart from other directors? If Farar, a story of three independent women, were to be remade, what, according to you, would the response be?
M.K.: What sets Mehreen apart from other directors is her choice of topics. She chooses subjects which are very close to real life and then also films them in a realistic way. So, even before reaching the sets for Mehreen’s project, you already know that your character has been well thought-out. You are confident that through whatever phases the character will go, it will do so while sticking to its originality and won’t go out of proportion. Talking about Farar, I am not sure what the response would be, for it’s been quite long since we have stopped testing our viewers.
M.A.: Few people know that you acted in an Indian drama serial as well. Tell us more about it.
M.K.: Yes, titled Tanha, it was written by Haseena Moin and went on air on the Indian channel Star Plus in the 1990s. To me, it was something more or less like Dhoop Kinare”, as it incorporated a story of an aged man and a young woman. I accepted the offer because it was providing me the opportunity to work outside Pakistan, and also because I was initially told that the older man would be played by Naseeruddin Shah. But unfortunately, Naseeruddin Shah had some issues with the production and he left after staying for only three days on the sets of Tanha. He was then replaced with Vijayendra Ghatge – which was nevertheless a fantastic experience. I wish I had more time, but since I had committed a play in Pakistan, I only had one month to work in India and we used to work all day to wind it up as soon as possible. The team was quite professional and it was a wonderful experience watching each member of the crew working with alacrity in his or her area, be it make-up, wardrobe or assistance in direction. I remember having a lot of fun on the sets. We used to have interesting conversations as both the Indian team and I were curious about the happenings on both sides of the border. Tanha was one memorable experience!
M.A.: You and Huma Nawab collaborated after so many years as performers in Kaif e Baharan and Dil Ruba. How was the experience of re-uniting for acting after so many years of Nijaat and Farar?
M.K.:It’s always wonderful meeting up with old fellows. We met after quite a long time since she left for the United States after Farar and stayed there for many years before making her comeback in the industry. It was such a lovely surprise seeing her walking in the dressing room, as I had no idea that she also had a part to play in the serial. We spent a great time reflecting on our past collaborations and laughing on them. Working with people you have known and befriended in the past is always a nice experience.
M.A.: Your film Lala Begum made use of highly sophisticated Urdu language. After so many years of doing modern, simple scripts, was it difficult working in Lala Begum?
M.K.: Yes! Playing Lala Begum was an extremely difficult job! Mohammed Ahmed, who wrote it, knows that my Urdu is very weak, and that’s why I had already asked him to be with me during the dubbing so as not to make any kind of mistake. It’s one of the toughest scripts I have done. Apart from that, the character of Lala was also a hard nut to crack, as it required that the face be kept straight and solemn all the time. There was no smile even in the flashback scenes. Still, it was quite a bit of fun doing that project. The timing was also very good, as we did not take more than a week to wrap up the entire project.
M.A.: Will your dream project be as an actor or as a director? Has it already aired or is still under-way?
M.K.:I believe that as a director, any project that you do is your dream project in one way or the other. If I were to say that directing a film is my dream project, that won’t be hundred percent true, for, after having done that, I would like to do another film. But yes, directing a film is on my wish list. Talking about my previous directorial works, it can be said that the Barat series turned into a dream-come-true at that point in time because of the huge popularity it gained. There was also a long play called Chura Liya written by Moahmmed Ahmed which I directed. I liked it so much that I gave all that I could do it, including my share of equipment in the production. I didn’t take any money for that project, as it was so much dear to me. So, these are a few projects which are very close to my heart, but I can’t tell for sure if they were my dream projects in the strictest sense or not.
M.A.: Having worked with people like Sahira Kazmi and being a director yourself, do you have intellectual clashes with young directors? Do you edit the roles you are given to perform or do you let things be as they are?
M.K.: I do fight over my character if I feel that it’s going in the wrong direction, but not always. I do allow the director to treat it as he or she likes, for one has to regard the director’s vision. Apart from that, it’s the writers who are more responsible than the directors for poor content. There are many young directors who I admire and who I have observed are always open to discussions regarding the characters. It is the written stuff which is parochial and one-dimensional to such an extent that one can’t really fight over intricacies. The little nuances that they should have in them are added by myself during the performance, as I do not like characters whose actions do not have logical grounds to them. Even if I am being asked to do something silly on screen, I would really want to know the reason behind such an attitude of the character.
M.A.: Do you believe that your serial “Kohar” was ahead of its times, for it tackled the issues of depression and anxiety back in the early 1990s?
M.K.: I believe that most of the stuff being written in those days was ahead of its times. I re-watched my serial Nijaat directed by Sahira Kazmi and was amazed at the topics it had addressed more than two decades ago. Talking about depression, there was this serial called Jungle written by Noor ul Huda Shah which came even before Kohar. The suicidal act of one of the sisters in it was also backed by severe depression resulting from patriarchal practices. So, in one way or the other, all the writers of those times were taking up variety issues, be it Haseena Moin in Kohar, Noor ul Huda Shah in Jungle or Asghar Nadeem Syed in Nijaat.
Muhammad Ali is an M.Phil scholar and a former visiting lecturer at GCU, Lahore. His interest lies in indigenous literature, the specific research areas being Partition novels, Environmental Literature emerging from South Asia and classical and contemporary Pakistani television drama. His research on Sahira Kazmi’s “Zaib un Nisa” which was a part of his graduation thesis has been presented on various platforms including Olomopolo Media. This interview is a part of a series of interviews in which various Pakistani celebrities including writers, actors and directors will be asked questions regarding their professional work. The writer can be reached at email@example.com