The authority that Pakistani actor Nimra Bucha has in her voice reflects in her crystal-clear communication of thoughts too. “I have had a stint at the radio for many years in London and I learnt to do different things with my voice and I know to control it well,” she says. The theatre person, who hails from an illustrious family that has made its presence felt across a wide range of disciplines, has had a long-lasting stint on television and worked in a handful of films. She has been selective about her work and picked scripts where her idea of women matched that of the storyteller.
She has sought credibility in the names she has worked with and her quest for quality has, more often than not, paid off. Talk to her about how she’s managing the promotional drive for her next show Churails for ZEE5 Global, she wittily remarks, “It’s wonderful that we no longer have to dress up going to different places for promotions, it’s painful for me to do that.” LetsOTT.com, in this interview with Nimra Bucha, comes to terms with the many factors that have driven her choices in her career in the entertainment industry.
Do you believe we’ve made progress in the way middle-aged female characters are written in films and shows?
Generally, we haven’t, but Churails has been an exception. Some of my contemporaries, wonderful actresses, are often having to do unremarkable characters on screen. They’re having to play unbelievable mothers to people who’re not much younger than them, mostly males who mostly never age in our industry. (laughs) It’s as bad as any big industry where men get reborn film after film and the women who played leads with them need to play their mothers. Middle-aged roles, as such, aren’t being written with any meaningfulness. It’s also a tragedy that a lot of production houses are being operated by women of that age group and it’s surprising why they feel the stories of middle-aged women can’t be interesting!
I think I’m a much more interesting woman in my 30s than I was in my 20s. Somebody has somewhere arbitrarily decided that these stories are not interesting. A lot of us in this age group don’t work in poorly written roles if we have enough money saved for a little while or in some cases, we’re stuck to doing them for the paychecks they offer us. It’s a very bleak picture. However, with Churails, when I read the role, I just couldn’t believe it and had to sleep on it, wake up and think about it for long. I was really surprised that Asim Abbasi (the director of Churails) had cast me for such an important part. She’s a very interesting lead to play. If I hadn’t got the part, I would have probably gone to his house and begged to give it to me.
On a lighter note, I guess it’s okay for actors to chase a filmmaker for a great role after all…
Absolutely. Generally, it doesn’t work for me that way. People often keep telling me to go, network and that I should often call up people and have lunches with them. Somehow, I feel it requires energy of another level. I can’t bother to do that and rather wait for work to come to me.
What is it that male directors or writers in Pakistan have gotten wrong about the portrayal of women over these years?
In our industry, the problem is not just about male directors/writers. The problem lies in the way female writers write female parts too. I think producers go to them with such demands of coming up with an uncomplicated story. For instance, when you see a love story around two people, it’s them alone and as if everything that surrounds them is a blur. A lot of successful shows in the industry in the previous decade have been written by women and most of them have been regressive; they have done nothing for human condition in general or women.
More progressive work was being done in the 80s where our stories were ahead of its times. In general, there has been a regression in the content produced in the subcontinent. With male directors, the talent hasn’t been exceptional at all; they are just doing the job because they can deliver the product as quickly as possible. It’s about how many scenes can a director do in a day. Even as I say that I have had the pleasure of working with names like Sarmad Khoosat. It’s not about the genders but there is a perception that this is the content that will be seen, make money and get you to work later. Female or male writers/directors are falling into the same trap.
Churails is a story about four women who run a covert detective agency and have husbands who’re cheating on them. In real life though, a lot of women in such situations silently suffer because they don’t want to risk divorce and are afraid about the impact that a failed marriage would have upon their future…
You’re right. As a society, we see a lasting marriage as a sign of success. If marriages don’t work out, it’s seen as a failure of your abilities as a human to connect and remain grateful. It’s the same across the world. There’s a stigma attached to divorce. It is more frequent these days because women are standing up for themselves; they know want they want and can take care of themselves/children and that they don’t need to be in an abusive relationship. Television and our films don’t reflect that change, even though there has been an increasing number of women coming out of abusive marriages. The visual medium has done a lot to reinforce the concept that divorce is bad and that abuse is a form of love, despite the romance being innately misogynistic. A lot of stories are about how the man is not kind to a woman and she still sticks to him. Our societies are changing but some people still don’t come out of abusive marriages because they don’t know what to do next; whether to go back home or not. It’s sad that families too don’t support women in that kind of hour.
Asim Abbasi’s outlook of women in Churails is a welcome sign of change. Isn’t it?
It’s so refreshing indeed! It’s beautiful to know what a story about feminism and female bonding could do to your life too. We got so much energy from the set and enjoyed being together. Every actor in the show has done a lot to bring an element of themselves to their part. The director Asim Abbasi has made sure that the actors had a lot of agency in performing the character. He would talk to us a lot, take our inputs, though he would have the final say. In Karachi, we shot in areas where we couldn’t step out in our costumes and people would give us strange looks; we were more or less stuck to our trailers with the AC's switched on, helping each other do our lines and share tips. I miss those times so much.
Is theatre an avenue you reserve for your artistic pursuit, because of the poorly written roles that keep getting offered in films and television?
If I could do theatre and make a living out of it, I wouldn’t have ever ventured into television. My television debut happened much after I had been doing theatre for many years. I was completely fulfilled as a theatre actor and a voice artist, having done several plays. Television was restrictive. Even in terms of my body, I wasn’t able to go through the emotions of the character completely unlike theatre that gives you so much freedom to explore your body language on the stage. Theatre demanded a lot out of me and I enjoyed that challenge.
For television, I would perform something on the set and it would turn out completely different on the screen. With good directors, it works to your advantage. You have no control over the way you look or sound on television because many people come between you and the part you ultimately see on the screen. I found this extremely stifling in my early days. There have been instances where I have not chosen to work on television but when a good script comes along, I don’t say no. I do theatre because it is most fulfilling and if I can say in Urdu, ‘Aapko usi waqt pata chal jata hai ki yeh jaadu hua yaa nahi hua’. With television and films, the content has to go through so many layers to eventually come through, but the gratification with theatre is instant. In Pakistan, there isn’t a huge state funding for theatre and dance. Whoever wants to do a play needs to do it on their own and at the end of the day, we don’t end up making any many out of it unless and until we have big sponsors. Theatre is still my first love.
Has film and television entertainment been of great cathartic value for spectators in a dreary situation like the pandemic?
I certainly think so. In the times of COVID 19, people have read books, watched television, movies. I personally got to watch a lot of Harry Potter and dinosaurs on the small screen. Television has always been big in Pakistan because we never had a big film industry here and barely went to the cinemas since the 80s. We sat at homes and our idea of entertainment has been restricted to what we saw on television. What’s wonderful now is the fact that we’re getting so much international television now through digital platforms. It’s a big thing for Pakistani actors like us to know that our work will be seen by the world and I’m sure Churails will be a milestone for ZEE5. As actors, we’re no longer performing for our country’s audience anymore. I want people in India to see our work; we have grown up watching theirs. It’s a cultural exchange I’m excited about.