In Conversation with Mansha Pasha

FYI’s Editor-in-Chief, Batool Mehdi in a candid one on one with the very talented Mansha Pasha.

Fairly early on in to our conversation, it becomes quite obvious that in a world full of pretenders and posers, Mansha Pasha stands out. Confident yet self aware, articulate yet composed, Mansha deems herself a misfit in many ways. “I think when you are a certain way, not necessarily closed off or cold but just unwilling to fake your affections or be overt about them, you’re looked at a certain way,” she muses. I share my own experiences of being tagged a ‘recluse’ apparently for my consistent and unwavering reluctance to attend red carpet events and wonder if she views herself as unwittingly staying out of the already over saturated celebrity hoopla or is it more by design? “I think on some levels it’s a conscious decision to know what I’m doing and where I’m going,” she starts. It’s important to know who you are and be comfortable with it.”

And comfortable she most certainly looks in the Behind the scenes photos of her upcoming film, Chalay Thay Saath, releasing early next year in February. I tell her how much I loved the look of the film so far. “It’s quite a female centric film,” she begins to tell me. “Essentially it’s about these friends that go on a journey. It’s all these women at different stages of their lives. Syra is the pre marriage girl. I’m post marriage, Xhalay is post divorce. And Shamim Hillaly is at that stage where the empty nest syndrome has kicked in. Usually in our film it’s boy meets girl and kahani khatam. Our story goes beyond that. Seen through the eyes of a woman but the men aren’t the bad guys here.” I ask her what appealed to her most about her own character. “The flaws!” she’s quick to answer. “I love that she’s not perfectOn the whole too, I love that the story makes an effort to break the stereotypes around marriage. That it perhaps isn’t the be all and end all. There is and has to be more than that. Falling in love is an extremely important part of your journey but it is by no means your entire journey.”

Her passion for this project is evident. I ask her if she had to work for the role. “Actually, no,” reflects Mansha. “The producers liked some of my work and they came to me. I met them and this was right at the initial phase of their planning of the film. I believe I was one of the first people to get cast. Things just clicked.”

I ask her if she sees this as a career defining moment in any way. “To be really honest, when I started a few years ago I knew I wanted to be in the media. I did my bachelors in media, worked at advertising agencies and what not, so I was focused about being in the media. And then acting happened. As an actor now, I realize how up and down this work can be. Even with films, even though it’s the ‘it’ thing to do suddenly with everyone wanting to be a part of films, I didn’t necessarily want to do one desperately at any cost. I was always about the right script coming along. And this really was the right story.”

So, no item number offers ever came her way, I can’t help but ask. No producer doing his best persuasion job and proclaiming, ‘humain aap hi ki type ki girl chajye.” Mansha laughs and admits that she has been offered “all sorts of” roles. “But this was really it, about the role needing to be right. And Chalay Thay Saath was it.

It seems important to Mansha to be at peace with what she’s doing, I point out my observation to her. “You know, I’ve noticed so many people coming in to the industry or in the industry just wanting to be a star above all else. And for me really, the learning process, the craft of acting is always the main focus. The rest of the stuff is just a nice little by product that’s welcome but not the priority necessarily. I’m in this to do work that I enjoy. The money is a very important factor, don’t get me wrong. And even I’ve taken one or two roles I’ve done just for the money but then I become such a terror doing those roles, internally speaking because I’m clearly not happy, so what’s the point. So I now know that sure, money and fame, all great but I have to know and love what I’m doing,” she affirms.

What is her take on the quality of our dramas? “Well, I mean, the heroine is pandering to a certain stereotype, that can’t be denied,” she admits. I share my own frustration over the direction of most of our dramas and the female characterizations in particular. Mansha cites Mohabbat Subh Ka Sitara hai here as one of her favourite projects in this regards. “I enjoyed that because I appreciated that my character was real, layered, not just one note.” I ask if it is sometimes difficult to enact a role she doesn’t completely believe in herself? “I try not to take on that kind of role at all now but yeah,” she explains. “It’s tough. Not the easiest job in the world to justify sudden tonal shifts or certain inane dialogues.”

I mention Udaari as one of my breakthrough favourites of the year, not because of the cause, but because ultimately it was a good story, told well. Mansha adds her particular appreciation for Ahsan Khan here. “It takes courage. Hats off to him.

What about films? Does she see hope for our fledgling film industry? “I do see hope. I think we’ll get there. I do feel though that we need to find our own identity. Aping bollywood will only go so far, considering bollywood already does what they do and they do it better,” she says. And speaking of bollywood, where does she lie on the film and talent ban? “I’ve always been rather weary of working there, to be perfectly honest. With our two countries, the political scenario can never really be discounted. I feel weary of putting so much stock in to a project there that is ultimately so reliant on the ongoing instability of our relations,” she says. “And then, there’s the whole dimension of the female roles there as well, she continues. “You have the women used as little more than a prop in almost all their films. I think the last movie I really enjoyed in this regard was Queen. It was just so refreshing to see a female character, fully realized, warts and all.”

For someone with such definitively articulated opinions, I have to ask about her general pet peeves. What rubs her the wrong way? She thinks about that for a bit. “I’d have to say people who aren’t necessarily qualified getting to certain places through not exactly the most professional endeavours.” She must just love our politicians then! “I wouldn’t say I’m the most political minded person around but I do follow politics from time to time. My mother is very much into the minute by minute updates, so she’s a great guide in that sense,” she shares warmly. “I do feel very alienated though in a sense because I voted three years ago (for PTI) and felt very passionately about the whole process and I just really feel it has been all for naught.”

With someone as forthright as Mansha, I have to wonder if the apparent self absorption of the industry in general, is ever a bother for her. Is it possible to make real friends here? “I definitely have, and I would like to think that in these three (Noor, Ayesha Toor, Xhalay Sarhadi), I have found genuinely lasting friendships,” she says. “I just can’t do that thing though where you’re on a set and it’s all ‘I love you sweetie, jaani, you’re my best friend.’ I mean, honestly, how do people use their words so frivolously!” she declares with conviction. “It’s just a sheep mentality. Another pet peeve,” she laughs. “This need to conform, it’s just very irksome.”

Our conversation soon veers off on to another talking point of the year, Qandeel Baloch. “I never watched any of her stuff, so I don’t really know,” she starts hesitantly. “I’m just not very comfortable in glorifying someone after death, and just completely disregarding what their life entailed. It’s our thing, we either tear them up or glorify them to epic proportions.”

As we wrap up, we start chatting about our shared love for travel. “It really does so wonderfully broaden your horizons,” Mansha opines. “Makes you realize how small you are in the larger scheme of things. Our eyes are our windows into the world. When you see more of the world, you open up your own world, you see there is more to life. Puts things into perspective, really.”