It’s an hour before sundown, and I’m a little over three minutes late for the appointment with Juggun Kazim at her Khala’s place in DHA, Karachi. I’m proud of myself for being so punctual. In Karachi, it’s a wonder if you can make it on time to a place five minutes from your place. I quickly park my car in front of an ordinary looking house on a quiet, peaceful Khayaban and ring the bell. A guard’s head pops out of the metal gate almost instantly.
“Juggun Baji ghar pe hain?” I ask.
He shakes his head to say No, and I’m royally annoyed. So much for being on time!
“Kuch pata hai kitni dair main aayengi?” I ask, feeling like an interrogator. The poor man solemnly shakes his head again, and I narkily punch her numbers on my cell.
“Juggun! Hey!” I say, swiftly slipping into my super sweet mode. “I’m at the house, but the guard’s telling me you’re not home!”
A short pause on her end, probably to register what the heck was going on, followed by an array of apologies for not realizing what time it was because “this may sound stupid, but my watch is still an hour behind. I never got down to adjusting it!” She informs me, “I’m on my way out of Moomal Productions. Just give me ten minutes to be there!”
And rightfully so, ten minutes later her car’s at the gate and my phone’s blinking Juggun’s name. I make my way into the house and there she is, standing on the drive-way, in her gym PJs, ready with more apologies and explanations for making me wait.
“It’s perfectly fine,” I tell her as I follow her into the drawing room. “At least you had a reason…and you apologized.” And I mean it. I’ve barely spent two minutes with her, and I’m already a fan of her humility and down to earth manner.
The room we settle down in defies my previous analysis of the house. There is nothing ordinary about it. There is art, lots of it and everywhere. Antique furniture, interesting looking artifacts and oil paintings in all sizes and themes surround us. Being the art aficionado that I am, I’m absolutely overwhelmed. I tell her how impressed I am.
“My Khala and Khalu are collectors.” She explains, and just about the same time, in walks Hamza, Juggun’s three year old son, to give us company. I’m a little anxious initially. How am I going to carry on the interview with such distraction? But as it turns out, Hamza is a nice kid who doesn’t bother us much, and somehow, between his constant yet somewhat endearing jabber, Juggun and I actually manage to have a conversation…
Tell me about the early days. Your school, university, stuff like that…
I was born in Lahore and went to Lahore Grammar School and Kinnaird College before moving to Canada at 17, where I went to the University of Western Ontario for a degree in business but ended up hating it! Within a couple of weeks of starting my classes I decided it wasn’t the way I wanted to go because it just wasn’t who I was. I wanted to do something related to the media, so I gave up business and went for a degree in Media Information Techno Culture with double minors in Sociology and Psychology instead. I’d always wanted to be an actor. Even as a kid when people asked me what I’d become when I grew up, I’d tell them that I would become an actor. My mother had already made me promise that in university I wasn’t going to do anything related to acting because sadly she didn’t feel that acting was a real profession. I mean, a lot of emancipated people do but generally acting is still not considered to be a real career, which is sad. So my degree in Media made me feel connected to the field somehow.
But you did make a proper career out of acting eventually. Tell me about the transition from working a “boring” job in Canada to becoming the star you are today.
After graduation I took on a boring job at this company called Active Control Technology and became the Marketing Manager of the whole Toronto area. The only person left to report to was my boss who was the also the national head. I was doing really well for six months, I had been promoted and everything was going great, except there was a little problem: I hated my job! I hated it! I didn’t want to deal with active control devices or sell garage door openers and biometric eye scanners! It was interesting for me for the first six months maybe, but not anymore and I just didn’t want to do it. So eventually, I left my job and went on to do this stage play called Tara, which was written by Mahesh Dattani and directed by Sally Jones. From there, Yanick Landry, who’s my film and commercial agent, and Sandie Newton, who’s my theatre agent took me on. Soon after that, I landed a few commercials and a movie deal that changed my life.
That’s a surprise. Not many people know you started off with theatre…
Theatre is completely dead for me now because I don’t live in Canada. Yanick only lets me know if there is any major film or commercial prospects because I obviously can’t audition sitting here! I’ve always had an actor’s soul, but I never thought I’d be a television host. Never knew that I could, never knew that I was going to be one!
And what were your mother’s thoughts on the daring career switch?
Honestly, I didn’t even tell her initially because I wasn’t exactly earning and sending money back home. It wasn’t like I was living with my family. I was independent; I didn’t have to answer to anybody. I had enough money to survive the next 3-4 months and before those months were over I got this huge deal for this movie called Pink Laddoo (the name was later changed to Sweet Destiny). So that made enough money to put down payment on a decent apartment in Canada and survive another few months. Around this time I came down to Pakistan because I could, and now, four years later, here I am!
How did you initiate in the Pakistani industry?
I came here to do this horrendous AD. I had no idea at the time about who to work with and who not to work with. Actually the AD was directed by Sohail Javaid and it was only horrible because he was given the concept and script and even the wardrobe was provided by the agency. All he was asked to do was shoot it. It’s just that it was a really bad commercial and I looked a little awful in it. The only consolation was that I got paid really well for the whole thing! After that I ended up doing a project for Business Plus and Aaj TV. So basically a bunch of stuff happened all together.
The way things work here are obviously different from how they work in Canada. Did you get a good culture shock after returning?
I had no culture shock when I went to live in Canada, it was like I’d come home. But when I came back to Pakistan after living in a place that was so uncomplicated, I got the biggest shock ever! I couldn’t understand why there was so much backbiting, backstabbing, nastiness, conservative, judgmental views by people who themselves live very over the top sort of lifestyles…It’s just sad how people all around the world have become very two-faced and money minded. No body can see anyone else happy and succeed anymore.
So you’ve gotten used to all the backstabbing and nastiness now?
I’ve just learnt to ignore it. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it because that’s very hard—watching all this happen around you and coping with isn’t exactly easy. Some days I just want to sit down and cry because I get so frustrated by the nastiness and unkindness that some people have towards other human beings. Some times I actually feel like calling people up who’ve said something nasty about me and ask them why they’re talking about me when they don’t even know me! I mean, I’m a television host. My job also requires me to get out the guns like other journalists, but I’ve never been nasty to my morning show guests or been disrespectful to them in any way. When you make someone sit in front of a camera or write about them, you have a huge responsibility to be a responsible journalist. I’m not afraid of anyone and I’m ready to answer all kinds of questions, but you can’t convolute what I say and turn it into something I didn’t mean!
But you do believe in professional competition, don’t you?
Every human being in the world has a certain amount of money and success and work that they’ll get in their lifetime. If there’s a female character in a drama and Saad Zuberi is meant to get it, he will get it. Juggun Kazim can bend over backwards and do whatever she pleases and she won’t! I agree that we should all work hard and strive for the better, but work on yourselves! Stop trying to cut other people’s lines of communication with other people, stop causing issues for them and stop being unreasonably competitive! Fix yourself, everything else will follow. If you’re good at what you, you’re going to get the job anyway…
I’ve always wondered about your unusual name. What does it mean?
There’s absolutely no mystery to my name. My real name is Syeda MehrBano Kazim. When I was a kid, everybody called me Jugnu. Maybe it was because I was such a Dungar or such a guy that I ended up getting the name Juggun. There’s really no mystery behind it…
And you liked it so much that you decided to stick with it?
I dislike both my names. I’d much rather have been a Maya. But since I’ve always been less of a girl and more of a guy, I guess it’s OK.
How tough has balancing work and personal life been for you?
Hamza is my everything, so at the end of the day, there isn’t much left to balance! Being a working, single mom is not easy, but it’s not impossible either because I have a wonderful support network. My mother, my friends, my chachi, my khala and khaalu, my phuppo, my cousin with who I live and her family…everyone helps me out in every way possible and I don’t know what I’d do without them. No woman who’s a single mother can survive without a support network and my network is rock solid. I’m very lucky.
What’s your take on motherhood? How has being a mother—a single parent at that—changed you as a person?
Being a mother is just great. I think all the kich-kich and madness is totally worth it at the end of the day. Kids can be a lot of work—kids are a lot of work, because it’s not just about producing a child. That’s maybe the easiest part. Even the labour part isn’t that difficult. I honestly think the reason why labour is as painful as it is so that you get used to what you have to go through every day for the next fifteen years! Being a single mother, I’m running around like a headless chicken half the time, trying to get work done and giving my son the time and attention he needs. Emotionally it’s the most exhausting experience on planet earth! I constantly have to work things around him. I’m in Karachi to shoot a serial and I had to bring him with me. Just last night I went to sleep at three in the morning and had to get up at half past six because he woke up. It’s normal for me to function on three or four hours of sleep because I don’t have a choice. These things can sometimes really take their toll on you, sure, but like I said, it’s totally worth it. I wouldn’t change having a child for anything in the world! I would give up my career; I would give up my life. Hamza is the best thing that’s every happened to me, hands down! He makes me who I am at the end of the day. I’ve also become very paranoid since I’ve had a baby. I didn’t believe in nazar and stuff like that; now I believe in EVERYTHING! I guess it’s all a part of the process…
You’re an actor, a model, a host and a compere. Out of the four, what do you like doing best?
I’m an actor first and foremost, then a compere. I love hosting too, but only because I’ve been very lucky with the channels I’ve been associated with. Most people get stuck hosting shoes they get paid almost nothing for, and they continue to do it just to get their faces out there. As far as modeling goes, I hate the catwalk. I’ve never done it and I’m never going to do it! You would think I’d like to walk the ramp because I’m a theater actress but I don’t! It makes me feel like an object. People have said that I don’t do it because I’m uncomfortable with myself and I’m uncomfortable in my own skin, but it’s not that at all. I’m not really conservative but the clothes these days are so nanga and inappropriate that I just can’t do it. Besides, don’t you think I’m a little short for the ramp anyway!?
Do you consider yourself to be fashion conscious at all?
I’ve been accused along with Tania Shafi of not being fashion savvy at all and wearing the wrong outfits to wrong occasions…So no, I don’t think I’m a particularly fashionable person but then I’m not here to prove anything to anyone either. I wear what I feel like wearing (pointing to her gym PJs and Benetton tee); I eat what I feel like eating (pointing to the home baked chocolate chip cookie in her hand). I don’t care if I’m strictly dressed to the occasion or not. I’m doing a serial with Mehreen Jabbar for which I’m playing the character of a girl who’s about a 100 pounds more than me. I’m going to have about 8 inches of padding on all sides so you can see I have absolutely no inhibitions about anything.
Tell me about the people you love working with. Anyone you want to thank or give credit to for your success in the field?
There are 2 or 3 production houses you MUST work with. There’s Moomal Productions which is brilliant; Khurrum Rana’s production house is also wonderful; and then there’s Talking Filmain which is a Lahore based production house run by Adil Sheikh, Nasir Khan and Rizwan, and these three people are doing a great job as well.
I also loved working with Asim Ali, who’s a very good friend of mine and an amazing director. In Saiqa, he didn’t let me put on any makeup at all. All I have a braid and that’s it! Why am I so fond of him? Because he let the character be the character rather than letting the looks take over the character. Saiqa isn’t a girl who has impeccable hair and tons of makeup; she’s a simple girl who’s treated like crap!
I think Mehreen Jabbar is also a brilliant director because she believes in portraying her characters the way the writer envisioned them. If all you want is glamour, then you should go shoot stuff in India. Why were Pakistani dramas so beautiful? Because the actors were made to look like the characters, and not the other way around! Now it’s all about hiring an actor that looks a certain way and they sell the drama on the actor’s looks. It’s wrong and unethical!
Any particular people in mind as you say this?
I don’t want to diss anyone in particular, but you can see for yourself what kind of dramas all our channels are producing right now. I find Hum TV’s dramas the best because they’re the most realistic, and also some of PTV’s to a certain extent. I’m not very fond of the stuff other channels are making right now, sorry. Geo is heavily influenced by India and ARY shows Indian productions. I mean, India doesn’t show any Pakistani dramas on their channels, do they? I admit we can’t compete with their films but our dramas aren’t any less than theirs, if not much better!
So you’re totally against collaborating with India to make dramas and films?
Look, I have absolutely no issues with India. I think it’s a beautiful country, heck; we were the same country until very recently. What I have a problem with is our own people giving more importance to their crappy dramas and soaps than our good ones. Nobody shows any other country’s productions unless it has a certain amount of that country’s content, and we all know that no Indian drama or soap ever has Pakistani content in it.
No chance of seeing Juggun star in a Bollywood flick then?
I’ve signed three movies with Shaan and I’m focusing on those right now. I think I should concentrate on becoming a star in my own country first and then think about going international. I don’t understand why everybody’s in such a rush to become stars even before becoming starlets. They’re so fond of going to India that they forget that they have a responsibility to win the hearts of their own people first. They don’t understand that getting an Indian stamp on you doesn’t make you a good actor. Monalisa went to India and did a drama there, but I’m very fond of her because she tries to play variations with her looks and characters, but look at how they treated Meera!
Since you’re going to become a ‘film heroine’ very soon, tell me what you think about your future colleagues?
I’m a huge supporter of Pakistani film actresses. I’m their huge fan and I have no insecurity issues with them at all because they’re the people I plan to learn from.
I don’t understand why people criticize Iman because she’s always been very nice to me. She and her mother actually called me up after watching one of my dramas and complemented me, which was a very sweet thing to do. I think she’s a phenomenal girl and if people criticize and judge her without reason, they’re insecure. I absolutely love Resham. She’s actually the only genuine friend I have among these actresses. She’s a great soul and energy. She’s a wonderful person, but people don’t give her enough credit. I met Leyla recently and she’s also a lovely lady. Nirma is another sweetheart. I’ve met Zara Sheikh twenty times and each time she’s been so loving and nice to me and everyone around her. Shame on anyone who says she’s not a nice person. I have great respect Meera because of her resilience. Look at what happened to her in India and how everybody taunted her. You can’t learn to ride the bike or swim in first go, right? So why did we expect her to churn out a hit right way? I honestly think all these women are amazing and just don’t understand why we’re all so judgmental and unkind to them. I’m sorry if I’m missing anyone but I want to give credit to each and every one of them.
So you don’t think they’re to blame for the crap that’s being produced in Lollywood?
Ok, so Lollywood’s producing crap, but at least they’re making films! What would happen if there were no films being made at all? Lollywood girls are accused of behaving a certain way and doing wrong stuff. Do you think it doesn’t happen in Bollywood? In Bollywood the men and women both do it! It’s simply a budd say buddnaam bura scenrio. People just blame people for stupid things that are unnecessary to blame them for. Why does it matter what they do with their personal time? They’re entertaining you and it’s a huge responsibility, and if they don’t come up to the mark every time maybe its because in Lollywood a whole film is made in 60 Lacs while in Bollywood, one star takes away something between 10-15 Crores to be in a movie! Their budgets are insane!
I’m impressed that you have a very positive opinion about most things…
Of course I do! I don’t think negativity gets you anywhere in life.
Of all the characters you’ve played so far, which ones did you enjoy the most? Any type of role you look forward to playing in the future?
I really enjoyed playing Saiqa. I also enjoyed playing the character of a ghost in this Valentine’s play which was a lot of fun. As far as the kind of roles I’d like in the future goes, I’d love to play a girl who’s haughty and doing really well and very happy and just can’t get over herself. It’s fun to play characters that are totally different from the real you. I keep getting these chulbuli hyper-girl roles which I already am! Give me something different, something I can play around with.
How different is Saiqa from the real Juggun?
Saiqa was a very popular novel written by Razia Butt which got made into a hit film, and now the drama is a smash hit too. But dude, I’d never take anything lying down like that! That poor girl is constantly made qeema out of! After a certain point I actually went into depression because every day of shooting was so tragic and teary! But you know what? There are girls out there who go through the same thing…Sometimes a girl is born and a man from the family dies and automatically the girl’s labeled manhoos. It’s really tragic. You can’t treat human beings like that!
Tell me about your eyebrow-raising deal for three movies with Shaan. What’s happening, what kind of films do you have planned and who else is on board with you guys?
I can’t tell you much because we haven’t shot anything yet. The script for the first one is done though. We had to shoot in the summer but May to August is insane anywhere in Pakistan, so we’re going to use the next few months to plan it out. So far we’ve got Zeb & Hania on board. We’ve also got Shafqat Amanat Ali and a couple of other people on board as far as the music is concerned. Shaan is directing the film himself and he’s not stuck on getting only film people for the movie. He’s actually looking for people from television and dramas. It will be a 90 minute commercial venture, not a subject based film. I think it’s going to be something unique and different…
What should we expect? A Khuda Ke Liye type Saan or Gujjar type Shaan?
Something in between, I guess. Gujjar Shaan wouldn’t work with someone like me! Because Shaan’s directing the film himself, I’m sure he’s not going to let it become a Gujjar a type of situation!
Any other projects for television that we should look out for?
I’m currently working on a serial with for Moomal with Mehreen Jabbar. Zeba Bakhtiar and I are in talks about a project and might end up working together. Khurrum Rana and I are also tying a 3 serial deal, which we’re going to work on over the next year. I have my weekend morning show on Hum TV and a show each on PTV and Filmax. My talk show gives me the time and margin to be with my kid, and even though I have these five possible serials coming up, I’ll only be doing them one at a time so I don’t have to shoot every single day.
Where do we find you on a Saturday night?
At home, watching a movie.
What kind of books do you enjoy reading?
I just finished the Twilight series. I’ve also got Kamila Shamsi on my bed side table.
What’s your favorite way to rejuvenate?
Cooking. I’ve got an AC in my kitchen for a reason!
Really? So what’s your specialty?
I’m actually vey fond of Japanese food even though people think it’s kind of bland. I also make pastas. I’m a complete carb junkie…I’m like a carbohydrate fanatic from hell!
Karachi or Lahore?
Lahore, any day of the week!
Pakistan or Canada?
They’re both my homes. Pakistan is who I am and where I actually belong, Canada is where I always felt I should belong!
Your favorite local designers?
Kamiar Rokni dresses me for anything and everything. My friend Maliha Naipaul is also coming up with her own line of accessories which I’m super excited about!
Your favorite international designers?
Michael Kors is great even though he’s only just become more main stream. I also like Chanel clothes because they’re very classy. I don’t watch foreign fashion shows since I’ll never wear those clothes. I don’t think I need to own a D&G suit or a Gucci dress to feel good about myself. If I have nice shoes, I’m good. I’m a huge fan of Aldo accessories even though it sounds a bit tacky. I love Chloe, Gucci and Chanel bags. I don’t like LV because I think its very Dubai! Jimmy Choo shoes are much ado about nothing, I would much rather get a cute pair from D&G.
What are the three things you just can’t function without?
Hamza; my bag, because I’ve got everything in it; and sunglasses because I don’t deal with the sun very well.
What do you see yourself doing 20 years from now?
Hamza’s gone off to college and I’m running my own production house (which I’ve already registered, by the way!). I’m making films because I actually want to do something about the revival of cinema instead of just sitting on a pedestal and making comments about it. I’ve gone in there, gotten my hands dirty and come up with something good—something I’m proud of!