The Humaima Affair

I first met Humaima Malick early last year on the sets of a telefilm she was doing and found myself captivated almost instantly by the woman’s incontrovertible charm and good energy. Right out of a bad marriage, she had just finished shooting for Bol with Shoaib Mansoor and was out and about; surrounding herself with work and being refreshingly modest about all the big projects she was taking on.
Our next meeting was equally interesting if not more. On location for Xpoze’s April 2011 cover shoot at the beautiful Acton House, my first impression of the young actress was confidently reinstated: Humaima was indeed a charming little thing, oozing positivity and happily chirping her way into the “bright future” she told me she going to build herself “because, well, I deserve it!”
Fast forward four months and I find myself having coffee with her yet again—but mind you, she’s the hottest star in town now, and getting hold of her this time around was not even remotely as easy as the previous two times! Bol has done wonders for Humaima’s celebrity, and it’s nice to see she’s definitely in The Zone and loving every minute of it because we at Xpozé think she deserves it too!

How does Humaima Malick, a glitzy yet relatively inexperienced television actress, land a role in a hardcore Shoaib Mansoor movie and nail it?

There’s a really funny story associated with the initial phone call I got from Shoaib Mansoor. It was a Sunday and I was on my bed watching a film on Star Movies when someone called me from an unknown number. I contemplated whether I should answer the call or not, but then I did and this man said: “Assalam-o-Alaikum jee, main Shoaib Mansoor Sahab baat kar raha houn.” Now, don’t ask me why, but without saying a thing, I got off my bed and ran to the drawing room. I guess it must’ve been the excitement because as you can see, I’m a very hyper active girl. He must’ve though I was crazy, panting on the phone like that…but thankfully that didn’t affect anything and he told me that he’d recently seen one of my plays was interested in casting me for a role in his new film. He was very straight forward about the whole thing, and asked me to move to Lahore to shoot for the film almost right away. I was working on a daily soap at the time but I didn’t think twice about leaving it and flying down to Lahore…after all, it isn’t every day that you’re offered to do a Shoaib Mansoor film!

And what’s the story behind your last minute promotion from doing a cameo to the main lead of the film?

I was initially offered to do the role of Meena, the tawaif from Heera Mandi, which was eventually played by Iman Ali. It was a perfect opportunity for me; I was being asked to do a serious, important role which I knew I’d be great at as I’m a fairly good dancer and I love dressing up! Fahd Hussain designed my clothes and we made all the preparations; I told everybody that I’d be playing Meena’s character and even started my dance rehearsals… and then suddenly, out of the blue I got a phone call from Shoaib Sahab and he told me that he’d changed his mind, that I won’t be playing Meena anymore.
You cannot imagine what i went through then! It was horrible…I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. He told me that he wanted to place a bigger responsibility on my shoulders. I didn’t realize what a big break this was for me, and started sulking. I wanted to play Meena and not Zainab because as you’ve seen in the movie…both the characters are totally opposites of each other! Shoaib told me Zainab won’t be using any make-up; that I would have to let my eyebrows grow out and that I couldn’t wax for three months! I literally spent the first few weeks dreading just how ugly I’d look on screen… from playing a sophisticated make-up laden tawaif, I was “downgraded” to a simple girl.
It wasn’t until we began shooting that I realized how lucky I was to play Zainab. There’s a saying that whatever happens, happens for the best, and now I truly believe that. Zainab and Bol have done wonders for me!

Is working with Shoaib Mansoor really as phenomenal as everyone who’s been there done that makes it sound? What is he like when you’re working with him? How was your experience with him?

I had never met Shoaib Mansoor before Bol. So when I went to Bari Studios in Lahore to meet him for the first time, I went in and sat down in front of someone else. I know I should have Googled him before going but I was too excited to remember to do that! Anyway, Shoaib Sahab an absolute gentleman. He called me a “Khatoon” throughout our first conversation. He’s usually very quiet probably because he doesn’t like to talk much. He isn’t very fond of receiving and giving compliments either. I’m telling you this because a few days into shooting, he took me aside during a break and gave me the biggest compliment that I’ve ever received: He told me that I was doing much better than he’s expected from me! Such a huge compliment coming from Shoaib Mansoor was unreal. And now that I look back, I feel this whole experience has been unreal. I honestly feel that I could maybe forget all the work I’ve ever done till now, but I can never forget Bol and working with a director like Shoaib Mansoor. He’s an institution in himself, really. I think he’s the best writer we have in Pakistan these days and there’s definitely no denying his brilliant directorial capabilities.

How particular is he about the minute details that other directors often choose to overlook?

He gives a lot of space to his actors. He’s not one of those directors who sit down and tell you where to look and how to breathe. I don’t know about the others, but he gave me and Manzar Sehbai a lot of space to bring our own personalities into our characters, and that’s evident throughout the movie.

What’s your personal take on the story of Bol and the many social issues it touches in three odd hours?

I think Shoaib Mansoor is a very brave director. Talking about serious issues and taking panga with mullahs and extremists in every movie definitely takes a lot of courage and conviction. It’s difficult to start making a three-hour movie and throw in so many social issues in without making it boring and thick. Bol addresses issues of Shiite-Sunni conflict, homosexuality, eunuchs, prostitution, Heera Mandi, women’s rights, family planning and extremist fitna mullahs…I think it’s a big achievement and hats off to him for pulling it off successfully.
Pakistan needed an eye opening session like this right now. There are too many problems in our society that we simply choose to ignore while the people suffering silently suffer on.
There have been many negative reviews of the film and its story line, but I believe there are a lot of people around who’ll be jealous of you no matter what you do. There are more people who’ll criticize you for doing something rather than doing it themselves. My message to them: we don’t want your baseless criticism; we want your efforts!

In my opinion, the first scene where Zainab bids adieu to her family is perhaps the most overwhelming scene of the movie. What was your favourite scene? What parts did you enjoy shooting the most?

I never use glycerin to induce tears while I’m shooting. I’m a very natural actor… I have my own opinions on how to do scenes and I strongly believe in observing others while I do my thing. Call me clever, because I tune my acting levels according to my co-actors just to stand out!
You must have noticed in the first scene when my sisters and mother were crying… I was quiet; and when they become silent, I started screaming! It was a very natural and emotional scene. Here’s a girl who’s on death row; she knows she’s going to die in a few minutes and this is her last conversation with her mother. She talks very calmly to the sisters and gives them a controversial lecture about living their life… but when the policewoman comes to take her away, she makes one sound and that’s “Ammi” –there’s fear and panic in that one word… expecting the mother protect her and make everything alright.

Although it’s very difficult to choose a favourite scene from a movie like Bol, I think mine would be the last scene… the dialogues are just too real and hard-hitting, you know, and I think I was able to get the message across. I also enjoyed the scene when I was beaten up by my father and when Pakistan loses the match; that was fun!

Tell me about the physical and emotional challenges you had to endure to play a battered girl like Zainab.
We knew right from the beginning that Zainab had to be a very down to earth sort of a girl. She was strong and brave…so bringing her to life and giving her all those characteristics while keeping my emotions and expressions subtle was indeed a challenge!
I think I did justice to her though. I know a lot of actresses say this about their characters but I literally became Zainab for three months! I ate, drank, slept and talked like her. I kept asking myself: what would Zainab do? How would she react to a certain dialogue or situation?
Physically, I had to sacrifice a lot as well. I love make-up and taking care of my face and body, but during those three months, I had to give all of that up! Maram used to cut the tips off my hair every day to make me a fake uni-brow. I couldn’t wax my lips and arms because Shoaib Mansoor had strictly told us not to! Looking like that I didn’t go to any parties or outings during that time either. I just sat in my hotel room waiting for another long day of work tomorrow!

Your character was exposed to a painful amount of physical abuse throughout the movie. How did that feel?

I don’t even remember how many slaps I received from my grumpy father in the movie. I haven’t counted them yet but I think I should so I can tell people! These were all real slaps, so it got really funny at times. Manzar Sehbai is a very natural actor, he said couldn’t fake the slaps and we all agreed. We wanted the abuse to be as natural as possible.
There was a scene where Hakim Sahab throws me against a mirror and I get a cut on my forehead. My stars were definitely not on my side the day we shot that scene! I had a headache and Shoaib Sahab kept asking me to redo the scene because he wasn’t happy with the shot. In the end I went to my hotel room with a huge real scar that was visible for four days! Manzar Sehbai had a ball of a time beating me up over and over again though… but I guess the end result was worth it. It’s one of my favourite scenes in the movie especially because of this little story behind it!

So what does a young woman who’s constantly referred to as a harrafa by her grumpy father go through?

Would you believe a few of my friends have actually told me to change my Facebook name from Humaima to Harrafa! Everybody has been calling me a harrafa since the movie has come out! It wasn’t the only bad word I was called in the movie though. Some of the other epithets I was blessed with by Hakim Sahab in the movie never made it past the censor board!

Did you ever feel there were any similarities between Humaima Malick and Zainab?

Zainab has been a very close to life character for me! I’m like her in a lot of ways… I take care of my family, I’m the one who speaks up all the time, I make family decisions and I take a stand for what I believe in. I’m a fighter just like her!

So how fun was working with Mahira Khan and Atif Aslam? Any fun on-location stories for us to enjoy?

Mahira is an angelic girl. I love her positivity and good vibes, and I really enjoyed spending time with her on the set. We became very good friends during the shooting of the film. The rest of my sisters in the movie were played by Wardah, Hania and Mahnoor and they’ve all done a great job and you can see their hard work in all the scenes. Amar, however, was my favourite! He is so ridiculously talented it’s not even funny. He sings, acts, and does parodies and he also writes. Atif Aslam was a ball of good energy on the set as well. He’s a nice, positive guy and we had a lot of fun together.

How did you all spend time after a long day of work? Ay fun stories?

You know Mahira and I are from Karachi and the rest of the cast was from Lahore… so we used to make groups and fight with them over which city is better. We used sit up all night talking and singing in Victoria School building which was the location of our home…We used to make Amar and Atif sing songs for us on request. Victoria School was our little private chilling point for those few months and the time I spent with my co-stars there will always be cherished!

Tell me a bit about Zeb Rehman and Manzar Sehbai, your parents in the movie.

Zeb is Dr Anwar Sajjad’s wife and I think she was excellent in the movie considering she was facing the camera after 16 years! She’s very positive and helpful to everyone around her, and being the wife of such a prominent personality, she’s also very intellectual and has a learned opinion about everything. She exudes warmth and she’s put in a lot of effort to prove she deserved this big break after all these years. Manzar Sehbai is an extraordinary actor and human being. I could never have done justice to Zainab without his help. He played a very important part in the successful execution of my character because he literally made me feel hate for him, you know, and that’s exactly what we wanted. Shoaib wanted people to hate him, and Manzar Sahab successfully pulled it off! He’s such a good person to be around. Playing a khapti fitna mullah wouldn’t normally be easy for someone who’s lived in Germany away from this culture for so many years, but he did it and it was totally believable. His crankiness was pivotal to the movie and I think he did a very good job.
If Zainab’s father wasn’t such a pain, no body would have listened to her. It was because of Hakim Sahab’s unlikable character that Zainab shone in contrast!

And ironically enough, you’ve become quite good friends with him since then?

Yes, I’ve become very good friends with Manzar Sahab. He’s more lively and energetic than most young people I know, which is a great characteristic for an actor. We can talk for hours about anything, chill out together… We hit it off almost instantly and we used to get along really well out of all the others. He’s been a very good friend to me.

There has been a lot of controversy about some of the dialogues in the movie, especially the bold, nonconformist ones voiced by your character. Did you have any reservations or apprehension about this before signing the film?

During our initial meetings, Shoaib Sahab warned me that I needed to be very sure and very careful about the dialogues I was being given. He told me that I had to be absolutely sure whether I wanted to do it or not. But I’ve always been a brave girl and I took up the challenge because I’m not afraid of pseudo intellectuals and khapti mullahs. I know I’ve done nothing wrong and none of the dialogues in the movie were meant to hurt anyone. They were written by a Muslim man, spoken by a Muslim woman and Heard by a Muslmi nation. People make a big deal out of nothing here…would you believe that during the premiere, when the scene where I say I wish I was God so I could make all men give birth to at least one a child, a maulana sahab got up and started shouting: “Kalma parhlo! Kalma Parho!”
These dialogues were meant for exactly these people…people who twist and abuse religion according to their own preferences. Most people misinterpret the sayings of the Prophet. They don’t think there’s anything wrong with the Muslim nation being uncouth beleaguers with no sense of righteousness as long as they’re the biggest in number! Where’s the sense in that?

But you have to admit, the Burqa dialogue was taking it a bit far when you know half your audience wears them. Were you ever afraid of offending anyone with such an extreme insinuation?

Well, yes, I guess I was a little scared of the Burqa quote at first (“Utar kay pheko apnay Burqay aur jeeo apni zindagi”), but now I think it was a very courageous dialogue. Today people are talking about Zainab because whatever she said struck a chord with people.
Women in our society wear burqas and sit at home while their husbands go around doing whatever they want outside. Wearing burqas doesn’t have to mean you forget your rights and become a doormat. Thousands of Pakistani women need to be reminded that and that’s the only message this dialogue was meant to convey. There are thousands of girls who spend their whole lives inside the four walls of their small homes and are not allowed to go out and experience the small wonders of life, and I think that’s just plain sad!

Bol has generally been very well received and you are now being considered a force to reckon in the film industry. How has your personal life changed since the release?

Bol has done wonders for me. It’s made me feel like a true star! People are going crazy over me I have even been called the current face of Pakistan by some people. If that’s not a compliment I don’t know what is!
I’m really flattered that I’ve become a sort of role model for oppressed women throughout the country. Guys have started staking me seriously and don’t see me as just a glamorous actress anymore…and I’m very proud of that. Working with Shoiab Mansoor has been every bit as exciting and rewarding as I’d imagined if not more. The respect and good wishes have been overwhelming. Bol hasn’t just changed my life… I’m hopeful it will empower girls like Zainab to finally speak up as well!

So what’s your message to the people who insist that models can’t act?
People used to say that Humaima Malick can only do glam roles with lots of make-up and fancy clothes… I think Bol is answer enough, don’t you think!?

Commercial cinema versus art cinema—what’s your pick?

There are different types of people in this world and they all have different preferences. Some people like hip, crazy movies like Dabangg and some like serious stuff like Bol. Our country has seen enough of song and dance and dhotis and lachas…they need something new and Shoaib Mansoor is giving them that!
I’m not going to limit myself to any specific type of films…I’m an actor and I believe in good work. I’ve done bubbly roles in the past and now I’ve shown you all that I can do serious acting as well… My only criteria is a good script.

What else are you keeping yourself busy with these days?

Bol is an Eros movie so it is definitely a big deal worldwide soon. It will be released worldwide on Eid… we’re going to have premieres in India, Dubai, Singapore, London and USA. We just had a showing of the movie at US consulate for all the diplomats in Pakistan. That was a great experience and I had a lot of fun discussing the movie with the goras. I’ve been approached with some very interesting projects and I will definitely let you know about them once things get finalized. I’m the new face of Lux with Mahira and Reema and Meera, and I’m still in contract with Sunsilk, which is great! You already know I’m working on a project in India which will be a big deal eventually, inshallah. Other than that I’ve also recently launched a website where I interact with my fans.

You’re the first personality to grace the cover of Xpozé twice in four months. How has the Xpozé experience been for you so far?

I’ve been lucky to have worked with Xpozé a few times in the past. Being put on the cover so soon after my last cover is definitely a huge compliment from the Xpozé style team, which I think is doing an amazing job and slowly becoming a force in itself! Working with you and Andleeb was a lot of fun the last time but this time has been outstanding!