Maya Ali entered the world of show business with a bang in Hum Television’s serial Durr-e-Shehwar, in the year 2012, winning accolades for her performance as Mahnoor Sami both in Pakistan and in India, where the serial was broadcast as Dhoop Chaoon by Zindagi Television. She has since turned in powerful performances in a number of highly successful television serials, including Aun Zara, Zid, Diyar-e-Dil, and Mann Mayal, and will soon be seen in Ahsan Rahim’s upcoming feature film, Teefa in Trouble.
The talented young actor sat down for an exclusive interview with Pakistan Today to talk about her career, films, television, Teefa in Trouble, and her debut in cinema.
- Pakistani television actors have a great fondness for films and tend to jump at opportunities of working in movies. You, on the other hand, waited for a very long time before signing on to do a film. Why did it take you so long to select your debut feature film?
It took me a while because I waited for the right film. I wanted my debut film to have a good story, a great cast and crew, and a brilliant director. While I was waiting, I worked in a number of very good drama serials. It made sense to do good serials instead of working in bad films. Teefa in Trouble was offered a little late but at the right time. It was the kind of film that I wanted to do. I am glad that I waited for as long as I did. I couldn’t have found a better film than Teefa to make my cinematic debut.
- What attracted you to Teefa in Trouble?
Teefa in Trouble had a lot going for it, but three things attracted me to the film. One, the film’s story and screenplay were very good. Two, the lead male actor, Ali Zafar, was a big, highly talented star. And, three, the captain of the ship, director Ahsan Rahim, was immensely talented.
- Teefa in Trouble is now complete and will be released on July 20, 2018. Has the film lived up to your expectations?
Yes, Teefa in Trouble is complete now and, thanks to the hard work of everyone involved in the film, very good. The film has, actually, turned out better than my expectations.
- What are the strengths of Teefa in Trouble?
Teefa in Trouble has many strengths, but the story, screenplay, performances, direction, music, and cinematography stand out.
- Is it true that you had a crush on Ali Zafar as a teenager?
Yes, it is true. I will not lie about it; like many other girls, I had a crush on Ali Zafar for the longest time.
- You and Ali Zafar have great on-screen chemistry. Are you friends in real life as well?
We are friends now but did not know each other very well before Teefa in Trouble. Ali is a very good person who is honest, positive and charming. We spent a lot of time with each other and became good friends during the making of the film. I believe that the fondness we have for each other is reflected in the film as “great on-screen chemistry.”
- You play the character of a rich, young girl named Anya in Teefa in Trouble. How does Anya fit into the story of the film?
Anya and Teefa are the two principal characters of the movie, but the story is set into motion by Anya. She is a significant, interesting and, if you will, vital character of Teefa in Trouble.
- Ali Zafar is the executive producer, music director and co-writer of Teefa in Trouble. Were you ever concerned that you will not be given as much screen time and significance in the film as Ali Zafar?
No, not at all. I never had any concerns. It is true that Ali Zafar does more than just act in Teefa in Trouble, but he is a professional and a very fair person. He did not try to overshadow anyone in the film. All the members had a fair opportunity to shine in the film and, thankfully, each one of them seized the opportunity and did very well.
- Your dance number in Teefa in Trouble has become very popular even before the release of the film. Was this the first time you danced on screen?
Yes, I danced on screen for the first time in Teefa in Trouble. I had danced on stage with Ali Zafar, to the ethereal song Aankhon Main Teri Noor-E-Khuda, in the sixteenth Lux Style Awards but that was an enactment of a story interspersed with dancing. This one is different. Feroz Khan choreographed Mein Item Nahi Karungi brilliantly for the two of us. I am not surprised that it has become tremendously popular even before the release of the film.
- How much time and energy went into the making of Main Item Number Nahi Karungi?
We rehearsed for three full days and recorded it in two. The five days were very intense and hectic but hugely rewarding. I think the song has turned out very well.
- What are your fondest memories of working Teefa in Trouble?
There are so many that it is hard to recount any single one. I will tell you that I had so much fun shooting for Teefa in Trouble that I became very sad and emotional on the last day of the shoot. The cast and crew of the film had a terrific time together, especially in Poland. The lovely memories of making the film will stay with me for the rest of my life.
- How is working in films and television serials different?
There are a lot of differences in the way work is done in films and television, the principal one being the amount of time that is spent on each scene. In television, we record ten to twelve scenes in a single day whereas, in films, we do one, at best.
- In a career spanning seven years, you have worked in about a dozen television serials. The number is low by Pakistani standards. Why do you not work as much as other successful female actors?
I like to work at my own pace and try not to do more than what I can in a given period of time. I believe that quality is more important than quantity. I work less than a lot of actors by design. I took the conscious decision because I want to be known for the merit, and not the number, of my projects.
- You are known to be a resourceful actor, in addition, of course, to being pretty, and have won awards for your performances in Diyar-e-Dil and Mann Mayal. What is your favourite serial as an actor?
I am very attached to my television serials. They are all my babies and very dear to me. I cannot choose one as a favourite. Each and every one of my dramas holds a special, unique place in my heart. There really isn’t one that I like more than others.
- Why is it that women are the most popular subject of television plays in Pakistan?
Women play very important and crucial roles in Pakistani households. They are central figures in our society. Television reflects that reality by making them the subjects of dramas.
- Pakistani television plays, almost always, centre around women who suffer at the hands of family, society and tradition. How come women like yourself – happy, confident and successful – are not shown in television plays?
They are but to the extent that they exist in our society. Women suffer a great deal in Pakistan. The values, morals and traditions of our society are not fair to women, who are treated poorly and often relegated to lives of extreme misery and sadness. The number of happy, confident and successful women shown on television will increase only when the number of such women in our society goes up. Television dramas do no more than truthfully tell the stories of Pakistani people. The world of television is a microcosm of Pakistan.
- Does Pakistani cinema do a better job of portraying women than television?
Yes, to a certain extent, it does. It focuses on the happier, more successful women of Pakistani society and, therefore, offers hope and optimism.
Teefa in Trouble’s Anya is strong, confident and happy. She respects family, society and tradition but, nonetheless, leads an independent life, on her own terms. I would like to see more women like her in our dramas, films and society.
- What do you think of Pakistani films?
I like them. A number of good films have been made in Pakistan in recent years and many more are in the pipeline. Our film industry is doing very well.
- Will Teefa in Trouble advance the cause of Pakistani cinema?
Yes, it will, and people will see the difference that it makes in a few weeks. Teefa in Trouble is a truly amazing film. It will become a part of the history of Pakistani cinema.
- Have you received any offers to work in Indian films?
Yes, like a lot of Pakistani actors, I have received offers to work in Indian films, as well.
- Do you plan to work in Indian films?
I will take the decision when I am given a good offer and when the time is right. Acting is my primary vocation and, as a professional, I cannot allow myself to be limited by political, ideological and geographical boundaries. I plan to work in good films. I will, however, not work in bad Indian films just for the sake of making it in Bollywood.
- Do you believe that Indian films are generally superior to Pakistani films?
Yes, sadly, I do. It is the bitter truth. Our television dramas, on the other hand, are superior to the ones made in India. The Indian film industry has had a long and continuous history whereas ours is just seeing a resurgence after a long break. We are making up for lost time and producing some genuinely good films, but it will be some time before we catch up fully. I am confident that Pakistani films will continue to improve and eventually reach international standards. It is just a matter of time before the Pakistani film industry will be known – and respected – all over the world.