Where in the world is Maria Wasti When Maria arrived on set to do her first-ever play Sarah aur Ammara, directed by Bakhtiar Ahmedin 1995 (or so), she had no clue that she would become a star overnight, emerge as one of the most versatile actors on the mini-screen, do a hundred plays and still be ripe and ready for more. She goes right for the heart of the character and nails it. Forthright, there is no funny business about her, no frippery and nothing vague.Maria belongs to the generation that skimmed through PTV yet had the good fortune to work with maestros like Kunwar Aftab, Ayub Khawar, Yawar Hayat, Bakhtiar Ahmed and Nusrat Thakur, after which private productions and single camera shoots took over. “The earlier days of my career were more fulfilling than today. The directors then were very particular about what they wanted from you and made sure they got it.”Today, she says things are quite different, “Directors kuch batatay he nahin hain! They don’t tell me the dimensions of a role and everything is black or white. For me it has to be grey, with lots of layers to a character. When I don’t find a challenge in the scripts that I get, it frustrates me and I feel desperate and edgy. Everyone on the sets works like technicians — a light should go up here and one over there, and whether there are koftas on the dining table or not.Maria confesses that there is no secret recipe for cracking a role. “As you perform, it unfolds itself. Your performance is the sum of your viewpoint, your directors’ and how your co-stars see your role. The experience is rewarding. When that happens, it translates on to the screen in a very different way. You make the viewers connect with you, you make them relate to you, laugh and cry with you. My audiences are with me from the time of Bano Qudsia’s Kallo and they expect that level from me every time I act.They focus on grandeur and glamour, not the emotion. Mostly, I know the limit of the director ke bas yahan tak lekar jayega bechara! It is a director’s job to infuse a spirit between the actor and the script. He is the connector. A director doesn’t own the play for nothing, there has to be something that he does which is beyond ‘takes’. Maybe some of them are doing that, but I have to come across that yet.Feeling frustrated by how things are run these days, thinking man’s actress Maria Wasti says that with the dearth of intellect in storylines arises the need to be challenged as an actress.There are only a few good directors in Maria’s world. “Sarmad is the only one among the new lot of directors who has the sensitivity of PTV’s golden era. I also enjoy working with Mazhar.Mazhar Moin who Maria has worked with in Sarai Ghat ki Farzana, Behkawaand Kuch Unkahi si Baatain agrees with her views on direction, or lack therof:“Maria is a very sensitive actor with a lot of depth but the director has to bring it out of her. She has a great understanding of life, picks out very delicate nuances in roles. If the role demands, she wears no makeup, just washing her face with soap and water. Directors these days are more pushed about completing ‘x’ number of scenes in a given time, that is why the quality of work is deteriorating. In the 11th year of my career, I have learnt that educated actors make a difference to their performance and when I say that, I am speaking about Maria.”Maria is disappointed that productions have become too commercial. “A lot of work is being done but not quality work which also gets lost amidst all that is being done. Acting is not taken seriously like a qualified job, so quality suffers.”She finds shallowness and fickleness and a dearth of intellect in storylines yet she defends her fraternity by saying that drama today is a reflection of the society. “Whatever is happening in the society is being shown in plays so you cannot disown it. Change yourselves and this will change.”Maria blames TV channels for limiting creativity in Pakistani drama:Why is there such a monopoly of channels? Anything experimental, artistic, arty or even slightly different from the mainstream trends, they will not buy it. They don’t help the producer sell what he wants to. I can’t really complain that I’m not getting different type of roles because the producer is limited to making only a certain type of play. If I have 10 new ideas, they will not buy it. So I make what they want … of course I’m not going to put my play on YouTube, am I?”She has taken ‘diverse’ to the next level but now feels the need to be challenged: “Noorul Huda Shah’s scripts would excite me, but now it is not happening. When I get a script, I look at how I relate to the role, how it is challenging me and what the dimensions are. I turn down roles with only a single dimension, with no turns and twists. I would do any role. I want a director to say ye kar ke do, aur wo mujhe rulade!”Maria has recently wrapped up Malika-i-Aaliya where she played the title role. Through the 50-plus episodes of season 1 and some 80-plus episodes of season 2, she gave an incessant power performance of the multi-layered negative role as the character unfolded demonstrating what goes around comes around.In the pipeline are a couple of hosting opportunities and a drama series directed by Angeline Malik, where Maria plays a lawyer. She doesn’t remember taking a day off work, hence the long list of plays.Your performance is the sum of your viewpoint, your directors’ and how your co-stars see your role. The experience is rewarding. When that happens, it translates on to the screen in a very different way. You make the viewers connect with you.I don’t believe in waiting for the one amazing play to happen once a year because it won’t happen. I don’t want to go into a negative zone and say no to everything that I am offered. We didn’t learn from academies; we learnt on sets so the more you work, the more you groom. Sometimes, something wrong may also have a lesson for you. I don’t want my learning process to stop, I should be able to differentiate between what I like and what I don’t like.
How does she tackle a given script?
“I look at the challenge it offers, the story and the people I am working with because a good co-actor can get a great performance out of you. An actor is just a puppet and can’t make magic on her own.”
She feels Turkish or Indian plays, like any other imported commodity, should be taxed:
“Why should I buy a bicycle from abroad when bicycles are manufactured in my own country? Is it better than the one made here? No, even that is not true. Indian dramas have always been freely available in our country 24/7, but they offer no value to our people in terms of culture or language, nor do they open their minds.”
“Our drama is way better. Interestingly, their news channels are not permitted here but dramas are. There should be a system, like they could have an office or a channel or there should be an exchange of a dozen plays or so. Indian content should be taxed just like Indian soap or shampoo!”
Like everything else, Maria feels strongly about Pakistani cinema:
“I do not like calling it an industry because three people do not make an industry, and it is not yet revived. But one thing is clear, if we want to recover our lost position in cinema, we have to find our own niche. I’m happy that people are coming forward to make films but they will not be successful if they follow others. We are not in a competitive position as long as we are copying Bollywood, Irani or Iraqi films, or doing item numbers.”
“Our TV dramas, good or bad, are still ours. They depict our culture, our society and hence they are Pakistani. Bollywood is a huge industry with 100 years invested into it, and we should respect that. For only then does a film sell for Rs2-3 crores. In 1947, we got the same industry that was theirs; look what we did with ours and where they have taken theirs!”
Any archrivals among the new entrants?
“I’m my own archrival. There is no competition and no race. I love working with good actors. But the younger lot should concentrate a bit more on their work instead of just looking pretty. In the earlier days, people did not know how to shoot you, nobody knew the best angles and the best light. They would shoot us like the Zee Horror Show!”
“The character became so enchanting that women cried because you touch their hearts, it didn’t matter if you looked pretty or not. If I could survive looking ugly most of the time in my roles, then it is really easy for the younger lot as the technical know-how is so much better now. It is the story and the life you build round the character that matters, not the beauty that it brings on the screen.”
So much for Maria, the actor; now about her home life. “I used to live out of a suitcase for the longest time and then moved to Karachi 10 years ago. I love being at home when I’m not working.”
Being a Lahori, she loves food. “No diet or gym for me, I just try and eat small, but on vacation I don’t scrimp on food.”
Her beauty secrets must include the warm lemon-honey water that she kept sipping while talking and declares oiling her hair often is the reason for her lustrous locks.
“Koi mujhe pasand he nahin karta! she says cheekily, when asked about marriage. “Have yet to find the right person, someone who I can click with,” she adds more seriously. “A well-rounded ordinary, down to earth person. People want excitement but I want to be able to get bored on an average day with him!”
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 21st, 2015