A child prodigy who began a career in entertainment by hosting a radio show aged ten, TV Mariam Ansari later dabbled in theater before easily transitioning and embarking on a successful stint as a bona fide TV actress and supernova film star. With three new movies releasing simultaneously, The Guide speaks to Mariam about her initial move to Pakistan; the burgeoning of her career; the undying support of her immediate family and her steadfast fitness obsession.
THE GUIDE: You grew up in Saudi Arabia and moved to Pakistan with your family when you were nine-and-a-half-years old. Do you remember what the transition was like and what were your favourite and challenging aspects of the move?
MARIAM ANSARI: Initially, moving from Saudi Arabia wasn’t easy for any of us but after we moved to Karachi, I feel like we had our own battles to fight which is why I am where I am right now!
TG: Quite amazingly, you began RJ-ing a show at Radio Active 96 FM aged 10! What was that experience like and where did you muster the confidence to host a show at such a young age?
MA: Okay so this is a funny story! I was 10 years-old when I began my career as a RJ. I was always very talkative and felt confident in whatever I did back then because I was so young. My brother had already begun his show on the same radio station (Radio Active 96 FM) a few months before I began my own stint at radio jockeying. I was always really inspired by my brother and I just wanted to follow his footsteps. So that’s what I did and consequently became the youngest RJ in Pakistani radio history.
TG: How important has the support of your parents and brother been in your acting career? Do they give you feedback, criticism or praise about your projects?
MA: My parents and my brother are my best friends. The funny thing is that both my parents wanted to be actors in their youth but never got an opportunity to pursue that ambition. So their children are fulfilling their dreams. Moreover, my brother Ali and I are both are very passionate about what we do. My parents watch each and every one of my drama serials and they are my biggest critics!
TG: Early on in your career you began with some theatre experience in stage plays such as ‘Avanti the Musical’, ‘Cinderjutt’ and ‘Tom, Dick and Harry.’ How has that experience aided you in your TV and Film career as far as acting technique etc.?
MA: Theatre for me is an entirely different place (than TV and Film). During that time I only lived in the theatre. The journey has taught me so much patience and respect for this Art we cultivate. Although Film, Television and Theatre are each completely different, there’s so much effort put into each and every genre, so they cannot be compared.
TG: You have acted in a bevy of memorable TV serials including Chadar, Agar Tum Na Hote, Bunty I Love You. Agar Tum Na Hotay, Mubarak Ho Beti Hui Hai and Dil Lagi. Did you ever feel, like many Pakistani actors that you were often being typecast? What responsibility and power does an actor have in refusing to be typecast again and again?
MA: I’ve tried my level best to deliver my best performance to the audiences watching my dramas and I want to offer my fans more varied characters rather than the same old stereotypical roles. Every actor should have the right to choose what they want to do and how they choose to bring variation to their character choices. It all comes down to team work. There’s so much effort that goes into producing a project. If one person is just not that into the task at hand, then it’s best for each person to make their choices wisely.
TG: Tell us how your role in ‘Dil Lagi’ was different?
MA: ‘Dil Lagi’ was one of the most memorable projects of my life. I believe I learnt so much from my director (Nadeem Baig) in terms of acting and really bringing out the true artist in me. I give all the credit to my director who really pushed me to grasp the innocence of the character.
TG: In a previous interview you have said you now want to do a role with “no rona dhona” (crying). Have you made a pact with yourself and are adamant in only accepting “strong character” roles in the future?
MA: Rona dhona has become so mainstream that I think audiences actually like it! But as actresses and women we should be open to and responsible towards portraying real-life characters that our young generation can relate to, instead of an archaic portrayal of what society has decided a woman’s role ought to be.
TG: What does feminism mean to you and how do you try to inculcate its ideals in your daily life?
MA: For me, the most patent example would be that I chose fitness as a dual career while challenging the notion that if females lift heavy weights in the gym, it will make them “big” or masculine. Feminism is about equality and it definitely does not mean hating men. Breaking stereotypes is feminism for me!
TG: What was the transition like from TV to Film? What were the main differences you experienced and what initial challenges did you face?
MA: To be honest, initially it wasn’t really different. I just knew that I had to give my 110 percent in whatever work that I did. In my opinion, Television I feel is the medium in which Pakistan excels at as an industry. So I guess that answers numerous questions.
TG: Which medium do you like acting in more (TV and Film) and why?
MA: I would definitely like to do films in the future. But I don’t think I’d ever leave Television. That’s where my roots lie.
Were you content with your performances in Halla Gulla (2015) Maalik (2016) and Azaadi (2018) and the reception and critical acclaim of the films?
When it comes to personal perception about myself ‘Halla Gulla’ wasn’t my favourite performance but ‘Maalik’ and ‘Azaadi’ for me were great experiences. It’s been a journey of its own and for me it was all beautiful.
TG: Please briefly tell us about your three upcoming Film projects: ‘Qaid’ ‘Romeo Weds Heer’ and ‘Lava’. Do you consciously set a limit of how many films and TV serials you do per year or do accept everything you are offered?
MA: I don’t really have a limit of how many projects I do in a year if good scripts keep rolling in I’ll just sign them. For me, my family and career are my first priorities. The rest comes later. My characters in ‘Qaid’ ‘Romeo Weds Heer’ and “Lava’ are absolutely worlds apart and it’s going to be really amazing for my fans to see me in completely different roles!
TG: What are your top main criteria in accepting any role, whether for TV or Film?
MA: The character should have a margin for growth and performance. For me, that’s an important yardstick.
TG: What techniques do you habitually use when getting into character for a role?
MA: I watch a lot of movies to get into character. I also make character sketches of how I want the character to be and develop. Apart from that, I believe that my director plays a big part in helping the character to evolve because they’ve got their own vision and we as actors have our own. When the two corresponding visions are combined and collide, it’s magic!
TG: Who have been some of your acting inspirations and role models?
MA: Saba Qamar has always been a role model for me. The kind of person she is even off-screen restores my faith in humanity! I’ve been a fan of hers ever since the a political satire show, ‘Hum Sab Umeed Se Hein’
TG: Do you believe one can have true friends in the entertainment industry? Who are some of your closest friends?
MA: Of course you can have close friends in the industry! There’s so much to learn and one must be willing to learn from one’s friends especially if they are talented! I love Saboor (Aly). She’s an absolute sweetheart and also someone very close to my heart.
TG: You are known to be a fitness freak. Have you completed the ACE exam to become a fitness trainer and nutritionist and what do you intend to do with your credentials?
MA: I gave the ACE exams so I could educate myself. I never intended on becoming a trainer/ But yes I am an athlete and I do help people achieve their fitness goals by teaching them what is the correct way to exercise.
TG: Describe your favourite exercises.
MA: I love calisthenics which are bodyweight exercises with minimal equipment. It’s unbelievable the kind of things you can do with your body if you progressively work towards it.
TG: What does your typical weekly fitness routine entail?
MA: I work out six days a week. Sometimes I even go for two sessions in a day. It’s an obsession for me. I just can’t get enough of it!
Your favourite foods?
My favourite food is definitely pizza I love pizza. I am pizza! (Laughs)
How do you spend your free time?
In my free time I am at the gym or with friends and family. I try to spend time with each and every one who is important to me. Priorities are a very funny thing!
How would you describe your personality in three words?
Athletic. Crazy/Funny. Traveler
Love is? Your ideal life partner?
The best love is self-love. You have got to love yourself the way you want others to love you. My ideal life partner will know the qualities he requires when the time comes.
Life is family.
Future five year and 10 year plans?
Well that’s for me to know and for you all to find out!