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Madiha Imam’s Dear Maya breakthrough

The actress talks about her career, her defining role in the film and what the future holds for her in terms of work

Madiha Imam’s Dear Maya breakthrough

Having made her big screen debut with Dear Maya alongside Manisha Koirala, VJ-turned-actress Madiha Imam has soared to new heights of fame. Ever since the film’s release in India on June 2, she has been receiving positive reviews for her portrayal of a 14-year-old girl, Anna, who writes anonymous love letters to a lonely woman, Maya (played by Koirala). Though we haven’t been able to watch the film since it hasn’t released in Pakistan, we were curious to know about her journey and how she landed a role in Dear Maya.

“I got a call from the director Sunaina Bhatnagar in 2015,” Madiha Imam told Instep in an exclusive interview. “She found me online actually. She was looking for a girl who is 14 years old apparently and for that she was looking for girls at MTV India. And I’ve started my career here with MTV Pakistan. So she landed on a clip of mine and she didn’t realize that it was from MTV Pakistan until she watched the entire thing. She decided that this is going to be the girl so she called me up. I was very happy with it. It was the kind of story that I was comfortable doing and it wasn’t a typical Bollywood masala film so I said sure, why not.”

Imam shot the film in India in early 2016 when Mawra Hocane was promoting her Bollywood debut Sanam Teri Kasam and Sajal Aly was shooting for Mom. The situation between Pakistan and India at that time wasn’t as serious as it has become post-Uri attack that resulted in a ban on Pakistani artists working in India. Therefore it wasn’t possible for Imam to visit India for the promotion of the film closer to its release.

“Of course for me my country comes first,” Imam asserted. “When the time came to release the film, we (Dear Maya team and I) decided that it wasn’t the right thing to do so I didn’t go for the promotions. I decided to promote it in Pakistan instead in whatever ways I could.”

However, we had no clue of Imam’s Bollywood debut until last month, closer to the unveiling of the film’s trailer. Reflecting on the subject, Imam shared, “I’m not too vocal about the projects I’m doing. It didn’t occur to me that I should tell people that I’ve signed a Bollywood project. For me it’s just a project. Of course it’s a bigger platform but I didn’t feel the need to call up a journalist or a magazine and tell them. I always tell people about my projects when they ask, not on my own. Otherwise it kills the charm.”

Imam entered the entertainment industry as a VJ in 2011, followed by her acting debut with a TV play, Ishq Mein Teray two years later. Since then she has been doing both simultaneously. However even after spending 6-7 years in the industry, Imam wasn’t known to many until recently when she caught everyone’s attention with Dear Maya.

What’s her take on this?

Behind the scenes: Madiha Imam on the set of her debut film, Dear Maya.

Behind the scenes: Madiha Imam on the set of her debut film, Dear Maya.

“Whatever projects I’ve done in Pakistan so far, if any of them was a hit project, people would have probably noticed me,” Imam said. “There are so many actors and so many amazing dramas being made here. Had I done a big project here I think I would have come to the limelight even then. It may not be about Bollywood. But yes the platform is bigger and the response I’m getting on the film is extremely overwhelming. I wasn’t expecting this. Though the film hasn’t released here and people haven’t watched it but just the fact that I’ve done a Bollywood film has made a huge difference. My seniors and people I’ve worked with are calling me and giving me their feedback after watching the trailer. I’m getting positive reviews on my performance from both sides of the border. I’m very happy that my efforts paid off well and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.”

Has she been offered any films in Pakistan after Dear Maya?

“I was being offered films before my Bollywood debut as well and I still have offers but I like to stay in my comfort zone. If something doesn’t fit into it, I don’t go for that because once I sign on for a project, I don’t like to put forward my demands and ask to make changes. I wait for an offer in which I find ease so that I can work as hard as I want.”

Imam portrayed the role of a 14-year-old school going girl. Was it challenging for her to play the character of a girl who is quite young compared to her actual age?

“I am 26 years old and I was playing a character of a girl who is 14,” Imam said. “I told my director when she called that I am not 14 to which she responded, ‘but you look young’. It was a challenge for me because I had to make sure that I sound like an Indian girl. I belong to an Urdu speaking family so I have good command over the language. Imagine shifting from Urdu to Hindi to broken Hindi as I was portraying a 14-year-old from Shimla whose first language is English since her parents talk to her in English. I had a dialect coach to tell me how to go about it. That is what I was slightly nervous about. I’m sure I wasn’t able to do it with perfection but I tried as much as I could. Another challenge was to learn cycling; I didn’t know how to cycle.”

“There are so many actors and so many amazing dramas being made in Pakistan. Had I done a big project here I think I would have come to the limelight even then. It may not be about Bollywood.”
Though Imam has garnered a lot of praise for her performance in the film, it is unfortunate that Dear Maya didn’t release in Pakistan. When asked if she’s disappointed with this, the young powerhouse responded, “I was, to be honest. I was slightly saddened by it but this is something I knew from the beginning since it was a small film. It depends on the distributors actually and they had no clue that a Pakistani actress would come on board. So they decided on a certain number of screens for the film in India. The film didn’t have a strong backing to be released in any other country including Pakistan. I was aware of that but still I was hoping that it might release here since I was associated with the project but the producers had their own limitations.”

Nonetheless Imam had an amazing experience with the film. She always loved Disney and wanted to work in a Disney film. Interestingly Dear Maya sounded like a Disney film to her. “It’s a film that is close to reality and also has a fantastical element to it,” Imam stated. “The experience all and all was amazing. Manisha [Koirala] ma’am is an amazing performer and I can never in a 100 years match up to that performance.”

At the time Dear Maya released, Imam was working on quite a few other projects as well. Aside from her show Weekend With Madiha, she’s currently essaying the protagonist in drama serial Zakham alongside Faysal Qureshi and has recently shot for Mehreen Jabbar’s upcoming telefilm. Tentatively titled Ab Chale Aye, it is a light hearted comedy and stars Marina Khan, Furqan Qureshi and Ahmed Zeb in addition to Imam. The telefilm is expected to air on Eid-ul-Fitr.

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