The new breeds of actresses taking on Pakistani cinema are not just pretty faces; they are intelligent and articulate women who are changing the perception of the typical Lollywood starlet as someone to be ridiculed rather than idolized. Armeena Rana Khan fits the new description perfectly. The UK-based actress has a degree in business and runs her own property development firm in London. Lucky for us, she’s discovered that acting is an inborn talent that she can’t ignore and will be making her big screen debut this weekend with the highly anticipated romantic drama Bin Roye. In an exclusive chat with Instep, Armeena reveals why the movie is special and how it made her fall in love with Pakistan.
Bin Roye marks a big first for local cinema and it’s also your first Pakistani film. What are your expectations?
I feel privileged to make my debut in Pakistani cinema with a film that is releasing on such a grand scale. We are pioneers of sorts. I’m very nervous and excited because my work will be going out in so many countries. I’ve invested two years of hard work into it and I hope the audience appreciates that.
Is there sufficient interest in Pakistani cinema abroad to justify the international release?
I think Dubai, UK, the US and Canada are all markets that haven’t been explored before and hold a lot of potential. You’d be surprised if I told you that the highest number of fans who come up to me for selfies and autographs are at London and Manchester airports. The Pakistani community living abroad often feels disconnected from home and wants to reach out to anything good that comes from their country. I would know, since I am in a similar position myself, having grown up in the UK.
Bin Roye will have tough competition at home from the various other local and international films releasing around Eid. Will the audience have a good enough reason to watch it?
Bin Roye is a film for the masses and it will appeal to each and every person of the family. It is very colourful and has the right balance of emotions and romance. The music is fabulous and I can see ‘Balley Balley’ becoming the new dance floor favourite at mehndis. It’s rare to see a film that respects our real culture and is so Pakistani in flavour. I feel the audience will really own it.
What has it been like working with established names such as Humayun Saeed, Mahira and Zeba Bakhtiar?
I was really apprehensive at first since I was only one drama old when I was signed on for the project. I didn’t know if I would come up to scratch but the team was amazing. Humayun, especially, has been a great support. I’m not a very open person, certainly not the chatty kind who can go and talk on morning shows about herself! He’s the one who pushed me and really had my back. As for Zeba Bakhtiar, having her stand in front of me playing my mom was a dream come true. I had literally worshipped her when growing up.
And Mahira? How did you two gel on the sets? She’s quite the star now so did you ever feel sidelined?
The entire cast went through an initial ice-breaking exercise and we got to know one another. She was a sweetheart to me and she treated me on an equal footing.
It wasn’t challenging having to deal with another leading lady; the real struggle for me was reconciling with the fact that our director changed mid-shoot.
Is it true that there have been five directors on board? Don’t you think the end result will feel disjointed as a result of each director’s different vision?
Yes it’s true. When the original director Haissam Hussain left, Momina [Duraid] took on the direction herself and then Shahzad Kashmiri signed on. Asim Reza has directed the song Balley Balley and Sarmad Khoosat Teray Bin Jeena. That’s five! I was scared, to be honest because I am a director’s actor and I had developed the character of Saman according to Haissam’s vision. I had to rethink the role with Shahzad but I feel it has all come together in the end. The audience will not feel any lapse.
The film’s costumes have been done by some of the top names in the fashion industry. Which one was your favourite?
There were two actually – the mehndi outfit by Sania Maskatiya for the song ‘Balley Balley’ because it was really colourful and traditional and the Elan bridal that my character wears on her wedding. It was a dress fit for a princess, all pink and glittery and feminine.
Are you interested in Pakistani fashion when it comes to your personal wardrobe? What’s your style in real life?
It’s a very interesting time for local fashion because it’s making people sit up and take notice internationally. I feel our clothes have a very distinct identity – I can tell a Pakistani outfit instantly when I see one even when I’m back home in London. There will be an inherent chic sophistication to it. Personally, I’m a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl but I love local designers such as Sania Maskatiya, Feeha Jamshed and Maheen Khan.
You’ve been on a pre-release whirlwind publicity campaign for Bin Roye, with appearances around the country. What’s your red carpet style secret?
Oh god, I know it sounds like a contradiction, given that the very nature of my job is public but I dread being in the spotlight. I’m an introvert and extremely shy and I don’t enjoy public appearances. There is no way I can ever be prepared to face the red carpet. But yes, I’m trying my best that when I do step out, I should showcase the best of Pakistani fashion.
You’ve already signed on for your second film project, which happens to be Reham Khan’s directorial debut. Tell us a bit about the movie.
We are about to begin preps for the project and I am extremely excited about it. The character is very different from Bin Roye’s Saman, who is sweet and self-sacrificing, almost angelic. Here I play a strong Pahstun girl who returns to her country from abroad. I’m half Pashtun myself and I feel honoured to be doing something for my heritage, because the film will present that part of the world in a never-seen-before light i.e. sans guns and terrorism. It’s a romantic comedy that plays on local stereotypes. The audience will be in fits.
Are you shifting home base to Pakistan given your increasing work in cinema?
I can’t do that because I run my own property development business in the UK and that remains my main job. I travel to Pakistan when I have a shooting spell and it can get extremely taxing. That’s why I choose my projects very carefully.
Does Bollywood interest you?
What interests me as an actor is international cinema. I really want to explore film industries around the world. I do have a few offers from producers in the US but I want to be sure that the project I sign on is in keeping with what my Pakistani fans expect of me. That’s true for any Bollywood project too. My two years in Pakistan have actually been about self-realization; I learnt to appreciate our culture and values better than I ever did growing up abroad. Pakistan has given me recognition and respect; it’s important to me that I respect my fans in return.