Ascending the throne: Zara Noor Abbas

Ascending the throne: Zara Noor Abbas

Synopsis

The actress has been making waves in the industry and her latest project might just steal all the limelight

Ascending the throne: Zara Noor Abbas
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Karachi: About 6 years ago, a star was born in the entertainment industry. Some immediately saw the artist’s potential, while others called her a byproduct of nepotism. And while nepotism does open doors for you, you’re on your own after that. Zara Noor Abbas has proven time and time again that she’s stayed in the industry because of her craft rather than her kin – and she has dramas like Khamoshi, Ehd-e-Wafa and Phaans to prove her versatility and the command of her craft. And if the dramas weren’t enough to convince you that she’s an all-rounder, her work in films like Chhalawa and Parey Hut Love speaks volumes of how far she’s come following her passion for acting.

Over the years that she’s been in the industry, Abbas has not only grown as an actor but also as a person – she loves taking risks and her past work is proof of that. Most people opt for projects that will get them sure-shot ratings, but not Abbas – and here is where one of her most anticipated projects comes about: Badshah Begum. The upcoming serial is set to explore the themes of power, sibling rivalry and strong women. The brainchild of Rafay Rashdi, who seems to have put his blood and sweat into this show, and the return of Zara Noor Abbas after a year’s break – Badshah Begum has already set expectations over the roof, add to that a collaboration with MD Productions and you have the country’s first grand project that revolves around a woman, and that too a fierce one, essayed by Abbas.

With no saas-bahu politics in sight, Badshah Begum wants to push the boundaries of television and Abbas is a vital part of that very revolution. First meant to be a television series, the drama was approved with a different cast. Later, the makers changed it to a web series but again, it was decided to be established as a drama for television, featuring its brand new cast which includes Zara Noor Abbas, Ali Rehman Khan, Farhan Saeed, Yasir Hussain, Shahzad Nawaz, Hamza Sohail, Komal Meer and Hiba Aziz. Ready to air its first episode on March 1, the drama series is written by Saji Gul who gave us ‘O Rangreza’ & ‘Dour’ and directed by Khizer Idrees of ‘Laapata’ & ‘Superstar.’ And we got a chance to sit down with the Badshah Begum herself as she talks about her experience, the set, her co-stars and the blood, sweat and tears that she had to put in preparing for the role.

We’ve seen several grand projects in the past, but almost all of them revolve around a man. With Badshah Begum, it is a refreshing shift to see women being an integral part of the plot. To add to that, the drama features an ensemble cast, everyone a master of their craft; what was your experience working on the project?

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I would like to give a lot of credit to the men on the set because to know that the title of the show is Badshah Begum, all the men were extremely supportive and whatever I wanted to do in the scenes be it my director Khizar, or my co-stars Farhan Saeed, Ali Rehman Khan, Hamza Sohail – I had a lot of scenes with the three actors where I got to learn a lot. Hamza is a newer guy in the industry so he was very respectful towards all of us, Farhan Saeed is an established star and I think it is very gracious and very big-hearted of him to let me do whatever I wanted to do. In fact, in a few scenes, Farhan would tell me and give me feedback to help me improve, providing pointers that would make a scene even better or more powerful.

At no point did I feel like I was being overshadowed or undermined even though the story is not only about Badshah Begum. It’s got layers to it, there’s a lot going on in other characters’ lives too, there are at least 10 lead characters who become intertwined by their actions and all of them are permutated with shades of grey and have an arc line of their own. So I witnessed a very supportive environment on the set, you always get to learn a lot on the job and I’m grateful I have learned from such talented people.

Coming to the male cast of the drama, it’s unusual for everyone to be siblings, how did you ease into building that sort of chemistry with them?

[Laughs,] the other day Farhan and I were talking about the same thing that we’re all siblings. And the story is nothing like your run-of-the-mill soap where Farhan is my maternal aunt’s son and likes me, or that I’m getting married to my paternal aunt’s son, there’s nothing of that sort happening here. And it was actually amazing to work in that capacity because building chemistry as a hero and heroine may come very easy, it’s like second nature for actors – but having a hero who’s playing your brother, creating that chemistry is a task in its own. It was a completely different bond that I had with Farhan, with Yasir – it came very naturally to me. I think acting is about action and reaction and both the actors are senior to me in their craft, their work, their experience and their career – and most of all, they’ve got the biggest hearts with so much to give.

When I trained with Asim Raza, he taught me that power is an energy that people should reciprocate, you shouldn’t let power take control of you and consume you, otherwise, it becomes stale and it starts controlling you. So when you let your actors reciprocate the same energy, the same power, it creates even more energy that serves as a collective driving force for everyone to perform at their best and I think this is exactly what happened on the set  – I got that very power from Yasir and Farhan that I reciprocated back, so it was like having our own comradery on set and I enjoyed it a lot!

What compelled you to say yes to the script?

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How could I say no? This is a dream role, especially in a country where we’re still trying to figure out what direction to take our content in and when on that very road you get offered a Saji Gul script that’s brilliant in every way, add to that the ensemble cast that the drama has, only a fool would say no to it because this is a character that every actor should explore in their career.

Is Jehan Ara from the serial a character you can relate to?

Yes, because the choices that she makes, her ideology, and her outlook on life, are all something that I can personally relate to. I wouldn’t call her an angry young woman but I think she possesses this kind of sensibility and resilience that keeps her going. And when I get to play characters that put malicious people back in their place, I tend to enjoy them a lot. I really enjoy releasing that energy from my system and exploring that on TV and God has been kind because I got that margin to express myself in this project.

I’ve always loved characters that are out of the box, layered and have various shades of grey to them. To justify the wrong-doings of a certain character and the entire thought process that goes into it, I feed off of that energy because that’s how human beings are in real life, not everything you do is right, everyone justifies their doings in their own way which may be valid to them but seem entirely absurd to others. Humans have a lot of emotions, no one’s always happy, no one’s always sad, it’s a mix of emotions – then why should our characters on TV be two-dimensional? Translating that very essence on-screen is something I relish.

There is a general impression that the masses will not digest anything other than mainstream stories — that it would not get Target Rating Points. And in stories like Badshah Begum, there is a thin line between being commercial and non-commercial. Walking that line is, of course, a challenge. What mindset did you have when taking up this project? And can we call it a trendsetter in terms of opening a new dimension for content?

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To be very honest, ratings don’t matter to me. In fact, I made it a point that I will only do projects that make me happy, that fuel my passion for acting and I decided very early in my career that I will only do projects that satisfy the actor in me because I cannot relate to scripts that soar high on ratings. I want to be content with my work so that when I get home after a tiring day, I feel happy and I feel like I did something purposeful because I do this for my passion and not just to make a living. And I owe most of it to my family which has always been amazing and supportive. My husband has also always said the same thing to me: “Zara, you do what hits you hard on the heart, and nothing else,” so even if the drama does not get the ratings, I won’t stress about it.

The process that this role had me go through was spectacular, and it reminded me of a similar process that I went through during Parey Hut Love; working with different people, getting our creative juices flowing to decide what’s next, debating on the choices that a character makes – often times I would go to Khizar and ask for the justification and he would explain to me that it’s the character that is doing the particular action and not you as an individual. It’s very important for actors to understand that what we play on-screen stems from real-life experiences. Things have happened in the past, people have fought for power and politics, one brother murdering another brother, problems at home, so it’s important that we realise that our characters are telling the right stories whilst providing entertainment, so I think it is a great dynamic and shift in Pakistani content making for all of us to see something like this airing on TV. There are already great dramas like Sinf-e-Aahan and Sang-e-Mah airing, this is the kind of content that should air on television. Dramas like these are important – it’s a mix of everything and I think we’re headed in the right direction in terms of content because producers are willing to take risks and the audiences too have welcomed such stories with open arms.

How did you prepare for your role? What was the creative process behind it?

I thought a lot about it, I even debated if I should try to lose weight and become a super glam Badshah Begum, but then I realised that I don’t have to be skinny to show how desirable BB is because she is an aura and I needed to capture and translate that very aura on-screen. It was something that I had to practice a lot in my life; her adamant nature, putting her foot down, wanting things done her way. I also had to work on my voice and the tone since I am soft-spoken in real life and the reel life demanded a heavy, dominating voice.

This one time I was shooting a scene with Ali Rehman Khan who plays my hero and I had to yell at him in that particular sequence and obviously I was in-character, putting my BB voice on, and Ali Rehman Khan replied in a hilarious meek tone which had us all laughing, so it was fun to see that whatever you’re doing impacts the other characters as well and that in a way was validation that I was doing it right.

What are you taking away from it?

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While I was shooting for this series, I would often watch my takes and ask my director if I look foolish doing a certain sequence or the way I’m holding my weapons and he went on to say something that has really stuck with me. He told me, “Zara, whenever you’re doing a role as challenging as this or whenever you have any doubts in your mind regarding your role or if you’re wondering who does this, know that there is someone who did it in real life and become that person, flaunt that personality, if people are to make fun of it, then be it. But remember whenever something similar will be done in future, they will turn to you” and that’s what kept me going throughout the course of the shooting.

How was it working with your co-stars, especially the younger lot? Also, what was the experience working with Shahzad Nawab who is playing your father in the drama?

It was very easy to work with Shahzad Nawab; it’s his demeanour that’s very warm, welcoming, loving, and his fatherly vibe came to me so easily that even when the cameras weren’t rolling I’d still be calling him baba. Komal Meer too was very professional and easy-going, while her perspective on life really amazed me and I wish her all the luck. One guy that I really want to mention is Hamza Sohail and he is somebody I’m going to take away from this project for the rest of my life as my brother because I share a very special bond with him, I have a lot of scenes with Hamza and there were scenes where we actually cried together. His great personality speaks volumes regarding the household that he comes from, including the way he talks or his mannerisms – you can’t help but fall in love with him. I think Hamza is the next big thing in the industry.

Who did you enjoy working with the most?

I had a blast with literally everyone on set! Every day after the pack-up we’d sit together have dinner, then snacks, then green tea, we’d even walk together and talk about life, our craft, our careers five years from now, we were living together and shared a bond just like a family. We all came back with heavy hearts; the reality of going back to our own lives hit us all vividly. I truly loved working with Farhan. Yasir, who is a jokester himself, inspired me by his work in the drama, his work ethic, and his passion for acting – he is my favourite character from the drama!

Zara Noor Abbas has redefined herself multiple times to step into the shoes of the roles she plays and with so much that’s gone into Badshah Begum, we can tell that it’s a game-changer already pushing the boundaries to new content and scripts.

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