The ‘Dear Maya’ Star Madiha Imam, Your Average Pakistani Girl Who Is Savvy About Her Craft

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VJ turned actor, Madiha Imam who made her Bollywood debut this year across Manisha Koirala in Dear Maya is approaching her burgeoning acting career with informed and cautious steps. We talk to the latest Lollywood export about her passions, her drive and how, for her, acting isn’t a numbers game.

Tell us a bit about your background where did you grow up and how did you get into entertainment?
I am from your average conservative Pakistani family. I am the youngest of four sisters, therefore, I am super talkative and slightly delusional which lead to my passion for VJ-ing and acting. I became a VJ when I was only 19 – a friend of mine dragged me to participate in a game show hosted by MTV Pakistan (at the time), which ironically I lost. Following the experience MTV asked me if I wanted to be a VJ and I jumped at the chance!

From VJ-ing to acting, what was your first scripted role?
My very first play was called Khalish for HUM TV where I portrayed the protagonist Noori.

How did ‘Dear Maya’ come about? What drew you to the role?
It’s a funny story; back in 2015 I was approached by the director of the film Sunaina Bhatnagar. For the longest time I thought it was a prank. I mean, who gets a Bollywood film out of the blue? When finally I accepted that this was really happening to me and realised it was serious business, I kind of freaked out but after numerous meetings, narrations and readings I realised this was something I was comfortable with and could be proud of.

There wasn’t a lot of coverage of you signing on to your Bollywood film, and then the trailer came out. Was this done on purpose? And if so, why?
No, no nothing like that. I’m simply a believer of letting good work speak for itself. I have never talked too much about my work in Pakistan or otherwise to begin with. If it’s appreciated, I believe it’s on the basis of merit and the work should speak for itself.

What was it like working across the iconic Manisha Koirala?
It was amazing! On set we were all focused on being both professional and giving our absolute best, but afterwards I would smile to myself knowing
how surreal it all was! I have grown up watching Manisha ma’am’s work and she is truly phenomenal to watch, let alone act across.

How did you prepare for the role?
I am playing a 14-year old in the first half of the film and a 20-year old in the second half, so I was tasked with having a drastic shift in character. Though Hindi may seem just like Urdu, the enunciation is completely different and coming from an Urdu speaking background – where bad enunciation is looked down upon – I had to work really hard to make my Urdu sound like Hindi. Also I had to learn to ride a bicycle for the movie, which was difficult but so much fun!

Where did shooting primarily take place?
The film is based in Simla where the story unfolds, so true to text we shot the film (in its bulk) there, but a big chunk of it took us to Delhi.

Are their more films coming from you (Pakistani or otherwise)?
As an actor what’s most important for me is to see how my work is received by my family and the audience. I have received a few offers here and there, but I don’t see myself signing anything anytime soon.

What kind of characters do you strive to play? What roles excite you?
I tend to reside on each end of the spectrum. So it either has to be completely fantastical or something that portrays real human lives.

If you could work in a movie remake in a role of your choice, what would it be?
My film of choice would have to be Beauty and the Beast. I still can’t get over Emma Watson bagging that fabulous role, it would have been a dream come true for me.

What’s next for Madiha Imam?
Lots of things. In addition to being a VJ, I am on the prowl for good, fulfilling scripts to see how far I can take my skills as an actor, be it in films, television or theater, and just do work I can be proud of.

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