Mira Sethi is not only an internationally acclaimed editor, a brilliant writer and a booming actress but she’s an icon for legions of adoring fans who revere her extreme honesty and brilliance, making her a woman who can achieve it all with her modesty, scruples and hard work. Social Diary’s correspondent Nudrat Mustafa spoke to her and says, talking to her in English was interesting but listening to her Urdu and the importance she gives to the language, I was left super impressed. Sitting with her over coffee and being tremendously awestruck by the way she spoke, her manners and her extreme sweetness, I do not think I had ever wanted time to pass slowly while I took any interview. Let’s see what she had to say…
- Mira, you have a bachelor’s degree in South Asian Studies and English from a renowned university in US, what made you choose these subjects?
I have been writing since I was 16 years old. When I was doing O Levels from LGS, my teacher, Mrs Nuzhat Saleem, made me stand up and read my essays in front of the class. I was not great at other subject — especially Physics and Maths — but English Literature and English Language used to pull me through every year. So I knew I was going to study English in some form and then I went to Wellesley I did! It was an easy, logical choice.
- Share with us your experience of speaking at your graduation ceremony. You must be nervous?
I spoke in front of more two thousand people and my grandparents came from all the way from Pakistan, my parents, my Khala, Ali my brother and even my nephew Faiz, who was 9 years old at the time came. I was excited but not nervous. When I first got to Wellesley I said to myself, “Beta, sar neechay ker k perho bas!’ I studied really hard and then I went to Oxford for my third year. I really enjoyed Oxford. Giving the commencement speech at Wellesley was the best way to cap off three intense years.
- Then, how did you make your way to The Wall Street Journal? How was the experience?
I applied for the Robert L Bartley fellowship and luckily I got it. Then I moved my suitcases and my life to Manhattan and while I was working there, I guess they liked my work and they offered me a post. So that’s how, from an internship came my job. I wrote a lot about Pakistan while I was working there.
- Tell me about the book that you have been writing?
My book will be published by Knopf in America and Bloomsbury in England and India. The stories are about young people grappling with issues of identity; who they want to be; what they yearn for. It’s basically about young people trying to make their way through life. There is collision of identity across generations as the older generation thinks a particular way and the younger generation thinks another way.
- And the objective of writing the book is….?
Art makes you look outside yourself. It creates pathways for solidarity, it creates empathy. And, also, I hope people smile and laugh when they read my book!
- Having a great life in US is a charm many few people can let go or ignore. What made you come back to Pakistan?
I did not want to climb the ladder of editorships at the Wall Street Journal. I found editing a little dull. The artist in me wanted to be uncaged. And moving back home has been amazing–I’ve worked on so many interesting projects, met so many interesting people.
- Then after coming back, you became an editor to a magazine your family owns. How was that experience?
It was challenging in that you have to micromanage everything. But I no longer edit GT–too much on my plate!
- And then a shift towards acting, what sparked your interest?
I’d always wanted to act. I am a mimic; my mother and my brother are mimics too. Making people laugh and cry — moving people — is a tremendous privilege. I am lucky to do what I do.
- How did you step in the industry?
A week after I moved back to Pakistan, I flew to Karachi to audition for some drama serials. Shehrazade Sheikh, the director of my debut serial Silvatein convinced me to say yes to the project.
- Natasha from Silvatien or Shama from Dil Banjara, which character you enjoyed playing the most?
Definitely Shama from Dil Banjara. My character in Silvatien was a nut case. It was good that I chose a raw and feisty character for my debut. But Shama is close to my heart. Somebody said it that ‘she (Shama) was simple yet modern’ and I could relate to that as I am a total desi from inside, upar sa eik modern and polished look logon ko nazar aate hay, laikin andar se bilkul desi kurri!
- Any plans of going towards films?
I just signed a film. It’s called ‘7 Din Muhabbat In.’
- Any ambitions yet unattained? Directing? Producing? Writing?
I would like to write a script one day.
- What was the best professional advice you have been given?
Be patient. You cannot register your presence, your talent or yourself in one day, one week, one month. You have to keep working. The more you work, the more your talent is honed. Here I would like to mention Saba Qamar–the woman works ALL the time and it shows! She is one of our best actresses — adaigee ager ap nay kisi sa seekhni ha to hap Saba Qamar sai seekhain!
- Marriage being anywhere on cards in near future…?
When I find the right person! Someone generous in heart and mind. And if he’s tall and cute it would be a bonus! 🙂
- Your most treasured possession?
I have a necklace in the form of a bee. My father gave it to my mother many, many years ago and it has been passed down to me.
- What is the biggest challenge of being in public eye?
The relinquishing of your privacy.
- On what do you spend the most?
I spend the most on tickets and holidays, followed by perfumes. I am a big perfume junkie.
- What do you do when not working?
I love exercising. I go to gym four days a week.
- Any message for your fans:
Be true to who you are!