Yasra Rizvi is a household name for sure. Apart from being an incredible actor, she is one eloquent poet! In this exclusive interview with Social Diary Magazine, Yasra dishes on what it is like to be an artist.
Many actors have struggled in their initial years. Was your story any different? Did you have an alternative career path to fall back on in case acting did not work?
Acting has never really been my career. I still don’t have a career. I do multiple things; I do poetry, I act and I write. Before starting acting in television, I was already in Islamabad acting, writing and directing for theater. When I moved to Karachi, I was acting and sometimes even directing and writing for television.
Then I took my first film to the floor, and spent 2018 pre-producing “Senti Aur Mental”, which is sixty percent shot already. Last year I did a web series for Asim Abbasi and got involved in curating four web series. So, I didn’t really struggle. My struggles have been very personal, very emotional.
When I started television, I began to get a lot of characters right away. In my initial years, I actually worked a lot more in television than I do now. I am still pushing for innovation. That is what I want to do.
Apart from Churails, we haven’t seen you a lot in recent television and film roles. Why?
If something interesting comes along, I will do it. I do a project if it speaks to me or says something to me. I am doing more poetry now. I am trying to learn about feature filmmaking and the web series business. You can also say that I am a pathological or a chronic learner.
Did you ever feel that our showbiz industry disowned you at some point in your career? How so?
I don’t know how much I belonged in the show business. Overall, the fraternity has been very kind to me. I am doing lesser work now but they still remember me. If anything, they have kept me in their books. I have never really been disowned because that is not an area I feel disgruntled by. They may not have a lot of characters to offer to suit my profile but nonetheless, they keep offering me things. The industry has played a huge part in how easily I was able to settle in Karachi.
What puts you off most about the profession you have chosen for yourself?
People’s inability to dare; being too cautious and not trying new things. During the process, people start feeling scared and make fake bets. There is innovation but not at the pace or speed that I would like. That puts me off once in a while. That is why I make these poetry videos and explore something that maybe has no money involved but what is being done is innovative.
Do you feel that there are a dearth of platforms for artists, be it anyone, to channel their creativity. Why do you think that is?
Yes, there are a dearth of physical spaces. Physical spaces are required because you get to meet people who are similar in thought. That process nourishes you and helps you flourish. We don’t have enough art councils to perform in every city. Each city must have at least two or three. A small town should have at least one.
There are hardly any privately owned spaces. Karachi has Club432 where I am working currently with my new project “Tareef Ka Shukriya.” I have been working in this space for three months now where I am creating a hybrid of stage, monologue, documentaries and features. It does not fall in any of these categories yet it has elements from each category.
I feel that social media has solved the problem too. If you are an artist with an idea, you can start putting your art out there and see what happens. Art on social media lives independently, free of any distributors. There are even online communities being created where artists from every city can interact with one another.
Another reason why very few platforms exist in Pakistan is because we are a poor country where education and health have inadequate budgets so the government cannot actively work on the arts and culture sectors of Pakistan. When your country is highly indebted and has other problems to look into, the last thing on the government’s mind is arts and culture.
Does our entertainment industry put more emphasis on an artist’s appearance than his or her acting talent?
The operative words here are “entertainment industry.” There is entertainment and it is also an industry. Superficiality is a huge part of the industry itself. You cannot take it out of the equation. Our industry would prefer to cast good looking actors in a young love story, which is understandable. That is what people respond to as well and that is how it has been for a very long time.
We have come from decades of larger-than-life filmmaking and glamorized actors so that shift is happening world over, even in India. It will happen in Pakistan too but it is in the process of its transition. If more emphasis is being put on an artist’s appearance than acting itself, you can’t really blame people because that has been the way for many individuals. You had to be a little glamorous and look a certain way if you were an actor. It is just like being caught in a tradition.
One of your most revered film roles was in Sarmad Khoosat and Babar Javed’s biopic drama Manto. Although it was a brief role, Kalwant Kaur moved many people like us. Why have our films and dramas retrograded in recent years to mundane stories and narratives that we tried to evolve from in the first place?
I enjoyed that process. The drama aired later in a 10PM slot and I don’t think many people watched it because there was no buzz. Television is geared towards women and housewives in general so content is largely created for a target audience like them. That is what I am told.
The lives of our women are limited to certain confines of their homes and the society, and that is what the stories depict. If you want to evolve from that narrative, you would have to tap into other mediums of storytelling; web series or the internet for instance. Even in films, people want to play it safe and go with the same old formula in terms of box office. There are rather many boring factors and research involved in why narratives are not shifting so much in our television and film landscape.
Apart from being an incredible actor, you are also an incredible writer. Do you feel that you have received more success from telling stories through words than acting itself?
Poetry got to people faster because of the internet so it did get me more recognition. Acting did its part too. I feel that the limitations I faced as a television actor because of being stuck in a narrative or certain characters were not the limitations I faced while doing poetry.
You have now assumed a new role under Harkat Pictures for the forthcoming film Senti Aur Mental. Tell our readers more about this project.
Harkat Pictures is my own venture. For almost a decade, I was preparing to make a film. It was a long-term goal. I am a hardcore Woody Allen fan and wanted to pull a Woody Allen off too.
So, with Harkat Pictures and my money, we started pre-producing a film in 2018 titled “Senti Aur Mental.” It has an ensemble cast. The movie is a fun, interesting film. Nothing too serious or intense. Due to bad economy and COVID-19, the project is on hold. The film is still in the process so let’s see when you will get to watch it! In the meanwhile, I have started working on “Tareef Ka Shukriya.”
Moving forward, what kind of stories do you wish to tell as a director that haven’t been told already?
I think the question has the answer; stories that haven’t been told already. I am also hoping to have the capability and skill-set to tell stories effectively and efficiently. I want to be as real as possible. I want to quote Asim Abbasi here who is one of my favorite writers and directors. In one of his interviews, he said that every film does not have to be larger than life. Some films could be just about life.
What we make might actually help people. Our current manner of depicting characters will make people feel that how things should be are far off from achieving. We need to make more characters in films that can be related to where people feel comfortable in their own skin. So whatever work comes out from me in the future, I am hoping that people would feel fine. Everyone has their own life, their own face and their own taste, and that is okay too.