Landing a lead role in this month’s biggest Pakistani release Balu Mahi wasn’t an easy process for Ainy Jaffri.
The UK-based actress went through a tough audition process in Lahore and had to endure a two-month-long, nerve-wracking wait afterwards. Then while in London, she received a call from the director Haissam Hussain and started what she describes as an incredible year.
Eastern Eye caught up with rising star Ainy Jaffri to talk about Balu Mahi, romance and her future hopes.
What did you like about Balu Mahi?
Oh, just about everything. The light-hearted romantic story, the incredible life-changing journey the main characters embark upon, and the diverse beautiful landscapes the movie is set in. I especially liked Mahi’s strong passionate character, which is central to the theme of women empowerment in the film.
Tell us about the story?
It’s a journey of self-discovery and love that two very different characters are on. The film starts with a runaway bride scenario that quickly gets pretty messy. We are taken on a hilarious adventure through the beautiful old streets of Lahore.
In the second half, we see a complete shift in landscape as it is set in the mountains of north Pakistan during our famous Shandur Polo Festival, which takes place on the highest polo ground in the world.
There is also a femme fatale in the movie?
There is a third character of Sharmeen, a femme fatale who has the hots for Balu and spices things up even more. I don’t want to give too much away but there is the obvious sports element and a complete shift in Mahi’s character, which audiences will just have to wait to see in the film. I’m especially excited and nervous about reactions to my character in the second half, so fingers crossed, they will like it.
Tell us about your character?
Mahi is a very strong, fearless girl who speaks her mind, knows what she wants, and isn’t afraid to ask for it. She wants to take matters into her own hands and carve out her future as she sees fit. At the same time, she is looking for some clue to her past, to find out where she came from, and along this road, finds love.
Mahi’s journey in the film is amazing. I hope she will be a role model for young girls everywhere.
What would you say was your most memorable experience while working on the movie?
Easily the time when I broke down and started crying on set. We were shooting a song in the mountains and just seconds before I had to perform, they handed me a bunch of lyrics and asked me to start lip-syncing while dancing to them. I had never done this before and we were short on time. I freaked out, but after a time out and a chance to familiarise myself with the lines, I managed to pull it off. (Laughs) Really, they should have given me the lyrics much earlier.
Which is your favourite moment in Balu Mahi?
It takes place in the first half of the film, in the breathtaking Hazoori Bagh outside Lahore fort. Mahi comes to apologise to Balu for something she said earlier, and then goes on to talk about her family and past, and we get a chance to see a very different side of her, which is much softer and more sensitive. It’s a tender moment in the film between Balu and Mahi.
Which is your favourite song in the film?
Bechainyaan (the same song that caused me to cry). We shot it over four days in the mountains and it was a tough shoot – clambering over rocks to get to certain heights, falling down and bleeding several times over, dancing and lip-syncing while having trouble breathing in the thin mountain air.
The first time I saw the video of the song in the dubbing studio, I got very emotional because it reminded me of the tough shoot we had and the personal challenges I overcame.
You must be happy with the strides Pakistani cinema is making internationally?
I am ecstatic about it. It’s nice that the rest of the world is getting to see the softer side of Pakistan, not just the terrible things they show in the news. There is a whole other Pakistan out there, full of colourful people, dances, songs, love and beautiful terrain. Cinema is a useful tool to help change the negative perception people have of our country. I hope we continue to grow and grow.
So what are your hopes for the industry in the future?
Like I said, that it continues to flourish and grow, that we get even better writers and scripts than we already have, bigger budgets, more help from the government, and many more movies.
Balu Mahi is being released just before Valentine’s Day, but how much of a romantic are you in real life?
I am quite a romantic. I believe in everlasting love, fate, destiny and all the other mushy stuff.
(Laughs) Until recently, I used to expect flowers and chocolates on Valentine’s Day, but since I got married all of that has stopped. My husband thinks Valentine’s Day is a farce and marketing gimmick used to boost sales and he doesn’t believe in celebrating it at all. So that’s that.
Though in his defence, he can be romantic when he wants to. Like when he proposed, it was all unexpected, romantic and I loved every minute of it.
Which is your own favourite romantic movie of all time?
Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander. I have seen it more than 200 times and danced to the song Pehla Nasha all through my childhood imagining myself in the movie. Aamir Khan’s character in the film is hopelessly in love with someone above his economic stature and the female lead is hopelessly in love with Aamir Khan. It’s all very thrilling.
Which leading man would you love to romance on screen?
Ooh, Leonardo Di Caprio from the Titanic days or Ryan Gosling now. Also, I have the biggest crush on Milo Ventimiglia (he was in Heroes and The Gilmore Girls), so he would be a strong contender. From the subcontinent it would be Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh or Fawad Khan.
What would be your dream role?
To play a strong Pakistani female character in a biopic on someone like Mukhtar Mai or Benazir Bhutto. And to play the Burka Avenger in the movie, if it’s ever made. I currently do the voice and would love to play the real-life superhero.
Have you made a master plan?
No, not really. I don’t believe in making plans, I am more a go-with-the-flow kind of person. I like surprises and want to stay flexible in case anything unexpected happens. However, if I ever have children, I’m sure that will change.
Who is your acting hero?
There are so many, but I especially love Marina Khan for her comic timing, Shabana Azmi for her elegance and poise, and Meryl Streep for just about everything.
What can we expect next from you?
Great things, I hope.
Who will Balu Mahi appeal to?
Everyone. Families will enjoy it as will people of all ages. It is fun and fast-paced with twists and turns to keep you entertained for the two and-a-half-hour duration. Trust me, it’s an easy watch.
Finally, why should we watch the movie?
After watching the film, I guarantee you will have a smile on your face, and feel lighter and happier. If you want to spend a thoroughly enjoyable time at the cinema, go see the film.
Balu Mahi will be in cinemas on February 10.