Rarely does one come across a young woman who is fiercely independent and yet firmly rooted to the ground, a person who has a sane opinion but gives others a fair chance to voice their thoughts. She is Maria Wasti: short, petite and sans any pretentious airs. Undoubtedly attractive, what makes her all the more appealing is her wit and intelligence.
Unlike the fair and lovely persona that has been a de rigueur of actresses in Pakistan, this earthy-complexioned girl debuted around the time Iraj, another dusky charmer, was setting the bar high in fashion. Fifteen years on, Wasti has defied the odds and continues to be the most celebrated actress on television.
When we meet on a balmy late October evening, she is dressed in a red floaty summer dress with barely a hint of make-up or any distracting jewellery. Wasti comes across as a person who is comfortable in her own skin.
An unlikely disposition given that she is an actress, and a top most one at that.
Known as a thinking man’s actor, she has given one riveting performance after another over the years. From debuting as a headstrong girl in Sarah aur Ammara, a mid-90s PTV production that dealt with the issue of non-resident Pakistani girls and arranged marriages, her TV debut made people sit up and take notice.Given that she was acting alongside her contemporary, Resham, who by then was a well-known, established model and an actress to reckon with after her performance in Din, Wasti’s performance was just as much celebrated. Her next big break came when she played the character of Kallo based on Bano Qudsia’s short story. She got under the skin (no pun intended) of the dark-skinned girl next door from a humble background. The play not only showcased her acting range, but it also turned her into Pakistan’s sweetheart.
Over the years, she has played one strong role after the other and tackled the indie scene with Ramchand Pakistani. With Indian actress Nandita Das in the lead, it was Wasti’s portrayal of the policewoman Kamla that won her accolades.
Her latest offering, however, required her to tread on dangerous ground. Playing the role of Maya, a single girl in her late 20s/early 30s, who becomes the love interest of her adopted brother, Bilal, in drama serial Behkava, she proves that she has indeed come a long way.
When questioned about Maya and the ‘odd’ relationship with her adopted brother, she says, “The relationship shown on screen is very true to life. We all have people around us who will call someone around them bhai and then one day their families decide that they have to get married. So, one minute you call a person bhai and then you end up being married to him. Feelings change because of the situation one is in, and to an extent what those around us dictate. In the case of Bilal, he is emotionally traumatised and hence ends up confusing Maya’s affection for something else.”
Commenting on the feedback received for her performance and the serial that shed light on the dark side of relationships, she says, “The response was quite nice. While the serial touched on taboo themes, it never crossed the line to end up as crass.”
As she talks about the layers and gray areas that the characters in Behkava offered, she also points out the hypocrisy that has become, according to her, “inherent in Pakistani society where we have double standards for everything. Our audiences are fine with Hollywood or Indian soaps, but the minute a local production shows extra-marital affairs or domestic violence, they get all worked up. These issues exist in our society and we need to acknowledge their presence.”
Broaching on the subject of hypocrisy, I ask her opinion on the scandal that played out in the public sphere after personal photos from a trip went viral on the social media. Wasti says she never expected to see the photos on all sorts of sites with some really weird captions. “The commentary on those pictures was horrible. How do people behave on beaches? What do they wear? It saddens me to see how people twist things to fit their limited vision,” she says.
Brushing aside the incident, she says, “One must not go by the comments on YouTube and Facebook. It’s the anonymity there that brings out the best/worst in people.” As she moves on to discuss other issues in life, she barely allows one to peek inside her head, sharing only what she wants to share. And maybe it is this barrier that adds to her persona since very little is known about her personal life.