There are some dramas in which a negative role steals all the attention and people wait for each episode only to see their next evil plot. “Tara” in Muhabatain Chahtain is one such character and we have to say it was beautifully portrayed by Armeena Khan. From hair to outfits to expressions; everything was in synch with the character and its demand. We hated the character for ruining everyone, but we also wanted to know the “real” issue with her, because no one can be evil for no reason, right?
To satisfy our curiosity and to get into the details of the character along with some other questions; we had a conversation with the very beautiful and talented Armeena Khan.
Was it difficult playing Tara? How did you prepare for the role?
Honestly, this was probably the HARDEST character that I have had to play in my entire career in the Pakistani industry. First came the character and personality of Tara herself. I spent months preparing, researching personality disorders such as Bipolar and Borderline Personality Disorder, Psychopathy, Sociopathy as that was the lens I used to distill the script. No person is just plain evil. Everyone believes they are good so it was important to ascribe justification for her actions.
Then came Tara’s look. For the clothes, I trawled through Pakistani Instagram and various socialite websites internalising outfits and the attitudes accompanying them. For her hair, I partnered with Catherine Boden (a hair colour design specialist) and she custom-made this colour. I also picked out hairpieces to give her a perpetual groomed look. Tara’s make-up was designed by the channel itself, right down to the diamond rings and jewels that she was wearing. After all, that prep came to the dialogue, It is not easy when your first language is not Urdu. For example, I had already memorized the script before I stepped onto the sets, then I would prepare each scene the night before. I simply cannot take things for granted that other actors are able to when filming thousands of miles away from my home.
Then came the grueling filming schedule. Tara is a multi-dimensional, complex and intelligent character. I had to put myself in a negative, dark headspace to play her and this took its toll. Often my co-stars would comment on how convincing my portrayal was of her. But by the second month, I was emotionally and physically exhausted.
In hindsight, I am very happy that I played this character. It helped me understand my scope, potential and limitations as an actor. I would go as far as to say that this has also been the most entertaining character that I have ever undertaken. Tara has given me strength as an actor and I cannot emphasize this enough.
Any reason for choosing ‘Tara’ in Mohabbatein Chahatain?
I am quite progressive, liberal, and an open-minded person. Tara is not only mentally ill but fearless. I drew a lot of strength from her character, despite it being so negative. For example, when Faraz said to her ‘Mein Aisa hi hoon, agar nahi Qabool tow khatam ker daytay hein’ to which Tara replies: ‘Okay, Khatam ker daytay hein’ and then proceeds to walk away nonchalantly. That really tickled me. In a patriarchal society, such things do not happen. Putting aside her negativity, Tara breaks through social norms and conventions, and ultimately that is what appealed most about the script.
Were you scared to do a negative character as the audience starts perceiving the actor as they see on their television screen?
I never worry about that. I appreciate that negative characters can impact a ‘heroine’s’ career but I wanted to step away from all that and be progressive in my choice of roles. As an actor, you simply have to experiment, otherwise boredom and complacency sets in. After all, we are here to entertain and not just play contrived, mono-dimensional characters.
Have you ever encountered a person like Tara? Do you think people with such complicated personalities exist?
Yes, they do exist, even though television characters are almost always exaggerated, I have met some conniving individuals in my time who came close to the character. Having said that I don’t believe ‘normal’ exists. We are all mentally challenged and have to face our own demons in our darkest moments. I think contemporary society with its technological connectivity amplifies mental health issues. Modern life is not healthy. It is pushing more and more people to the edges of sanity, to the limits of what their emotions and minds can handle.
How does it feel to be an expat and work in the entertainment industry in Pakistan?
I often feel my career has been conjured out of thin air, for I have no familial connections to call upon nor entry through financial investment. I am grateful for all the opportunities I have been offered, whether as a result of my own perseverance or fortune’s favour. But there are 2 consistent hurdles for me as an expat.
The first is obvious in working far away from home. I don’t maintain a permanent residence in Pakistan so this means expensive bills for flights, hotels, food and transport. My friendships and support network is several time zones away when on set.
The second problem is cultural. For example, I am a stickler for timekeeping and always turn up on the dot and behave professionally on set. Unfortunately, I am not always met with the same reciprocity on set because the local culture does not prioritise these traits. Then comes the whole gender angle. I am not used to playing second fiddle to men or listening to execrable chauvinistic humour and conversations. Many expats reading this will understand what I mean.
However, despite all these challenges Pakistan has also afforded me immense respect, stardom and belonging as an artist. What that has done for me cannot be quantified in mere words. I am extremely grateful for my audience and this is why I return to Pakistan every year to act my heart out.
What is your style statement in one line?
Simple, non-fussy and clean lines.
How does social media trolling affect an actor’s mental health and what is the best way to deal with it?
Social Media is a double-edged sword. Although the benefits are obvious, such as marketing and engagement, there are a plethora of pernicious problems outweighing the benefits for many. Firstly it is fraudulent. We are being lied to. It is human nature, in your nature, to compare yourself to others, as natural yardsticks. But the people we are comparing ourselves to are on a 24/7 permanent filter. Their hardships, flaws and insecurities are disguised and deleted. They are not communicating but propagating at us. As a result, we will always come up wanting. Over time you will feel awful about yourself and your own life, especially when the trolls are added to the equation. This brings us to our second problem. Social media offers anonymity that attracts bottom feeders. Trolls hide in the dark corners of social media, whispering envy, hate and attempts to body shame others. These cowards will never do anything with their lives and so are focused on one thing; to stop others from bettering themselves.
Thirdly, it is bad for your mental health. Do you feel that you are missing out? Do you feel the need to post constantly? Instead of being present in our lives, enjoying beautiful relationships and moments, we are on the lookout for opportunities to manufacture a post, a possible entry into the lottery of viral online fame. If you don’t, you feel excluded somehow. Add this feeling of anxiety to the tiny small little hate comments, these seeds of poison, left unaddressed will sprout into a foliage of weeds that will consume your mental health. I almost look forward to the day when I can delete my SM and withdraw from this jungle. I would love to find an alternative way to keep in touch with my fans.
One thing that you could change about the Pakistani Entertainment industry?
Frankly speaking there isn’t a proper industry yet. It is an aspiration. Instead, we have a small gaggle of cliques. It stifles creativity and is structured to guard platforms against talented individuals who could break in and actually help transform this into a roper sustainable industry. I would also like to balance out the playing field between those who can speak English and those who cannot. It is ridiculous that this linguistic divide exists in the first place.
You are always so supportive of your co-stars online and in real life. What drives you to do that in this competitive industry?
I sincerely believe that you receive what you give out into the universe. A tweet or a supportive phone call, text message, or just a simple ‘How are you?’ is not going to take anything away from me. I do keep most of my interactions with my co-stars private and out of the public gaze normally but where I feel that they need public support is where I do make an exception. It just feels good to me, I do not see people as my competition as we all are on our own journies. I think the ONLY way to grow is to support others to grow around me as well. I believe in the theory of abundance.’ When a play goes on air, I promote EVERYONE, you never know when the public might take a fancy to a specific character and it might not be yours BUT it could make the whole play a success for the Team?
Who is your favourite Co-star?
I get along with everyone generally but negative people are challenging for me. They bring certain energy with them, which is draining and distracting. It is about whose company I enjoy the most and I am drawn to what I call the ‘hulla gulla’ crowd. No drama, no tantrums, no insecurities, just work and fun and those have been the best costars and most memorable sets for me.