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Marina Khan

an actor who needs no introduction, whose name is synonymous with many a successful play. A Director and Producer, owner of Fat Cat Productions, a joint venture with her husband, Jalil Akhtar. Above all, Marina is a woman whose grown and matured into a her own. met up with Marina at her studio/home in Defence to catch up on her life thus far.

When and where were you born?
“I was born on 26th of December, in ‘Pekhawar’”(read Peshawar).”

So that makes you what sign…?
Aquarius, I think….

Do you believe in the ‘signs’ of the zodiac?
She appears amused by the suggestion, “No. I like reading about them, but I don’t believe in them.” On reconfirming Marina’s zodiac birth sign it appeared she really wasn’t into signs; Ms Khan was not an Aquarius, but in actual fact a Capricorn.

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How would you describe yourself?
Impossible…No, not really but I am stubborn. I like to celebrate life. No, I’m not a control freak, and I like to let go if I know the person can do the job…like Maryam is one such person. I trust her, even some of my camera men…Naeem, Farhan and Mehmud Mirza. (Musing) Okay! I think I may be just a bit of a control freak, but only because I want the perfect picture at the end of the day!”

On the topic of her Khan roots: “My father was ‘Pakhtoon’ and my mother is English. In fact my mother was born and brought up in this part of the world. My (maternal) great grand parents had migrated to India and so both my grandfather and my grandmother were brought up in India. My Nana was in the Police, and when partition happened he chose to come to Pakistan. However, eventually most of my Mom’s family moved to Australia.” How did her parents meet? “My parents met in Pakistan but marriage was a big ‘no, no’ on both sides of the families. My maternal grandfather didn’t speak to my mother for almost six months to a year after she married my father.”

Marriages made in heaven…“Somehow, I feel no matter how liberal one is, when it comes to ones own children, parents become conservative.” She says matter-of-factly of her own 16 year marriage and the waves it created at the time: “Even though Mom had been through the marriage thing with her parents (laughing), I thought it was all kosher for me with regards to Kutchu.” Conversions… ‘Kutchu’ nee Jalil Akhtar, was a Christian before converting to Islam on meeting her. “I was around 26 or so when I met Kutchu at my friend Sonia’s engagement. He was great company. He wanted to meet me because he’d seen Tanhaiyan. There was no love at first sight for either though.” She laughs and recall, “There was program on Tanhaiyan that Shehzad Saab put on, which was about bloopers on the set. Kutchu saw that and he is such a anyways before seeing it he thought I was a total UMT (Urdu Medium Type). So he had no desire to meet the UMT types! When I spoke in English is when he realized achah mil saktay hai. ” Marina laughingly does a quip on her marriage situation then, by borrowing the oft repeated filmi dialogue. “It was like, ‘Yeh shadi nahi ho sakti’ …but we eventually married in December 1989.” But seriously I couldn’t have asked for a better guy - Marriage to Kutchu has been great. I don’t feel like I’m married. Just feels like we’re just good friends.”

“I mean one doesn’t know why these things happen, but they do. It was a time period in their (parents) life and they were dealing with a situation. I understood it as we come from different generations. I don’t expect them to understand what I’m trying to say. I also don’t expect myself to totally negate where they’re coming from. So where I was concerned, I just asked them to give me a reason and I said would think about it; but there was no solid reason, there concerns bordered on what they thought would happen to me… society”.

Conversion of...“ Kutchu, had to convert. At the time I was much more religious (she laughs) and wasn’t going to change my religion…and since he didn’t seem to think it was an issue.”

The soothsayer’s prediction: “ I knew my family was going to adore Kutchu. Now I’m like second fiddle to him when it comes to my parents. So, alls well that ends well.”

Kids et al… “It wasn’t something that we decided that we are not going to have them… Kids is always the biggest factor in mixed marriages…you know what mazhab (religion) and all, but I was very clear about that also. I think that one should always take on the religion of the country, regardless. We are a very intolerant and narrow-minded society, after a certain point its then up to the kids to know what religion they want to follow. I think every human being needs to have individuality. Anyways, we knew we were going to wait. One has to give their marriage time, at least 2 years before having a child. One has to develop a bond. If you have a kid immediately, the husband starts to feel neglected, especially if it’s a love marriage. One has to get to know each other – its very different going out with someone and very different living with them. Everyone around us had kids and we love our nieces and nephews but we didn’t want to take them home with us! Anyways, delay hotay, hotay…things have just become so comfortable without. People keep telling us you’re depriving this, that and the other …but it’s our life! It’s not as though I don’t think about the future…God forbid something happens to either one of us, and just thinking about being alone in the future… but then there’s no guaranty that those kids will be around for us. What really terrifies me is being an invalid. If it’s not Kutchu looking after me then I don’t want to be dependent on anyone else; I’d rather just go. I would not want to be a burden to anyone.

…and then there was Jack the Cat in ‘93…
How did Kutchu and you start your Production House? “Well, Kutchu used to work in a 9 to 5 job in a computer firm but didn’t like the routine of timings… Do you feel you had to convince him to come into the entertainment line? Marina replies, “I don’t think it would have mattered if I had. It was his choice. One has to do, what they have to do. If a person believes in what they’re doing, then they will succeed.” On a lighter note, “…Anyways, this is more fun because we’re together!” …to continue… “Kutchu and I were working with ‘Blazon’, the advertising agency, doing music videos etc. when he started coming over to ‘our’ side. He’d had always loved game shows and wanted to put one together. Asif (Reza Mir) funded it, but we had to make it obviously as a private company, so that’s how Fat Cat Productions happened in ‘93; the name ‘Fat Cat’, is after our cat, the very ‘fat Jack’ and was suggested by Bilal Maqsood (Strings) who was also working at Blazon at the time”. Jack by the way has his own throne room in one of Marina’s bathrooms, from where he almost never deigns to emerge. Getting back to Fat Cat’s: “The first show we put on was called, ‘The Game Show’. I helped Kutchu out back then as there was lot’s to. After that, the next major thing was ‘Marina’s Kitchen’, which basically brought us into the limelight. And the rest is history”.

On being a Director: “I started Directing plays around ’94 – ’95. The first one I Produced and Directed myself. I did it, so as to be able to judge myself. To see if this was something I could do or not. The play was called, ‘Ghar Toh Akhir Apna Hai’, it was a lot of fun because it was almost like a ‘home’ production; there was Bado (Badar Khalil) and her family, then there were all these kid Shakeel, Nosheen Masood and the writer himself and then of course I had Qazi Saab with me and others. At the time I tried to take experienced people so I could work on my craft more. I directed it the way I knew drama to be, sets and two cameras… however, that was then, I now use the single camera technique. My play, Umeed-e-Seher, came about soon after, all done with the single camera. That was also the first time I worked with Humayun Saeed.” Candid as always she immediately bursts out, “Don’t watch it!” Back tracking, “No… I mean actually I loved the play, but technically…well there were things that you know are a ‘not acceptable’… I feel I could have done it better. Its something I would like to redo again. I also feel really bad for my actors in that particular drama because I was actually learning through them!! I put them through such a lot of crap because of it!”

Do you think it makes a difference to be educated in the field of Direction from a film school?
Marina replies, “Well, I think it can work both ways. I mean I feel it strange when people learn about it and go straight into Direction. I mean there are certain things about Production that only experience can teach you. I’ve worked with the best and have been in this side (before and behind the camera) for the last 14 years, I’ve also worked with the worst. It’s been a learning experience, which has given me time to see whether I can do it or not. I’ve loved the whole process. I know this is what I want to do. I feel acting gave me direction, and the direction was coming behind the camera.”

Self taught and still learning…Marina’s latest offering for the coming year of 2006 is the telefilm Baji Dixit. In fact her youngest nephew, Usman, a cute eight-year old is making his debut in it. She also had another child actor in her cast aside from Usman, the chirpy Malaika, a pretty 7 year old ‘Miss’. Marina could on occasion be heard muttering on the sets, ‘Never again’ in frustration when things were not as smooth with the ‘little angels’ on the set; this was also the first time Marina had directed a play with any kids in it. Baji Dixit has a host of actors like Badar Khalil, Sonia Rehman, Shahzil Khan, Sumyra Kamal guest appearance by Humayum Saeed and new comer Aneela Quadri. Baji… is due for release in the first quarter of 2006; With Baji, Marina has for the first time ventured into a family shadi biya scenario, with undercurrents of a social message”. Marina also recently completed a 10 minute film for the Aga Khan Hepatitis B and C Awareness Project. The cast has Behroze Sabwari and a few theatre actors, which she holds in high esteem, “…these kids are just so good. They know all their lines and expressions and stuff. We went to Juna Market to shoot it. The place is such a vibrant part of Karachi. I love this place. You can get anything there. In fact we get our props for plays from there from this great guy, Basit, who has been a tremendous help”. Marina warms to the topic of Juna, “You know the kind of cloth you get there…its not the cloth you get around here, its so typical. I mean if one wants to shoot any thing that is of a lower middle class or even lower than that then this is the most ideal place. Then there’s the other side, I’ve seen people shooting themselves up at these places twice. It was very disturbing! It amazes me to see how disease has spread here, you know the kids shave with unhygienic razors, using unclean instruments and living under unhealthy conditions, going to Doctors who propagate it even further… It’s a very male orientated area…but then there is the other side…there are a lot of big women of Baluchi descent who come there to shop for Jahez, steel pots and pans… It’s a fantastic place but you know shooting there was an experience and an a half!!! The crowd control… I tried to keep it as simple as possible and tried to keep the atmosphere of the market”. Were you scared in that atmosphere? “No. Not any more. I screamed, I shouted and Kutchu would tell me to go easy as he didn’t want me to antagonize any one. But I’d come back with, ‘Don’t tell me what to do!’ I guess I have to be master of the ship!!!”

Having seen Marina while at work, I can well imagine the scene. She gives as good as she gets and makes no bones about her feelings (when Directing) if things are not as she wants. The frustration of the whole process can also result in the very choicest of colorful language…a shouting, frustrated Marina can be as delightfully outspoken as the soft spoken, self assured woman of today… provided one is not at the receiving end – the Marina of Tanhaiyan has certainly grown up. She expects perfection from those working with her and has no hesitation in pushing her own limits.”.

Acting, to be or not to be…doo bee doo bee doo: “I used to visit Kehkashan’s (Awan) sets when I was offered a role in Shehzad Khalil’s ‘Nishan-e-Haider’, but I don’t remember the play at all. I think I was just there on the sets. I had to learn the lines and Shehzad Saab would say do the role this way or that way. Thank God there were not many lines!” She says of ‘Tanhaiyan’ also Directed by none other than Khalil Saab opposite Shehnaz Sheikh (actor), Behroze Sabzwari and others, she speaks affectionately of the experience, “It was wonderful. The best time ever! The whole cast was like a huge family and we all had a great time! Shezad Saab was just Shehzad Saab. About Shahnaz Shaikh of Tanhaiyan, do you think she should have acted in Raj Kapoor’s Henna? “Shehnaz is a beautiful woman and great human being. I think she would have been tremendous in it as she is very talented, but she is also a very ‘Be Pakistani, Buy Pakistani’ kind of person so…”

You, yourself are a Director’s actor?
“Oh yes, I think so! That’s why I don’t usually like acting any more because no one Directs any more. They don’t try to get the best out of you, its just like ‘bus kar le aap’. I recently did one play called Chauhthi ka Jora. I took it on because I was a little disappointed in the way the channels were behaving so… The story is by Ismet Chughtai and adapted by Imrana Maqsood and her sister. They’ve done a very good job. It catered to a lower middle Luckhnao ki family,; its set in the 40s /50s period and was something different for me as well so I enjoyed it”.

How do you manage with your Urdu or is it Roman Urdu? “My Urdu is so bad, my Roman is just as bad so what I do is have someone read me the script, and then I have it recorded”.
Marina’s bachpan ke din: “I have one brother, who’s married with 3 children. He’s also 2 years older to me, and flies for the national carrier. So, he’s Kuptan Saab”. Being from the Air Force brat pack, Marina spent her early years in various locales and speaks fondly of the experience, “My father was a fighter pilot. So we moved around basically to places where we had…umm…planes. So my early education was in Sargodha, Peshawar, Karachi – which was both the bases of Drigh Road (Shahrah-e-Faisal) and Masroor. My brother, however, was sent to boarding school. I was very jealous of that even though I was a pampered brat then…only kidding. But I just felt I wanted to be in a boarding as well, because I thought it was such fun. Not that I was neglected in any way but on holidays he used to get all the attention”. Did moving from base to base affect her in any way? “No, not really. It was always a good life. For mom, however, moving every two or three years was like “Oh, God” because of all the packing and stuff. School wise it was very disturbing…because you know I never settled really in one school, and never really made ‘those’ friends.” Was she a good student? (Marina replies very matter-o-factly which only she can do) “No. I think I could have been anywhere and I would have been a bad student. But I made a couple of good friends and we reconnected on different bases”. Was she still in touch with old friends from school? “Kehkashan Awan (actor) was one of my closest friends and then there was Fariha Subhani from the Air Force side. These are the two that I am somehow still friendly with.” Marina talks more about her meeting up with the former actor, “The first time I met Kehkashan was in Sir Qaiser, her father was also in the Air Force. We actually hated each other then. See I was new and I was also the Base Commander’s daughter and so I used to get all the importance, and so when I went to school I found this skinny little girl who was also the class monitor and she used to bully every one around. I used to hate her as in like, ‘why aren’t I the monitor’. It was just rivalry.” Listening intently while stirring my cup of tea, both of us literally jumped as one of Marina’s cat decided at that very moment to leap onto my chair so that she could make my lap a home away from home. After replacing order, cat, tea and all, we sat down again to continue our chat only to hear some commotion outside at the door to her studio. One of Marina’s dogs had jumped some inside gate he was supposed to be behind. Now generally this scribe, who respects other peoples dogs from a distance and is not usually a witless person, on seeing a big brown, hairless, pointy nosed animal enter the studio well… one can’t say, ‘Here kitty, kitty or …nice little dog’ while trying not to run I maintained a nonchalant attitude all the while keeping one suspicion laden eye trained on the object of Marina’s affection for movement. But the creature of my observations was to say the least quite pleasantly disciplined, of course after Marina told him to ‘sit’ that is; she then proceeded to settle my mind with, “He’s done this after a long time. We keep on raising the bar but he keeps jumping them.” …Marina and Kutchu’s penchant and passion for animals, strays and all, is well known. At present the couple have approximately 8 dogs and 15 (stray) cats, coming and going. Anyways, once ‘pooch’ was removed, I was patted on the head for being a good girl about it all. Coming back to the present…

Education: “I did my metric and one year of college in Peshawar then we came back to Karachi and I joined P.E.C.H.S College, from where I graduated.” College life… “Air Force life is very different, we were very sheltered and so coming into the city and going to college was exciting but very different. I mean if it rained even slightly the College closed down. I mean we’d never heard of that because in the Air Force no matter how much dirt and slush came in due to the rain or whatever ‘we’ had to go! So this was exciting! It was a side I’d never seen! We had always been with the Air Force, we’d stuck to Air Force friends…so it was good making all these amazing friends from outside… Later, I also went on to do an interior designing course from ACL (American College in London) in England. And please don’t ask me why!!!” Why? “I think even my teachers there wanted the answer to that question! It was a 2 year course. I was there for a year and a half. (She laughs) I had to come back though… I failed. Well actually, they don’t say ‘failed’ at ACL, they call them ‘incompletes’. Out here people are used learning by rote, whereby there one has to do everything from scratch. I was not used to being in a library and still cannot sit in one. The quiet disturbs me. I’d rather get the book out and take it home to read. The knowledge helped though with the 4 kitchens Kutchu and I designed for ‘Marina’s Kitchen’”. Her tastes diversifying into other crafts, Marina is also taking a course in dance at NAPA in the Oddissi dance form. A little guilty at not having attended classes for over a month she promises herself she’ll go back soon for it. “I have always wanted to learn classical dancing. I wanted to see what it was all about and its bloody tough! I’m loving it though. Its just such a huge opportunity for one to learn culture, another art form…and I think every actor needs to learn dancing. There’s a discipline in dancing and singing which lends itself to acting. You learn the importance of team effort, practice, language of a craft….

Did Marina feel Acting, Direction and Production have changed during the recent years since PTV?
“Well, it’s taken on a different format, like from two cameras to single camera, from sets you’ve gone to locations.” Actors… “Actors attitude has changed because of so much work happening. They’re all of them just so busy that they can’t stay focused due to this. But then again ‘money’ is what counts at the end of the day and they’re running their homes. Would she advise people to take on acting? “Oh yes, but learn the craft. It teaches one to recognize better Directors, teaches one punctuality and respect for the Director. One can go and give the performance of a life time but the Director can make you or break you, if its not a good Director your performance is going to go no where. Nobody’s going to watch it because there’s a dime a dozen plays out there. On actor potential for television: “Ayesha Omer is a girl who is a very good actress, if she doesn’t allow herself to go crazy in the coming years…and stay focused. One can go that extra mile with her and she can dance too…I haven’t worked with her but Kutchu has. Sadia Imam is good but she’s been around for some time. Then after Humayun Saeed who is again brilliant, there is look wise Faisal Shah – he has a very good presence on television. They can all act but they still have to learn to be better. You have to allow yourself to be molded, don’t be bigger than you Producer/ Director…learn from them if they are capable at all that is. Good Directors: The late Shahzad Khalil, then there’s Saira Kazmi (Director), I did Nijaat with her and enjoyed it, there was something so intense about the character I was playing.” Is Saira a disciplined Director? Marina laughs out loud at this, “Saira’s discipline is getting there in time!! But then again one knows that about Saira and so accepts it. I did Dhoop Kinaray and some others with her. Rahat Kazmi was my co-star in Dhoop… I watched it the other day and said, ‘Oh my God she made me do this, she made me do that! Actually I sailed through that play in a daze because I was by then madly in love with Kutchu”.

Other Directors from the younger lot… “Mehreen Jabbar, is one with whom I’ve done a couple of plays; I enjoyed Farar with her the most. I feel the roles I do, they need to be challenging, they need to say something …mean something. Even in script selection it needs to say something…in Baji Dixit it was a lot of the shadi biya. I wanted to see how they do it. I’ve watched Indian movies and I’m sure those dancers take a couple of days to shoot, we on the other hand have 2 to 3 hours; one could do it fifty times but it’s the angles, that’s what makes it interesting. If you’re working with extras who don’t know what they’re doing or even actors who keep complaining about the shot being done a few times…array, karna parta hai! You’ve been paid for it, for your talent, time, discipline and professionalism. It takes discipline, bhayi jaldi se nahi hota! Maybe there are better Directors than me but I have my own thinking and when you take a project with me, that’s how I am. At the end of the day, whoever is going to watch that play may turn around and say, ‘they could have done a better job’. They won’t know we did that about fifty times! Half the time it’s all about the time in set up. Its not about just me.”

We would have gone on talking and exchanging experiences and views but for pressing engagements on both sides, but having said that there is no doubt anyone whose met Marina, knows her as an active personality who can not only be witty, charming, funny and warm - with an élan for life which is in fact just hers and hers alone.

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