Mahira did her "O" Levels from Foundation Public School and went off to University of Southern California for an undergraduate degree, but never completed it. Mahira had never thought of acting as a VJ on MTV Pakistan and was studying in Los Angeles, U.S.A. from whence she came to Pakistan to enroll at the Indus TV network for an internship in marketing. The day of her arrival marked the sudden end of the careers of two of the VJs at the network. Ghazanfer Ali, CEO of the television network insisted she took the lead where the two left a void and hence she got a show for herself. She is married Ali Askari.
At MTV Pakistan
Mahira c hosted a live show called Most Wanted three days a week and prefers live shows over recorded. Of the people at the network, she is particularly close to Dino and adores Cyrus at MTV India.
One look at her and you think ‘what a pretty girl’. While make-up for her may be a necessity for the camera, in reality it does for her what artificial food color does to fresh orange juice.
When you talk to her, you inevitably come up with the terribly clichéd ‘beauty with brains’, but somehow it undermines the person that she is. So let us start all over again. Mahira Khan is a VJ on MTV Pakistan and she is one of the most unpretentiously refreshing faces around in showbiz currently. But it is her inspiring personality that instantly reassures you that this pretty representative of the much-maligned MTV generation has an intelligent head on her shoulders and her feet firmly planted on the ground.
Mahira hosts a live show called Most Wanted three days a week and unlike most people in showbiz, she loves going live. “It’s the best part of the show for me. I cannot perform without it being live. It goes out to thousands of people and I like the fact that whatever is going out is said and done at that point in time, I can’t re-do it. I think I am the only VJ who loves live TV. There is a lot of enthusiasm that goes into it than in a recorded show.”
Mahira says she didn’t plan on becoming a VJ, as according to her, “Last summer, I was studying in Los Angeles and when I came to Pakistan, I went to the Indus TV Network for an internship in marketing. The day I arrived, two of their old VJs had left so everyone was in a state of panic. Ghazanfar Saheb looked at me and said ‘you are going to do it’. I tried to get out of it but he insisted and I got the show.”
“Mostly people calling up are young, so I get to know what they are thinking about. Usually, I tell them what I think about the subject that is under discussion. It could be anything. We’ve talked about values, responsibilities and a variety of issues to do with youth,” says MTV VJ Mahira Khan
When I ask her about her strengths as a VJ, Mahira says she doesn’t really know so much about it “but I could tell you about my weakness, the biggest being that I can’t lie on television. I can lie about little things and make up a story or something but I am a bad actress. Whatever I feel, I tend to show on camera. I can be funny and do different expressions but whatever I am feeling is what shows on screen. If I feel horrible about something or terribly low, then I always read something funny before I go on air or sit around someone at work, especially Dino because I know he will make me laugh,” she says.
MTV was launched in Pakistan as a 24-hour TV channel with an ambition to reflect the tastes and interests of the youth through a combination of Pakistani and international music videos. Are the skeptics impressed? “I would definitely like to believe that MTV is watched more than the competition. I really don’t look at competition because no other channel does a live show like mine,” she says. “Moreover, MTV has a cutting edge over the competition because our ideas are out of the box.”
Talking about VJs, Mahira says, “If I was to look at MTV around the world or any other channel for that matter, VJs are around for a few years. Take Cyrus for instance in MTV India, he was a VJ when I was a kid and now I could have kids and he would still be a VJ! This is actually dictated by viewership. People still want to see the VJs who have been around for some time. People love it when I have Dino or Anoushey on the show, they are still very popular.”
One wonders whether Pakistani youth is receptive to MTV Pakistan, or is it adding to their confused identity? I ask Mahira to elaborate. “MTV is a youth channel and that does not need to be spelt out. We are the MTV generation. We can’t be like MTV in America because we don’t live in America. We can’t be MTV India because we don’t live in India; we can only be MTV Pakistan because we live in Pakistan. For instance, Anoushey, Faizan and me, we all come from very different backgrounds but we are all the youth and bring in variety. There is a person who will speak thorough English, someone else will speak in Urdu while a third type will speak a mix and that is what the youth today is all about.
“We completely represent the youth of Pakistan. The kids who call up on the shows or send emails are always in their own way telling us to be proud of being Pakistani. A VJ once spoke something that was similar to some Hindi word and this person called and insisted that we should stay away from Hindi, and just speak Urdu and be Pakistani. The average viewer is so intelligent these days that you cannot con them into anything.”
Mahira believes that being a VJ on a show has its own share of social responsibility. “My show is topic-based. Out of three days a week I can have two days of light chit chat on just anything that drives a conversation, but for one day we can have a bit of a serious discussion. Mostly people calling up are young, so I get to know what they are thinking. Usually, in the end, I tell them what I think about the subject that is under discussion. It could be just anything. We’ve talked about values, responsibilities and a variety of issues to do with youth.”Mahira defends the youth and their dilemma of battling with cultural values on the one hand and exposure to the conflicting western ideology through media on the other. “The youth is definitely stuck at some sort of cultural crossroads. I feel they are a little confused but should they not be? This country is only 57 years old and this is like a middle-age crises which will pass,” she says.
When it comes to working, she says that “I have been working since I was 16, and this is my sixth job. I have lived abroad and I have experienced a little bit more independence than other girls my age over here, just a little bit.”
But Mahira feels it is different to work in the Pakistani environment as compared to abroad. “When you are working abroad, hard work plus talent equals reward. Over here, hard work, talent, sleepless nights and xyz can sometimes give you nothing. Because then there are other factors influencing things. Yes, it’s sad. But it does not mean that a hardworking talented Pakistani cannot make it big, which is why I call it the Pakistani dream.”
Although she says she enjoys her work and hopes to continue it for a bit longer, Mahira has bigger plans in mind. “When a VJ becomes unacceptably old for the VJ formula, then there is plenty to do. There is a bigger plan at every step that you grow big with. At the end of the day a VJ has the gift of gab, and that means you can do things that you always wanted to do.
“There is so much more that can be done and I am talking about women essentially. And that takes me back to when you asked me about my strengths, maybe that is what it is, the art of talking. Speaking is what it takes.”
I ask her if she thinks at all that her looks are her strength as a VJ. She seems somewhat uncomfortable with the question. “I never think like that, my looks can’t be my strength, I don’t know, people tell me I’m pretty but mein nahin hoti to koi aur hota, and you know make up can do wonders and make ordinary girls look beautiful, too.”,,,,,,,,,,,,