Nadia Jamil’s Imaginarium
Nadia Jamil is not an unheard voice. We know her as an actor, talk show host, writer, educationist, food curator, activist and a mother. She juggles all these roles with perfection. It has always been quality over quantity for her in whatever she takes up. Despite not being seen in many projects as compared to others, she is planted in her fans’ consciousness because of her strong performances. Projects like; dur-e-shahwar, putli ghar, meray paas paas, raat chali ha jhoom ke, beauty parlor, kali shalwar, Ilaj-e-zid dastiab hai, and behaad are ample proof.
In Nadia’s own words, both of her parents mix up in her. Her mother Nusrat Jamil was born in Deolali, UP. She is a journalist turned PR person who has always been heavily into political activism and human rights. Her father, Jalil Jamil, is a hardcore Sheikh Saudagar Punjabi whose ancestors descended from Afghanistan and they established themselves in the field of business. He is a sufi thinker, poet and writer, along with being a businessman.
“My husband is another hard core Punjabi, Kashmiri businessman and hates me mentioning him. It was a fiery, is a fiery love marriage. The product of which are two beautiful fiery boys, four dogs and seven fish!”
Nadia and her younger brother Omar (who owns Latitude, one of Pakistan’s leading PR companies), were born in London and shifted back to Pakistan when Nadia was ten because her father didn’t want them divorced from their roots. She is someone who considers and desires to be a lifelong student of art, and keeps on developing her skill set. In 2014, she completed her International Fellowship at the Globe Theater, London.
Her first encounter with the field of acting was at the age of nine, when she played the back legs of Mother Mary’s donkey carrying her to Bethlehem. As she explains the experience, she felt like a star, was the best hind legs that ever stood on stage. When the family moved to Pakistan, she joined the choir and took part in her school performances. However, it was Ajoka that spotted her when she was thirteen and started working with her professionally. By the time she was seventeen, Nadia was sharing the stage with the likes of Navid Shehzad, Shoaib Hashmi and then there was no looking back. In 1996 she started working for television with her friend the renowned director Mehreen Jabbar’s production Putlighar.
“I didn’t know anything else and I was good at it. I understood more and more about the craft as I grew up.”
Her family’s support and encouragement was always there and she credits her parents’ love of poetry and literature as a huge influence.
“Ajoka was political theatre so my mother’s activism influenced me. Aba has taught me from a very young age to read out loud. To this day when I’m sad or blue, reading some beautiful text out loud calms me and relaxes me. But it was me and me alone that suddenly started loving the stage, the drama, the love affair with language.”
When asked to share some of her best memories from her theater and television days, she shared:
“During Phantom of the Opera (the first one ever in Pakistan) my lead actress was kidnapped by her dad and I had to play the lead (I was the director) against my brother!!! Uff so embarrassing for both of us!”
“I’ve worked on The Globe twice now and both times were magical. The first time, I remember the impact of the space which you never get over and the second time, meeting and writing with the incredible international fellows I worked with and fell for! What a mind blowing experience that was. Really opens your mind, body, voice to its wonderful limits.”
Her closest friends in the industry include Haissam Hussain, Saniaa Saeed, Humayun Saeed and met people like Kanwal and Sarmad Khoosat, Iram Sana, Asim Raza. She feels blessed to have found these gems through this industry.
She was never really interested in moving up to the film screen. When she was given big opportunities, she wanted to raise her boys and when other chances came along, somehow either the date or the script didn’t click. But for her meeting the loving Mr and Mrs Yash Chopra was a very special blessing and time in her life! Even today speaking to Pam Aunty always has her beaming from cheek to cheek!
“I’m really not hugely ambitious for fame or money so didn’t feel my big dream was cinema. My big dream was acting UNTIL a bigger dream came along.”
There are two key reasons that we don’t see Nadia in her acting gear anymore. One reason includes the poorly written patriarchal scripts. She got bored silly and the people she was working for and with didn’t excite her anymore. Secondly, a bigger dream came along in the realization that the impact she could create for children by working and sharing with them. The services she provides them, the joy and energy they give back is all that matters now.
Despite being sparsely associated with the industry recently, Nadia still believes that they have a responsibility and the capability to educate the masses. This is something that the majority of people in the field are not doing. They have made some beautiful plays and continue to do so, but the good plays are once in a year now. The trash is spilling off our screens, in the form of encouraging hate speech and values which make women feel they must be weak mice weeping for men all the time. The legacy of great Muslim and non-Muslim Pakistani women is being neglected, individuals who can teach us a lot today.
In her opinion the biggest problem is the race for awards, money, fame and recognition. In that high people don’t stop to think anymore. It is vital to stop, think, slow down and take on the details of a story, character and of one’s own social responsibilities.
“Whether it’s a love story or a story with some social message it’s so badly written, mediocrely acted in and boringly executed. It also generally has a hideous example and message in it as well. Of course there have been some odd ones that have been wonderful! I always watch them on DVD afterwards.”
The revival of Pakistan’s film industry has super inspired her and she is quite chuffed about it. The new wave of directors and writers are different from each other resulting in a great mix of variety, from romance to caper, from art films to commercial. The industry is doing it all and doing it so well.
“Writers like Vasay Chaudhry, Bilal Sami, Sarmad Khoosat are thinking writers and they are changing our cinema’s fabric in exciting ways. The story and the writing is where it starts. That is the take-off point. I love Humayun Saeed as a producer because he is intelligent and diverse so one can expect almost anything from him. Then Asim, Jami, Mehreen, Farjad, Haissam Hussain! It’s all too exciting.
So can we pin our hopes to see her somehow involved in film industry?
“I’d love to contribute by writing some day when I find the balance in me to switch gears. A lot of people ask me if I will act. Well, I wouldn’t mind acting in a script offered to me that I am excited by. But acting is secondary to The Empty Space and my family.”
A true Lahori to the core, whenever she enters a room the energy level automatically rises. Empathy is a trait ingrained in her personality, something that drives the activist in her. She is very vocal about the social issues faced by Pakistan, be it education, mistreatment of children, environment or women empowerment. Recently, her main focus has shifted from acting to teaching and children’s rights. She works with children dealing with PTSD of different types, be it the result of neglect, sexual abuse, poverty, war or violence.
There is a new addition to all that she has been doing and this is a bit unheard about. This latest addition is a small workshop studio, The Empty Space – Nadia Jamil’s Imaginarium. A place dedicated to fine tuning performance skills, posture, dancing, singing, enjoying the performance arts and to learn about the most incredible and most important tool one needs to live with your ‘self’.
The idea of The Empty Space came when she was teaching courses at Olomopolo. Her courses were doing amazing work with children and adults self-confidence as well as with their acting and public speaking techniques. She asked her mother if she could use her old empty office space as a studio. She said yes and the rest is history.
There is no space for negativity at The Empty Space. It’s a place to unlearn bad habits and learn to empty yourself and be free of the expectation of others. A place to evolve under the guidance of fantastic mentors and professionals. A much needed space where children learn about their “selves”, their voice, body and the potential of their dreams. Learning is encouraged through play and connection. Where class barriers and social norms and hang-ups only exist in the world outside that Space. It’s a place where your fantasies and dreams come true no matter who you are. Sometimes they are even born there, dreams. It’s a dream maker space, an Imaginarium.
“My studio should be a place any and every child gets a chance to learn how to be self-confident and blossom creatively and physically!”
Nadia just loved children, even as a teenager. Adults, their dramas and agendas make her nervous. Children just want to play, create, have fun or throw a tantrum. It’s what you see is what you get and they are so open to improving, to evolving! She is addicted to teaching them.
“I started working with the SOS when I was 17 and Surraiya Apa sent me to The Mother Teresa Home. It was there I fell in love with a little girl and started working the night shift just to be with her. It was there that I quickly overcame any sense of fear or trepidation I may have had and learned the Power of positivity.”
One of her aunts is the Vice President of the PSRD and that is how she was introduced to the institution. She was blown away by the children there who taught her the meaning of chin up and keep moving forward. From there, her next huge experience was the children of Joseph Colony. Recently she got to discover The Altaf Mahmood Foundation Orphanage, The Bali Memorial Shelter and is in love with their children. She plans to reconnect with Pehchan for Street Children and Punjab Protection Bureau.
Nadia is someone who believes that there are no problems, only solutions. She is a staunch believer in the power of prayer. The Almighty always listens.
Talking about the impact of her work, Nadia’s criterion is something that is not followed by the majority. She measures it in how it helps empower and evolve individuals, regardless of their age. She wants to encourage the classical arts and let children access them through play and fun. Help them access history, access solutions and most importantly, she wants them to find dreams, to find their laughter, no more hatred, no more anger, no more judging and loads and loads of tolerance with a capital T.
“People should learn to unlearn and learn again about themselves, their bodies, how we function, our minds, our relationships to those we love or people we newly meet and of course our place in the world around us. Positivity, learning to enjoy the present, gratitude and health. Techniques in art forms, the capacity to connect. I learned the relevance of these things and I would like to share them!”
Talking about how she sees herself as a woman in Pakistan, Nadia shared that she loves being a Pakistani and being a woman. When she sees herself, it all looks beautiful. In her opinion, the problem arises when we are battling patriarchal notions about what a women can or cannot do. What her role must be. Fascism in both the conservative right and the liberal left annoy her a lot. She wants to be free to be HER. Her is a work in progress, so let her explore her world, herself, her place and give her room to grow!
Moving on to the topic of breaking stereotypes about Pakistan, Nadia said that Pakistan is her blood force. The people who have raised her in Pakistan, and the cities, the history, the geography, the food, the smells, seasons, the pride and ownership she takes in all of it is what pushes her on. For her the country is a space to create and it’s a space where anything is possible, the worst and the best.
“The cameras of the world sadly find excitement and money in the worst here because that is what helps fund their war against Islam. But the best in us is vibrant, kind, incredibly funny, colorful, diverse and empowering!
“We are one of the most insanely beautiful contradictory people on Earth. And we are survivors. From our geography to our souls, we love to rise from the ashes with a Bhangra and a Karhai! Only a moron would stereo type us. Sadly there are plenty of morons in Pakistan and outside who settle for doing just that.
“There is the grossly tacky and shockingly vulgar as well the masters of their craft, the most graceful, beautiful souls showing themselves in their art, service to others or so many other crafts and different kinds of work. Music, medicine, dance, law, art, education, business, home making, architecture, design, food, food, food!”
Her favorite Pakistani family is of Abul Sattar Edhi. An incredible man and an equally amazing woman who stood by him, Biquis Edhi! His son Faisal, to put in Nadia’s words, is so radical. But there are many other amazing people all over the country that she would love to write about some day.
“There is so so much more to us than bombs and hate speech. I want to show that side to those damaged the most by the worst of our society. If we teach these kids, there are only solutions. They already have the resilience of Super Nova Stars! We just have to guide them to those solutions and enable them.”
“A lot of the kids I worked with have been physically abused, raped or beaten by poverty, violence, neglect of the state and the world. Watching them blossom under the nurturing light of creativity and love is beautiful. And my God it’s so exciting!”
“There is no stereotype. The stereotype is a caricature made for mass media consumption.”
“Allah, The Creator, God, whatever you call the system of our life, is benevolent and so exciting to those who open themselves up to exploration, to service of humanity, to learning and to those wanting to care.”
Nadia’s energy is positively infectious. The My Voice Unheard team got to meet some of her kids at The Empty Space and their confidence and curiosity amazed us. We also tried hanging from the monkey bars and it felt good. If you are in Lahore, do check the place out. She is doing some exceptional work. She lives by the mantra of living is happening now, every cell and atom in you is alive this second and bursting with potential. Finding the balance in your body, in your heart, in life around you, learning the techniques that can lead to balance and health within and around us, is essential for all of us and it helps empty out the useless junk inside us.
“There is only the beauty of an individual and their stories and the space they need to empty themselves and grow in, a safe space to find laughter, play and joy in creativity.”
Interview by Fatima Arif