‘My real award is the appreciation and the unconditional love which I get from my millions of fans’ is the first thing Neelam Muneer says when asked about her ‘failure’ to win an award, despite being nominated on multiple occasions. She has delivered more hits than any other actress on TV in the last three years, yet the awards keep eluding her, not that she cares about that. Her reason isn’t that off-target too – she believes “By the grace of Allah Almighty the masses love me and buy the cinema ticket just to see me, that is enough Reward for me, which is bigger than any award”.
The Pashtun beauty had a chat with BOLD recently after the release of her Eid flick Chakkar where she played not one but two characters and was the reason why many went to watch it in cinemas. It might have been her second film in three years and third since her debut Chupan Chupai (2018) but she feels that the road is unending, and she will keep on learning to stay ahead. She also talks about her TV projects, her rise as a bankable actress, and why she hasn’t done something for the digital, in this tête-à-tête. Read on:
BOLD: Cinegoers all over the country were treated to two Neelams this Eid through Chakkar. How was the experience of playing a double role, and then watching people throng cinemas to watch ‘your’ film?
It was the best experience of my career, especially when I was told that people were asking for a ticket to Neelam Muneer ki film instead of Chakkar. Such things even made me forget that during the film’s shoot we had to endure the pandemic, and most of the cast members including myself were hit.
As for the double role, well I had to play two sisters – Zara and Mehreen – and while they looked alike, they had different personalities. One was a renowned model and film actress while the other was a housewife; one was bold while the other was timid; one was selfish while the other had a husband to take care of. It was difficult to play both the characters but thanks to Allah Kareem, I was able to pull it off.
BOLD: What was the most memorable moment for you from Chakkar?
For sure the Chirya song where I was able to give a performance with the most professional and seasoned celebrities like – Faysal Qureshi, Mohib Mirza, Sheheryar Munawwar, and Hasan Shehryar Yasin (HSY). It gave me the grand feeling of working in a film and doing what I love the most. Other than that, there were the sequences where I was Zara one moment and Mehreen the next, and although it seems easier to talk about it now, it was quite a task to snap out of one character and then become the other person. I even tried to adopt a different tone for the characters which was noticed by quite a number of people. When your hard work gets appreciated, that not only makes me happy but I want to do better as well.
BOLD: And when your hard work is not appreciated ….
I respect everyone’s opinion but I feel that they should also realize how hard it is to become someone else in front of the camera. I just do my bit and move on, because I have a world to conquer.
BOLD: Usually actresses who once migrate to films don’t usually come back to TV but you have stayed with TV despite success in films. Why?
Because TV in this part of the world has a global audience and films are getting there. TV has made me what I am today and I can’t leave it just because I want to be a film actress. There is no law against working in both mediums (smiles) so I will carry on working on TV as long as my fans want me to.
BOLD: You have been churning out hits after hits, and recently your dramas Qayamat, Mohabbat Daagh Ki Soorat, and Pyar Deewangi Hai have done well. What do you see in a script when it is offered to you or do you go with the flow?
Firstly, the script has to feel good and should touch my heart. Then I prefer trying different kinds of roles so that when my fans see me, they know they are in for a surprise. In Qayamat I was the younger sister but the more confident one who finally manages to get back her family’s property from her in-laws; in Mohabbat Daagh Ki Soorat I played a girl who doesn’t believe in love until she falls in love with his university colleague which sort of derails her ambition, whereas Pyar Deewangi Hai is a complex love triangle featuring me and two boys. I don’t want to be seen as only a damsel in distress and hope that the other actresses also realize that as well so that the writers would be compelled to create new characters for actresses.
BOLD: Your body of work has been amazing as well; you have done romance, comedy, horror, and even played a figment of imagination in a film! Which character attracts you the most?
The one that hasn’t been done (laughs). When I began acting at a young age, I wasn’t even considered for lead roles but thankfully, after proving my mettle I became one of the ‘new girls in town’. Had I stayed playing the monotonous characters I wouldn’t have been able to justify my talent, and that’s one of the many reasons that keep me going for different roles. Acting is one field where you can let your imagination cross all limits, and if you are a good actor, you should cherish that limitlessness.
BOLD: Who are the actors with whom you are most comfortable sharing the screen recently?
I am an actor and I can work with anyone and everyone but I enjoy and appreciate working with fellow actors who one can learn from and who help you raise the bar; I have been part of films and TV projects where Ahsan Khan and Sami Khan – who are exceptional actors – have been the main lead and these projects have done well. On TV, I have had the chance of working with Yasir Nawaz (who has directed me in two films!), Imran Ashraf, Wahaj Ali, Syed Jibran, Haroon Shahid, and many others recently who have been very cooperative on the set. That’s why in whatever project we have been in, whichever channel it has aired on, it has become popular.
BOLD: And then there are the controversies you find yourself in … how do you handle that part of showbiz?
Controversies are part and parcel of showbiz and I try to learn from them and move on. It is true that every controversial news item or gossip tries to pull you down but I take it as a challenge and use that energy to do better and better. People who write such news don’t realize that their ‘imagined’ news has an impact on the subject’s relatives and loved ones. In a country like ours, it is quite damaging, and I urge all those out there to verify facts before printing/publishing it.
BOLD: A lot of your contemporaries are trying their hand at digital platforms; what’s keeping you away from the web?
I recognize that digital media is the future and I am definitely interested in it. However, at the moment I don’t get much time off from TV and films, which is a good thing (laughs). Whatever little time I get off, I like to spend with my family and travel around. I have done some work for PUBG Mobile and I’m looking forward to working with some more international digital platforms. When that happens, I will surely grab the opportunity and make my digital debut.
BOLD: Why don’t you raise a hue and cry when you don’t get an award, which has been the case on multiple occasions?
I would surely have done that had I been in the field to win awards but that’s not the case. I am here to set an example for girls like me who want to live their dreams but don’t get a chance to do so. In every corner of the country, there is a Neelam Muneer who is talented enough to make it to the top but sometimes their dreams are cut short.
BOLD: You are amongst the most well-known faces in the country, how do you cope with being famous?
When I began my career, I never wanted to become famous, and known all over the world. I just wanted to work as I enjoyed it tremendously and felt liberated. Thankfully, by the grace and blessings of Allah Almighty and the unconditional love and prayers of my mother, I have managed to earn the love and respect of my fans and well-wishers. At times it feels like they are everywhere, and I can’t seem to have a peaceful time with my folks, but I still appreciate them.
It is because of them that I want to break the barriers in any way I can, and had they not been supportive, I might not have achieved whatever I have till now. The road on which I am traveling is a long one, and I will need their support until I reach the final destination.