Mumbai, WNS: Actor Mehar Bano says it's heartbreaking that there's a break in the cultural exchange between India and Pakistan but she feels fortunate to live at a time when the internet has blurred boundaries.
Mehar's latest webseries "Churails" will premiere for Indian viewers on the newly re-launched Zindagi, to be streamed digitally on ZEE5.
The 26-year-old actor said it is saddening that despite similarities, India-Pakistan can't continue cultural exchange.
"We have the same language, same culture and are right next to each other. I don't want to be stuck in the middle of a dispute in my young and impressionable years. But I have no choice, there's no exchange of art that can happen," Mehar told PTI over phone from Lahore.
Though there is no official ban, Pakistani artistes have been barred from working in Indian films and music in the aftermath of the terror attack on an army base in Uri in 2016, which prompted India to launch a surgical strike on terror launch pads in Pakistan.
The situation worsened after the Pulwama terror attack last year, with the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) asking even music companies to stop working with Pakistani singers.
Mehar said it's the internet that has come as a timely intervention to bridge gaps caused by political decisions between the two nations.
"I'm so happy that interest exists, because now even if this content doesn't get allowed to be viewed in our country, it'll go to 190 other countries. The exchange is still happening.
"The decisions of a few political leaders have nothing to do with us. We are artistes. We want to promote and live in peace. That's what the crux of this project is. It's a way to say 'we don't care' to those leaders who feel we can't unite and be together," she added.
Helmed by "Cake" director Asim Abbasi, "Churails" narrates the story of four self-proclaimed 'churails' (witches), who unite to open a covert detective agency to expose cheating husbands among the city's elite.
Mehar, who plays boxing aspirant Zubaida in the series, said when Asim read the snippet from the script of a "feisty young girl", she knew the character was "carved out" for her.
"I'm driven and ambitious. I'm also very restless. That's primarily why I connected to Zubaida. She's the brawn of the 'Churails'. She's very action-oriented. There's also a lot of restlessness in her. It was such a fascinating character to play on screen."
"Churails" also featuring Sarwat Gilani, Nimra Bucha and Yasra Rizvi came across as a blessing for Mehar who was getting uneasy with the crippling limitation of Pakistani TV shows.
Star of her popular debut show "Daagh" which aired in India on Zindagi in 2015, a year before the channel pulled the plug on Pakistani shows post Uri attacks Mehar has also featured in several dramas, including "Miss Fire" (2013), and "Uff Yeh Mohabbat" (2014).
The actor said while there are some Pakistani shows where strong women are shown, for the most part their representation remains unfair.
"Women are shown as the reflection of how men want to see them as. The ones who do everything by the book, everything right, behave the way men would want them to.
"They stay silent even if the man wrongs them. They'd not take matters in their own hands but it's only God's intervention which gets them justice. That's the prevalent narrative that we have even now," she added.
Mehar said since most of the shows are based on "domestic issues", there's very little freedom a female artiste has in picking groundbreaking roles.
"I work here so I know how is it to play a truly black and white character when I go on set. To be a holier than thou, goody-two-shoes. Independent women are always demonised, but that's prevalent across the subcontinent," she said.
Calling patriarchy as something that has been "detrimental to womankind all accross the globe", Mehar said she experienced it first hand when she started working as an actor.
"My father was never a patriarchal figure (but) when I stepped into my profession, I realised how small I have to make myself to fit into the system. The characters I have had to play all my life were really, really disadvantageous to me...
"Bur there's no other choice for me. These are the kind of characters that have been written for women."
For Mehar, "Churails" acts as a statement by women that they would no longer tolerate discrimination.
"This means we are putting our foot down. Having done 'Churails' I feel like we have decided we aren't going to make ourselves smaller anymore. We are going to flex our bodies, ask for our rights and hold men accountable."
The webseries will premiere on Tuesday.