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Grapes and grapevine



PEACE OVER MEALS: Pakistan's Meera does a fine balancing act at New Delhi's Le Meridien Hotel. - Photo: V. Suderahan

HER STACATTO responses - ranging from sublime to audacious - reveal she has yet to become a Bollywood star. She has yet to learn the use of `no comments' shield. While Indian heroines relish talking about their habits and lifestyle, Meera, the Pakistan star who was in New Delhi this past week for the peace march to Multan, finds talking over the table a wee bit difficult.

Taking a break from a hectic schedule at New Delhi's Le Meridien, Meera says her food choices are very limited. "I like normal food." Tell her such open and shut quotes will kill the prospect of a lively conversation, Meera elaborates, "I like to have water." Water! "I mean I love fruit juice." And... "I love to pray."

Hold on. Look beyond words, a not-so-perfect English pronunciation and Meera Rebab - the Shia Muslim from Lahore who attracted the attention of the media and governments of two countries over the last fortnight for a smooch - surprises with her conduct. It underscores her deep understanding of the glamour world. The moment a bowl full of fruits arrives, Meera picks up her preferred ones - a bunch of grapes - and poses for the camera, picture perfect... quotes can wait. The shades that she refused to part with the whole day for an eye problem are no longer there. Her mentor should not feel left out, so she rushes to Mahesh Bhatt, makes him feel "like the Prince of Arabia" as the director puts it. Some friendly banter, and Meera returns for the glass of orange juice waiting for her.

"He is the biggest intellectual in South Asia." Well, we understand, finally Meera seems at ease. She comes back to the point. "I relish papaya and watermelon as well."

At home, dal-chawal is her favourite. "I eat lots of chicken and beef, and to keep myself in shape I take lots of boiled vegetables." Can she cook? "No, I can just prepare tea and coffee. Jab shauhar hoga to uske liye banaoongi."

Here is a girl who boasts she can look sexy as well as innocent, western as well traditional, is open to all kinds of roles and still maintains she will not let her country down. "Mine is a conservative country where people are wedded to customs. I am proud of my nationality. There is a limit to which I can go. Apni tehzeeb ki had ko par nahin karoongi."

No smooch

Switching to apple, she denies there is a smooch in the movie with Ashmit Patel.

"There are some fundamentalists in Pakistan who are jealous of me. They want me to sit at home. People love me in Pakistan." She doesn't want to comment on Pakistan audiences failing to distinguish between reel and real, but retorts things were no different in India a few years back. Doesn't she fear similar so-called fundamentalists in India, and does the deportation of a foreign actress from India make her anxious? "Abhi to mahaul theek hai. Anyway, I have a business visa and a work permit valid for a year. I have the permission to visit various Indian cities. This doesn't mean I have stopped doing films in Pakistan, but I am still open to offers in India. I want to work with Subhash Ghai and Yash Chopra. Talks are on for another film with the Bhatt banner." For once biscuits get her attention.

Authorities in the two countries might try to impede her mission, but Meera promises she will continue to play the role of peace ambassador. "I have asked the government of Pakistan to give me the title of Peace Ambassador." Suddenly the air in the straw makes a strange sound, making a by now animated Meera realise that the juice is finished. Is she really sucking air? Perhaps Bhatt captures her persona better.

"She is an artiste. At times she is in a shell while at times she becomes euphoric."

Time to sign an autograph for the cover of a magazine. Meera wants the film name to go with hers. "Bhatt sahib, how do we spell Nazar?" The balancing act continues.

ANUJ KUMAR

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