by Ankita Jain

The beautiful, Malika Mahat, maintains that in these few years since her debut, her fabric as a person hasn’t changed at all, but that she has evolved tremendously as an actor. In an interview with WOW’s Ankita Jain, Malika lets us in on her evolution as an actor, her strengths as an individual, handling criticism, all while basking in the afterglow of the great projects that she’s been a part of.

I am neither a tea nor coffee addict,” Malika Mahat reveals, in a conspiratorial voice. And then, with a laugh, “I absolutely love warm water over anything!” It is 6:50 am, and Malika is the first one to arrive at the shoot location for the WOW cover shoot. It’s uncommon for the cover girl to reach before the crew, but this one is an exception!

We meet her at the lobby of Hotel Yak & Yeti, and she looked absolutely fresh and full of energy. We run her through the schedule which includes several hours of make-up and styling, photography and interviewing that is to follow into late evening. She is markedly cheerful discussing outfits with the team and gracefully agrees to try yet another look.

Exhausted? I ask as we wrap the second look hours later, and Malika gives a wide smile and shakes her head, saying, “Thank you for asking! I think I am on auto-pilot”. She expands, “The minute the camera is on, the set is ready and the lights come on, and the room fills with ‘click, click, click’ sounds, this ‘new me’ suddenly emerges, like a new avatar, you know? It’s like, one second, I am thinking, ‘Oh God, I am so tired!’, but the next moment, I’m like, ‘Oh God, I am so ready to pose!’  Sometimes, people close to me look at me and go, ‘Are you normal? What is wrong with you?!’ I don’t know whether I have a switch-on-switch-off, mode as an actor, but I am being able to pull off long hours and forget about sleep”.

Malika has no time or will for fatigue, she is, by her own admission, “living her dream life”, doing exactly what she has always wanted to do, ever since she was a little girl. And when the going gets tough, when work is demanding and the hours are long, Malika reminds herself that she has absolutely no right to complain because “this is what I’ve always dreamt of!”

She is one of the lucky few whose college pictures went viral on social media and she was eventually offered a music video. She was featured in Swoopna Suman’s Ma Timro in 2017. She was soon approached for films and debuted in the movie Yatra, a musical Vlog. She was cast opposite lead actor, Salin Man Baniya.

Besides films, Malika had participated in Miss SLC 2016. “The pageant gave me the confidence and window to my inner strength which led me to face the crowds with ease,” she reveals.
By the time she entered her early 20s, Malika knew with certainty that she wanted to be an actor. She began educating herself. She changed her choice of cinema, watching films “for the performances and for the art form that it is.”

Her friends became her best critiques “I have never been to an acting school so I wanted my friends to watch me directly on big screen and decide whether I did a good job.”

Malika’s tremendous passion for what she does is part of her appeal. Does she believe that single-minded focus is the secret to her success? “Oh, absolutely,” she says in an instant. “For me, it was like wearing blinders. I never had a Plan B, I never even thought of another profession as an option. My goal was clear: to be an actor.”

Malika leans in and says in earnestness, “I think, when you are so focused on what you want and you are working towards it every single day, the universe really does give back. It will happen, it’s just a matter of time and patience. You know, I read this quote somewhere: ‘Success is when hard work meets opportunity’. So, I was waiting for that opportunity, but I also needed to ensure I was prepared.”

Malika’s big opportunity came when she landed the lead role in the music video “Phul Butte Sari” feat Paul Shah. “I was approached for this project at the last minute and this music video really changed my career graph. It just liberated me as an actor and I received so much love from the audience,” she shares. When asked what made her choose this project, she says, “There were many factors but the fact that the shoot was in Kalinchowk where I had never travelled, made me say ‘yes’ in an instant.”

It was in 2021, the year that her three popular music videos released — Phul Butte Sari, Tada Bhaye pani and Aankha Ma Aaune Sapani — that everything changed. All three music videos had Malika and Paul in the lead. The pair has since been a hit. Having worked with Paul, I ask her about her take on the recent Paul Shah controversy and Malika pauses to take a long sip of water and gather her thoughts. “I would rather not like to comment on this,” she says.

Malika admits to being “calm and relaxed most of the time”, and she always reminds herself to “live in the moment”. “I always take time to analyse the environment and use my words wisely. I focus on what I have to do today and do it well. Also, I have realised that not much comes out of over-thinking situations. It causes so much stress, and can create a vicious cycle!” she mulls.

When asked whether she considers herself an introvert, Malika, in a rather joyful and warm tone remarks, “Well, I used to be an introvert, and I am still more of an introvert. I think I have my days, but of late, I have been spending so much time around different people. It can get lonely at times but then I enjoy talking to people, and I enjoy making friends.” She pauses for a moment, then admits, “Having said that, it still takes me time to open up completely. It’s always difficult for me to start a conversation.”

How does she handle criticism? “I am very, very sensitive,” she says. “I think there is so much chatter around us all the time and half of it is unnecessary and irrelevant, positive or negative. I mean, positive feedback is great, but I still find it distracting. Also, I try spending less time on social media.”

“On the set, it is all about your work and you are away from the world, and it’s just about your character and your film,” she muses.

While Malika might still be “very, very new” to the business, she has already learnt a very important lesson: to trust her inner voice and not be afraid to use it. “In the beginning, I was scared to share my opinions. And I was more about pleasing people and listening to them. Now, I have gotten to a point where the only person that I shall be answerable to is myself, and it is important that I am happy with my decisions.”

Text: Ankita Jain
Assisted by: Vartika
Photographer: Suzan Shrestha
Designer: Marshall Marsala
Stylist: Markush Tamang
Jewellery: Rukus
HMUA: Nilima Basnet & Asmita Kandel
Hospitality Partner: Hotel Yak & Yeti

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