Commencing the new decade by bringing together two of our favourite faces in fashion: one is a legendary icon from the early days of modern Pakistani fashion and the other is our current reigning queen, gracing every big fashion campaign. After receiving laurels in the fashion world, both have drifted towards the entertainment industry as well. Never shying away from speaking their mind, both ladies have become mainstays in their own right
Youâ€™ve been an active part of Pakistani fashion since the 90â€™s. How have you seen the industry evolve?
I feel things have changed for the better. The industry and everyone involved in it are a lot more professional today. It wasnâ€™t like this back when I started working. Things are more streamlined now and thatâ€™s great to see.
Do you think it was harder for models to be taken seriously back in the day?
Yes, for sure. The biggest issue for us was to get permission from our families. We were constantly struggling to prove that being a model doesnâ€™t make one immoral. Thereâ€™s definitely more acceptance for the profession now.
Have you experienced any inherent prejudices as a working woman? If yes, how did you deal with them?
Of course, lifeâ€™s not easy for any working woman in Pakistan, but even harder for a model. I had to give up my profession because my in-laws didnâ€™t approve of it and nor did my husband. I had to make a choice between my personal and professional life â€“ something a man wouldnâ€™t need to.
Letâ€™s take a walk down memory lane. What are your fondest memories from your early modelling years?
Iâ€™ve made the most unforgettable memories travelling with my friends for work. I enjoyed my trips to America the most, along with one particular trip with Vinnie to ZÃ¼rich and Dubai.
Did you have a support system within the fraternity? Who were your friends and are you still close?
Yes I did. Ather, Shahzad and Umar Sayeed were my closest friends within the industry and nothingâ€™s changed.
You were one of the few who were able to prove that models can act. What interested you towards TV?
It was a very natural transition. I was offered projects by several people and I accepted the ones that appealed to me. I took a long hiatus after getting married, but managed to convince my husband eventually.
If you could give one piece of advice to your old self at the start of your career, what would it be?
Thatâ€™s hard to answer because Iâ€™m pretty grateful for the way things worked out for me. I wouldnâ€™t change a single thing.
Despite so many new faces emerging every year, youâ€™ve still managed to say relevant. Whatâ€™s the key to your success?
Am I still relevant? I donâ€™t know, maybe because Iâ€™m an actor too and thereâ€™s no shelf life as one. Also, I make an active effort to move with the times, stay in touch with current trends and adapt to them.
Whatâ€™s your opinion of the new lot of models? Do you have any favourites?
Honestly, I think most of them look exactly the same. Thereâ€™s nothing unique or different to see and very few stand out. The two who do, in my opinion, are Eman Suleman and Amna Babar, so Iâ€™d say theyâ€™re my favourites.
Your adoration for Eman Suleman is evident. Which qualities of her do you think make her stand out?
Sheâ€™s a beautiful girl and a great model, thereâ€™s no doubt about that. But I think what makes me love her truly is her indomitable spirit. Sheâ€™s a real feminist and is always one of the first to stand up for issues that need attention. Sheâ€™s brave and unafraid to speak her mind. I think thatâ€™s commendable.
In your last interview with GT you spoke about thinking ten times before posting anything that may generate online abuse. That hasnâ€™t stopped you from standing up against social inequities though. Where do you think you inherit the resolve from?
I donâ€™t know. I guess itâ€™s difficult to remain quiet, especially when weâ€™re so aware about whatâ€™s happening locally and globally. Empathy is very important, you canâ€™t lose it. You canâ€™t be complicit. Not anymore.
Is it hard remaining authentic, with your life in the spotlight?
In offline spaces, itâ€™s really not hard. However, I do feel I have to filter and manoeuvre my way in online spaces. My online persona isnâ€™t my 100% authentic self, as much as I would like it to be. This is due to obvious reasons; nobody enjoys being bullied or policed and be subjected to censorship and threats. As a result, I have to dial it down. People would get scandalised if I put myself out there completely anyway. Itâ€™s better for everybody that I donâ€™t.
Whatâ€™s your earliest fashion memory?
My earliest fashion memory has to be my first photo shoot back when I lived in Islamabad. It was for a cousin and my sister did my makeup, while my brother did the photography. Iitâ€™s quite a vivid memory; I had long red hair (my family was so disapproving of it) and we shot in front of a wall in our lounge right next to a window. The results came out great, surprisingly, since all of us were amateurs and had no idea what we were doing.
Growing up, did you follow the fashion industry and did you start your career with any preconceived notions?
I didnâ€™t follow the fashion industry religiously, but I was well aware of the models: Iraj Manzoor, Aaminah Haq, Vaneeza Ahmed and Jia Ali. I used to find all of them so beautiful. I was in love with Iraj in particular.
Iâ€™ve heard so many stories, some good and some bad, not about the models, but the industry itself being exploitative â€” which it still is. So thatâ€™s probably the only preconceived notion I came with.
Does your interest in acting have anything to do with the shelf life of a career in modelling?
No, not really. I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ll be acting full time. I want to find a balance between my work as a model and actor. Honestly though, I canâ€™t predict anything for sure, because I used to tell myself Iâ€™ll never act and here I am. Iâ€™ve done three projects thus far and might sign up for another.
Your upcoming movie â€œZindagi Tamasha,â€ directed by Sarmad Khoosat, won the Kim Ji-seok Award at the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) 2019 in South Korea. Tell us about your role and experience working on the film.
I had a fantastic time working on this film; the whole team was absolutely wonderful and so wholesome. Sarmad himself is so nurturing and caring. He knows exactly what he wants and is a brilliant director. I donâ€™t know how much I can tell you about my role, but all I can say is that I play the antagonist, or maybe not. Itâ€™s for the audience to decide.
In an industry that constantly promotes perfection, youâ€™re perhaps the first model to talk about normalising things such as acne and body hair. How long is the road to inclusivity and deviating from conventional beauty standards?
Weâ€™ve only just started being inclusive. I think we still have a long way to go. Itâ€™s pretty evident that our fashion industry thrives on lawn. Itâ€™s what we, the audience and buyers, are most attracted to, so the deviation and inclusivity needs to start from those campaigns. The progress is going to be slow, but itâ€™s going to happen.
Why donâ€™t we see you on the ramp too often?
I donâ€™t enjoy ramp shows. Thatâ€™s all there is to it. I prefer being in the audience.
Everyoneâ€™s talking about your wedding. How are you feeling as the big day approaches near?
People ask me if Iâ€™m excited or nervous, but I donâ€™t feel either emotion. Itâ€™s not going to be anything grand. We really tried convincing our parents to let us have a small nikkah. You can fight one parent, you may be able to fight two but you certainly canâ€™t fight four. So weâ€™re going ahead with all three functions. I just want to get done with it.
The respect you have for Iffat Omar is evident. Which qualities of her do you wish to emulate in your own career?
Sheâ€™s unbelievably genuine. During my first interaction with her I thought, â€œDamn! I want to be as sincere as her.â€ She always seems to be on the right side of every fight, which is very admirable. Also, I feel sheâ€™s doing great professionally as well. Sheâ€™s been smart and I hope I am too.
Words & coordination: Mehek Raza Rizvi
Photography: Ather Shahzad
Hair, Makeup & Styling: Shahzad Raza
Wardrobe: Wasim Khan
Jewellery: Hanif Jewellers