By Haider Rifaat
One stylish star, Ayesha Omar is incomparable in all respects. Not only did she impress us with her acting on the big screen in Karachi Se Lahore, but she also represented Pakistan at New York Fashion Week this spring. In an exclusive interview, she dishes about Karachi Se Lahore 3, Rehbra, partying in New York with Gigi Hadid and much more! Letâ€™s hear it from Ayesha herself
How did you get into acting?
I went to an art college where I did a lot of theater and acting. I had many family friends in the business so I was cast in children roles when I was young. One thing led to another but I never thought that I would take up acting as a career.
You are often regarded as a style icon in Pakistan. How do you feel about that?
Yes, I have been hearing this for the past year (giggles). Itâ€™s hard for me to believe that I am considered a style icon as I am very laid back and casual (in my personal life). Though I mostly dress down, I do like to play with aesthetics and experiment with fashion.Â Itâ€™s a huge honour that people think of me as such.
I still have trouble believing it (laughs) because I was a complete tomboy growing up. I never really cared about what I wore and my friends thought that I was a crazily dressed kid. I wore different colours and mixed them up but I had some stylish friends so I learned from them and the people I was surrounded by.
You attended New York Fashion Week earlier this year. What was it like representing Pakistanâ€™s fashion industry? Share one interesting story that no one knows of yet.
It was amazing! It felt great to be given an opportunity to represent not just the fashion industry but the face of Pakistan. Maybelline sends their representatives to New York Fashion Week just like Lâ€™Oreal does to Cannes Film Festival.
I didnâ€™t think I deserved it but people received me with so much love. It was quite a rollercoaster ride because we were attending events all day long and there was so much happening. Everything was meticulously planned and it was just a lot of fun. I am looking forward to going again in January to represent Pakistan.
â€œIt’s so tough to put yourself out there for speculation, judgement and criticismâ€
It was just me, the brand manager and marketing head managing everything ourselves. The brand manager took my pictures and did crazy things in chilling weather. At times, I took off my shoes and ran around in the cold. It was freezing in February! As for an interesting story, I remember seeing a crowd of people as Gigi walked in to the press party. That was a memorable moment.
Who were you most excited to meet at New York Fashion Week, 2018?
I was definitely most excited to meet Gigi!
How was it like partying with Gigi Hadid?
We met briefly and hung out at a press event for Maybelline and it was a quick in and out for her, but it was lovely meeting her regardless. Her entire presence and aura was unreal.
Who is your style icon?
I have many style crushes; of course, Gigi is one of them. I like Blake Lively, Victoria Bekham and Kendall Jenner. In Pakistan, I would say Meesha Shafi, Zara Peerzada and Feeha Jamshed. Across the border, itâ€™s Sonam Kapoor. If we look back, Audrey Hepburn and Coco Chanel are my style icons. I also like Dua Lipa and Gwen Stefani.
Is it tough being on your toes 24/7, belonging to an industry that demands perfection?
How do you battle it?
Yes, it is â€“ itâ€™s so tough to put yourself out there for speculation, judgement and criticism. Itâ€™s a constant battle since Iâ€™m someone who loves my privacy. When I travel, I get to live anonymously. I like being on my own without anyone watching me, without looking my best all the time and being constantly scrutinized.
Itâ€™s tough to maintain a balance for anyone who is in the public eye. It takes a toll on your sanity and mental health because you always have to pretend to be someone that you are not. It is a relief being yourself sometimes.
What future projects can we expect from you?
I am currently working on two films; one is almost finished and the other is somewhere in theÂ Â middle. I will start working on a third film, which is Karachi Se Lahore 3. The entire cast will return for it and we will be announcing it soon. Rehbra is a sad story right now. We started working on it two years ago.
I worked extremely hard on this project, more than any other. We shot this film in extreme weather conditions, for up to 20 hours a day without access to food and other resources. The producer of the film was relatively new and she disappeared on us because she ran out of budget. I guess she was new to the business. Our shoot has not finished yet and there is no law protecting actors from this. Itâ€™s heartbreaking.
Do you think Pakistanâ€™s film industry has regressed in recent years given the lack of quality and content of movies?
This is a very tough question to answer.
Yes, recently the quality and content of films has been uninspiring. It is sad to see that people do not realize that content is key to success.Â Our dramas have always been of the highest quality and widely appreciated around the world. I donâ€™t know why we want other things to take precedence in films.
There should be production, dance, songs and masala but if the story doesnâ€™t grip you, the film is not headed anywhere. Any amount of songs and dance will not help the movie. We have had some amazing hits like JPNA (Jawani Phir Nahi Ani) and NMA 2 (Na Maloom Afraad 2) in the near past but it is sad that each time a film comes out and is not as good as you expect it to be, it affects us all.
Have you received any international offers for films/television shows? Do you see yourself established in a different industry altogether?
Yes, I have received many offers for films and a couple television shows abroad. They didnâ€™t really work out because I couldnâ€™t understand the character and there were some scheduling issues. I think I still have a long way to go and I would love to dabble with different industries altogether because everything is a learning experience and there are no boundaries for artists.
An artist is an artist all over the world, be it in your country or any other. It would be a huge learning experience for me to work in a different industry, come back, and apply the same knowledge here in Pakistan. I believe when you travel, you learn, and I do travel a lot because of my work. Each time I tour, I learn about a countryâ€™s culture, their people and their behaviour.
What would you like to explore beyond performing arts?
I would love to explore health, food, nutrition and holistic ways of living and farming.
You are vocal about harassment and have experienced it beforehand. What can youngsters especially girls take away from this?
Youngsters should not be okay with certain things that make them uncomfortable. There is a lot of shame and stigma attached to speaking out about anything that makes you feel awkward. We need to break the culture of silence.
We have grown up in a society where it is taught to hide and cover up a crime, which often attracts unwanted attention. As a society, we need to place the blame where it rightly belongs; the shame is not for the victim but the perpetrator. This is what needs to change and it is only possible if we talk about such issues and instil a mentality in youngsters that itâ€™s not okay if something bothers you; you should not cover it up as you will feel guilty or responsible for it.
Ayesha is headed back to NYFW next January
Maybe you can stop a person in their tracks by reporting the crime and making the person realize that they cannot get away with it easily. I hope to create some space for people around me who are struggling to get somewhere in life or have no confidence.
What are your thoughts on the water shortage and climate change in Pakistan?
My thoughts are intense about our environment. I feel very stressed and concerned about our future.
We choose to live in our bubble but when there is talk about resources needed to survive, it is something very alarming. The world will be running out of water very soon, so is Pakistan and some parts of Africa. Everyone is taking measures to control it but we arenâ€™t doing anything.
Iâ€™m taking small steps on an individual level; I take the slogan â€œtake baths, not showersâ€ very seriously. I try to use buckets of water instead of running water. When I brush my teeth, I choose to keep the tap closed.Â As for climate change, I have started to limit the use of plastics, such as using straws and so on. We need to campaign and implement such things on a personal level.
As you may know, Khadija Siddiquiâ€™s murder case took place in 2016 but it is being given attention this year. As a celebrity, how would you respond to such a tragedy?
It is deeply scarring to think that Khadija Siddiquiâ€™s murderer is unpunished for his crime. Itâ€™s a constant source of anger, frustration and resentment towards the legal system, judicial system and the government. It leaves you feeling so helpless. I have come to realize that my reactions to tiny incidents and people are based on a collective conscience and state of existence.
It is incredibly alarming that people can openly commit unimaginable crimes and get away with it, fostering a feeling of insecurity and fear. I love my country but I do feel fearful and insecure living here. I donâ€™t feel protected and safe as a woman.
Who do you owe your life to for your success?
I owe my life to Allah because my creator is the only one I owe anything to. If He does not allow it, nothing is possible, and my mum of course for all the sacrifices and struggles she has been through. Sheâ€™s a single parent as my father passed away when I was two years old; she raised me alone without any help from friends and family; she may not the perfect parent because she was going through her own trials and tribulations, but my mother sacrificed her entire life for us. I will always be eternally grateful to her. What I am today, it is because of her.
Even the people who have been a source of frustration for me have propelled me to work harder.