She calls out my name as I enter her house which is… green! The nature lust feels are strong. Ayesha Omar’s huge urban apartment is everything a former Art student’s home should be: Brightly lit with the warm winter sun coming through the huge glass windows, sprinkled with a plethora of cozy cushions, and most importantly, displaying an array of art. It seems like I have stepped into Nick’s living room where Gatsby is waiting in a corner to propose to his Daisy. There are two major differences though: there are green plants instead of flowers and there is no Gatsby waiting to sweep me off my feet. Instead, there’s Ayesha Omar walking down towards me with a huge, homely smile.
Well, who needs a Gatsby when you’ve got Omar. Mildly nervous (because Khoobsurat people can be arrogant) and excited to meet Ayesha who I had interviewed once years ago over the telephone, I immediately feel comfortable and at-home. Sitting in her cute striped pyjamas, a cropped hoodie and with her legs curled under her, Ayesha grabs her bajray ki roti, kabab and some yogurt before she almost challenges me to ask away any questions I want.
In this three-hour long chatty (and a little catty) tête-à-tête, I notice she keeps herself hydrated with a tall bottle of water. The close attention Ayesha pays to her healthy lifestyle is inspiring to say the least. She is her own best friend and it’s easy to see that. After 13 years of working in showbiz, this super starlet has a lot to say about her struggles, how she meets at least five body-shamers every day, her fetish for all things healthy, dream projects and so much more!
So, what’s happening in Ayesha Omar’s life as we speak?
I work less in this festive month of the year. In December, I do me. It’s my time to party with friends and family. I also go to Lahore to visit family and love to catch up with my people there. There is a travel project starting early 2018. I am filming two movies but can’t give too much away yet since the release date isn’t finalized. One of them is the most difficult project I have worked on in my entire career. The other film is a beautiful historical piece, based on true events and history. We are also working on the new season of Bulbulay. Apart from that, I am busy with photo shoots for different brands that I am personally involved with. Most importantly, I am in talks with an international project, for which I have few reservations so we’re still trying to figure out a way that it’s done with mutual consent soon.
You and Bulbulay are a never-ending love affair for the past nine years. Doesn’t it get monotonous?
As much as I have wanted to and even tried to close the Bulbulay chapter in my life, I haven’t managed to and it keeps coming back to me. I tried to leave the show two or three years ago, but the management talked me into it. Later, Bulbulay went through a hiatus and I thought maybe I can finally get out of it, but I was wrong. It resumed with new seasons and producers and shifted it to another channel. Bulbulay has been a part of me for nine years and I can’t imagine my life without it anymore. The character of Khoobsurat has given me an unforgettable identity which I am really proud of. If I am able to connect with the masses today, make them sit together and laugh, I think I’m doing something good.
What’s the advantage of being Khoobsurat?
People are a little conscious before they approach their favorite stars, but with Bulbulay being on their television screens four times a day, every day, they immediately get frank with me. They think I’m a part of their household. They’ll sit next to me, take selfies, help me on flights, and so much more. I secretly enjoy the extra attention I get from the domestic staff at whoever’s house I go to, because everyone watches Bulbulay and they love Khoobsurat. So even though I get annoyed when people invade privacy, I also love the attention and the advantages of being Khoobsurat (laughs).
People sometimes criticize you for being a jack of all trades and master of none. What’s your take on that?
I believe an artist should be anything but monotonous. I don’t like to do the same kind of work incessantly. Showbiz involves all kinds of experiences for an artist to evolve as a person as well as an actor, host or anything he/she wants to be. A variety of projects should always be encouraged. I enjoy hosting for exclusive events, painting, singing, and acting of course. It only proves my versatility as an artist who can show array of talent. Perhaps due to my varied skills and the work that I do, I get offers for so many different characters. I was offered to play the character of a kidnapped traditional bride in Yalghaar when I was busy with Bulbulay and singing songs. Even the films that I’m currently working on are poles apart. One is an extremely intense character which goes through traumatic experiences in life, whereas in the other film I play a happy go lucky, bubbly chick, who travels from one city to another, and then falls in love with somebody. So I think my multifaceted traits help me get some really challenging offers.
“Beta, when will you ‘settle down’?” How do you respond to this question?
I would like to settle down but it isn’t an absolute plan. I’m in that stage of my life where I’m independent, working all the time, and I run my life. I think people should settle down only if they want kids, which I do not want. I love kids but I’m scared of being responsible for their upbringing. It frightens me to raise children and not being perfect about it. It’s a huge responsibility; you’re accountable for their happiness, sorrow, personality and everything! It’s not about losing my freedom at all, but I’m scared of not being able to give my children the best of everything. I don’t plan to ‘settle down’, but you never know it might happen soon.
What helps you decide on a project – script, cast, or the director?
Of course, the script matters to me the most. In the initial years of my career; the director or cast used to matter to me a lot, but now I have realized the content is king. No matter how good you look or how well you act, if the story is not strong enough, it will never make a connection. Our audiences and viewers are very smart. You cannot give them a badly made movie even if it has the biggest names of the industry.
2018 will mark your 14th year in the industry. How has the journey been?
In this industry, there is a lot of negativity and competition, but there’s also a lot of love. There have been many times where I felt like giving up and had to work really hard to pick myself up again and move on.
There are still three to four days in a week when I wake up and think to myself “Lord, this is so tough.” And then there are days when I wake up and feel blessed for having examples of strong women around me, who inspire me to move on.
This career is not just a career. It’s a lifestyle which demands a lot. It’s not a phase which comes and goes. So it depends on you how you deal with it and remain positive. I was raised by a strong, single mother and have experienced many hardships that taught me a lot, but also damaged me a little. Growing up, my mom made sure I got the best education, which I cannot thank her enough for. It helps you move on in life more easily as education gives you more options to fall back on. When I am going through a negative phase, at the back of my mind, I know I can paint or sing for a living. So in times of saturation, I’ll think of my other options and work on those to stay positive, surround myself with good people, and it all elevates me.
What’s your take on the recent trend of producing issue-based content?
Our television dramas are very empowering these days. I totally believe in today’s day and age, it is extremely important to raise awareness about issues that exist in our society but in a positive way! I do not mean to suggest that our issues should be unrealistic or sugarcoated in our films and dramas, but they should be shown in a way that people learn something out of it.
Negative endings give out a hopeless message to viewers. It’s equally important that the content gives a message of positivity and hope, so viewers are motivated and they learn how to tackle societal problems.
Entertainment media should not kill people’s hope and many people are doing that. I recently watched a film which touched a very sensitive issue and ended it in a dispirited way.
That tells our public that there is no hope and you cannot fight the law. Yes, there is corruption from the grass root level to the top in our system, but even then the only thing people need to survive is hope. So issues need to be spoken about but with hope.
Are you a feminist? And what would you say to people who treat it as a swear word?
Oh, I am a feminist. I would really like people to change their perception about the word ‘feminism’. Many women stay away from this word because they think feminist equals man-hater. Feminism is not about mindlessly putting down men. It’s all about standing up equally for both; men and women. If there’s a situation between a man and a woman, I would support the man if he is right. I think everyone should be feminist! Don’t be man haters or misogynists. Stand up for equal rights!
With fame comes the undue interference of public into your private life. How do you deal with it?
A perfect woman in the eyes of almost everyone, is only about three things; gori, lambay baal and petite body. If you ask me, I experience body shaming every day of my life. There is never a day without remarks like, “aap tu itni patli hain”, “aap TV pay tu itni moti lagti hain”, “Kitni bari lagti hain aap TV pay”. In their own way, people try to give me compliments but they also tell me how horrible, fat and old I look on TV.
Since the time I’ve lost weight, I’ve hardly got any positive feedback. People think I starve myself to death and follow an unhealthy diet. I have been hearing such remarks for years! It’s very unfortunate that especially in Pakistan, the first thing people notice about a person is his or her physical appearance. It does not matter whether you have put on or lost weight, people feel zero hesitation when giving their comments. I cannot remember a day when I ever commented so shamelessly on somebody’s weight or their physical appearance. I don’t know how people body shame! Women especially need to stop it! Stop focusing on another person’s physically appearance so much.
We’ve noticed your obsession with all the healthy things. Please inspire us towards the healthy lifestyle.
It’s not an obsession. I’m glad you used this word because I hear it from people all the time and I would use this opportunity to clarify that it isn’t an obsession. I hear comments like “Aap tu crazy diet per hain” and “Aap tu bari conscious rehti hain.” There is nothing bad about taking care of your body. For me, it’s extremely important to prioritize and regulate what’s going inside my body. If I eat junk, I am going to look like junk – it’s as simple as that.
I am working on disciplining my routine in order to incorporate exercise and proper sleep pattern. I am particular about the food and groceries that I buy, and that is my biggest indulgence. Even when I’m traveling, I look for organic and healthier options. I scrounge around for health and green bars, nuts and carry them with me all the time.
I love baajray ki roti, gluten-free bread, and I strictly stay away from processed foods. I take a lot of high-quality Vitamins, and also changed my cooking oil because oil sucks out all the nutrients of the food you cook it in. I use coconut oil which retains the nutrients of my food. For me, the goodness of the food matters more than the taste. That’s how I’m fighting ageing!
What does the future hold for Ayesha Omar?
I want to open up a health institute or a brand. That’s my long-term business idea. Now that I’m thinking about it, I might open up my own organic farm where I can grow fruits and vegetables. That’s the kind of lifestyle I imagine for myself. Life would be great getting married to a person who’s equally passionate about growing our own vegetables, and eating good and healthy food. This is my long-term dream which I hope will come true one day.