Our Cover Girl for Women’s Own Magazine’s 31st birthday is none other than Zhalay Sarhadi who leads a different class of Pakistan’s best and brightest television actors. She is one of those very few actresses who have reached that point of her career where she’s uncomfortably comfortable and wants to keep doing something which she hasn’t done before. Fearless, more confident and true to herself as well as to the “botox-ed” media industry, Zhalay Sarhadi in this interview unveils everything from maintaining her artistic integrity, to love being photographed and to watching her little Anaya growing up as exactly like her.
Tell me what are you currently up to and what point of your career have you reached so far?
I’m working side by side for television dramas and a film. I have also been singing lately and I’m finally coming out with a song! The point of career I have reached is interesting because there is new talent that has sprung up and work is a little diluted. Having said that, I feel that I still get to play many interesting characters that I didn’t get to do earlier in my career. I attribute that solely to my film Jalebi because that opened a different arena for me. The character I played in Jalebi was a slightly bold character which I couldn’t play on television; hence the film industry gave me that chance. So I’m glad that casting directors see me in a different light now, and they don’t offer me the same kind of characters. There is a lot of competition now which I really enjoy because earlier on there wasn’t any. There’s a lot that I learn from other actresses. For instance, I really admire Sajal and Saba Qamar, and learn a lot from them. So I feel with time, I have become more true to myself, more courageous to take up any kind of character and push myself harder as an artist.
Talk to me about the beauty cover shoot we did two days ago. What was going through your mind?
I loved every second of it! I am a painter and have done portraiture all my life, in case many people do not know that already. I am also obsessed with makeup so when I’m modeling I feel I’m a canvas and people get a chance to paint me and show their artistry. So I felt like a canvas during the cover shoot, which I hadn’t felt in a long time. While Mona was giving me these amazingly creative beauty looks, I didn’t want to look the best of me. I wanted to be seen in a different light. “I haven’t looked like that in ages” was the thought that was running through my mind during the cover shoot. My artistic integrity had suddenly woken up and I loved it. I don’t like to look fashionably safe all the time. That is something which unfortunately happens to women who hail from the television fraternity. There’s a certain way all television stars choose to behave or look and then there are certain types of roles they get offered – the same emotional victims and goody-two shoes types. So I don’t like to limit my talent as I enjoy being fearlessly versatile.
There are actors who are emotional, some very versatile. Some have a signature style of acting. How do you judge yourself as an actor? And how would you like people to acknowledge you as an actor?
I am an emotional actor. I can only deliver my job well when I’m emotionally involved with an actor or the project as a whole. I would never copy other actors’ gestures or try too hard to be an actor – I would just get myself emotionally involved in my work and that does the rest for me. If there’s a character which demands something from me, I would totally immerse myself in her life. You won’t be able to see the real Zhalay Sarhadi in any of my dramas.
As far as choosing my scripts are concerned, I opt for anything that I have never done before. Whatever character I’m playing in a drama or a film, which has some meaningful substance in the script, immaterial of the number of scenes I get, entice me. The popular movie Silence of the Lambs had only 17 minutes with Anthony Hopkins in the entire film, yet his character had that impact and it is still remembered by all movie buffs. So quality and substance in the character entices me when I’m choosing scripts.
So you have been acting for over a decade. Do you see or still face any gender discrimination in our television or film industry?
I absolutely do! There is gender discrimination and hierarchy where men and women are concerned. I feel the cause of such issues is both men and women themselves. There is gender discrimination but equally from the men and women’s side. I cannot tolerate women who victimize themselves, and abuse their “womanly” issues. I feel both men and women give themselves a lot of self-importance, which is ridiculous. Credits should be given where they’re due. I was shooting a drama once in which my character was as important as another contemporary co-actor’s but I used to show up at the set on time whereas it was very normal for the male actor to come late and leave early as well. It used to upset me a lot; not because my male co-actor was turning up late but because I believe we are all doing our jobs and must be professional and respectful towards it. I also feel there’s gender discrimination in other professions around the world, but it easily gets highlighted in our media industry. I would love to mention Maria Wasti, Erum Binte Shahid, Angeline Malik, Misbah Khalid and Mehreen Jabbar for putting this discrimination aside and moving the industry forward by just being good professionals!
As far as the pay scale between male and female actors is concerned, I have never been interested to know how much my colleagues get paid. As long as I’m getting what I demand, I’m happy. I also don’t get involved in such matters because I’m a passionate actor. I don’t want to disturb my acting talent by making it all about getting paid more than a colleague. I feel such things come in the way of your passion and true talent.
Knowing that you either started before and with some of your contemporaries, I would like an actor like you to state your opinion on what being a “star” is and when is the correct timing for that “star” attitude to come in an actor’s life.
There is no time! That “star” attitude should never come! I feel being a star is a by-product of our work. In general, stars are not considered as actors. If you’re a brilliant actor, people look up to you and then they think of you as a star. Unfortunately, in our country, the concept of “stardom” is how big you are on social media. Your number of followers on social media represents your level of stardom. I feel when you are an artist who’s working in the media industry and are enjoying immense fame and popularity; you should be even more humble. So I honestly don’t understand where this “star” attitude comes from. I am an actor, and I am not doing anybody a favor! I’m an actor because that’s my passion and it is my job. So if I am getting satisfaction, recognition, good pay and respect for my job, it is my responsibility to give back instead of demanding more from people. So this “star” attitude in my opinion is disgusting and bogus. It should not exist!
Would you like to say something about the Botox trend? Is it something that’s very normal in the media industry? Even if it may be so, why does everyone want to look alike? Do you feel there’s major individualism and distinctness lacking in our media personalities?
There’s a thing call Nip N Tuck. It is something you get done to maintain your look instead of completely giving yourself a new one. I am totally for it! I have absolutely no issues with it. I have got botox done on myself here and there, because I felt my character demanded a certain look. I might consider more botox in future as long as it doesn’t change my facial expressions! I would not go plastic because acting is my passion and I don’t want that to get adversely affected. An actor’s face is his or her selling point, so it’s very important for the actor to feel and look good, and be totally inhabited. I don’t want to get the same treatments on my face and look like any other Instagram models.
So I have to ask you this. Like many other people, Google too shamelessly shows your pictures as Priyanka Chopra’s look-alike. Has it started to irritate you yet?
(Laughs) This has been happening to me all my life. It irritates me, not because I have anything against Priyanka Chopra. I, in fact admire her because she is a self-made woman. She has given the women of South Asia a lot of hope and has encouraged them to break all boundaries to make a name for them. The only issue I have when people compare me to someone from the same field, is that I don’t want to be someone’s counterpart. I have my own individuality and I want to shine through that. I’m sure Priyanka Chopra gets irritated as well. Other than that, there is no problem. Everyone compares everyone to someone or the other. But I must mention that I am blessed, and I have some of the most amazing fans out there who support me through out. I really would like to mention two of my greatest fans; one is Mehmud Jamal who has been my biggest fan and supporter, and I’m totally humbled by his presence in my life. Another big fan of mine is Paramjeet Kaur, who’s the mother of one actor in India. They both message me all the time and it tells me that artistry has no boundaries. At the time when my film Jalebi came out, I wasn’t nominated that year. I was quite disappointed but remained silent about it. Mehmud Jamal was the only person who went on social media and showed resentment on my behalf (laughs). I’m truly blessed to have these people in my life.
On a personal note, what’s a day like without work? What’s your idea of fun?
I cook. I spend time with my 9 year old daughter who’s a joy. She’s like my little friend now. We both love makeup, and watch videos on YouTube together. We both like to read a lot also. When I don’t have any work to do, I like to stay at home and spend time with family. I’m not at all a party animal. I’m a daytime person and like to sleep early and wake up early. So my day without work would be me lounging or taking my daughter out for shopping.
You’re a mother. Is Anaya aware and now familiar with your celebrity image? You have to attend events, doll up, shoot every day, and more.
Anaya is the easiest child to have! She understands everything. She’s exactly like me! Her mannerisms, her blood group, her likes and dislikes – all are similar to mine. It’s like seeing me growing up again. Although Anaya is the only child, she doesn’t get neglected, and enjoys a lot of attention from home. She’s sensitive and very compassionate to everyone around her.
What message would you like to give to women to empower them!
Stop victimizing yourself! You are what you feel. If you’re going to think you’re weak and powerless, then you are weak and powerless! Nothing is impossible, so stop victimizing yourself!
What’s in your bag?
Lipstick and phone!
What’s your fav item on your Keto menu these days?
My keto chocolate mousse
What’s the last beauty item you purchased?
Kiel’s facial cream and I love it!
Do you collect anything?
Your favorite actor and actress in Pakistan?
Faisal Qureshi and Saba Qamar
A role in a drama or a film you wish you had played?
Ranbir Kapoor’s character in Rockstar and Saba Qamar’s character in the drama Baaghi