Sohai gets Feisty!
I met Sohai Ali Abro for the first time a couple of months ago for a cover shoot, which did not materialize then, and it said a whole lot about the actor. She is an artist who would not easily agree to do a project if her heart is not hundred percent in it. When the concept for our June edition was discussed, Sohai’s energy on the set was a sight. She was fashionably late for sure, but definitely an enterprising person and gave happy, childlike vibes as she changed from one outfit to another. The Motorcycle Girl star negates the industry norms and revolutionizes the way we think of actresses by overcoming her fears and doing the one-woman-centric film with so much confidence. Sohai is one of the artists who truly embraces and brings feminism to the film industry. During the shoot, I realized Sohai and I have one thing in common – we don’t give our opinion on something until it becomes necessary and when we do, it becomes difficult to stop us. After pulling off a feisty shoot, we met the next day for a detailed interview, which interestingly enough did not end up happening because there was no other person to stop us from talking about social issues that surround all of us. In yet again our final meeting, the relentless biker-queen talks about her struggles, her survival, proud moments, and what it means to be an actress in today’s world.
“Women are not just to stay in the kitchen. They are not just to make babies. They are not just for making “gol rotis” or warming up food. Women are much more than all that and have a huge role in our society. They should have equal rights as anyone else.”
By Amna Saleem
1- Firstly, congratulations on such a major blockbuster “Motorcycle Girl”. Talk to me about your experience. Did you expect it to be this big?
Thank you so much! My experience was great. Motorcycle Girl was exactly the kind of movie, script and character I wanted. When it came to me and Adnan Sarwar (director) called me, I was ecstatic because I loved his previous film “Shah” in 2015. You know how people ask me if there’s a role I would like to play, and I say “I have always wanted to play the character of that boxer in Shah!” They get puzzled because the boxer was a male, but I’m an actor and I would have loved to do something like that. The film made a great impact! Coming back to Motorcycle Girl, Adnan also sent to me the video of Xenith who I am representing in the film. I was blown away to see the woman who broke patriarchy with such grace. Everyone knows “Motorcycle Girl” is about empowering women with a biker chick wanting to achieve certain goals in her life and wants to learn how to ride and make herself mobile. All that is great, but what really prompted me to agree to do this film was the message. In Xenith’s brief video, when she is asked why she learned to ride a motorcycle, she says that her father passed away in his 40s who wanted to ride a motor bike and in fact, it was his goal to go through this journey between Lahore and Khunjerab. She also said that people die but their dreams don’t, hence she decided to take this journey for her father. That is what connected with me. I was nine when my father passed away. Today he is not here, but I want to show him that I am doing well for myself. I survived and I’m doing everything on my own! For me, that emotional element affected me and I easily said yes to the project.
2- Why do you think our audiences are still not ready for serious or meaningful content?
With every project, you naturally build expectations with it. I was hoping this film does great on the box office. I am a Taurian, a passionate person, so everything I do is with wholeheartedness and passion, and I would always finish a job I have taken up. I will never leave anything unfinished. So, when I agreed to this film, I went all out! The entire film was based on me! I don’t know how to drive, and had never tried riding a bike before. I didn’t think I would be able to learn. This program in Lahore “Women on Wheels” taught me to ride a motorcycle. I still remember my first class. I freaked out when they were teaching me and I heard a roaring sound of the bike’s race. I used to get burns on my legs due to the silencer, my skin used to be badly tanned. It isn’t really a glamorous thing to learn and ride a bike. It teaches you a lot! Then you see me riding a motorcycle in the mountains up north, with trucks behind me on uneven roads. I overcame my fears and I survived! So obviously, with so much passion, I did want it to become big! Jawani Phir Nahi Aani and previous films were multi-starrer films. This film was resting on my shoulders! I was very nervous.
All this hard work used to make me wonder if people are going to appreciate the film. I did my 100% and stopped thinking about the public’s reactions then. On the first day of the release, when the film finished and I stepped out of the cinema, Xenith along with her mother and brother, walked to me with tears in her eyes. We hugged each other for five minutes. That was it! I knew I had done something right. Biopic is a huge responsibility, and she thanked me for everything. As far as our audiences are concerned, everyone is entitled to their opinion. I heard mixed reviews of the film. Some said it was fantastic, while some thought it was too dry and preachy. I honestly think it is the best sweet balance between entertainment and purpose. I think we need these lessons in the kind of society we are living in. Considering the kind of torturous cases we hear every day, if people think this is preachy then I don’t understand what they want to watch. How do they want to see our women? Do they not want to see women given substantial roles? Why it is only expected of men to do all the stunts in a film, and females are used to make dance moves? It makes me furious to see so many female characters seeking help from the “heroes” in films. Why don’t the girls know what to do or how to get out of a problem? Initially, even I was asked, “Oh, you’re the motorcycle girl in the movie. Who’s the hero?” I used to confidently tell them, “I’m the hero of the film!” Cinema is a reflection of the society! How will we influence our audiences, and make an impact on the lives of our young minds and future generations?
3- Motorcycle Girl is the film that has given your career a major jump. Talk to me about how the film has changed you as a person and then as an actor. What did this film teach you?
It taught me how to overcome my fears. I am now more confident. The offers I was getting at that time were also quite boring so I immediately agreed to do something more empowering and different. My experience was amazing! The film really changed me as a person. I have remarkably evolved as an actor. My understanding of films and the business of films has improved. I have now reached a very confident stage of my career; I am more confident and clear about the kind of work I want to do and the genres I want to explore in future.
4- You are someone who speaks her mind if and where it is necessary. I want an actor like you, who’s highly influential at this level of her career, to tell what feminism means to you. Do you think people misunderstand it?
I believe everyone should possess knowledge about the concept of feminism. It is very unfortunate when people are not educated about the concept or show little interest in it. I do not like it when actors and actresses refuse to comment on feminism, but on the other hand I understand why they don’t want to associate themselves with the “F” word. It is because feminism is so misconstrued. People who are feminist are mostly rigid and anti-men. The concept of feminism is a vast movement. It means equality of both the sexes – socially, politically, economically and financially. Women should have the right to vote, give divorce, have maternity leaves, etc. What has become very evident in the recent past is that many men and women have started to take advantage of feminism. They shouldn’t use the movement to their advantage, especially when you’re living in a world where you see serious cases of sexual assault and gender discrimination. I have also seen some of my distant family members giving more importance to the son as opposed to their daughters, which is so wrong. Feminism is about making a choice and is for both the sexes.
5- Did you have to face any hardships or incidents of gender discrimination since you started out in the industry?
When I entered the “so called” liberal industry, I faced gender discrimination too. Men look at us women very differently. They look at us merely as an eye candy. As an actress, whenever I questioned my directors, I was told not to use my brain so much as I’m only supposed to look good on camera! So we have all faced these issues, and when any woman says, “I’m not feminist”, it is very disappointing. Everyone must know what feminism is! Know your facts and understand the ideology.
6- So many memorable projects; Pyaray Afzal, Khoya Khoya Chaand, Wrong No., and Jawani Phir Nahi Aani. Yet, you have only won an award for Jawani Phir Nahi Aani as the Best Actress Popular in 2016. How do you feel about that?
I genuinely don’t care about these awards because I have never worked for them. At the initial stage of my career, I never had anyone backing me up. I still have to look out for myself. This is my bread and butter. Acting is my passion and getting paid for something I extremely love doing is what matters to me. I have always been very true to my passion. Despite a small drama or a big film, I have the same energy, same attitude, and the same dedication towards it. Even when I got an award for Jawani Phir Nahi Aani, I had earlier performed on stage and was changing to go home when my name was announced and I was told to run to the stage and receive my first ever award. I was not expecting it at all. Honestly, I work for good content so I am able to touch as many lives as I can through my work.
7- Let’s talk about your personal life a little. You’re the youngest in your family and your parents passed away when you were only nine. Now, I look at you. You are a go-getter, professional, passionate, and a happy-go-lucky girl. Is this the real you or did life’s hardships subconsciously train your mind and heart to be who you are today?I have always been the same since my childhood. My parents and other family members used to say that I’m feisty and stubborn. I used to lie down on the shop’s floor if I ever wanted to buy something. I was always difficult. If I wanted to achieve something, I just had to no matter what! But yes, my life changed for good when my parents passed away. I was only nine. Now when I look back, I feel very proud and lucky to see myself settled. I have worked incredibly hard, and by saying that I am not seeking any sympathy by anyone. I was called to speak on my life’s hardships on morning shows for a few times, but I have always refused because it is something very personal. It isn’t for the cameras. With the passing away of my parents, I have grown up to be more independent, confident and extra careful with the choices I make in my life. I have to survive and I have to survive well. I never wanted to be an average person. I have always wanted to be the best at what I do in my own world and on my own terms. I don’t want to be a part of any rat race and I’m not competing with anybody who the world thinks is number one. I have had such a tough life, for me these awards and superficial industry do not matter. I know what reality is.
8- Speaking on the personal front, do you have any plans of being hitched? What do you think about the institution of marriage?
I don’t have any plans of getting married anytime soon. My life is completely dedicated to my career right now. However, marriage is a beautiful concept. I am a huge believer of “To each their own”. Personally speaking, I would love to get married one day only when I’m truly, madly, deeply in love with the person, because marriage is demanding and I would like to make sure I love my spouse to be able to spend the rest of my life with him with life’s highs and lows. I would like to get married to someone who understands and accepts me as I am and as the kind of life, I have had. I would not get married to someone who does not respect me, or sees me as the “actress” Sohai.
9- Lastly, please give a message to your fans and aspiring actors out there.
Luck, merit, and talent always matter. But, the one thing that only you possess and will push you towards success, is your hard work. No one can take that away from you. Actors in Bollywood, who you compare our actors and actresses with, work extremely hard. They take their bodies and work very seriously. They train themselves and work on their voice and dialogue delivery. That’s the kind of dedication we need to give to our work to achieve success. Working hard is the only thing that can keep you out of the rat race. Hard work will always benefit you!
7 JUICY QUESTIONS FOR SOHAI:
1- Share your four nicknames.
My father used to call me Cuckoo. My friends call me “So High”. Moreover, sometimes, auto-correction calls me “Sohail”.
2- What is something that everyone looks stupid doing?
When people are walking and randomly checking themselves out in the mirror.
3- The best compliment you got after your film Motorcycle Girl came out?
Someone said my character was very relatable and it reminded him of his cousin.
4- Biryani or Spaghetti?
5- Fish or Prawns?
That’s tough. Both!
6- What’s a fake you have worn to a red carpet?
I have worn high streets to red carpets but never a fake.
7- Whose style do you admire in Pakistan?
GIVE AN ADVICE OR LEAVE MESSAGE FOR THE FOLLOWING:
1. Iman Ali
I have the biggest crush on you and you know that!
2. Hareem Farooq
I would like to hang out with you one day. I like your vibe!
3. Mahirah Khan
I can’t wait to watch Saath Din Mohabbat In!
4. Gohar Rasheed
Thanks for being such a great friend, Gohar.
5. Hamza Ali Abbasi
Please show your real, funny side to the world. Why are you so serious on TV?
6. Mawra Hocane
Just be yourself. That’s what you’re good at.
7. Sahir Lodhi
“What are you?”
8. Amitabh Bachchan
I’m such a huge fan, I will faint before saying anything to him.