We’re days away from Sajal Aly’s Bollywood debut, Mom’s worldwide release and its confounding to see her all calm and collected. One of the very few saving graces of Anjum Shahzad’s Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hay was Sajal’s inclusion in the film as its vulnerably empowered female lead. Despite having played the damsel in distress a number of times on television, what sets Sajal apart from her contemporary peers is the fact that she brings her characters to life, no matter how improbable or questionable they may seem on paper.
I first met Sajal on the sets of her serial Tum Mere Kiya Ho over two years ago and I see a different person now altogether when we sit down to talk about Mom. Her journey from a naive, girl-next-door to becoming one of the most followed and desirable faces in the industry has a lot to do with her resolute dedication and giving the credit where it’s due; Aly’s evident evolution is laudable. On how she managed to get into the skin of a layered character so well, considering the pressure of being a Bollywood first-timer, she confessed, “There was no pressure at all because my director, Ravi Udyawar had made me feel very comfortable and relaxed, so I could perform without any burden looming over me.”
She further added, “To be able to give one’s best, one needs to build up a comfort level on set, and that is something that everybody helped with. It was a beautiful experience working on Mom. The amount of respect and appreciation that I received from my co-stars and director was truly overwhelming.”
Mom looks intense as it deals with the dynamic between a step-mother and daughter, and so does Sajal’s portrayal of a troubled 18-year-old girl. Before I could go any further, Sajal was quick to respond to my observation, “I did not see the character as particularly ‘troubled’ at all. I feel all of us at some point in our lives have thrown juvenile tantrums at our parents. It’s part of the growing up process and an ordinary rite of passage.”
Moving forward, I pried! While her relationship with Bollywood veteran and Sajal’s on-screen step-mother seems unsettled in the reel-life, I meddled as to how her association was with Sridevi, the actress widely known for her professionalism and indifference off-screen? “All I have to say is that Sridevi is now nothing less than a mother to me,” she shares with The Express Tribune. “She is very maternal, protective, nurturing and encouraging. She made me feel very comfortable and relaxed. Words fall short when I’m asked to describe the way she helped me adjust to my alien surroundings,” the starlet gushed.
While Sajal does consider Mom a huge learning curve for her, she also saw it as an opportunity to work with better production values and standards. Her co-star in the film and also our latest export to India alongside Sajal, Adnan Siddiqui maintained in an earlier interview with a leading daily that the Indian film fraternity is leagues ahead of ours in terms of technicalities, beginning with vanity vans. Aly nods, and replies, “Of course, there can be no comparison at all, they’re technically sound because the Indian film industry is years ahead of us,” a pragmatic Sajal begins. “Indian cinema has had more than a century to evolve and reach its present level. Also, their film-makers and the industry at large are extremely focused onto achieving their goal, treating work both, as a passionate craft and a business.” She went on to comment on how the advanced equipment and working alongside one of the best teams in the industry helped widen her horizon as an artist.
Due to the unofficial ban that’s placed on Pakistani artists from working in Bollywood as an aftermath of the unfortunate Uri attack, Sajal’s been unable to travel to India for the film’s promotions. Let’s just say she’s not pleased about it and rightfully so: “I feel extremely disappointed. Pakistan has not closed its border for Indian artists; it’s just extremely unfortunate,” she expressed. “I’ve really worked hard on this film and was appreciated for my performance and efforts. I strongly believe that I deserved to be there during the promotional process.”
The international promotional tour for Mom is yet to begin and while rumour had it that Sajal and Adnan will join the film’s cast that also comprises Sridevi and gifted Indian actors, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Akshay Khana in Dubai, Aly affirms, “I can’t confirm anything yet. But it would be understandable if I did. My role in the movie is quite central you see.”
Mainly shot in India and Georgia, I was most intrigued to ask Sajal how the locals in India reacted to seeing her shoot for Mom. Considering the fact that they had already seen her in drama serials on channels that aired Pakistani content, a bright smile lit up Sajal’s face as she shared cherish-worthy incidents of how ecstatic people would come up for pictures, so much so that a Sikh family invited her to dine with them at their residence in Delhi.
“In contrast to what certain media groups like to portray, individuals in India are very warm just as Pakistanis are. Yes, there were quite a lot of adoring fan moments which were simply heart-warming. Indians really love Pakistani dramas. They were all praises for our dramas and content,” the actress revealed. “I really never realised that Pakistani drama artists have such huge fan following in India. It doesn’t matter where you come from as long as your work is appreciated. On the whole, it feels great to know that there’s a huge market for Pakistani serials. I felt proud that I was able to represent my country.”
MD Productions’ serials, the ongoing Yaqeen Ka Safar and the soon-to-air, O Rangreza mark Sajal’s comeback of sorts to the small screen. Sharing space with promising budding actors, Ahad Raza Mir and Bilal Abbas Khan respectively, Sajal is simultaneously appearing on both the mainstream mediums of performing arts: television and cinema. While many would believe this shall result in over-exposure, Sajal remains sincere to her beliefs that are focused onto hunting for worthwhile scripts.
“Foremost I am an actor, an artist and a performer. So it does not really matter which medium or in which country I perform,” she noted. “I am continuously honing my craft. I believe in making the most of the opportunities offered to me as long as the roles make sense to me and contribute to my growth as an actor.” Playing an aspiring actress coming from a conservative household in Yaqeen Ka Safar, Sajal didn’t yet have the audacity to reveal much about O Rangreza, but by the looks of it, we’re expecting an old-school romantic drama, that of course, would be poles apart from her recent endeavours.
That said, relying on local cinema, financially and in terms of quality content is undoubtedly not feasible at the given teething stage, however, Sajal clarifies that monetary concerns isn’t why she hasn’t opted for a permanent turn to films. “I personally have never felt the need to rely on any one medium,” she claims. “But as far as the industry is concerned you would have to question the burgeoning bevy of Pakistani film-makers about the quality of content and their survival.”
A true flag-bearer of social commentary, Sajal’s plays, Nanhi and Chup Raho were amongst the first (if not the first) television serials to shed light upon taboo subjects such as child abuse and how our society wishes to brush rape victims and the assailant under the carpet. Hoping to continue doing that, Sajal wishes to make her audience socially aware with her acting assignments.
“For me personally, solid and meaningful content is a central criterion to accept any role. I like to do projects that give me a solid margin to perform,” the actress said, disclosing her measure of taking up a certain project. “I really enjoy and feel the responsibility to being able to become a part of a storytelling process that deals with society’s myriad atrocities and inequalities and which can harbour and garner change.”
On a farewell account, Sajal concludes by speaking of what her fans and cine-goers in general may expect from her first cinematic outing across the border. “Mom is a character-driven film. The story revolves and deals with a social dilemma that every adult will be able to relate to, and movie-goers will undoubtedly empathise with all the characters in the film,” she says. “Not only that, Mom is a thriller that will keep you entertained.” And on that note, we hope that Sajal is able to prove her mettle in B-Town with Mom, which hits theatres on Friday, July 7.
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