Three months ago, Sara Loren, better known in Pakistan as Mona Lizza, TV actress, dancer, model, packed up her belongings and moved to Mumbai. The 25-year-old, who appeared in TV serials like “Rabiya Zinda Rahegi” and “Main Mar Gayee Shaukat Ali”, was selected by the Bhatt father-daughter duo to appear in Kajraare alongside singer and first-time actor Himesh Reshammiya. The movie was shown in only two theatres in Mumbai in October 2010 and never garnered much attention this side of the border either.
But Loren isn’t giving up — not even close. According to the actress, her journey is just beginning, and she is ready to switch countries to make it big … even if she has to start from scratch. Here, the bombshell talks to us about not being appreciated in Pakistan, having no time for love and how she still looks and feels like she’s 19.
Just when we were all finally getting used to your unusual choice of name, you changed it to Sara Loren. Why?
Because so many Mona Lizza’s come up when you type in the name on the internet. It’s a very common name somehow. And the new agency that I’m working with in India, Kwan — they also represent Ranbir Kapoor — didn’t want it. They used Italian actress Sophia Loren’s name for inspiration.
And since I’m starting over, and this time in Bollywood, I thought I should have a new stage name. I went to a numerologist who told me that there was an issue with the two z’s I used to put in Lizza. Maybe that’s why I didn’t get the kind of fame that I deserved in the past seven years.
Why did you get up and move in the first place?
After Kajraare, I obviously wanted to move. After starring in one film, any actor would want to do nothing less than another film, and there weren’t any good opportunities in Pakistan. I wanted to discover myself, to groom myself.
When I started, my career was really simple: somebody saw my photograph and I got offered a Fair and Lovely ad and then TV roles just kept on coming. I didn’t have to struggle. Now I’m struggling. But I’m ready for it, because I want to start over as an actor. I have already worked seven years as an actor in Pakistan but now I’m ready to put in a couple more years to re-establish myself.
Aren’t you fearful that you will soon start looking too old for an industry that is all about youth and superficial beauty?
I think I look like I’m 18 or 19. And I don’t think the industry is that superficial anymore, either. Today people look at the quality of your work. Look at Vidya Balan, or Katrina Kaif — they’re probably near 30 and they’re ruling the Indian film industry. Kareena Kapoor is probably around 35 and she is at the peak of her career. I don’t think much about being 25. I feel 19, and I look 19.
Why didn’t Kajraare do well at the box office?
Because Himesh is not a hero. I did the film because I liked my role, I wanted to test myself as an actor and I wanted to experience Bollywood. They were looking for a Pakistani actress and they liked my pictures. I got superb reviews from everyone. I think everybody ordered the film on DVD and watched it at home.
What have you been working on recently?
I’ve just been looking for the right role. There are a few projects in the pipeline and I’ll announce my new project around June or July.
How do you like Mumbai?
I’ve travelled around the world but I just really like Mumbai — maybe because they speak our language. But I also love the reality of Mumbai. On one side you’ll see a Mercedes and on the other you can see a man living on the streets and having his tea. Every corner has a story. I live alone in an apartment in this area called Versova. I’ve accepted that it is a period of struggle in my life. It may take a year or two to really settle down well. Not a big deal.
What do you do for fun? Have you made any friends?
I haven’t made too many friends, because I’ve been busy working. I take Kathak classes regularly, go for drives on Queen’s Road, and eat lots of great vegetarian food.
Do you still visit Pakistan or are you a hardcore Mumbai girl now?
I recently came back for Deepak Perwani’s Lawn ad campaign. I think he has very good design sense and is very particular about prints, colours and class. Since Sonam Kapoor and Karishma Kapoor’s lawn shoots for Pakistani mills, people in India have also started talking about lawn. After six months, when I sign a project, I hope to advertise lawn in India as well.
Did you ever think you were going to become an actress?
I took up my first couple of projects because of the money. When my father died and we moved to Pakistan from Kuwait, times were tough and I wanted to support my family. I loved actresses like Babra Sharif, Sabiha Khanum and Rekha, but never imagined that I would be an actress one day. After my Fair and Lovely ad, I randomly decided to audition for a role in “Rabiya Zinda Rahegi” which was being directed by S Suleman. When I delivered my lines, he told me that it wasn’t a speech, it was dialogue. I said, “Sir, I don’t know how to act.” He asked me to take the script home, and to practice it in front of a mirror. When I auditioned again after two days, he signed me. After that, I never had to audition for any role. Then I just started getting roles.
S Suleman kept on grooming me. Once, I was doing a scene where my screen mother had to slap me and I was supposed to cry, but I just wasn’t able to cry on set. Suleman sahab looked at Badar Khalil and gestured to her to actually slap me. She slapped me so hard that I naturally started crying. That convinced me that if I get really involved in something, then I can actually act very well.
Why do you think you never got any critical acclaim for your acting in Pakistan?
I’ve done a whole range of roles in my seven years as an actress in Pakistan. The fact that I never got nominated for a Lux Style Award is something that really baffles me. Maybe it’s because I was never really involved with the fashion media, focusing instead on enhancing my acting skills.
“Main Mar Gayee Shaukat Ali” was a big hit. It was watched in every village. They should have nominated that. And this may be the reason I wanted to move to Bollywood — it is one place where the smallest of achievements are noticed.
Seven years is a long time. If I have showcased my range and capabilities then come on, give me good work yaar! I am a crazy actor. I am looking for roles. I am a girl who can attempt any kind of role and I think I have proven that already.
Then how come you never reached the level of success and recognition that actors such as Reema or Aisha Khan have experienced?
It may be because people were not able to understand me in Pakistan. It’s true that there has always been some sort of confusion about me. Perhaps it is because my range as an actor is very high. And then I got an offer from Bollywood so fast. The way they presented me in Kajraare was so good that I don’t think any Pakistani woman has ever gotten that kind of presentation. Maybe because of that, Pakistani directors and producers were confused as to how to approach me, so this is why I moved to India.
Have you ever tried to understand why Pakistani directors/producers were confused by you?
If I think about these things I’ll probably waste more years of my life. The truth, and I want to say this to the media, is that Pakistan doesn’t support you, while India can suddenly pick you up. This has happened with people like Adnan Sami and Nusrat Fateh Ali. I am not a regular actress. I don’t think any girl in Pakistan has done the range of roles that I have. And with my beauty. I can bet on this.
So you haven’t done anything for Lollywood?
I have recently done an item number for a film called Sultanat with SM Khan. It’s done in a very tasteful way. I don’t believe in vulgarity, I believe in sexuality.
Talking about sexuality, like other Pakistani actresses, you’ve also gotten a lot of criticism for going across the border and being portrayed as a sex symbol. How do you feel about that?
Standards for films have gone up, we are competing with Hollywood now. I am a bold girl and a serious actor. When I saw myself in Kajraare, I had no idea that I would look this good on the big screen. And then I realised that the camera loves me. So, why not?
You looked very hot, I must admit. Would you choose more roles that showcase this sizzling sexuality?
Well, I’ve already said no to a few films where there were way too many intimate scenes and not much of a role for a serious actress. There was a film called Zila Ghaziabad with Sanjay Dutt, Arshad Warsi, Vivek Oberoi. I said no to that film. I have said no to two, three more films because of the same reasons.
But if there is a strong role for me in a film that requires me to do some intimate scenes, yeah I’ll do them. The world has really evolved. The issue with Pakistan is that we do everything ‘wrong’ in our own homes but not publicly. We don’t have any class internationally. I know I’m a Pakistani and if I’ve gotten the opportunity to do this out of a thousand other girls, then I want to make everyone proud. I don’t want to be labeled as the girl who went to India and took her clothes off. In India, every girl is standing here waiting to take her clothes off … it’s not a big deal. Why does everybody appreciate Vidya Balan? Because she’s an actor. She is playing a role. She did Dirty Picture and got rave reviews. If you can’t do all of this then you won’t fit in. I haven’t regretted any scene that I’ve done. In fact, I think I looked good.
What do you think of the fame and recognition Veena has garnered in India in a short amount of time?
Well, if she wants to do an item number and she likes that kind of attention then yes, why not? I think she has taken a really bold step. But I do believe though that this kind of fame is very short lived. I mean, if you pose nude and write ‘ISI’ on your arm, obviously it’s going to get attention, but not necessarily the right kind. There are no blessings for you. If people don’t love you, I don’t feel like you’re a star.
Would you ever consider doing a publicity stunt to get attention faster?
People do it and it works for them, but I never understood the point of doing it myself. With Veena, I think it worked. What Meera did worked for her as well. Even here in India, she leaked news that Bhatt Sahab had slapped her. People here think Pakistani actresses are psycho! Then there are actresses like Zeba Bakhtiar and Salma Agha, who came here to act and are praised for their grace to this day. But I’ll never take the help of a scandal to catapult myself to fame, even if it takes me longer to establish myself.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, March 18th, 2012.