“Aapki pehchaan Khubsoorat se hogi.“
Ayesha Omer laughed off this comment by the director of Bulbulay, in which she played Khubsoorat. She didn’t know her laughter would become a part of the lives of thousands of people, from 8-year-olds to 80-year-olds. She didn’t know she was on the way to becoming a popular and much-loved celebrity of Pakistani television.
FUCHSIA had the privilege of interviewing Ayesha in her most chilled out avatar; we talked about many different topics close to her heart, with so much ease and panache.
Talking about joining NCA, painting and starting to get offers to host programs, Ayesha shared that her entry into Pakistani television was sheer chance. The initial offers she got to host programs were just about fun and games, but she slowly started taking them more seriously. “Creativity has no boundaries”, she says, and it shows in the range of work she has done. She was part of a very popular sitcom called College Jeans by Faisal Qureshi, a fresh and young sitcom during her National College of Arts (NCA) days, which people still remember as the start of a revolution in the Pakistani television industry. From being an MTV VJ to hosting live shows, to winning the Style Award for Best Album, she does not cease to amaze us with her thirst for creativity.
A fascinating side of Ayesha which came across through this interview was her love for her mother and respect for her elders. Nothing in her life happens without the knowledge of her mother. “80% of the viewers of Bulbulay are kids; if there is a scene where I talk rudely to my mother-in-law and it does not look right, I get it changed so I don’t influence people wrongly. As a kid, I was told not to sit with my legs pointing towards elders, not to point fingers as I talk.”
Ayesha believes that actors have a moral responsibility, and a social responsibility, towards the nation, and need to portray characters which do not cross the boundaries of ethics. “It’s not how dramatic you are, but how honest you are to your art, which makes you the artist you are.” She is a proud Pakistani and it reflects in everything she says. “I am ready to work cross-border, but will never want to leave my country. I love it here and would not want to trade places. It is this place which has given me the recognition I deserve.”
On this candid note, FUCHSIA starts the interview with Ayesha Omar .
FUCHSIA: Does gender discrimination exist in the Pakistani television industry?
“Our society is still a patriarchal society, a male-dominated society; women still lack respect. We are constantly striving for equality, acceptance and respect. If you are working on a project where the director is sensitive towards women and understands their needs, vis-a-vis a person who is less sensitive, the whole equation of the set changes. Sometimes, even the spot boy will listen more to a male actor than a female actor. So, to answer the question, yes, there is discrimination, but times are changing. What things were 10 years back, is very different from today. New actors who are fresh in the industry still face a lot – they are exploited. So, as a rule, I make it a point to tell them to work hard, and be honest to the profession. The general mindset needs to change; things are going to get better if each one of us stands for each other, so we can evolve as a nation. With the good comes the bad; it’s about how we take it, the integrity with which we handle it.”
FUCHSIA: What is behind the immense success of Bulbulay? Did you ever think it would get so big?
“When I was asked to do it, I was like, chalo I’ll do it. I wasn’t so sure about it. Slowly it started becoming very popular. We get so many prayers from people. People come to us and say,’You guys make us laugh. There is so much sadness and boredom in life but when we see Bulbulay, we become happy for that time.’ It’s ingrained in me now; wherever I go, from a paan vaala to a fancy restaurant, everyone recognises me from Bulbalay.”
FUCHSIA: How do you take criticism? Are you your worst critic?
“It propels me to work harder and do better work. So it’s the way you look at it. Honestly, harsh criticism hurts but I don’t get disheartened.” she says with her beautiful sunshine smile. “Myself … I am never satisfied with how well I do. Even now, after every scene I sit down with my producer and co-actors asking ‘what did you think, could I have done it better?’ Sometimes I over-think it. If I feel I could have done it better, I keep beating myself up over it. To an extent, I am a bit harsh on myself. I need to learn to let go and give it my best.
My mother is my biggest critic – she watches every single thing that I do.”
FUCHSIA: You acted in the theatre production of Grease when your television acting career was going very well. Why?
“We don’t believe enough in all the art forms helping each other – singing, acting, theatre etc – they all complement each other. I have done a lot of theatre in my college. I put the theatre experience down in my acting now. It helped me in my upcoming movie where I had to perform in front of five hundred men. I was like, OMG. It would have been very overwhelming, but I just blocked everything out, and pretended I was on stage.”
FUCHSIA: Your song Khamoshi was a big hit. What was the inspiration behind that song?
“I was part of a college band, I had lots of musician friends, who I jam with every now and then … sadness, tragedy, happiness, are all a part of life. You know when you are getting out of a relationship, or you come to that point where u can’t live with or without somebody. It’s tough deciding what to do – should you stick it out, or walk away, give it one last shot? So I guess that’s what the inspiration was.”
FUCHSIA: Is there anything you want to change about the Pakistani entertainment industry?
“I wish people would take out more time to read scripts, develop their characters and do more research on the stories. Shortcuts defeat the purpose.”
Ayesha feels the industry could do with more commitment to ongoing projects, given that there are more scripts than actors. She also sees the need for more punctuality and professionalism, respect for women and the elderly.
“A lot of educated and talented people have come into the industry, so there is a wonderful shift”.
She is hopeful that things will turn around, and she will very much be a part of the process.
We also learnt that Ayesha wants to be a great mother; she is very close to her family, and their opinion matters the most to her. She is an open book, who speaks her mind and believes one cannot be everyone’s favourite. She wants to bridge gaps, and change the world’s perception of Pakistan.
“Love comes in doses,” she says.
With this quote and and a Joie de vivre for life, I wrap up this interview. I find Ayesha Omar is truly the change she talks about – a breath of fresh air.
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