The name change is definitely difficult for me during the interview with supernova Bollywood starlet Sara Loren, the Pakistani TV actress, model and live-dance performer formerly known as Mona Lizza. I stumble and call the petite yet perfectly proportioned beauty “Mona” when I meet her. Dressed in myriad sumptuous bridal outfits by Zainab Chottani, Sara is in the midst of shooting Laiqa Hasan’s bridal make up looks that will appear in various magazines.
Meanwhile, a BBC TV crew arrives to interview Sara about her upcoming role in the Bollywood trilogy, Murder 3. Initially, she is reluctant to speak to them but Laiqa cajoles her and she talks to the reporter. Finally, we settle down in a quiet enclave and she orders what is the beginning of an endless round of healthy green tea for herself. Although it is probably gratingly annoying for her to reiterate the reason for the perhaps strategic name switch, Sara obliges.
Is Sara Loren inspired by the sensuality of Italian movie icon Sophia Loren?
“I am inspired by many good actresses, not just one,” she says. “I am interested in and guided by numerology, horoscopes and the power of birthstones. I was told that Mona, the name I was born with and which was chosen for me three months before I born, and Lizza were not lucky for me in showbiz,” she explains. The Sagittarian who was born on December 11 adds that her lucky number is two and haltingly says that Sara — a name she thinks that suits her — in Hebrew means “Princess” and Loren in Latin represents “Laurel” or victorious praise. “I needed a name that was powerful and I think it is working out,” she says.
Sara made a whirlwind public departure from Pakistan to live and work in Mumbai in 2010 and was in Karachi to have her visa stamped and to complete shooting the final scenes of Anjuman, a remake of the Pakistani classic which originally starred the late Lollywood legend Rani and in which the title character played by Sara is a courtesan.
“Anjuman will be released in late February 2013 after a screening,” Sara says “Begum Rani was very pretty and talented and we are very different and so I didn’t attempt to recreate Rani’s way of acting or gestures.” The film’s narrative is buoyed by a love triangle with actors Ali Khan and Imran Abbas vying for Sara’s character’s attention. Directed by Yasir Nawaz, the film includes two songs sung by Indian playback singer Sunidhi Chauhan which will no doubt add appeal.
In 2011, she also shot two other Pakistani films: Nargis, Gidh and producer Asim Bhatti’s Sultanat directed by Faisal Bokhari and starring Javed Sheikh in which she only appears in an item number.
“I told Asim sahib that I liked the item song and asked him why should only Indian films have item numbers?” Sara gloats. “Why not do them in Pakistan? It was fun shooting the scene but I have no idea what happened to the movie and its release,” she says almost disinterestedly.
She says her move to Mumbai was spontaneous. “There were no exciting projects happening in Pakistan. I was bored and looking for excitement. I am a dreamer. I want to do so much! I love travelling and want to see the whole world. I wanted a change in scenery and went to Mumbai looking for exciting projects. There was no preparation. I just packed my bag and took a chance.”
Sara says she now lives in a studio apartment in the upscale district of Versova, 10 minutes from Lokhandwala, the large residential and commercial enclave in the Andheri district of Mumbai.
“Yes, you can say that I am now living in Mumbai,” Sara says coyly. “I don’t feel I am struggling per se but just waiting for the right projects; roles that help to highlight the kind of wide-range actor that I am. I want to concentrate on that. I think over time I will convince Bollywood directors that I am not just another pretty face. It will not just happen after one project. Similarly, in Pakistan it took seven years of acting in TV dramas to have directors and audiences appreciate my potential and talent.”
Many are expecting Sara to follow in the footsteps of shock queen Veena Malik with her controversial magazine cover shoot in India and Meera and her alleged on-set slapping shenanigans with Mahesh Bhatt. “They have their own thoughts and ideas about their careers. Those publicity tactics seemed to have worked for them. But the type of life and career I want is in my head and I am working really hard in order to get more serious roles and achieve my dreams.”
Is segueing into the steamy and almost sexually explicit niche left by Mallika Sherawat and Jacqueline Fernandez in Murder and Murder 2, respectively, a wise move for someone looking to be accepted as a serious actor? Five months ago and after becoming Sara Loren, she signed up to act in Murder 3 under debutant director Vishesh Bhatt, son and nephew of Mukesh Bhatt and Mahesh Bhatt respectively.
“Previously, I had refused quite a few films that had a lot of intimate love scenes,” Sara explains. “I rejected them as I didn’t see any potential growth for myself as an actor.”
“The story in Murder 3 which I really liked is different from the previous two films of the hit franchise,” Sara takes pains to explain and adds that her love scene which includes lip-kissing lead actor Randeep Hooda was not gratuitous.
“India is an open society. All actors do such scenes. The love-making scene made sense in the story. It was necessary. But it was the shortest love scene in the history of cinema,” she guffaws. “Actors have to be responsible about markings and camera angles, etc, so it’s all technical. Before the scene and after each cut I was in fits of giggles so it was both funny and sexy at the same time,” she laughs.
“The film is a two heroine-one hero project and co-stars Aditi Rao Hydari. Obviously I have a lead role in the film. We all have equal roles. My character Nisha’s role is very important. I enter and the film begins. The whole film is seen through Nisha’s eyes and perspective. This film has big actors. Let’s see what happens.”
Her chemistry with Randeep
“Randeep as a co-star was wonderful. The chemistry also became wonderful after a few days on set. He even later became a good friend.”
Sara signed up for Murder 3 through the aegis of Kwan Entertainment through the social media. “They sent my photographs to the producers of Murder 3. I had earlier auditioned for Kajraare (Sara’s 2010 Bollywood debut — when she was still Mona Lizza — produced by Bhushan Kumar and directed by Pooja Bhatt opposite singer Himesh Reshammiya) so I didn’t have to audition again for Murder 3, as the producer and director had seen me in Kajraare and liked me.
“Kajraare was never properly released (the film was released in only two cinema halls across India on October 15, 2010 namely New Empire in Mumbai and Apollo in Pune and that too with just one matinèe show at each of these theatres). Himesh was not a hero but a singer. The decision not to release in a big way could have been for a business point of view. I don’t know what it would have been like if Kajraaee had been a hit. We can’t plan what is in store for us. Perhaps Murder 3 will be seen as my debut in Bollywood,” says Sara.
When I ask her about working with Himesh, she turns the question around and asks me to speak about her current co-star Randeep. “Working with Himesh was good and he is a wonderful person but now we should talk about Randeep as I now just worked with him. But Pooja (Bhatt) really helped me a lot.”
Was she paid well for Murder 3? “For the first film Indian producers don’t pay in crores but they paid me well enough.”
So does she see herself acting with bigger stars like the trio of Khans: Salman, Aamir and Shahrukh? “I can’t say anything right now or what type of roles I will get.”
After making her dramatic Pakistani TV debut with S. Suleman in the super-hit Rabia Zinda Rahegi (2003) and having worked in Pakistan for more than seven years in over 20 TV plays and drama serials, including Memsaab, Mein Margaye Shaukat Ali, Kisi Ko Maan Liya Apna, Anokhi, Riyasat, Madosh and Meharbano aur Shahbano, she says she cannot reprise that slot on TV.
“I don’t intend to ever do TV again,” she says. “Now that I’m a film star, I can’t go down that lane. I won’t do TV work in India either. I would never do those serials and would prefer TV serials in Pakistan. No one can beat our Pakistani dramas. I learnt each and everything from working in TV drama from Rabia Zindagi Rahegi, and Noorie to Kajal and Shehzadi.”
Doesn’t she fear that both Pakistani and Indian producers will be peeved by her vacillating between the two countries’ film industries? “My image is different. I am versatile. If I like a project I will go to Afghanistan and do it! Look at the two films I shot almost back-to-back. (Anjman and Murder 3) They couldn’t have been more different. Let both films be released and then judge me.”
Sara says she loves being single in Mumbai and adds that she is quite choosy about making friends and is not very social and only really ever goes out in the evenings if it involves promotional networking. “I have a very small group of friends related to the media including a female movie writer from Chandigarh. I don’t go to parties without a reason. In the show business world everyone is always so busy anyway.”
What did working with Aditi feel like?
“I am generally very friendly with my co-stars,” she says in an almost rehearsed monologue. “I believe in doing my work well. But I don’t know why women are jealous of me? With Aditi it was like because I am from Pakistan she was trying to give me the attitude of ‘Pakistan sai aa ke kiya samajhti hai apne aap ko Mumbai mein!’ (Coming from Pakistan, who does she think she is in Mumbai!) But even if I am from Pakistan, I like to grab and make my own space. I don’t care what other people think or do.
“I was born a star. I was born unexpectedly on a sofa in a Kuwaiti hospital room weighing 12 pounds. The news made headlines then in the Arabian Times newspaper,” she asserts.