During her six-year showbiz tour de force, Aamina Sheikh has stormed prime time soaps, gazed down from billboards, cavorted across numerous fashion catwalks as the designer’s choice of showstopper, played the bewitching host at live shows, become the smart choice for brand ambassador, adorned fashion glossies and bagged countless media awards and trophies. Frankly speaking, she is as big they get these days. For the sassy, sultry, omnipresent Aamina ... where does it all go from here?
“International, hopefully,” she flashes a brilliant smile. “I think I am beginning to realise how small our Pakistani market is. I have already done it all; something new should come my way now. Unfortunately, television turns out very similar content all year round with just a little alteration in the backdrop. The reality stays the same and the storylines have been done to death. I have not done a TV serial for some time now because everything that I come across I have already done before, and many times over, which now makes me squirm. One glance at a typical script and I can feel my body reacting to it! If I have done it, I will not do it again and I try to find something new. And if I don’t find something new even then I won’t do it. What’s next and how does one grow as an actor here? I have to create an opportunity to do something different, so I’m looking at all possibilities.”
If it is a small market, it is a small audience too. Why would anybody in his/her right mind expect the same people to go and see Aamina in a film when they have already done so numerous times on television, in commercials, on billboards, fashion ramps and in the print media? Doesn’t it require oodles of glamour and pull to command a cinema audience dying to see you on the big screen simply because they have not seen you anywhere else for sometime?
“My serial should not be on air while a film is being released and lately, I have been turning down a lot of stuff. When people tell me ‘where are you, we haven’t seen you on TV for a long time’, I wonder if I really have been away for so long … because I know I haven’t.
“In Bollywood, an actor gives a hit and suddenly you see him everywhere even though the industry is huge. But in Hollywood, projects are more planned to give gaps and still it remains a humongous market. According to a recent research, some 48 TV series were being shot in New York and another 155 in LA. There is so much work for everyone that film actors remain film actors and TV actors stay committed to television, with very few and exceptional crossovers,” she adds.
But Aamina has picked some pretty trite roles that anyone could have played. “In that case, I am to be blamed because the role is my choice. I don’t want to be in that situation any more, though.”
So what is her motivation now? “Just this: to combat the lack of diversity in what I am given to do, which makes me admire people who have done television for so many years and sustained themselves like Samina Peerzada and her ilk.”
Aamina believes that doing commercials and having a brand portfolio is actually a sign that you are one helluva diverse package and not just a good character actor. “Our dynamics are so different. In other markets the systems are in place and specialised so that actors make a conscious effort to work as a film or television actor. Since our market is tiny and we do not have a running film industry; no actor can really depend on just one source to make a living or a career. You have to avail opportunities in such a way that it keeps nurturing your acting career, so it becomes feasible to be able to carry the attributes of a brand or represent a cause and do character acting.
That’s part of the evolution of a person and it only becomes problematic when you, as a person, become a brand and it starts affecting your characters. For instance, Shahrukh Khan is sought out for being him and not the roles that he plays. The boundaries are very fluid and it can easily be the other way, too.”
Any international offers? “None yet, but I do think beyond this geographical limitation and I have appeared for auditions and screen tests. I have lived and studied abroad, so I tend to think that one needs to make proactive efforts to find opportunities outside of Pakistan while maintaining a career progression here.”
Should we then watch out for Aamina in a Bipasha Basu or a Priyanka Chopra-type masala role? “I would love to do masala, especially after Josh and Lamha. I wonder if anybody would trust me with a comedy flick? On TV, a comedy role totally depends on execution and who is in charge of it because production values, script and sensibilities matter. But a film would be fun and I need to do one even if it is just to prove to myself that I can. The only way I’ll know is if I do it, right?”
To my next query about which actress she eyes as direct competition, Aamina dodges the question with amazing alacrity, giving me no juicy quotes and no sizzler. “To each their own, although we are playing the same field everyone has something different to offer,” is all she has to say on the subject. Case closed.
With pulling off grueling 50-day schedules for television and only coming home to crash for the most part of her career, it isn’t easy to manage one’s life with the taxing demands of being in showbiz. “I used to think ‘ya to mein apna kaam karloon, ya phir yeh karloon’. Things have become much more streamlined now as most people (whom she works with) have finally come to realise that everything has a domino effect so things have to be planned better, efficiently.”
Amina’s ‘boot camp’ approach to life has been encouraged by her projects. “I trained as a sprint runner for Bhaag Aamina Bhaag, when I realised that the producer expected me to sprint at any time he said action. I got a trainer and did a crash course and got my body equipped for that. It was totally a personal inititative. For My Punjabi Love for You, I trained for two months in martial arts and for the upcoming Operation 021, I was coached for the fighting sequences. When this kind of work started coming up all of a sudden, I was on a thrill ride because I could now be among those actors who train for roles. I picked up some health tips while training that are good for me so I attended a yoga camp that worked wonders for me. You see, for my undergrad, I went to a very hippie school so we lived on a farm, picked our own vegetables and that part of me is getting nurtured. I gym out regularly and am more hands-on with my food also because one of my brothers is a marathon runner who does triathlons while being fructose, lactose and gluten intolerant. He is training as a chef and is a fantastic inspiration because for the last 10 years or so he has maintained a certain lifestyle. Surely, if he can do it I can follow a healthy lifestyle, too.”
And then there is Mohib Mirza, her hubby who is also a star. What is it like to be living with a sex symbol, I ask Aamina bluntly. “Wow! Is he really?” She giggles. “We didn’t know that. I’ll tell Mohib and he’ll be so excited. He does have a hot fan following though which we both enjoy. But these titles and labels merely take you on a trip and one can only enjoy these things; thank God it’s nothing negative.”
Is it difficult to stay married with such a demanding work schedule? “With a little proactive planning (it’s not a fixed nine-to-five schedule) we can work things out to spend time with the family and be with each other as long as we make it a priority. In fact, if one of us was in a different career, it might have been a problem. Both of us have sporadic schedules, sometimes a lot of work and a lull too when we sit and wonder where the next paycheck will come from. But if you are the kind of person who can deal with a bit of uncertainty and enjoys it instead of being daunted by it, it does work.”
She reflects for a moment, cocks her pretty head and adds, “If I was alone in this journey, I would not have learnt so many things so quickly if I did not have Mohib to bounce off at home. He has been at it for much longer; being a man he gets a grip on things faster and has taught me so much about the business of acting.”
I ask her to name the thing she has learnt as her career matures. “You have to hold on to your original dream because it gets lost. If your aim is to be an actor or a performer and you accept challenges, come what may, you have to stay focused and not get distracted. If you do not have the privilege of just focusing on one thing, you can lose your dream. I get involved with the nitty-gritty of the role. For instance, the wardrobe person can’t be trusted completely to look after the 50 outfits for a serial so I have to look after that aspect myself because I want to enrich my role and project the right kind of image. Apart from that, I have become thick-skinned and now I can tell in a snap if a person is just talking or will actually walk his talk.”
As a brand ambassador, Aamina feels that the Always Karo Yaqeen programme fits someone like her like the proverbial glove. “I am not a feminist but I have been educated and brought up way different from 90 per cent of the women in my extended family in Gujranwala who discontinued studies either after Matriculation or Bachelors Part-I, and were married off at a very young age. I have strong connections with them and I know what difference education, attention from parents and certain sensitivities towards girls can make, so I feel that can embody the concept really well.”
Finally, on a script that has stayed with her, she says, “We’re expected to shoot around April and Mehreen (Jabbar) is directing it.” Aamina is working with Shaan in Operation 021, a thriller, which will release later in 2014. “It is a boy-action flick along the lines of Hollywood in terms of lighting, cinematography and concept. It is more of the new wave cinema in Pakistan, but not politically oriented although a lot more commercial than Josh and Lamha. But it’s definitely not independent alternate art cinema,” says Aamina, anxiously waiting for her next film to be released … and so are we.