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Saima Azhar: “I have presence, people see me!”

Updated December 14, 2014


Photography: Umair Bin Nisar
Hair & make-up: Saba Ansari @ Sabs Salon
Designer: Mifrah
Photography: Umair Bin Nisar Hair & make-up: Saba Ansari @ Sabs Salon Designer: Mifrah

She is ambitious, has her head firmly on her shoulders and knows what she wants — the prime requisites for success.

After her debut in fashion just a few years ago, Saima Azhar says she has learnt to play her cards really well and her formula for combating cut-throat competition remains clear and simple: “Negative and positive vibes are present in every work environment, what is important is how you deal with it. I keep a healthy environment by not allowing bad feelings to develop. Only the fittest survive in this profession so mentally and physically you have to remain strong.”

“Hard work never hurt anybody and is the key to success,” says Saima. “PR helps, looks can be improved by botox and make-up, but the main thing is how to take the pressure. I don’t rely on artificial things to help me through, I rely on my strength, thinking and my true nature.”

Power, she emphasises, comes with money and if one is a beginner it is wits that count. “I’m a sensible person who can judge the true nature of a person. I’m really quite smart that way and I also plan ahead,” she adds.

So it all comes as a shocker when Saima says she had never planned on becoming a fashion model.

In 2011, a friend sent her photos to Frieha Altaf for a contest without her knowledge. Saima was selected and was declared the most photogenic.

“That was my first contact with the fashion world. I was told to lose weight to look like a model. My first bridal shoot was done by Saba Ansari of Sabs Salon who saw me at the Veet Miss Supermodel contest and said she wanted to do a shoot with me. I was paired with Aaminah Shaikh.”

It’s not enough that she is now a bona fide celebrity, her obsessions include achieving goals and realising her dreams

The shoot opened doors for her and modeling assignments followed. “I have presence and people see me. I also love my work and I’m crazy and passionate about it. My MSc degree in Physiology from Karachi University is presently on hold as I’m totally into modeling and serials right now, and have also signed on for Gidh with Shaan and Shamoon Abbasi. The cast also includes Sara Loren and work starts in November.”

Rivalry and chivalry

Saima concedes that there are a lot of rivalries and senior models get jealous of newcomers who make it big. “When I become a senior model I will pamper my juniors. You have to give space so that others get a chance and that’s how the industry grows. The main problem is that showstopper models don’t allow others to come up easily or quickly. But how long can you really stop it from happening,” the budding model questions, cocking her head to one side meaningfully.

The fashion industry, she says, is divided into many lobbies and Saima has taken a calculated step, preferring to work with everyone. “I can go to any salon without being pressurised or brainwashed against the other. I was in a lobby in the beginning but I got out of it soon enough.

"It is a cut-throat place where a new model will not get any money because the coordinators make sure they get all the money from the designer, from the shoots and salons. So a model struggles in the beginning to get recognised. That is unless you are sought after right from the beginning, which happens rarely and most girls get desperate for fame and are ready to do anything.”

Growth of the industry

The fashion industry, she says, is growing but not at a pace that is encouraging. There should be public awareness that the industry is not as bad as it is portrayed but it definitely needs to get out of grouping which is unhealthy and hinders growth.

The designers also play an important role as creativity gets attention internationally. “We are far ahead in fashion designing compared to India as we have more creative sense and are coming out with new things. We have wearable clothes in prêt which are seasonal.

"I love Sania Maskatiya’s prêt and semi-formals, Deepak Perwani for his bridals, gowns and sherwanis. I also like Fahad Hussain for his draping style and Neelofar Shahid for her formal bridal clothes; Umar Saeed’s embroidery and meena kari; Nida Azwer’s formal, bridal clothing and rich colours, and Iman Ahmed Body Focus’ clothes which are creatively designed.”

A tale of two careers

Tackling two demanding careers — drama serials and the fashion runway — is not easy and Saima says she has had to make sacrifices such as declining lawn campaigns, fashion covers and a bridal couture week to accomodate a TV serial.

“I plan to leave the catwalk totally after a few years and get into acting as there is more fame in it. I want to expand my career through expressions, it is more enriching.”

She says one particular serial for ARY Digital, Meray Khwab Lauta Do, with Aijazz Aslam was an experience she absolutely loved.

“You get groomed through acting as there is teamwork and working with seniors who have families, whereas modeling makes a person ruthless and self-centered in a struggle to be at the top, and is limited in scope as well. People have noticed me in this serial and now I would love to do play the role of a print journalist."

Friends, fitness and staying focused

Saima has high regards for some professionals in the fashion industry, “One such person is Umer Mushtaq as he gets people who don’t like each other to work together. Then there are also Nabila and Saba who are friendly and helpful and my colleagues — but at the end of the day I’m here to work and not to make friends.

“We have good models such as Iraj, Nadia Hussain, Vinnie and Faiza Ansari, and I have learnt a lot from them as they have personally helped me in my grooming. We do have recognition in India and Dubai, but that’s as far as it goes. We can’t compete with the international models due to our culture and setup. Perhaps in a few years when we are less inhibited.”

Saima won the Lux Style Award in 2013 for Best Emerging Talent, and got the Most Promising Model of the Year title at the Veet contest in 2013, was nominated for Best Model of the Year at the Pakistan Media Awards in 2013 but lost to Ayyan.

“I am not looking for any awards in modeling anymore. I want to earn money and also get good work and have now set my eyes on getting awards for my acting assignments. I have to prove my worth here.”

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, December 14th, 2014