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SPOTLIGHT: WAKING UP TO SANAM

Updated January 28, 2018

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Photo: Akef Ilyas
Photo: Akef Ilyas

Dressed in a tee and sweatpants, hair swept up in a casual top knot, Sanam Jung looks more like a college grad or the music VJ she used be instead of the dressed-to-kill morning show host that we have seen on TV since 2014. She has stepped into her home after doing the last episode of her Hum TV show Jago Pakistan Jago, before the programme undergoes a revamp.

She’s about to fly out soon for a little vacation with her family, but Sanam has managed to squeeze out some time for me, to chat about her professional and personal life.

Ironically, little do her fans know that Sanam is not a morning person. “I can easily sleep till two in the afternoon,” she tells me. “I would always be late for university and had a variety of excuses to offer. Given the chance, I could sleep for two days.”

She’s a celebrated morning show host who’s, ironically, not a morning person. Sanam Jung opens up to Icon about the effort that goes into the making of her show, the experience of becoming a mother and her obsession with her weight…

Don’t morning show hosts have an easy schedule, I ask? “That’s what people think,” Sanam says. “They think we work for just two hours, nau se gyara, khatam [9 to 11, that’s it!] My day starts at about 7am. I pack Alaya's [her infant daughter] things up, most of which I organise at night and drop her off to my mother-in-law’s place. I need an hour for make-up and to get dressed up and the show begins at nine. Luckily, our homes and the studio are nearby. After the show, we discuss the next day’s content, so I’m there till 2pm. It is the same as a 9-to-5 job, just that the day starts earlier. When I get home, things need to be done for Alaya, for the house and I have to organise stuff so I can sleep early. There is no flexibility because the show goes on air at nine every morning. Friday is my only breather because weekends are off.”

What about taking a day off? “I can do that and they can run a repeat show, but I have this work ethic thing, I like to deliver every day!” she says, wrinkling up her tiny nose. 

In fact, Sanam worked right through her pregnancy and didn’t take a single day off. “The day I delivered Alaya, I did a show,” she laughs as she recalls how her due date was still a week away but she felt uncomfortable all morning on the set. “I removed my heels to walk around in flip-flops while they kept a car ready,” she smiles, shaking her head.

For someone with a large fan following and a strong work ethic, Sanam says she has been brought up thinking modestly about herself. “I think I have no special talent. I am just a regular person. I honestly don’t understand how I have managed to do all the work that I have done. I didn’t realise that I have a fan club until I made an Instagram account.”

So what are the most essential qualities for being a morning show host? “You need to have the gift of the gab, be tolerant, have patience, love your audience and be positive every morning. After the show I spend time to talk to the audience who come to the show and I realise that those 10-15 minutes are so important to them,” she replies.

Sanam and her team plan the content of the show in advance. “We have weekly and monthly planners and we try to cater to all levels of audiences, mass and niche,” she says. “We include religious content, social issues and then balance it off with some fun stuff like make-up and brides for a given week. We want to make the viewers happy, but we also have to make money for the channel.

“It is sad though, that when we show weddings and make-up, people object that this is too frivolous,” she muses. “When we show serious stuff such as today’s show on sexual harassment, people flick over because it is too real. Kya dikhayein! [What should we show!],” she asks rhetorically. 

But one thing she’s clear about is that if she doesn’t agree with something, it cannot be part of the content. “It has to come from my heart,” she says. “I can’t do stuff that I don’t approve of. In my first year of hosting JPJ, I would resist wedding fare unless it was a real wedding. Dil se aana zaroori hai. [It has to come from the heart.] I can’t pretend to be crying at something, but if it is really making me bawl, it’ll happen on air. I am myself and this is who I am.”

People still remember Sanam as Sila of Dil-e-Muztar, which was her acting debut, and as Haya of Alvida — both being much-applauded drama serials. Does she plan to return to acting once she has lost more weight and her baby is older?“I was already hosting JPJ when I did Alvida,” she remembers. “Then I got busy getting married and the baby came along. My husband and in-laws have been extremely supportive so far but I’m not sure how they would feel about an acting comeback. It is all about how much time I am spending away from family,” she adds, sounding a tad uncertain.

Sanam does watch other morning shows to see who is doing what. “There is a lot of competition and everybody gives their 100 percent,” she says. “When Shaista [Lodhi] returned to do morning shows, initially our ratings dropped but that was just for a while.”

Over the years, she has made friends with some of her competition. “After my baby, when I was getting jitters about restarting the show, Nida Yasir gave me a lot of advice about balancing work and life with a baby while Juggan [Kazim] would inbox me motivating messages about not obsessing over my weight gain.”

When Sanam resumed JPJ after she had her baby, she was 78kg and apparently her weight gain was all over social media. “It seemed to have become a national issue on social media,” she says. “People commented viciously about my weight and bloggers insensitively reposted the same pictures and comments. So now people who hadn’t read those comments could read them as bloggers were writing about them,” she says.

She happily discusses how “the most beautiful nine months” of her life were responsible for the extra kilos. “I enjoyed my pregnancy. I was eating healthy and unhealthy. I used to have sooji  [semolina] and other stuff that puts weight on.”

When it started to bother her, she began working out three to four hours a day and shared her feelings with her husband. “He was very supportive and motivating and would tell me that ‘you are real woman and the weight will go in time, it can’t happen overnight, you are fine.’ He got me a treadmill and said run, do whatever but just run! And I did. I used to run two hours at a stretch,” says Sanam.

People still remember Sanam as Sila of Dil-e-Muztar, which was her acting debut, and as Haya of Alvida — both being much-applauded drama serials. Does she plan to return to acting once she has lost more weight and her baby is older?

“I was already hosting JPJ when I did Alvida,” she remembers. “Then I got busy getting married and the baby came along. My husband and in-laws have been extremely supportive so far but I’m not sure how they would feel about an acting comeback. It is all about how much time I am spending away from family,” she adds, sounding a tad uncertain.

She is, however, happy to chat about her acting days. “I am choosy about working with educated, decent people whom I am comfortable working with. I did four plays, all of which were Momina Duraid productions. I was nervous as hell and the director very smartly began the serial from the part where my character was nervous about her situation in life. I would forget my lines. I used to do so many retakes, it is not even funny. I had problems reading the Urdu script in a flow and Sarwat Gilani, Imran Abbas, Adnan Siddiqui, everyone would help me. Adnan Siddiqui is a fabulous actor and speaks in such a flow. Now I’m better at it. But I would still read the entire script before accepting the role and would also be involved in editing parts that I didn’t like. I remember that my mum wanted to know what time the play would run on TV and I had told her not to tell her friends and I would pray no one would recognise me,” she adds laughing.

Recently Sanam invited Imran Abbas on her show which brought back memories of the times they had acted together and were considered a hit pair. “I asked them to put promos on screen for recall of our plays that we did together,” she recalls fondly. “He is a very dear friend and I played the lead opposite him in my first play Dil-e-Muztar. For one scene, Imran and I had to be on a motorbike. Now Imran couldn’t ride a bike, so I refused to sit with him. When he tried to practice, he couldn’t find the brakes and hit a closed gate and. Later, the scene was shot with the stationary bike on a moving ramp that was towed by a car and we just sat on the bike pretending that it was moving on the road,” she says laughing and gesturing animatedly. You can tell that the acting bug has not disappeared from within her.

A year after the birth of her daughter, however, she is still chasing her ideal weight. “I was 84.5 kg and since then I have lost 17.5 kg. I work out daily with Shoaib Khan, my amazing trainer,” she says pointing towards her punching bag. “The nutritionist allows me tiny portions of fish, chicken, beef and roti the size of my palm but I’m not on a crash diet. I will do an entire show on my weight loss when I have achieved my target weight,” she says resolutely.

Published in Dawn, ICON, January 28th, 2018