On a sunny, mid-week Islamabad afternoon, actress Zara Noor Abbas Siddiqui, walks in fashionably late into the hotel lobby where she’s staying, and where we’re supposed to meet. All’s forgiven once she tells me how fatigued she is from a cinema visit the former evening followed by a recorded talk show shoot that went on till the wee hours of the night. She’s evidently on her last legs, yet the fact that her debut movie, Wajahat Rauf’s Chhalawa, has made its way to cinemas this Eidul Fitr has her more than ecstatic.
“This is the dream, right? Everybody wants to live it, but when you’re in it, you realise it doesn’t only demand time but also your sanity, your peace,” Zara starts off, speaking of the grueling promotional spree. “I’m not my own boss anymore. I have to go by my producer’s wishes. I was in Lahore and I barely got to meet my father, and that too after so many months! My niece dances to Chhalawa songs and the last time I met her, she was in my brother’s lap. I’ve missed out on so much considering the fact that family keeps you calm, It’s everything I’ve had to give up.”
Zara has had a meteoric rise to success over the last three years in the business, something not many can achieve in such a short a span of time. All four of her small screen offerings — albeit conventional she agrees — found their audiences, and she’s also set to feature in Asim Raza’s forthcoming romance, Parey Hut Love (PHL), alongside Maya Ali, Sheheryar Munawar and Ahmad Ali Butt.
Zara Noor Abbas is on a winning streak, evening when she’s accepting side roles in films rather than the lead roles she’s used to on television
Her transition to the silver screen has happened organically. The roles that she’s taken up don’t contribute much to the image she’s built for herself on TV as the likeable damsel in distress. Instead, she’s purposely broken away from the image and taken on an outspoken, feisty one, as Haya in Chhalawa, and a naive, quirky Shabo in PHL. Both, however, see her sharing space with her contemporary peers, something she says doesn’t make her insecure.
“I thought about it extensively. Chhalawa is a film about two girls. Of course, I know Mehwish Hayat has more scenes than I do, but I had first signed up Karachi Se Lahore 3 with Wajahat bhai and I’d committed to stand by him till the end,” Zara reflects back at her association with the director. “After Yasir (Hussain) left followed by Kubra (Khan) — even Farhan [Saeed] was supposed to be a part of Chhalawa — I was the only one there. The script changed and eventually it was a completely different movie. I was taken aback but what did I have to lose? It’s a big project and that, too, with Mehwish.
“Similarly, I know PHL is all about Maya, but it is Asim Raza and how can I let go of that?” she asks, a coy smile lighting up her face. “PHL is a film that has given me a family. Asim is someone who owns you like a child and he goes around speaking volumes about you. Just look at how he’s nurtured Mahira Khan, Adeel and Sheheryar [during Ho Mann Jahaan]. He’s been a mentor and so it’s so much more than just a role. It’s a life-changing experience. I know mera itna kaam nahin hai [I don’t have many scenes], but the love they give you overshadows it.”
What these two films have done to Zara is to stimulate indecision. Having walked a safer path with her previous outings, she’s now hoping to experiment. Only recently, Zara filmed a two-episode cameo appearance with her mum Asma Abbas and aunt Bushra Ansari for the upcoming period play, Deewar-i-Shab, essaying a courtesan. She speaks of how thrilling the experience was of stepping into completely alien territory, something she wants to continue doing though strategically, striking the right balance between meaningful dispositions and escapist fare.
“I’ve become scared in choosing scripts. The last two dramas I’ve done were merely work for me, I get bored very easily,” she maintains. “I signed a drama recently, but I soon realised that it wasn’t right for me and I called the producer and apologised. That’s what I did when I signed Lamhe, right after Khamoshi, doing the same ‘nice girl’ character, leaving Ranjha Ranjha Kardi, Mawra’s role in Aangan and Sunno Chanda.
“From now on, I do want to be more careful. When a script comes to me, I note if there’s another girl there besides me,” she continues. “Now, I can say I’ve given films and, honestly, I hadn’t expected this great a feedback either. Haya [Zara’s character in Chhalawa] has already received so much attention, and I know how much people are looking forward to PHL, so these haven’t been bad career decisions. I’ve done all lead roles on TV. So thankfully, I won’t have to do anything to break the reputation. But honestly, what’s a lead part? I’d rather come on the screen for five minutes and do something more impactful than the hero.”
At this point, her PR team politely interrupts, asking us to wind up the conversation so she can make it in time to catch her flight to Karachi. She’s pressed for time and apologises for the delay. After Eid, she’s aiming at going on the floors with her very own production, a web-series she’s helming with her husband Asad Siddiqui and mum. She’s also reading scripts and is possibly signing on another film this year. She’s aiming for the sky and beyond, quite literally, as she rushes to the airport.
Published in Dawn, ICON, June 9th, 2019