Resham hasn’t been seen on the screen for a while. Her last acting tryst ended a year ago, enacting a serpentine charmer in a drama called Nagin. And yet, the actress’ social media presence has ensured that she remains very visible.

Her followers are treated to almost daily doses of snippets from her life. She sings while in her car, hosts karaoke nights in her home, video calls her friends during the coronavirus lockdown, and cooks extensive dinners all on her own. She’ll zoom her camera to give you a close-up of a steaming mutton karahi before swinging it back to herself, stirring the wok, her eyes twinkling, her luscious familiar mane of hair let loose around her shoulders.

Even in this reality TV-esque take on her life, Resham is playing a part: of a veteran actress, a woman who is happy with where she is now, surrounded by friends, living every day to the hilt.

“This doesn’t mean that I don’t get distressed,” Resham tells me, “but I smile, just to fool people and maybe, just to fool myself a little too. I can’t say that I’m an extremely happy person because, to be that way, I would have to be completely insensitive to all the pain around me. I wouldn’t want to be like that.”

Yesteryear film star Resham is a changed woman, content in her own world of a belief in destiny and spirituality, close friendships and the importance of cooking for and feeding the hungry

Such poignant declarations, which often flit towards theology, form the crux of my conversation with the Lollywood siren of yore. Her speech is often reminiscent of a film script, laden with meaning, delivered to me with an intense gaze or a wistful smile. Even with her hair tied back, in a simple cotton suit, Resham is the quintessential heroine.

She is having a late breakfast when I arrive at her home, making out time for me even while she prepares for a hectic next few days. Resham is in the midst of planning out a langar, a free meal that is distributed amongst the needy. This is a regular event in her home: she cooks the food herself, in large urns that are set up in her garden. “I get so much satisfaction from cooking for the people who I know don’t have much to eat,” she says. “I want to go and cook at holy places, and give to the poor there as well. It is my dream to do so.”

Chasing new dreams

Resham is all about spirituality, as I soon discover. “The coronavirus pandemic has taught us a lot. Material things don’t seem very important anymore. So many people didn’t earn anything for months and were left starving, while there are others who have enough money to be able to easily help others. This virus, that took the entire world in its grip, has been God’s way of testing us,” she declares, “those of us who had to endure financial strains, as well as the people who were easily able to survive. In my own capacity, I count myself lucky because God has given me so much: a home, cars, the most beautiful clothes. It’s my dream to help others however I can.”

I ask her if another dream of hers was realised recently, when it was announced that she was going to be awarded the Pride of Performance trophy next year. Resham smiles. “I am very happy and perhaps, more than me, my friends are excited. It also feels a bit bittersweet. I was often nominated for the Lux Style Awards (LSAs) and I would be invited to the ceremony, but I never won an award. There was a year when I had been nominated for my role in the TV drama Munn-o-Salwa. I had worked very hard and it had been one of Hum TV’s very first hits. But I didn’t win. Now, the LSAs seem so nominal compared to a Pride of Performance award.”

Had she known beforehand that she was going to be selected for the award? “I got a call from PTV some two-and-a-half months ago, asking for a copy of my ID card. They told me that they were sending in my name as a nomination for the Pride of Performance category. I said that they didn’t need to give me an award. The coronavirus pandemic had just begun its course through the country at the time, and it felt as if nothing mattered. Then, on August 13, my friend Ali Zafar called me and told me that he had just received a list that stated that I will be getting the Pride of Performance award. It is a huge honour to be recognised on the same platform as other living legends, such as Bushra Ansari.”

Is she already making plans for the day when she will be getting the trophy: what she’ll wear, how she’ll be celebrating? “I’ll just wear clothes by a designer, perhaps Umar Sayeed, Faraz Manan or Mohsin Naveed Ranjha,” she ticks off the names of some of Pakistan’s favourite ateliers. “And I’ll celebrate by planning out a langar again. Why feed the people who have enough in their homes? Why not feed those who have nothing at all?”

My father died before I was born and then, my mother died when I was seven. I was raised with a lot of hardship by my elder sister. It’s made me very aware of life’s realities. I did some very good work in cinema but, then, I felt that I was getting wasted there. Favouritism was rampant in Lollywood. A director who married an actress would give her all the choice roles. I realised this and opted out, turning towards TV once again.”

A friend in need...

But while Resham’s life now may be driven by her philanthropic goals, her house is also frequented by the country’s most famous. Visitors to Lahore swing by her home for dinner and she’s extremely popular amongst Lahore’s fashion and entertainment fraternity. I have often heard her friends say that Resham’s prayers always get answered. Evidently, she is someone that people rely on. “I pray with all my soul and why wouldn’t God answer my prayers, then?” she accepts.

“I also love having guests over. I don’t harbour any jealousy towards anyone. I truly believe that I will get what is meant for me. I think it’s one of the reasons why everyone feels comfortable coming to my home.”

Was she always so apolitical, even when she made her acting debut on TV at merely the age of 16 or later in the 1990s, when she was ruling local cinema? “Yes, I have always been very satisfied with whatever has come my way,” she says. “My father died before I was born and then, my mother died when I was seven. I was raised with a lot of hardship by my elder sister. It’s made me very aware of life’s realities. I did some very good work in cinema but, then, I felt that I was getting wasted there. Favouritism was rampant in Lollywood. A director who married an actress would give her all the choice roles. I realised this and opted out, turning towards TV once again. I had started out my career with TV anyway, so it wasn’t hard. The screen is never big or small, it’s the performance which can be big or small.”

This prompts me to ask Resham: why hasn’t she taken on any acting roles recently? “I do get offered roles frequently, but I will only sign on to a project if I feel that it gives me the right mileage. I have worked very hard to prove my mettle and I deserve to be part of the project’s promotional clips and poster. Otherwise, I’m not interested,” she states.

But still, even a less significant role can help by generating income. “I manage events and I work on Instagram collaborations. That brings in revenue anyway,” she says. What about more revenue, I persist. “I don’t need more revenue. I need to eat roti, not currency notes!” comes the standard Resham reply.

She was recently in the news for openly discussing two men via social media: she was one of the very first people to support Ali Zafar when he was accused of sexual harassment by Meesha Shafi, and she criticised scriptwriter Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar severely when he ridiculed women in general, and women in show business in particular.

“There are times when I feel the need to speak out and support what I think is true,” says Resham. “I have known Ali Zafar for over two decades now. I also know his wife. At the same time, I have great respect for Meesha Shafi’s mother Saba Hamid, and I attended Meesha’s wedding. I just felt that over all these years, I had never seen Ali misbehaving towards women. He has worked in India and there was never any scandal about him even over there. I couldn’t accept that the allegations against him were true, which is why I spoke out in his support, at a time when all his friends were quiet and people were afraid to stand by him. Even Ali was surprised. He told me that no one else had spoken on his behalf because they were all too scared. But I have never feared anyone except God.

“As for Khalil sahab, he ridicules women in show business but also works with them, and earns through the work that they do. I still have a lot of appreciation for his work, but this is a man who does not respect any woman at all. The last straw for me was when he went to an event and made a crass comment that my sister and I had come to apologise to him. Why would we apologise to him? I didn’t give him the satisfaction of replying. I have left him and his antics to God.”

You’re very emotional, I observe to her. “Yes, I am,” says Resham. “I get upset and I react.

“I’m extremely emotional about my country,” she adds, recounting a time when she asked Shazia Mansoor to write a song for the soldiers of Kargil. “I invested my own money into the making of the video and wore a uniform in it. It was something I wanted to do for Pakistan. I have even been to Siachen.”

I manage events and I work on Instagram collaborations. I don’t need more revenue. I need to eat roti, not currency notes!”

She says that her patriotism was one of the reasons why she never tried pursuing a career in Bollywood. “I did get an offer but I didn’t feel the inclination.”

Turning back the clock

We rewind back to her fledgling years in show business. Resham recalls her time with one of Pakistani fashion’s earliest magazine editors. “One woman that I learned a lot from was Fifi Haroon. She had just launched her magazine Xtra and I was very, very new. She would call me to Karachi and Tapu Javeri would photograph me. I was featured on two of the magazine’s covers.”

There was also a time when there were rumours that she was about to marry. Will she ever get married? “Yes, next year probably,” she says matter-of-factly. “It may not be an extravagant wedding but I do now feel the need for someone whom I can trust and rely on when I get tired.”

Resham doesn’t look tired, it has to be said. At one point during our conversation, she opens up her hair and it cascades down her shoulders in mahogany ripples. I’m immediately thrown back to the Lollywood heroine who always looked elegant. Her face devoid of make-up and cosmetic surgery, Resham still stands out.

There’s also an air of confidence about her: she doesn’t feel the need to always be in the news, or sign on to work that doesn’t give her due credit. She is happy in her own world, believing strongly in destiny, surrounded by friends and family. The Resham of some decades ago worked in multiple films every year — the woman I meet today is blissful knowing that she’ll be presiding over a gigantic daig the next day, braving the heat of Lahore, cooking food that will then by distributed amongst the needy. And then, the very next day, she’ll be spotted at the most exclusive society soirée. Her feet grounded in reality, Resham is still flying high. A Pride of Performance award awaits her early next year. Life is good.

Published in Dawn, ICON, September 6th, 2020