Photography & styling: Shahbaz Shazi | Hair & make-up: Aali Khan | Coordination: Umer Mushtaq | Special thanks to Mindmap Comm
Photography & styling: Shahbaz Shazi | Hair & make-up: Aali Khan | Coordination: Umer Mushtaq | Special thanks to Mindmap Comm

She’s a style icon.

It’s the most ubiquitous description for Kiran Malik. And a scan of her career attests to its absolute truth. From the red carpet to fashion shows to awards events to ‘it’ soirees, Kiran — with her feline grace, gorgeous bronze skin, svelte figure and long, long legs — knows precisely how to rock a risqué gown, a shalwar kameez or even a gharara.

Far from the madding crowd of stars and starlets making a beeline for terrible blingy concoctions, Kiran is in a league of her own.

But she doesn’t want to be defined just as stylish. We talk shortly after she has won the accolade for Most Stylish Actress in the Film category at the recent Hum Style Awards (HSAs) and she tells me, “Of course I like it when people describe me as stylish, and I truly enjoy fashion. But beyond modelling, I have more to offer.

“I opted to host the HSAs this year because it gave me the chance to work with one of Pakistan’s top TV networks and, besides, it was something that I had never done before. I wanted to see how I would fare.

Kiran Malik has acted in three films and a television serial that made her instantly recognisable. She also recently hosted an awards ceremony. So why is she pegged mainly as a fashion icon? And why does she want to break out of that box?

“I have also slowly been building my acting career, waiting for the right kind of scripts to come my way. I am intent on proving people wrong who feel that, while I look great, I can’t act.”

Are they still saying that though, Kiran, I ask her.

“Not really,” she concedes. “It’s been quite a learning experience. I have acted in three films, but people didn’t register them as quickly as the one drama that I worked in, Jaisay Aap Ki Marzi [JAKM].

“My movies Pinky Memsaab, Zarrar and Money Back Guarantee may have had their audiences but, in Pakistan, films don’t make you popular with the masses. If you truly want to be recognised for your work here, you have to act on TV. Look at the career graph of Pakistan’s top tier of actors and you’ll see that they all owe their success to TV.”

She adds, “I have also been lucky. I wasn’t the first choice for the character of Natasha in Jaisay Aap Ki Marzi. Mira Sethi recommended me to Nadeem Baig, who produced the drama under the Six Sigma Plus banner. He narrated the story to me and told me that the drama was very close to his heart. Saba Hamid was directing. I just felt that I was in good hands.

“I remember that, perhaps, three episodes of the drama had aired when I went for Umrah. Everywhere I would go, people would stop me and want to discuss Natasha with me. This is the power of TV in Pakistan.”

She did enact Natasha — the hero’s modern-day, career-oriented, interfering villain of a sister — very well. Considering the TV industry’s general lack of imagination, did she start getting offered more similar roles once JAKM had wrapped up? “Yes, I did,” she says. “But I didn’t want to play the modern evil girl again and again.”

But by refraining from a script-signing spree, Kiran diminished her visibility on TV. JAKM ended in December last year and she is yet to be seen in another role. “Yes, because I only want to be visible in the right kind of roles. Fame is fickle. You get an award and people forget about it in two weeks.

“I acted in a drama with actors Adnan Siddiqui and Sonya Hussyn, which didn’t surface. My role in [JAKM] wasn’t initially offered to me but it was ultimately destined for me. I am willing to wait it out for a year, as long as I get to do the work I want to do.”

I observe that perhaps less roles may come her way because she is based in Dubai. Should she be living in Karachi, the epicentre of Pakistan’s TV industry, maybe the roles she likes may come her way more quickly.

“Yes,” she concurs, “but I wouldn’t ever consider moving out of Dubai. It’s the safest place on earth and so conveniently located. I am not worried if my daughter’s coming home late in a taxi. I can wear whatever I like and go wherever I want, whenever I want.

“Workwise, I am able to manage my schedule, because I am very organised. Dubai is so centrally located that I can travel to different parts of the world from there easily. A lot of the fashion campaigns and style-spotting shoots for social media that I work on are shot in Dubai. They actually pay very well — much more than acting. On the other hand, acting has also inadvertently boosted my career as a model. After [JAKM], more campaigns have come my way and the pay has gone up!”

Nevertheless, I insist, perhaps Kiran is more willing to wait for the right roles because she has a corporate career to rely on? “Of course,” she agrees, “and I don’t deny that I rely primarily on my corporate career for paying my bills. But in these times, every little bit matters.”

This turn to our conversation prompts me to ask a question that I have often mused upon while scrolling down Kiran’s social media feed, noting the Dior gowns and Chanel handbags gelling effortlessly into Dubai’s blingy high life: being fashionable must be an expensive preoccupation?

“It shouldn’t always be expensive,” she says, adding, “I started from nowhere and slowly, I have earned enough to be able to buy what I like. I don’t follow short-lived trends and I take care of everything that I buy. All the shoes I buy are stacked carefully in their boxes. The shoes I paired with a gown by Faraz Manan at the HSAs were Louboutins bought nine years ago!”

Aside from the expenditure, there are other pitfalls to being perceived as ‘fashionable’, particularly if you’re trying to become more popular with the Pakistani masses. Kiran is one amongst very few Pakistani actresses to have the chutzpah and flair to carry off a slinky gown with a thigh-high slit effortlessly, but the masses connect far more easily to the ‘good bahu’ in the flowing shalwar kameez. Has she ever considered revamping her image on social media in order to ingratiate herself more easily with the desi audience?

“No, I can’t change myself,” she says firmly. “I know that a lot of people perceive me to be different. Only recently, when I was sitting with the scriptwriter for the HSA awards ceremony, she told me that she had thought that I only knew how to speak English. I replied that I was very much from Pakistan — I can speak English, Urdu and Punjabi and I read and write Urdu very well!

“I just don’t believe in broadcasting my personal life, just so people feel that they can understand me better. I have never posted pictures of my daughter on my official Instagram account, because I don’t think it’s necessary.”

She continues: “I am surprised when I find out that people think I have this high-flying life. There was this Eid picture of me, wearing a gharara, in a beautiful setting. I actually got that picture taken in a restaurant close to my apartment. My niece took the picture with my brother’s camera. I was hosting an Eid dinner that day for 25 people and I had been cooking haleem. I had put the haleem on a low simmer while I went out to get the picture taken!” she laughs.

“I cook, I clean, just like everyone else. And essentially, at the end of the day, I am a driver, picking and dropping my daughter and figuring out my own work schedule. But why should I put all of this out on social media just so people can accept me?”

She adds, “But yes, if you’re building an acting career in Pakistan, you might not get offered many roles, because people find you to be a bit modern and, therefore, different. Also, your options get limited if you are slightly dark and above the age of 30. I have always owned my complexion and my age, and I can’t do much about people’s perceptions!

“I do try to do the right thing. I was offered two ads for glow creams that would have put me on billboards all across the country and were paying really well, but I refused them. I can’t do something that doesn’t agree with my values. I have to teach something to my daughter too!”

Did she always want to act?

“It was something that I decided to try out,” she says. “I was initially part of a few cellphone ads and I really enjoyed myself. I started telling people that, if they were ever on the lookout for a new actress, I’d like to try out for the role.

“I never thought that I’d be part of a major film and I am thankful to film star Shaan for all the acting classes he gave me. He told me that the moment I walked in, he knew that I could act and he signed me on as the female lead for his movie Zarrar. He sat with me a few times, helped me out with the script reading. The role that I play in the movie — of a fearless, independent journalist — is one of my favourites.”

Does she feel that having contacts in Pakistan’s entertainment industry has helped her further her career? “Of course it has,” she says. “I got to meet Shaan because he was sitting with a friend of mine. But I still had to prove myself. I could sense that people felt that, so what if I was pretty — could I act?”

Did she face similar scepticism when she was nominated in the Most Stylish Film Actress category at the HSAs, alongside some major industry heavyweights, and ended up winning? “Yes, but what can I do about people’s doubts? I didn’t know till the last minute that I would be receiving the award, but these were fashion awards after all.

“And everyone does associate me with fashion.”

Yes, they certainly do. Kiran’s proved that she can act and it’s wonderful how she’s intent on exploring uncharted territory, dabbling with hosting and waiting for new roles. But irrespective of whatever she does, she is — for better or for worse — stuck with the ‘style icon’ tag.

Is she fashionable? Heck, she is fashion.

Published in Dawn, ICON, May 26th, 2024



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