For several years now, Sadaf Kanwal has been among the more bankable faces in the fashion world. With multiple ‘Best Model’ accolades to her names and a number of high profile campaigns, she made her way to the silver screen in 2017, with two diametrically opposite roles.
Kanwal starred as the happy-go-lucky Sharmeen (alongside Osman Khalid Butt and Ainy Jaffri) in Balu Mahi and also starred in the sequel of Na Maloom Afraad 2, albeit in a smaller and somewhat controversial role.
Through the course of this telephonic conversation, it is clear that though Kanwal continues to keep an eye on global fashion happenings, she sees acting as her true calling and plans to pursue it vehemently.
Her links to the world of fame go beyond these two films; her paternal grandmother, Salma Mumtaz was a film star in the sixties while her aunt Nida Mumtaz, recently featured in Mehrunisa V Lub U.
“Before last year, I honestly didn’t know if I could act for myself,” begins Kanwal. “You never really know what you’re capable of until it actually happens. I think I was blessed with great directors and co-actors. Even for my dance stint, it just happened. I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it, but I just learnt to become the character. I’m looking into a drama serial and a film. They’re being written at the moment, but hopefully, by this fall, I’ll be on-set for at least one of them.”
Of the two films Sadaf Kanwal has starred in so far, she came under fire for one of them, namely the sequel of Na Maloom Afraad 2. In the film she starred in the song, ‘Kaifo-o-Suroor’ and her sultry performance drew criticism from various quarters (including Hamza Ali Abbasi) who declared the fleeting trend of ‘item numbers’ as sexual objectification and derogatory to women.
For Sadaf, who admits that she comes from a supportive family, the decision to take up the performance was instinctive and ultimately a choice.
“There was a very thin line; it could’ve been cheap, but we didn’t cross it, which is why Nabeel (director) doesn’t call it an ‘item number’, it’s a song. Of course, there was apprehension and I might not have done it had actresses like Mehwish Hayat, Ayesha Omar or Zhalay Sarhadi not done it before me in the new wave of Pakistani cinema.
I have also learnt that item songs had been done in Pakistani films before I was even born so it shouldn’t be made into a big deal,” Kanwal tells Instep her take on the matter, adding: “I know my part didn’t look vulgar, the clothes looked nice too. At the end of the day, everything just fell into place I guess.”
Balu Mahi, in which Kanwal essayed the flirtatious Sharmeen, was executed well, according to the actress and she credits the film’s director, Haissam Hussain, for having faith in her ability to pull it off.
As for the decision to pursue acting full steam ahead, it has to do with the difference between the mediums of fashion and acting, says Kanwal.
“I think as an actor, you’re able to expose yourself fully. You can show what you have to offer and the talent you bring to the table. I think there’s a greater margin there. With modeling, you have to struggle a lot because you can’t speak nor can you express yourself. I think our entire fashion industry is very supportive to young girls, but there’s a specific life for modeling. Globally, models barely work for five years and they start in their late-teens. Here, there’s no time frame, it just never ends.”
Kanwal points to the difference between the global fashion and Pakistan’s fashion scene as an example. “Cara Delevingne barely models anymore; she’s progressed to films. I do enjoy modeling, but I’ve won all the awards and want to focus on acting. I’m 25 and I’ve only modeled for around six to seven years, and it feels like I’ve been around since forever and I should move on. But there’s no concept of that here. I think seasoned models themselves need to realize that time has passed. I don’t want people to talk behind my back about how long I’ve been here and how they’re bored of seeing me everywhere, it makes me feel very uncomfortable.”
Kanwal cites Priyanka Chopra as an example, who left the comfort zone of Bollywood to pursue a career in Hollywood. “My version of getting to Hollywood is to act, considering the kind of limitations one has to abide by being a Pakistani. We can’t get a visa to India and we can’t wear half the clothes also because we have that kind of curtailment.”
None of this means that Sadaf Kanwal is ready to say goodbye to modeling and the fashion scene. “Modeling is something I know,” she confesses. “I can pose blindfolded whereas taking up any acting assignments demands a lot of time and thought. I will model for the next three years, at least until I don’t win a ‘Best Actress’ (award).”