Multi-faceted actor, musician and model, Ayesha Omar has had an extensive career spanning over almost two-decades. Having juggled various genres within the entertainment industry, she’s built a loyal fan base on the small-screen, primarily because of her hit sitcom, Bulbulay. Maintaining an extremely fashionable image, style being her veritable comfort zone, Ayesha branched out to the movies with the 2015 buddy-comedy, Karachi Se Lahore and then went on to play a leading part in the star-studded action-thriller, Yalghaar. After a brief sabbatical and endless travels that always take social media by storm, she is returning with one project after the other in 2020.
Ayesha’s latest outing, Kaaf Kangana, a cross-border romance produced in collaboration with the ISPR, penned and helmed by Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar, opened to mixed reviews critically and commercially. The film had undergone major cast switches during its production, with veteran actor Sami Khan and debutante Eshal Fayyaz eventually taking the lead. Ayesha, who plays a supporting role in the film found herself on the hotbed of criticism on the substance of her role in the overall narrative. Speaking with Instep exclusively from the sets of her next project, she spoke about what made her take on Kaaf Kangana.
“Judging from people who have watched it, I’ve heard the film isn’t as bad as people expected it to be. I liked my character when I was shooting it. I know I gave it my best shot,” Omar claimed as we spoke about the film’s lukewarm outrun. “It was the director’s vision and I am nobody to interfere in that; he envisioned his actors to voice their dialogues a certain way, which have also been written by him, so it is his journey. Khalil Sahab was very happy with it and that’s what he wanted it to be. Some people said it was very loud, some people said it was very old Lollywood or over-the-top, and I myself would rather have emotion be portrayed naturally, but I tried in creating a balance.”
However, what’s perhaps more problematic than the film’s treatment and has seemingly gotten greater press than its release has been Qamar’s recent remarks in several talk shows and interviews, which have been doing the rounds across social media. From mansplaining to stating that women should gang-rape men if they demand equality, members from within the fraternity, including the likes of Osman Khalid Butt, Meesha Shafi, Jami and Ushna Shah, called him out for misogyny and sexism.
Having worked with him recently, Omar too, disagreed with the writer-director’s comments and spoke of her own experience collaborating with him.
“I don’t agree with Khalil Sahab’s views about feminism, but that’s his personal opinion,” she maintained. “I have the kind of wavelength with him that I will argue this out with him when I sit down with him next. I will try and explain to him what feminism really is. When I was working with him, we never really spoke about any of this, we were busy working, but in my experience, he was always very respectful. Apart from the delays and the mismanagement issues of the film due to the cast and location changes, a lot of my days were wasted, but personally, he was very pleasant to collaborate with.
“I was committed to the film and when I was asked to do this character, I said yes out of respect even before reading the script. I trusted him. He told me it was a second lead, which it turned out not to be either, which of course I have issues with. I could’ve left the film when the cast changed completely from what I was told but I don’t like leaving people in a purge. I believe in karma a lot,” she noted. “If selfishly I would’ve walked away, it would’ve been wrong, ethically. I would now say people are actually right when they think selfishly, but I’m very superstitious too. I told myself that if I could help Khalil Sahab in whatever way I could, I would.”
For now, Omar has her plate full with an array of diverse acting assignments. She is anticipating three theatrical releases next year, one of which she is currently filming – an independent production of sorts, Dhai Chaal – featuring Shamoon Abbasi, Adnan Shah Tipu, Saleem Miraj and Rasheed Naz alongside her in pivotal parts. The film has only recently gone on floors in Quetta and tracks the foreign agencies working in Baluchistan as well as the sacrifices the inhabitants of the province have made to regain peace in their land.
“It’s essentially about the proxy war that’s going on there. The producer, Dr. Irfan Ashraf, is actually from Baluchistan and has been working in the media there for 15 years; he’s been involved in a lot of work about the region and is supported by the locals here who want their story to be told. The makers wanted somebody very confident to play this very character of an investigative journalist and I was quite honored to have been approached for it,” Ayesha shed light upon the film she’s currently filming at live locations.
Adding on what appealed to her most about her character, Omar continued, “She’s somebody who’s not biased; she’s fighting for the truth and is not afraid to speak her mind. Plus, we’re filming in an area completely new to us. I really wanted to come to Quetta and see the city for myself – you hear so much in the news and we’re always so apprehensive (to visit), but it’s a lovely place with great people.”
Another film that’s been in the making for over two-years now and has Omar as its female lead, Rehbra is finally slated to release next year, tentatively on Eid-ul-Fitr. The Amin Iqbal directorial co-stars Ahsan Khan and model-actress, Sarish Khan, who had made her debut with Syed Noor’s Chain Aye Na (2017). After many delays, the film’s final leg of shoot is set to begin in December and will immediately be followed by its post-production.
“It’s been a long journey,” Omar reflected on her affiliation with Rehbra. “It had a lot of glitches, a lot of shoot rescheduling since we had to shoot at all kinds of locations — in a train, in villages, since it’s a very extensive road-trip-romance with bits of thriller and adventure. The producers were also new, so they had some budgeting limitations in between, so they wanted to restart shooting in June, but Ahsan and I were both committed elsewhere. I’d taken a year off to travel, so I wasn’t back until October and now we’re set to go back on floors next month.”
And that’s still not all. She’s already shot for Kamran Shahid’s next, tentatively titled The Trial. Whilst new episodes for Bulbulay continue to be shot simultaneously, she’s also planning on making a comeback to music as well as TV serials. “I want to return to dramas now, so I’ll hopefully be doing at least two next year; it’s been enough,” she exclaimed, bursting into laughter.
One inquired what had kept her away from the small screen for over four-years now, beyond Bulbulay. According to her, the budding film business with the inevitable delays in shooting spells that follow had consumed most of her time and are to be blamed. Having gone from shooting one feature film to another, it had been nothing short of a Herculean task for Omar to consider projects beyond the ones she had committed to.
“For Yalghaar, Dr. Hassan Waqas Rana kept telling me that I shouldn’t do a drama for about two-years; he didn’t want me appearing on TV too much since it takes away the grandeur of a film-actor if you’re seen too much. So I missed out on a lot of great characters and projects, and that was very silly of me,” she took a trip down the memory lane. “And when the film did come out after many, many years, it wasn’t edited the way it was explained to us either. A lot of scenes were chopped off and a lot of time was wasted. Rehbra took about six-months too and I’d also shot for Kaaf Kangana, and Kamran Shahid’s film. I suffered and I do regret it. I wish I had been more strict with dealings,” she said in retrospection.
Alongside movies, music and television, Ayesha has also started her own YouTube channel, obviously zooming in on her online popularity. Her YT channel, with its 91K subscribers, gives her followers a deep insight into her life – fitness routines, makeup tutorials, behind-the-scenes, you name it – and looks to tap into the 2.9M fans she has on Instagram. That is huge following for an influencer in Pakistan. One wondered whether she sometimes felt that the words ‘social media sensation’ took away from her position and credibility as a serious actor?
“Having a YouTube channel takes a lot of time and energy; I direct and edit everything myself,” she said defensively, brushing off allegations that it was just image building without any hard work. “I look into every little picture, text that goes in. So it does takeaway from my downtime, and gives me a lot of stress and anxiety, but I enjoy it and so I don’t think it affects my credibility as an actor,” she clarified on whether she ever felt her online presence came at the cost of her craft. “For now, I’m glad I’ve been able to put together a team that I can delegate some stuff to as well.”
Amidst such an insane schedule, one can only wonder what makes an artiste going these days.
“I think just the fact that when you put in so much time and energy, you want to go through with it and you want your work to be seen,” the actor responded. “When it releases, nobody will know what the issues were behind the lens, what obstacles we had to face. They’re only concerned with what they get to watch — the final product. To me, the motivation to create a moment of fantasy for people is enough. Your own effort keeps you going I suppose,” she smiled, on a parting note.