When it comes to versatility in acting, Zhalay Sarhadi’s name comes to mind instantly. The beautiful and talented actress is known for being particular in choosing roles - whether it is television dramas or films. Sarhadi is also known for her clear stance on certain issues which she often expresses on her social media platforms.
Starting her career with modelling, she also hosted the famous reality show ‘Shaadi Online’ on Geo TV. She impressed the viewers with her outstanding performances in a number of hit drama serials including ‘Uraan’ (2010), ‘Madiha Maliha’ (2012), ‘Aks’ (2012), ‘Digest Writer’ (2014), ‘Nazo’ (2015) and ‘Yaar Na Bichray’ (2021). She also did memorable roles in films like ‘Ramchand Pakistani’ (2008), ‘Jalaibee’ (2015), ‘Chalay Thay Saath’ (2017) and ‘Carma’ (2022)
You! Your recent film ‘Carma’ released after five years of your last film ‘Chalay Thay Saath’. Why such a long gap?
Zhalay Sarhadi: Actually, many things happened in between. I started working in two films but both were stopped in the middle because of some production issues. Let’s see when their shoots resume. I have even stopped doing television dramas for the time being as four of my projects are waiting to be aired.
You! You did a very unconventional role in ‘Carma’. What did you find unique in it?
ZS: We generally don’t write roles like Sasha for female actors in Pakistan. Portraying a criminal gang leader, who has a stash of warrior nature, was a challenge for me. I really enjoyed it and am happy that I got the chance to do that strong character. I wanted to do some physical stunts too but it was not scripted for the role.
You! Despite being a gangster movie, why the element of glamour was attached to the film?
ZS: In the beginning, I was against the inclusion of glamour but the story was inspired by the look and feel of Quentin Tarantino. His films are always very stylized. So it was a deliberate effort to add glam and style. Interestingly, every character has a different colour palette; one is blue, other is red while I am mostly crimson and black. I hope it resonated with the audience.
You! You belong to a film maker’s family. But why do you work less in films?
ZS: These days, films are being made on the pattern of television drama. As an actor I avoid doing the same roles in films which I do on TV. If I am working on a big screen then it should be larger than life. Moreover, I always try to make every new character different from what I have done before. My roles in films are different from each other and from my television roles. Even my roles in the films which are under production are very different from my television appearance.
You! We have also heard that you are very choosy in accepting television dramas scripts?
ZS: Yes. It is true. In recent years, I have refused more scripts than accepted them. I believe a time comes in artists’ careers when they feel that it is better for them to refuse instead of accepting run- of-the-mill roles. In the beginning, I had a thirst of being on screen as much as I could but at this stage of my career, my focus is more towards creating and experimenting with better and different content. Unfortunately, in our television if your specific character is hit, you are offered the same kind of roles in every other drama. I don’t want to be typecast. I want to do every type of character; action, drama, comedy. I have done it all and I am very proud of it.
You! Talking about typecast, it is seen that after a certain age, our female actors are only cast in certain kinds of roles. So what do you think is the reason and solution?
ZS: Actually we are in dearth of characters and the only way of getting out of this situation is exploring different ideas. We have kept ourselves limited to merely romantic stories where young girls and boys meet, separate and finally get married. In these stories and generally, marriages happen in a certain time frame, starting from 16 years to maximum 30 years. So a female actress who has crossed this age cannot be cast in lead roles. So, it is necessary that we start working on varied stories; otherwise we will remain stuck in that age bracket.
Moreover, I myself would not accept a role which is not according to my age. Like if I have reached a certain age and asked to do a role of a college girl, it would be impossible for me to do that character. That is why, after every 10 years or so, a new lot of young heroes and heroines come and the seniors, who used to be the leads, are cast as elder sisters, bhabi, aunts, and mothers. There is nothing wrong in doing those characters but unfortunately they all are just fillers in our productions. I would love to play a phuppo, who is versatile and has a substantial role in the story but can’t do this role just for the sake of it. I want to do roles in which I have more margin to show my acting skills.
You! Why you are so vocal on your social media about the issues which people generally avoid to reflect on?
ZS: As an artist, I feel more responsible to represent society. I believe if I am presenting something publicly without my own conviction, it would be less impactful. So, I try my best to speak or write courageously, if it is not hurting the sentiments of others. I am sure if I am throwing the first stone in water; its ripple effects would bring some change in society. Like what I said of ageism, it is not just my issue but the voice of a whole lot of female actors who have crossed their mid-thirties and forties and are not getting better opportunities of work. I think it is necessary to be a bit courageous and blunt for all of us.