In between characters that an actor portrays onscreen, there is always this one character that stands out amongst the rest. It may happen in the initial years of one’s career or it may take years before a character they play is powerful enough to leave a strong mark on viewers. Yumna Zaidi, one of the few talented and diverse young TV actors today, was fortunate to have landed the titular role in the critically and commercially acclaimed drama serial Dar Si Jati Hai Sila that concluded earlier this year. It not only resonated well with audiences but also allowed for a strong addition to her credentials as an actor.
An interior designer by qualification, Yumna started her acting journey in 2012 (while studying simultaneously) with drama serial Thakan, in which she essayed the role of a rebel. This was followed by more prominent and diverse roles - ranging from an extremely innocent girl to that of an evil character - in drama serials like Khushi Ek Roag, Mausam, Guzaarish, Zara Yaad Kar, Yeh Raha Dil and the ongoing Pukaar in which she plays the role of a young widow. Currently, she is gearing up for her next TV play, called Dil Kiya Karey that has been directed by Mehreen Jabbar.
Coming back to DSJHS, Yumna portrayed the nervous, frightened and meek Sila, and the project touched upon the issue of sexual harassment and sexual abuse within the confines of a household. Being constantly harassed by her uncle, Joyi Mama (essayed by Noman Ijaz), from a very young age, Sila loses all her confidence and comes across as a shy, young woman who is made fun of by everyone in the house.
"Dar Si Jati Hai Sila dealt with a very bold topic," Yumna Zaidi told Instep in an exclusive interview. "Being a woman, the youngest among my sisters and having nieces who are very young, I realize how difficult it is to talk about any form of harassment, whether it is emotional or physical. It is very easy to discuss something that has happened with someone else but when it comes to ourselves, it is tough to even admit it. So I wanted to do something that sheds light on an important issue and results in people speaking up on it instead of shying away from it."
With fewer dialogues and a tough subject at hand, Yumna pulled off her role effortlessly, making it believable from beginning till the end. Her transition from a shy girl to one who gathers the courage to speak up was commendable and brought a lot of praise her way.
Speaking of the feedback she received on Sila, the US-based actor said that it was phenomenal. "I’ve done various characters in my career so far but I’m very proud of this one!" she shared. "A lot of girls messaged me on social media, after watching the play, and shared what they went through. Initially I was wondering if I overplayed the character of Sila but when I listened to their stories, I realized I played it the right way."
While we were on the subject, I asked Yumna if she feels young girls and women should take a stand for themselves and speak up against such heinous acts.
"Of course!" she asserted. "First, I feel it is the responsibility of one’s caretakers, guardians and/or parents. Their relationship with their kids should be comfortable enough that they can talk to them about anything. If there is a distance between you and your child, they won’t be able to open up to anyone. If you see an unusual behavior coming from them, you should be able to notice that and inquire about it. And then those who go through it shouldn’t let anyone pollute their body or soul, no matter what. God has created you and you should take care of yourself so that when you get up in the morning and look in the mirror, you feel good about yourself. It is very important to defend yourself in order to become a complete human being and transfer the same to others. A girl is very strong, she isn’t weak at all. She goes through various physical and hormonal changes from a very young age and manages to deal with them. All she needs to do is to prioritize herself, love herself and take a stand for herself."
Yumna lives in America with her family and comes to Pakistan only for her acting projects. She takes up two projects per year and likes to spend the rest of her time with her family aside from a part time job of a radio jockey there. The actor was recently in Karachi for the shoot of her upcoming TV play, Dil Kiya Karey, that features and all-star cast including Feroze Khan, Mariyam Nafees, Sarmad Khoosat, Shamim Hilaly, Sonia Rehman, Abid Ali and Tanveer Jamal.
Refraining to reveal much about her character in DKK, Yumna just informed, "It’s a beautiful character," while, speaking of her director, she added, "Mehreen Jabbar is so humble, she is so good. It was a pleasure working with her. This year has been quite good for me as I got to work with all my favourite directors including Kashif Nisar (DSJHS), Farooq Rind (Pukaar) and Mehreen Jabbar (DKK)."
Produced under the banner of 7th Sky Entertainment, Dil Kiya Karey is expected to go on air later this year, after which Yumna will take a break of about six months before she begins working on another project. When asked if she would like to work in Pakistani films, she responded that she only wants to do something that she is proud of and she hasn’t come across any such film script yet. "Your work is registered on the big screen so I want to be very careful before I sign one," she maintained on a parting note.