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‘We Are No More a Filmmaking Country’

Getting up close and personal with, Zhalay Sarhadi, actress with a heritage

Zhalay Sarhadi is a well-known name in the Pakistani drama and film industry. She has to her credit several hit serials like Uraan (2010), Madiha Maliha (2012), Aks (2012), Digest Writer (2014), and Rang Laaga (2015).

Starting her career as a television host in the matchmaking show Shadi Online, Zhalay rose to national fame which entices her to do more and she came into modelling and acting with full force.

Holder of a masters degree in Psychology, Zhalay keeps a solid stance on several political and social issues. She is the niece of television actor Khayyam Sarhadi and granddaughter of Zia Sarhadi, a prominent screenwriter and film director of Golden Age Of India.

The Truth International (TTI) talked to Zhalay about her recent work, future plans and her thoughts on many socio-political issues.

TTI: You work very little in dramas these days but your recently ended drama ‘Yaar Na Bichray’ was a sleeper hit. What did you find unique in that script?

ZS: It was a different script. Every character was diverse and well placed. I give this credit to my director Mohsin Talat and the whole production team of Momal Entertainment. My character, Fiza, was taken as a negative one, but it had many shades. She is a protagonist, antagonist, and victim at the same time. Most of all YNB had a very good response from the audience.

TTI: You belong to a family of filmmakers but seem very selective in doing films. Why?

ZS: At the moment, we are no more a filmmaking country. We have lost that trend. Our most successful film actress has only five to six films on her credit. Moreover, our writers don’t know how to write a film nor can our directors make it in a cinematic way.

A very few directors in Pakistan like Nadeem Baig and the duo of Nabeel Qureshi & Fizza Ali Meerza know how to create a proper film. If we get more of like them and our cinemas are reopened with more screens, there is a hope. So, let the operations resume, you will see me there as well. My first love is being on the big screen.

TTI: Does the new trend of web series on digital platforms provide one with working on a variety of issues?

ZS: Yes, It does. In television, we are bound and stick to limited topics. Moreover, because of TRPs, channels are repeating the same stories and characters. So things have become stagnant for an actor. The web series has not only increased the amount of content but also given a choice to explore a variety of issues and other new things with less restriction. There, actors, directors, writers and producers all have access to extend the margin. I firmly believe that the next thing is digital and we must work on that more seriously.

TTI: Do you think we would face some restrictions even in this open world of digital media?

ZS: Yes it is true that we would be more open in that medium but what do we mean by openness is yet to be decided. Some people think that liberty and boldness means women are drinking alcohol in short clothes but I think there are many other things which we can express on digital media. We can’t compare ourselves with India. That society has different thoughts and patterns.

TTI: Your looks and height are perfect for modelling. Why didn’t you continue that?

ZS: I have always loved acting but also do modelling in fashion shows and campaigns. I feel that modelling has an age limit whereas an actor is not restricted to any particular age.

TTI: Is age really a factor for a heroine of a film?

ZS: Not really. It is only in the subcontinent. Our content doesn’t support a female actor as heroine after crossing her 30s. Our heroine is someone who is singing and dancing around, or a college girl who is going to marry soon or a confined and dependent girl. These characters can only be in their teens or early 20s. So here comes the limitation of age. To me, the heroine is a central character of a film or a drama or a story. I think right now to get good characters is almost next to Impossible.

TTI: In Hollywood, Meryl Streep does a lead role at 62 and even gets an Oscar. So what do you think we should do to take out industry on that path?

ZS: I think we should write stories of every age bracket. We are just limited to the stories of young girls, who are mostly troubled by another girl and a young man comes to save the troubled one. Actually, male actors are just fillers in our dramas. We stick to this formula because it was a hit.

In the West, the canvas of stories is very vast. Their catharsis is a woman from every walk of life. They show a working woman and a mother as central characters. I am sure we would start doing the same. The current example is the web series, Churails, in which the leads were four different women of different ages with different stories. So we need to explore that a little more.

TTI: You belong to a family with a political thought. You also seem to inherit that trait on various occasions. Would you like to make a drama or series on any social or political issue?

ZS: Yes, why not. People generally think art is all about entertainment but to me, art is always thought provoking. Art, whether in the form of painting, a book, or any audio or visual piece, is always something, which incites you to actually think about life itself.

So whatever the topic is, political or social, as an artist it is our responsibility that instead of showing them what is good and bad tell them what is happening and let them think about how they reach to solve these issues by letting little changes in thought and actions. So raising questions is necessary.

I am not one of those who keep standing quietly on the side line to show myself as naive. God has given me a brain. I have my education behind whatever I do. So if I have an awareness of right or wrong, I would definitely talk about it.

TTI: Do you have any particular ideas for a film or series?

ZS: There are many. The list is endless. We just talked about ageism. We can work on that issue as well. In our society ageism is not only restricted to the entertainment industry. It is everywhere in every house. A girl when reach to the age of 25 is considered old if not being married. We all resonate with these issues but don’t talk about them.

TTI: What would Zhalay be doing in the next five years?

ZS: I have no idea. I don’t plan for the long term. I go with short term goals. My focus is always on whatever I am doing should give me inner satisfaction. I am a workaholic and love creating things. I might not be doing acting or singing, but whatever it would be, keeps me and people around me happy and content. So, I really don’t know where I will be in the next five years. Maybe I would still be acting!

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