Hello! Exclusive: Sajal Ali Turns On The Lights From Within

Hello! Exclusive: Sajal Ali Turns On The Lights From Within
Electrifying screens with her sharp performances and svelte looks, Sajal Ali is a shrewd actor, and as Shakespeare said wisely in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; ‘And though she be but little, she is fierce.’ Sajal’s delicate beauty has the ultimate Eastern sensibility – the ideal choice for a heroine in a Pakistani drama serial; she can be a shy female lead, the simple, beautiful daughter-in-law, the very desi bride for an alpha Pakistani male.

However, there is more. Over the years, Sajal has surprised us with edgy, quirky work, and adept acting; she can definitely turn on the lights from within and charge up her feelings – so what if they are often melodramatic – they shine out wildly from her big doe eyes! While stereotypical roles

are the lot of every Pakistani television actor, Sajal’s oeuvre stands out for unique portrayals; a disjointed young woman from a broken home; an innocent woman raped at the cusp of her youth; a rebellious daughter, ready to give up her life for love – subjects of Shakespearian proportions; tragic, intense, unfulfilled. Her work is eclectic and we find repeatedly in her five-year career that her characters are definitely not just pigeonholed or

formulaic.

This petite actress has continually dipped into her acting reserves to beef up characters that exhibit strong sentiments – and they are not always romantic. Asim Raza’s 2013 telefilm Behadd, in which Sajal co-stars with Nadia Jamil and Fawad Khan – his last appearance on TV – a case in point.

The happy life of a single mother and her teenage daughter goes awry when a love interest enters the mother’s life and provokes a jealous daughter –

who doesn’t want to share her mother – to pull out all the stops on bad behaviour. Sajal is a winner at portraying the insecurities of a girl messed up beyond the ordinary in this production – and ironically in real life, this situation, though not entirely similar, is not very far from home.

During my conversation with the star, Sajal opened up about her home life, describing her parents split and the family’s subsequent move to Karachi with their mother as a deeply disturbing time in her life, full of financial and emotional insecurities and a difficult adjustment to life in Karachi, and living as house guests in her uncle’s house. ‘It is traumatic to have a family break up, and besides, I never really saw a good time in my father’s home – I have no expectations of him, yet we meet him politely, if we have to,’ she says quietly. A studious girl, Sajal juggled her quiet persona and penchant for acting in school, moving beyond the ordinary in debates and declamation contests, increasing her confidence to perform in front of an audience. This she recounts as her good memories of Lahore – and much of this she brought later on to television screens in multiple roles.

As a complete unknown in 2011, breaking into television was not an easy route – she began her career humbly: ‘I was invited to do an activity for a production house at a local mall; right from the get go I was told that my voice was too thin,’ but that did not deter her and she got her first break – a quirky role in a daily soap opera called ‘Mehmoodabad Ki Malkaein,’ playing a mohallah girl called Afreen. While the production was not top notch; the distinct social norms associated with this geographical area – one of the poorest areas in Karachi – are true to life and Sajal Ali tapped into

portraying this intelligently – she understands each role’s socioeconomic distinctions and has the ability to act across the broad canvas of the social ladder created in Pakistani drama serials, with ease. Strong roles appeal to Sajal and she is inspired by TV actors, Nadia Jamil and Sania Saeed, who have always outdone themselves in powerful female roles. ‘I’ve been lucky enough: I have had some wonderful characters presented to me literally on plate.’ In her recent 2016 play Gul-e-Rana opposite Feroze Khan, she displays a steely reserve and strong sense of self in the eponymous role, not allowing circumstances to browbeat her into submitting to societal norms and the unreasonable demands of a spoilt brat husband. As Mushk in the recently aired Mera Yaar Mila Dey with Faisal Qureshi and Ahmed Ali Akber she literally sizzles with rebellion as she takes a stand for the one she loves. Similarly in the 2015 serial Chup Raho her character Rameen oscillates between rage and self-pity, but eventually strength aids her recovery and the eventual exposé of the abuse afflicted on her by none other than the brother-inlaw. But Sajal has her favourite roles and these are sweet-tempered; allenduring; evoking strong desi values that favour submissive wives and quiet daughters-in-laws. Gohar-e- Nayab with Ahsan Khan as my co-lead is my favourite play. My own family tells me that I am very much like that girl in this serial,’ she admits shyly. But despite the overriding overtones of innocence and submissiveness, the heroine Gohar is a strong girl who does not let circumstances shatter her integrity.

‘Sannata is also one of my favourite projects,’ referring to the rather dark serial for which she got rave reviews – neither melodrama nor romance,

the story showcases the mentally unstable Pari and her cousin Rukkaiya, played by Saba Qamar. ‘I bring a lot of emotion to my roles,’ says Sajal. ‘It’s a lot of work, and frankly, acting is not just about the good life; or about fame and fortune – it’s about emotions that are inside of you and the energy and commitment required to work with them.’ Her views on her co-stars is also pragmatic: ‘If you’re into your character, you don’t have to be friendly and comfortable with your co-stars on a personal level – it’s better to be proficient, do your work and get it over with.’ She is also quite wary of limelight and publicity; ‘I run away from awards, I don’t believe in them,’ she says bluntly. And nor does she like to get into the nitty gritty of

industry rivalries and jealousies. ‘I enjoy my own company,’ repeating that she tends to keep to herself, despite the friendships she enjoys with industry peers. Sajal’s ability to emote with finesse caught the eyes of directors across the border and producers Boney Kapoor and Sri Devi asked her to join the cast of Mom, in which Sri Devi plays Sajal’s mother ; the requirements of the role in the industry grapevine were an actor who could turn on the waterworks. Sajal laughs about that now, but cannot divulge much more about her role till film promotions later this year. ‘I have always aspired for something challenging,’ she says. The film cast includes Akshaye Khanna, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, as well as Adnan Siddiqui from Pakistan. The film crew went all the way to Eastern Europe, beyond Tbilisi, Georgia to shoot some segments. ‘It really was quite a unique experience,’ she recounts. ‘All one got to eat was cheese and bread, which I couldn’t stomach daily; interestingly the Indians bring also sort of foods with them on their travels, from papar to achaar! ‘Since this was one of my first times abroad, my mother went with me to Georgia and would even cook for us. I really needed the emotional support, someone to fall back on during this new experience.’ This was an apt reminder that Sajal is only in her early twenties, and has been working hard for several years now – in fact, has supported her family as a key breadwinner for her mother and siblings. ‘Women in Pakistan need to get out of self-suppression and selfvictimisation,’ she says. ‘Only then can we raise a generation of strong individuals. Change starts from within you.’

The definitive 2016 moment for Sajal has been the release of her first film Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hai with Feroze Khan as the male lead –who at the time of her film promotions in September, Sajal called one of her best friends. She is not that generous about him now, in fact, he really didn’t feature in the conversation. ‘The experience was great, it wasn’t too different from the television screen,’ she tells us. ‘I just didn’t want to do something which was not like real life and it was a beautiful experience to play the mother of a child in this film,’ ZKHH may not have been a runway box-office hit, but as a first film for a young television actor, it was a good start. Despite her silver screen experiences, drama serials still continue to inspire Sajal and she has a huge fan base in Pakistan and the diaspora. Our television is our identity,’ she says simply, recounting the many fan moments in India when

she was recognised in public and appreciated for her work. Sajal’s aspirations are manifold now; films are on her mind and so is the desire to follow a natural progression; to move from in front of the camera to behind as a filmmaker. ‘I still haven’t completed my bachelor’s so I can’t really apply for a full-time programme, but filmmaking classes and courses would be useful,’ she says. She also shares, with much eagerness, her immense desire to

travel. ‘I haven’t even been to London,’ she says candidly, and New York is two oceans away…’

From ingénue to screen queen, Sajal Ali’s career trajectory has spanned dozens of television serials and her first two films. We look forward to what’s in store for this gamine beauty in 2017.

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