From the challenges of lockdown, to positive, healthy thinking, H! Pakistan sat down with Ushna Shah to hash out some of the most important topics on our mind today. Boldly open-minded, an animal rights activist, a refreshingly candid personality, Ushna Shah represents Pakistani females with panache as she also shares her personal goals and passions in this interview.

Ushna, you’re in the midst of a successful career on television, you’re a candid and rational supporter of human and animal rights — do you have a list of goals that you want to achieve in the next two years?

This topic is very close to my heart so this question has opened the floodgates. I may be idealistic, but my goal is not just awareness-raising, but to make substantial changes in Pakistan for animal rights, however, that cannot be achieved without the help of the government. I have a long list of suggestions:

We need to criminalise animal abuse with punishments and penalties; educate the population on animal rights and promote humane treatment of animals; aim to lawfully ban the use of domestic animals for cargo; begin a nationwide spay/neuter campaign to control the population of stray dogs and cats and to eradicate the cruel practice of culling. The government should criminalise the import of exotic animals such as lions, tigers, bears, macaws etc that are unnaturally caged in farmhouses and homes. Zoos should be shut-down and sanctuaries that create the natural habitat of the animal should be made. We also need laws for the humane treatment of livestock and animals used for food. A strict protocol for the humane sacrifice of sacrificial animals needs to be followed. Finally, the most important goal is to instill kindness in the next generation. Developing empathy towards animals should be part of school syllabi.

How do you think the Covid-19 pandemic has realigned our thinking patterns and ambitions? How has it affected you?

For people who are ambitious, being stuck and unable to progress with one’s goals can be very disheartening. I definitely faced this a few months into the pandemic and made a conscious effort to adhere to a routine and continuously motivate myself. I’ve tried to balance my thoughts between the slight pain of a year wasted and the assurance that this year has been somewhat written off by the rest of the world as well. There is solace in suffering collectively.

In what way have you seen Pakistan’s entertainment industry be impacted by this existing state of affairs? Do you have any advice for your peers and bosses on how to handle the ‘new normal’?

I’d ask them to adhere to SOPs as much as possible. I’ve seen a few production houses be careful but many are not taking the pandemic seriously. Ours is not a work-from-home type of industry, actors especially have to be in close proximity with each other, hence it is imperative that the rest of the set keep a distance, wear masks, sanitise themselves and the set regularly and actors be given ample space during their rest period as opposed to cramped makeup rooms.

What suggestions do you have for Pakistan’s public on following SOPs? How important do you think it is?

Pakistan may be going through caution fatigue — people are exhausted from being cautious, public spaces have started opening up and the overall attitude towards the pandemic is becoming very relaxed. It is imperative that we understand that the world is opening up to protect the economy, not because the virus is no longer a threat. If we become entirely nonchalant and do not follow SOPs, the next wave of the virus is imminent and let us not forget, deadly!

What are some of the measures you have taken to stay positive and healthy?

One of the measures I took was to get white boards and write my goals on them so I could see them daily. One board each for primary and secondary— which included short-term goals and daily/weekly schedule  — and the third board for long-term aspirational goals. Doing this helped me stay disciplined, positive and healthy in what was becoming an un-regimented period.

So tell us about some of your latest work?

My most recent drama is the one on air called Bandhay Ek Dour Se.

What kind of dream role are you hoping to play soon?

I’d love to play someone from another era as I am fascinated by history. It would be a fun challenge to embody someone from a different time as realistically as possible.

What is a value which is imperative for an actor to possess?

Above everything else an actor must be empathetic; actors need to channel their own, as well as other peoples’ experiences and emotions to breathe life into their craft. Empathy allows us to understand the world and in turn, emote with honesty.

Tell us about your relationship with Social Media? What message would you like to give to the trolls out there?

I have slowly come to accept that Social Media isn’t just my way of expressing thoughts and sharing my life with my fans and friends. It is an outlet used by many searching for negativity to create hype and target people like me. It showcases the pain of fame, while living in a society in which many are looking for a person to fail, to criticise their every move, become the judge, jury and executioner and appoint themselves as vanguards of culture and religion. People can be vicious and that limits a person’s expression for sure, but alas, this is our reality. I don’t have any message for trolls.

We’re yet to see you in the movies. Anything in the pipeline?

Yes, I am about to begin work on a feature film, I can not say much about it except that it is a crime drama and I have a very fun and different role. I am very excited about it.

What about the digital platform? Are you ready to explore that genre and what liberties do you think one can take on that platform?

I am definitely ready to explore it, it is a creative avenue for me to put out art that isn’t commercial and to just experiment myself. However, we as Pakistani actors are still limited culturally. We have to find creative ways to express our message via art as our public can be quite conservative, sensitive and of course, judgmental.

Now on a more personal note, are you a romantic? What are the three top qualities you would want your partner to have?

I’m quite guarded when it comes to my feelings. It takes me a long time to let someone in, but once I do I’m a complete romantic. I’d like my partner to be honest, loyal and of course, in love with me!

If you were asked to plan a romantic getaway by your better half, what would the itinerary be?

Wishful thinking, as I am nowhere close to finding my better half; I’ve reserved the French Polynesian islands for my potential honeymoon, so maybe Bora Bora, or if my better half is up for a long flight then even Hawaii! I’d plan a lot of romantic walks and bike rides, maybe some adventurous water activities, hikes and a lot of food exploration!

What are some of your favourite travel destinations to date? What ticks you off when you are traveling?

I love going to London, which is like a second home at this point. I’ve travelled quite a bit but my most recent trip was to South Africa, there is a small town near Cape Town called Stellenbosch. It is rustic, with a lot of history, old vineyards, mountains and streams and I left a part of my heart there. I would definitely love to go back there. What ticks me off are travel buddies who become a downer, or can not have a mind-over-matter attitude if they feel ill during vacation and waste precious holiday time staying in.

What’s a cause you could put yourself behind for the coming years?

I’m often trolled for this but animal welfare has been a passion close to my heart since I was very young and it is a cause that could use more voices in Pakistan, I feel that this is my calling.

Three things people don’t know about Ushna Shah?

Well first and foremost, I can’t cook; it’s a touchy topic for me, I often panic and get upset while trying. Second: Since I grew up in Canada, my actual accent is extremely Canadian. I’ve masked it for years and now the Pakistani accent comes out naturally when I’m here but if I’m abroad, or with people from abroad, thinking out loud, studying or having an argument, I sound fully Canadian. I get made fun of often for this. Lastly, I have a macabre fascination with aircraft crash investigations — which is especially grim because I fly very often.

INTERVIEW: H! Pakistan