“I’m really happy where I am”
Amna Ilyas is the perfect blend of elegance, talent and grit. She made her debut in the Pakistani film industry in 2013 with the critically acclaimed movie, Zinda Bhaag, where she acted alongside Naseeruddin Shah. Her journey has been remarkable so far, and she has received immense praise for her acting skills.
This year, Amna features in two major films, Ready Steady No, and Baaji.
In a recent interview you said that the film industry enjoys special importance in the international market, however movies do not get the same respect and recognition in Pakistan. Please elaborate.
Amna Ilyas: I’ve always admired the way international films are received abroad. Everyone enjoys their films, and they’re made in such a universal way. In Pakistan, if those films are brought to the cinemas, they’re a treat to watch, but in the process, we lose sight of the stories that abound in our own country. The films that are being made in Pakistan are relatable to us all, and everyone works hard to make them. In my view, everyone should enjoy the films they want to watch. But our industry is still young and it needs the support of its country to grow further. So if anyone goes to the cinema and they’re not sure what to watch, just take a bet and see a Pakistani film. One never knows what they’re in for!
How did Saqib Malik approach you for this role in Baaji? What convinced you to take up the role?
AI: It all started when Saqib approached me for the item number Gangster Guriya, so I knew about the story and I found it a very bold and enticing storyline. Later on, he called me and offered me the role of Neha. It was a very quick process, because once I said yes, I was on the set immediately.
You mentioned that “…though young film-makers are making films which are self-funded, the government should help them access the international market.“ Don’t you think our films need to improve in order to cater to an international audience. We need more writers and more content. What do you think?
AI: I believe the government should develop an individual sector which is purely meant for catering to the creation of Pakistani films, so that new independent film-makers who have talent but not the funds can have an avenue available to them. Of course we need more writers and content, but we have a diverse range of talent. The only problem is that they don’t have the funds and resources to execute their ideas. Hopefully with time and support, the industry can attain new heights.
“I always felt like there was an actor in me, and so when the time came, I wanted to pursue it and I’m so glad I did.”
Was it difficult to act alongside a senior actress like Meera? Were there creative differences on how you wanted to do a scene? Please elaborate.
AI: Meera’s acting style and techniques are different from mine. She’s extremely 80’s which means her way of acting is very expressive and not guarded. What I admired about that was her boldness, which contributed to the bold story that is Baaji. My acting was very on the spot, very raw. Since I was rushed into the project, I didn’t have a lot of time to rehearse. But in a way, I’m grateful that I didn’t have the time, because I work well when I’m on the spot.
Are you enjoying acting more than modelling?
AI: The thing about modelling is that it’s very monotonous. There’s not much room for models to be creative, and I felt like I needed a change. I always felt like there was an actor in me, and so when the time came, I wanted to pursue it and I’m so glad I did. I’m really happy where I am.
Congratulations on winning a Mosaic International South Asian Film Festival (MISAFF) award in Toronto, Canada for your acting in Zinda Bhaag and Good Morning Karachi. Tell us more about these films and the response you got.
AI: Good Morning Karachi and Zinda Bhaag are two projects that are extremely close to my heart. They were my first two films, which I can safely say groomed me into the actor I am today.
Tell us about your journey in parallel cinema. Is this a conscious effort to do films of all kinds and not just focus on commercial cinema?
AI: I don’t see a difference as such. A film is a film. A script is a script. If the script calls out to me, I’ll give it my all.
What is the significance of social media in your life? Do you feel any pressure to post or tweet something to keep yourself relevant and your account active for your fans?
AI: I don’t feel any pressure. I like updating my fans and sharing what projects I’m working on and what I’m up to. I enjoy social media because of its ability to connect me to people.
How is Saqib Malik as a director? Tell us about your experience working with him.
AI: Saqib is a brilliant storyteller and I think that’s a pivotal trait every director should have. He’s a visionary and he likes going against the odds, which is something I really admire about him. My experience of working with him was fabulous. He was a friend on the set instead of a director, so he was open to my suggestions in developing Neha’s character.
“I’m just going to focus on my acting career and see where life takes me. I’m not someone who thinks about the future.”
What’s your dream role? Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
AI: I would like to play someone with a mental illness, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, to shed light on the struggles that they go through. I believe in playing roles that have an impact on people, and I feel if anyone can learn something from watching something that’s real they can feel inspired to affect change.
I’m just going to focus on my acting career and see where life takes me. I’m not someone who thinks about the future. I just enjoy the day that’s been given to me and capitalise on that!
Tell us about your personal life. Is marriage on the cards? What is Amna doing when not on set?
AI: When I’m not on set, I’m with my friends and family. I catch up on my sleep, or I read a good book. In terms of marriage, you’ll be the first to know!
MORE ON AMNA ILYAS
The last text you sent?
AI: To my friend letting them know I’m on the way to their house!
Hashtag that describes your life?
AI: Right now it’s #BaajiTheFilm and #ReadySteadyNo!
One social media account that we have to follow?
AI: My stylist @stylebyaneela!
One app we should download?
AI: Shazam! You never know when you’ll find your new favourite song to listen to!
AI: Right now it’s Netflix!
TV show you love right now?
AI: Stranger Things!
Last book you read?
AI: The Unbearable Lightness Of Being by Milan Kundera.
Who would play you in the movie of your life?
AI: Nobody can play the role of me other than me!
Favourite fictional character?
AI: Wonder Woman!
What’s your karaoke song?
AI: Best I Ever Had by Drake!
Last movie you saw?
AI: Honestly, Baaji!
Last holiday destination?
Last thing you bought?
AI: A fresh new pair of white kicks!
Best thing you can cook?
Favourite sandwich filling?
Favourite pizza topping?
Favourite restaurant in Pakistan?
Dream dinner party guest?
AI: Cate Blanchett.
Favourite hotel in the world?
AI: The Grand Palace.
Favourite fashion capital?
Star style icon?
AI: Blake Lively.
Your biggest fear?
Celebrity dream date?
AI: Tom Hardy.
Best gift you ever received?
AI: An off-white cotton sari from my stylist.
Word or phrase you say the most?
AI: How lovely!
Sarwat Gilani, Sajal Aly or Kubra Khan?
AI: Sajal Aly.