Oozing confidence and charisma, Iman Ali defies all conventions in her personal and professional lives. Candid in her conversation, Iman openly confesses to the controversies which trail her, and speaks about her choices and opinions on everything, from director Shoaib Mansoor to upcoming models and actors, from her struggles with her disease to her distaste at being called beautiful or glamorous. A no-show at most award functions, Iman prefers to lounge at home in her night suit and doesn’t covet the limelight or being part of the rat race which most of her contemporaries and newcomers find themselves mired in. She stands for what she believes in, whether it’s doing a simple role because the script is good or doing a TVC to create awareness about Multiple Sclerosis.
Born into stardom, Iman may have found her calling in modelling and acting but fame is not something she hankers after nor is she one to plan ahead or be overly ambitious. Not being one to mince her words, she doesn’t hesitate to call out the actors who have sullied the reputation of the industry with their antics and those who are in it for the fame and fall apart at the first hurdle of failure.
Comfortable in her skin, Iman handles all questions thrown at her with her customary aplomb and frankness, making her not only one of the few not afraid to speak their mind but also one of the few not afraid to court controversy. This lack of fear of what others may say about her is what makes her who she is, a true diva.
You chose to enter modelling at a time when it was considered taboo for decent girls from ‘good families’ to opt for modelling as a career path. What prompted this decision and was this something you always wanted to do? How supportive was your family?
IMAN ALI: I think at the time I started modelling, girls from good families were the ones choosing modelling as a career and I feel the opposite is true nowadays. My family was not supportive at all; my father was very against it and said he would break my legs if I did this. I said, “Baba when you break my legs I’ll leave modelling because I wouldn’t be able to do it anyway” (Laughs). I wanted the financial support it would provide, considering the household issues we had but it just happened for me. Wherever I would go, I would get the same question: ‘why don’t you model?’, because I was tall and thin.
This is a big misconception that models become thin; models become models because they were thin to begin with.
How did you venture into movies? Was this a conscious decision to expand your portfolio or an opportunity you stumbled on?
IA: Everyone wanted me to act as my father was an actor, but I didn’t want to do the kind of films being made and offered. Then Shoaib Mansoor made the perfect film with an amazing script; not the kind of film anyone had thought of and it was just my kind of thing which no one had conceived before and I just accepted the role.
Most models venture into acting as the next rung on the career ladder. At the same time, they are usually taken on due to the ‘glam factor’ associated with having a prominent, pretty face to grace the silver screen or TV. What is your take on this?
IA: First of all, are they all pretty? Also, most models don’t have the kind of faces suited to the big screen and most models don’t act. Also, Khuda ke Liye had nothing to do with glamour so in my case it doesn’t apply. A few like myself may have given an erroneous impression that they can get into it but not everyone can act. Also, I feel TV actors shouldn’t work in films as seeing the same faces on TV and then in the cinema seems pretty boring to me. Not everyone can do it as cinema requires a bit of underacting as well as a different kind of screen presence. You can bawl on TV dramas but in films, even a single tear is seen more prominently and has a stronger effect. Good films are a different medium altogether.
“I was born into stardom”
Khuda ke Liye and then Bol were game changers in Pakistani cinema and catapulted you to the status of a talented and smart actress. Do you feel it helped boost you from just a pretty face to someone to be taken seriously?
IA: I’m not such a big fan of Bol actually. I’ve said it many times that Bol was quite inaccurate on many levels. For example, the part about the hanging which didn’t happen as per Pakistan’s constitution (the way it happened so quickly) and why the family didn’t appeal. This is why I left the main role that Humaima played. It was a game changer but it didn’t change much game. As for being taken seriously, I don’t think or worry about these things; I just do my work and believe whatever is mine will come to me as Allah wills.
Shoaib Mansoor seems to be your director of choice. How has he been as a mentor and guide?
IA: We did the video, the Anarkali one which was great, and he used to be great but not so much now (Laughs). Somehow everything in my life ends up being controversial. My choice is always good scripts, be it any director. As for him being a mentor, he didn’t even talk to me much on the sets. He doesn’t talk much, he is an extremely quiet person and he’s that way with everyone, especially women, which is why you never see him at any award shows or events. Even for my Anarkali video, the only direction he gave me was, “I want defiance” and that was it. He just leaves it to the actor, that is his style of direction, and I like that because he is smart and he gets smarter actors whom he doesn’t have to direct much.
How has your experience working in TV been? You have done very limited work there. Why is that? What is your opinion about Pakistani dramas in general?
IA: TV was never my thing and also, everyone would have said she got it because her father is an actor which is also why I wasn’t that interested. No, I don’t watch much TV and don’t have an opinion as such.
Rumors and mudslinging are always part of the package when you are a woman in your line of profession, with allegations ranging from drug use to being a party girl. You have received your fair share of criticism and accusations. How do you – and your family – deal with it? Was this part of your decision to quit modelling at the peak of your career?
IA: There weren’t many rumors about me. Mudslinging directed towards women is present in every field, whether you are working in an advertising agency or a bank, whether you are wearing sleeveless or a shirt without a dupatta. Also, I don’t go out much. I’m always at home in my pj’s which is what I find most comfortable, so even if anyone is saying anything, I don’t find out. Recently, when my Multiple Sclerosis TVC came out, I was following that but otherwise, I’m not active on social media. My Instagram account was made a short while back and I had someone make it for me.
From a model to an actor, how has your journey been and how have you evolved – personally and professionally?
IA: I don’t think much about it, I’m just doing my work. Acting is fun, it is at times easier for me. But our production isn’t so organized and with my MS, a lot of physical work becomes difficult. Work itself is a journey and you evolve organically with time.
Any plans of working across the border?
IA: No plans.
You have always been very open regarding your struggles with Multiple Sclerosis. How do you deal with the challenges which come with MS on days when you have serious work commitments?
IA: From the day I was diagnosed, I have always been open about having Multiple Sclerosis and came on TV to create awareness about it. Regarding bad days when I have work commitments, they find out on set if I haven’t told them already. I’m very religious about this and believe whatever is meant to be mine will be mine so I’ve always been honest about it and the challenges which come with it. I am not a very ambitious person frankly so if it happens I’ll do it because I enjoy acting. If I feel the role is right for me and the script is good, I’ll go for it and for someone who doesn’t want to work with me, I don’t want to work with them either. I recently made a TVC on MS to spread more awareness about the disease and it’s worth a watch as I believe it’s very well made and gets the message across really well.
How do you deal with the pressure to always look amazing and project an image of glamour and mystique?
IA: I don’t do that. In Mah-e-Mir, I had a double role and the other role had me with minimal makeup and in Khuda ke Liye I didn’t play a glamorous role so I am comfortable being simple. I don’t go to award shows or the red carpet or worry about glamour; that’s not how I look at myself. I don’t like being called beautiful or even looking in the mirror; I can literally do my makeup without one.
What is your opinion about social media and the ‘creation’ of celebrities it has spawned? Do you feel it is necessary to have an active social media presence to retain your celebrity status?
IA: Yes, and it’s crazy how they just post pictures with three different outfits a day and become insta stars. I don’t understand it, sitting here in my night suit at home, not really caring how I look.
What is your take on brand endorsement? How do you decide which brands to work with?
IA: Well you have to pay the bills (Laughs). But I endorse brands which I use myself, like I drink cola and I use the Lux shower gel myself as well. Or if it’s a mobile phone, I would see that it has good features and gives value for money even if I don’t use it myself.
How has life changed post marriage? Have you decided to take a back seat when it comes to your career?
IA: I was always in the back seat (Laughs) but I am actually working more now. I don’t like to plan so much. I like acting and modelling but I’m too lazy to think about what’s next and what’s my career plan. I am doing another film but it’s not by plan, it just happened. The director was the friend of a friend and the producer happened to be my husband’s friend’s father but basically, I loved the script so I agreed to it.
Word of advice for other aspiring models/actors?
IA: Do it only if you think you can be good at it. Don’t do it for any other reason like money or fame. Such aspirants without talent should stay away as they are ruining it for us and tarnishing our reputation. No word of advice except just that don’t think about it too much, do your work well and that’s it. Don’t be afraid to fail once in a while.
Tell us about your upcoming film, Tich Button.
IA: I’m not at liberty to say much. Farhan is the producer as well as one of the main leads. It’s about friendship and love and my character was all about telling the truth which is very close to me in reality.
“I have always been open about having Multiple Sclerosis and came on TV to create awareness about it.”
How did you get roped into doing a movie after a long hiatus?
IA: Well, I did it because my friends were doing it and said you can’t say no (Laughs). And I said I’m getting married in two months but I was let off just three days before my wedding; it was a fun experience though.
The trailers seem to show you as a city girl who falls in love with a complete opposite. What is your character like?
IA: That’s somewhat right. My character is from Istanbul and is a very strong, independent and fierce girl.
How was it working with such eminent actors and newbie Farhan Saeed?
IA: Farhan was lovely to work with; he’s a great actor. I didn’t have much work with the other actors. The close family depicted in the film was a lot of fun to do, especially working with actors of such high caliber as Qavi Khan and Marina Khan. They were all really sweet to me and we all got along really well. Marina Khan played my mother and we shared a very comfortable rapport; in fact, I think we are quite alike, like not looking at our scenes after shooting one like everyone else does.
Does Tich Button mean we will see more of you on the big screen?
IA: I am doing another film but I don’t make any plans for the future. I prioritize comfort over all else, not to be a part of the rat race, especially with my illness but even before that. Perhaps because I was born into stardom, it was never a big deal for me and I don’t know any other life.
INTERVIEW: HIRA SALMAN
STYLING & COORDINATION: RAO ALI KHAN
PHOTOGRAPHY: HASAN HABIB HASHMI
LOCATION: COURTESY OF DIMENSIONS HOME
MAKE-UP: ADNAN ANSARI