Herald exclusive: Back story with Aamina Sheikh
“When Tanya Shafi, an ex-model and a consultant at the music channel Play, asked for my head shots to explore the possibility of making a commercial, I told myself, ‘this is it.’ I did not even vacillate knowing this is what I wanted,” says the focused and meticulous actor. Having dabbled in dramatics during her school years, Aamina earned a bachelors degree in film and video from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, after which she worked at a Pakistani channel for a while. Soon afterwards she was hired for a television commercial and then in 2007 she signed up for a telefilm Gurmukh Singh Ki Wasiyat.
Since then she has done a number of strong female characters that include an athlete, the would-be wife of a twice-married feudal lord and a Black-British woman providing emotional and moral succour to a young man in distress. Sheikh worked on her physiognomy and her ensemble for a week before playing the Black-British woman in Main Abdul Qadir Hoon, says director Babar Javed who is all praise for her work. “It is immensely gratifying to work with someone as professional as Sheikh who also does her homework.”
As she consolidates her position as a leading actor in the mushrooming television industry, she has become more discerning in choosing her roles, preferring characters that take her away from real life. Striving to find a balance between rehearsing and spontaneity while working in front of the camera, she also passionately advocates for the screening of telefilms. “These films are a part of our identity and should be promoted as such for maximum viewership,” she explains.
So far the petite and slender actor-cum-model is having a good year. She has a handful of serials, airing at prime time garnering positive feedback from drama aficionados. She has also just been appointed as one of the spokespersons for L’Oreal Pakistan. “My job description is to bring honesty and integrity to any role that I take up and any brand I endorse,” says Sheikh, in a recent chat with the Herald on a rare day off work, lending a behind-the-scenes view of some of her significant dramatic performances.
Bhag Amina Bhag Telefilm — 2010
Writers: Farah Usman and Noorul Huda Shah
Director: Yasir Nawaz
Tagline: An uplifting film inspired by Naseem Hameed, the fastest woman in South Asia
“The script of Bhag Amina Bhag was in the air for a while and when I first heard about it I was interested because I was in awe of Naseem Hameed, reading up whatever I could on her, on the Internet, in newspapers. But then Nawaz informed me that they wanted a new face and had already chosen someone. It was when that actor got injured while shooting that I was approached again if I was interested and that’s how I came onboard.
As expected, the role involved a lot of running and that too in different kinds of locales. I knew I could pull off the a schoolgirl’s role but had to get professional help for physically demanding scenes. You will not believe this but prior to doing this telefilm I had never been to a gym. With only five days to prepare, I hired a trainer and by the way the production crew had not figured out [that I may need one]. The trainer trained me rigorously for two hours everyday. I had him over on location where I made a little corner for myself and he would work out with me. Even though it was a grueling schedule of 15 days and by the end of it I was sore with cramps, it was a fantastic experience.”
Main Abdul Qadir Hoon Serial — 2010/2011
Writer: Sarwat Nazeer
Director: Babar Javed
Tagline: The story of a young man’s transformation helped by a woman friend
“Nell Ibrahim, the woman that I am playing in the serial, is a Black-British woman with an Indian Muslim mother. She runs into Abdul Qadir outside a pub when he is beaten by thugs. He hires Ibrahim as a maid but she used to be a call girl who now suffers from Aids. Since Ibrahim is British, I wanted to adopt an authentic accent but Javed said the audience may not get it. I got help from Raana Khan, a make-up artist who specialises in fashion shoots, and she created Ibrahim’s look by giving me thick lips, black complexion and dreadlocks. I remember going onto the set when the film was being shot. I covered myself in a chadar and everyone looked at me saying, ‘what is this coming.’ It took a while for everyone to digest my appearance because they all felt that it was as close to a black-British woman as it should get. Javed liked it but wanted me to tone it down. I agreed with his logic that my character has to be palatable for viewers who are relatively unexposed. I wanted Javed to hire Khan but the production company had budgetary constraints. Production houses hire make-up artists who do their work in bulk, charging much lower prices. Thus, I had to compromise on my look which was created using mediocre products. So occasionally I do feel helpless. But on my Facebook page, none of my fans has picked out the discrepancy in the accent and make-up. I guess viewers are more interested in the story.”
Partition Stories: Gurmukh Singh Ki Wasiyat Telefilm — 2007
Based on a short story by Saadat Hasan Manto
Director: Sharjeel Baloch
Tagline: A play on the trauma of Partition
“By the time the script for Gurmukh Singh Ki Wasiyat was handed to me, I had gone way beyond the textbook version of Partition taught in school. My outlook on Partition was from a distance as it was the experience of an earlier generation even though we too have faced its consequences. But after several discussions with the executive producer Khalid Ahmed, I was forced to become an internal part of the event. We shot this film in Kotri near Hyderabad with the production team recreating sets that were as close as possible to the actual location.
The telefilm revolves around an affectionate and idealistic father performed by Qavi, his daughter Sughra depicted by me and a young son.
The children are petrified because all their Muslim neighbours have left for Pakistan and they are all alone in a predominantly Sikh neighbourhood. It brings forth the mental anguish of being on the brink of losing everything, especially when you do not know how and when you are going to lose it. Gurmukh Singh Ki Wasiyat was an overwhelming experience and in the end I had this realisation that many sacrifices were made to create this country making me more intensely attached to my homeland.”
Mera Saeein Serial — 2010/2011
Writer: Sameera Fazal
Director: Babar Javed
Tagline: The story of a feudal politician who marries four women treating with disdain
“Here I am cast as Naina. She is trapped in an abusive marriage and will eventually end up as the wife of the politician Malik Wajahat who has already married more than once. The serial puts forth the notion that even educated women can get trapped in abusive relationships due to their lack of judgment and that sometimes a man has all the means to use and abuse situations. It explores how bad it can get when a man is fixated on this manipulative part of his personality and why women tolerate such behaviour. Mera Saeein shows how seemingly simple situations can become twisted and the more manipulative a man gets the less in control women find themselves.
Although there are several women in the serial, it shows the ability of this man to dominate all of them. The lives of Wajahat and his many wives – living in his village as well as in the city – are rather traditional but my story arc is contemporary. Naina is an educated, modern woman married to an urban guy Farhad who is extremely suspicious of her, even wanting to know her Facebook password. It was quite clever of Javed to weave this privacy issue into the story. It was of great help that my real-life husband Mohib Mirza was acting opposite me as Farhad. I enjoyed it because it gives a genuine feel to our mutual reactions on the screen even though he is not like Farhad in reality. While we were shooting, I felt people watched us more closely.”
Daam Serial — 2010
Writer: Umera Ahmed
Director: Mehreen Jabbar
Tagline: The tale of two friends from different economic backgrounds
“In this serial I played the role of Maleeha, a medical student belonging to a well-off family. She is close to Zara, her college mate, who comes from an impoverished background. A conflict between the two takes place when Zara and Maleeha’s brother Junaid start a secret affair. Many times during the serial I struggled with my character for being so petty. For instance, there is a scene when Maleeha accidentally discovers that Junaid has given Zara a gold pendant and holds it against him. I wanted to shout out aloud and say, ‘Come on, get a life.’ It was difficult for me to completely immerse myself into the character because it went against my personal ethics and there were certain scenes that were painful for me to enact. But apparently women do get upset when their best friends have an affair with their brother. To make me understand my character’s motives, the writer told me that Maleeha did a lot of favours for Zara because they shared a sisterly bond. If I have spent seven years together with my close friend and then I discover that five of those were spent with my brother being interested in my friend and I didn’t know about it, then naturally it is devastating. In Maleeha we tried to create a complex character, with shades of grey, because usually our characters are one-dimensional. We received emails and you won’t believe this but some medical students wrote in, saying the exact thing had happened to them.”