First person: The new female role model
You can’t marginalise her as a model, actor, dancer or any one figure as Aamina Sheikh is an intriguing blend of all, a smoothie of sorts. And she is smooth; her diction having the refinement of a professional speaker, her dark caramel skin tone giving her striking looks a twist of the unconventional.
She has none of the fair-skinned, wide-eyed and pouty looks that models in Pakistan need to have to make it big; hers is a face filled with intelligence and character. And it’s the most sought out face of the moment, coveted by designers, photographers, event managers, drama producers and directors as well as corporations. After all, it’s not everyday that you find a model who has a personality.
Which is why it would be wrong to limit her to being a model. There’s nothing model-esque about the way she enjoys a healthy breakfast of scrambled eggs and brown bread when we meet at Xander’s. It defies the typecast that models don’t eat (and aren’t too healthy). But her petite frame could fool you. It’s the dancing and the regular activity of bicycling from her home to her parents’ (yes, in Karachi) that keeps her heavy biryani and greasy drama-set food under control.
Shooting for one television serial after the other, she’s on the sets almost half a day, every day. “It’s all we get to eat on a 12-hour shoot,” she laughs when I ask. “But as soon as I feel the overdose I put a stop to it and start bringing food from home.” Aamina Sheikh is a performer; having trained for ballet at school (she was born in New York and raised in Karachi) she likes to dance and influenced by versatile actresses like Cate Blanchette and Charlize Theron, she likes to act.
Her biggest acting influence while growing up, she says, was Rahat Kazmi. These are mature role models for an undoubtedly maturing actor. A college education at Amherst gave her a love for experimental theatre. That passion has infiltrated every facet of her professional life and even when she’s modeling, she likes to role-play: her first shoot for a discontinued fashion/lifestyle magazine was a James Bond enactment. Lara Croft, Jennifer Lopez, Naomi Campbell and many more screen icons were to follow. She has no artistic influences in her DNA (her father and brothers belong to the corporate world) but she ended up marrying what we like to think of as her soul mate — Mohib Mirza — who is just as engrossed in liberal arts as she is. They make a fine pair.
“Oh, but we try not to work as a couple too much,” she insists. “We keep our work independent of each other and even avoid making too many public appearances together but it’s so funny how fans love to read into the ‘couple’ situation. I actually have emails from fans saying that I look much better with Mohib and even my character should not harbour feelings for an on-screen husband. It’s so funny to see how involved they are in our lives.” Two just as involved young fans come up to her in the cafe as we speak.
They want to know exactly why her character in Maat behaved the way she did and why there was no retribution for the hated husband played by Adnan Siddiqui. The fans’ involvement in her character is her biggest endorsement. It’s obvious that the actress in her overwhelms the model but fortunately, when she’s acting, she leaves the model far, far behind. And that’s why she’s been so effective in her plays: Daam and Mora Piya launched her career and Maat took it to another level.
“Mora Piya is my favourite,” she adds, “even though it wasn’t a character the masses related to as well as the others.” The official stamp of approval, after being nominated for two years for Best Actress at the Lux Style Awards, came when she recently won an international award for her role in the indie film Seedlings (Urdu title: Lamha).
Released at the New York City Film Festival, Seedlings — being her debut film release — has pulled her into the silver screen. And these days she’s celebrating the launch of her second film, Josh, which was screened at the Mumbai International Film Festival last month. “The response was overwhelming,” she shares upon her return. “I went with no expectations but the reactions were very warm. The curiosity was very educated and aware, not salacious or gossipy.
The media and film community didn’t stereotype me when talking about other actors from Pakistan. Instead, they were interested in my work. The producer of the film is coming to Pakistan this month, hoping to find a date and arrangement to release Josh in India and Pakistan simultaneously. That would be ideal.” “Josh is a full-fledged feature film and even has songs,” she adds wittily. “But I’ve done enough deep, traumatic character roles. I’m ready to bring on the masala.
Give me a dance or two, for crying out loud!” She says that with carefree humour but Aamina’s love for performance is serious, whether it’s in a photo shoot, a film, television serial or even a home video in which she’s singing a thank you song to all her friends and fans who have wished her a happy birthday. She’s happy working on a project at a time, one film at a time until the big banners start coming her way. Could the screening at Mumbai Film Festival be her ticket to Bollywood? She’s open to the idea. “I’m taking it slow and steady, committing to one project at a time,” she shares with utmost confidence and complacency. “I don’t want to spread myself too thin and that’s why I have even consciously stayed away from morning shows. I would love to work in an Indian film but when the time is right it’ll happen. I guess someday some director will see that I can act and will approach me.” Till then her life is a juggle between films and fashion.
The corporate endorsements intersperse her projects and television remains her biggest professional commitment. “Fashion is very last minute, very unpredictable,” she says, adding that staying away from the runway was a conscious decision. “I did my first runway for Rehana Saigol at Ensemble and realised I wasn’t right for the runway. At 5’4” I’m at a disadvantage.
But avoiding the runway paid off at the end because I managed to keep a professional distance from fashion politics. I’m gone before anyone even realises I was around and that’s how I avoid being a part of any backstage controversy.” In our society being married helps too, and Aamina is aware of the advantages of having a husband: it wards off unwanted trouble on the sets. Intelligence is a card not many models can offer to play, sophistication evades one too many film and television actresses. With this fiery combination of traits that compliment one another, this trailblazer is surely on her way to discovering new levels of success and on the way she is joining the league of Pakistan’s other fun, fearless females like Meesha Shafi and Mahira Khan. One can only wish that Aamina’s films — Seedlings and Josh — would release in Pakistan to give her fans a taste of that success.