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Pakistani actress Sajal Aly Image Credit: Supplied

Popular Pakistani actress Sajal Aly’s career seems to be on a roll.

Earlier this year, the news of her first international feature, ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’, a Jemima Goldsmith production, directed by Shekhar Kapoor and also starring the iconic Indian actor Shabana Azmi, broke the internet.

Later, Aly headlined a web series for Zee5, titled ‘Dhoop Ki Deewar’, featuring the actress along with her actor-husband, Ahad Raza Mir. The web series, which was set to the backdrop of a conflict between two nations, fetched her accolades from India and Pakistan. She also won rave reviews as singer Atif Aslam’s love interest in his music video ‘Rafta Rafta.’

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Sajal Aly Image Credit: Supplied

Currently, Aly can be seen in the mega-budgeted, military-themed TV serial, ‘Sinf e Aahan’, where she is part of a brigade of girls from diverse backgrounds who join the Pakistan Army and rise to the ranks, becoming the eponymous ‘women of steel.’

Amidst this busy schedule, she also found time to fit in her first Pakistani film, ‘Khel Khel Mein’, which played in theatres earlier this month as the first project to secure a release in the pandemic-era.

Shuttling between her various commitments, Gulf News caught up with the actor to talk about her busy 2021, her career prospects and working in Bollywood with the late legendary actor Sridevi. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Career-wise, 2021 has been a great year for you. Who would you attribute your success to — your talent, your PR person/agent or just your lucky stars?

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Sajal Aly at the red carpet of the Filmfare Middle East Achieveres Night at Meydan on October 28 Image Credit: GN Archives

I don’t have a PR agent. I only have a manager who looks after my accounts. But, honestly speaking, if I were to give credit to anyone for all this, it would be my [late] mother. My mother did it all for me. She always gave me the best advice in all matters. She was gifted in the sense that she could tell which projects would be good for me. You know, it was on her advice that I opted for ‘O Rangreza’ [TV drama opposite Bilal Abbas]. She couldn’t live to advise me after that, but it allowed me to say that after [‘O Rangreza’] I had reached a point where I was able to take the right decisions for myself. In that way, I am eternally indebted to her.

What does an actor of your calibre look for in a project?

The script, above all else. I am always interested to know how the story will unfold, the kind of dialogues I’ll get to say, the character arc I am being offered, and, of course, who’s the director. A lot of people tell me that I should also consider [a project] based on who my co-star is going to be, but I don’t believe in that. I don’t care whether I am facing the biggest hero in the industry, or simply a wall. I’ll do my bit and pack up.

For somebody who had had the rare opportunity to work across the border, alongside the iconic Sridevi, and then suddenly being thrown in a situation where all roads to Bollywood were shut, due to a tense political situation, did the story of ‘Dhoop Ki Deewaar’ resonate with you?

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Sajal Aly during the shoot of 'Dhoop Ki Deewar' Image Credit: Supplied

Honestly, I didn’t do it because of its intended message or something; I only took it as another project. Though, of course, tomorrow if things turn out well between the two countries and we have a chance to work together again, that would be great.

In the same way, while I was in India, shooting for ‘Mom’, I always knew that I’d be going back to my country, because that’s my home. And that’s how I look at any other international project that I do anywhere else in the world.

Now, if someone was to ask me whether I liked the story of ‘Dhoop Ki Deewar’, I’d say it’s obvious, isn’t it? In fact, I found the whole scenario where the hero and the heroine never get to meet in person quite fascinating. But I also did ‘Dhoop Ki Deewar’ because of its director, Haseeb Hasan, whose work I have always admired.

Talking of Sridevi, what memories of time spent with her can you share with the readers? You said somewhere that she was actually like a mom to you.

Late Bollywood actress Sridevi and Sajal Aly
Late Bollywood actress Sridevi and Sajal Aly Image Credit: Supplied

She was a very kind and affectionate person. I remember the first time I met her; it was for a script narration [of ‘Mom’], in Dubai. I asked her why me, and she told me straightaway that she and Boney Sir [Kapoor, her husband and film producer] had seen my work and liked it very much. She laid all my apprehensions to rest when she said that I was in good hands. She had a motherly vibe to her, which endeared her to me.

Later, during the shoot, I discovered that we had a great wavelength; we had begun to think alike. She was a natural actor. There was no method to it. You could never say that she was trying to find a way to perform a certain scene; she would just stand in front of the camera, and do it. She wasn’t one of those actors who need to self-isolate to get into the skin of the character. And, I am exactly the same.

It sounds like a memorable experience for you...

Sajal Aly in 'Mom' Image Credit: Supplied

My mother was accompanying me throughout the shoot of ‘Mom’. When we went to Georgia, Jhanvi and Khushi [Kapoor, Sridevi’s daughters] also came along. We had a great time — we’d chat endlessly, while travelling and also in our free time. We bonded famously well. In fact, even after I came back to Pakistan, we kept in touch. She [Sridevi] would often call me up, and want to know how I was doing. She’d advise me on life’s little, little things, even on relationships and marriage. She cared about me a lot.

A few months before her death, we were supposed to meet up again, at the Filmfare Middle East Achievers Night in Dubai where Mahira [Khan], Saba [Qamar] and Mawra [Hocane] were also invited. But I could not make it to the event because of an ongoing shoot. Her last text message that I received was: “Sajal, mera bacha [my child], I miss you!”

I feel blessed that I had the chance to know her from close quarters.

When is ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ coming out? Are you done filming?

Yes, we are done filming. I think it’ll be out sometime next year.

How was the experience of working with Shabana Azmi and Shekhar Kapoor on the project?

You know, every time I am offered something this big, my initial response is always that of self-doubt. I am asking myself: Will I be able to do it? So, when I bagged this project, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. But gradually, as Shekhar Sir saw that I could deliver in a given shot, and he was very happy with the result, we developed a great rapport where I didn’t need to make a conscious effort and still I was able to emote according to the director’s vision. I can’t forget the time when everyone on the set clapped for me, including Jemima, Shabana ji and Shekhar Sir. And this happened on more than one occasion.

What kind of advice on the technique/craft of acting did you get from them?

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Sajal Aly Image Credit: Supplied

I may sound pompous, but honestly, they didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know before. And, I’m sure Shekhar sir had gauged that, which is why he’d only prompt me when he needed me to tweak my performance a bit; that’s it. For one of the first few scenes that we shot, he even let me improvise.

As for Shabana ji, what can I say! What a lady! What wisdom! I could just sit in her company for hours and listen to her speak. It was ever so enlightening.

Your latest TV serial, ‘Sinf e Aahan’, has an ensemble cast. Did it ever worry you?

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A poster from 'Sinf e Aahan' Image Credit: Supplied

I strongly believe that actors shouldn’t look at the amount of screen time they will get in a drama or a film; rather they should consider what is best for the project. When I was offered ‘Sinf e Aahan’, I accepted it knowing full well that my role would run parallel to that of six other actresses. I’m sure it’s the same for all of them.

Lately, your sister Saboor Ali has joined acting as well. Would you say that you now have competition on the home front as well?

I don’t look at her as my competition. Perhaps, this has to do with the fact that we began our careers simultaneously, but she quit acting because she wanted to complete her studies. She’s now back, and doing very well for herself. I’ve never had to help her. She is married and living away, but every time we meet up, we do discuss our projects. You can say that I am her worst critic.

How do your family and folks react to your performances?

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Sajal Aly Image Credit: Supplied

Saboor always tells me that she learns by watching my work. But, you know, at home I don’t allow anyone to praise me. I hate it when I hear words of praise. I am always fighting with my brother, Ali, for the same reason.

My philosophy of life is that praise can curb your growth. In my view, an actor needs to prove himself in each and every performance of his, and he cannot afford to be complacent.

Of your own performances, do you have any favourites?

I can’t say that about my own performances, but I do have a few favourite projects of mine, such as ‘O Rangreza’ and ‘Aangan’.

Finally, has life changed after marriage?

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Sajal Aly and Ahad Raza Mir Image Credit:

Life certainly changes after marriage. You begin to feel a sense of stability and security. It also disciplines you.

Career-wise, it didn’t affect me in any particular way, because both Ahad and my father-in-law are professional actors. So, we are able to understand each other very well. Besides, this year I’ve been working on one project after another, so the sets and locations have been my home for the most part.