November issue 2010

By | People | Profile | Published 14 years ago

She stares at you from gargantuan billboards on main boulevards, sits pretty on covers of numerous fashion magazines and captures hearts through riveting drama serials. But behind the smokescreen of cameras and make-up is a very simple down-to-earth woman. Barefoot, dressed casually in t-shirt and jeans, hair casually knotted up, Aamina Sheikh greets me with a radiant smile at her house in Defence.

How did the daughter of a pharmacist, with a family business in textiles, turn to the big screen?

“My dad was also the black sheep of the family,” says Aamina, as she settles down comfortably on a sofa. She explains how her father veered away from the textile career chalked out for him and turned to his passion: chemistry. Admirably fluent in both English and Urdu, Aamina was born in New York City, and spent part of her childhood in Saudi Arabia. “We always called ourselves the naqli Sheikhs, the ones in Saudi being the real ones,” she laughs. After completing her ‘A’ Levels in Karachi, Aamina studied film and video production in Amherst’s Hampshire College. Returning to Pakistan for this ambitious student was not yet on the horizon. Her last year in college was spent in the historic cities of Istanbul and Ankara, where she stepped out of her classroom and gained hands-on experience in filmmaking and photography. While working in a production company in New York, Aamina eventually got wind of the media boom in Pakistan and decided to return. “My brothers were very surprised when I decided to come back to Pakistan; they said you are crazy!” laughs Aamina.

Now the most sought-after model and actress in Pakistan — with a nomination for the prestigious Lux Style Awards in the best model category — Aamina explains with refreshing candour how she took the traditional route of going door-to-door with her CV till she landed a job at Geo TV, as the director of Baachey Man Ke Saachey. “And I was really persistent,” she beams. “In those two years that I was there, I had to unlearn everything that I had learnt academically, and I discovered how to do things all over again.” Technically educated in lighting and camera angles, Aamina was soon handed the production of the show as well. Around the same time she met the well-known model Tanya Shafi who suggested that Aamina get a proper portfolio done, which the budding star took very seriously. She giggles as she narrates the story of when she sent her portfolio (see photos of Aamina below) to an ad agency and the clients of a certain product called her up and actually asked to buy her shots from that portfolio, instead of hiring her to do another shoot. After a two-year stint with Geo, Aamina decided to do some freelance assignments — and get married. In the course of her work, she had met the man she wanted to spend her life with.

“Oh! It’s you,” remarked Aamina when she met Mohib Mirza, the young host of Baachay Man Key Saachay. “Mohib used to come to my school to do Urdu plays. At the time I was working in English plays with Rahat Kazmi, so I knew him,” she smiles. Mohib Mirza, a seasoned actor who won the Best Supporting Actor Award at the International Film Festival in Kent, 2009, for Inshallah, ran a theatre group called Dramebaaz that Aamina later joined. They fell for each other and have delightful anecdotes of the hours Mohib spent trying to convince Aamina’s father to let him marry his daughter. “We have been married for five years now and still consider each other best of friends.” The two have co-starred in several drama serials, and Aamina feels, “It is a big blessing to be working in the same field and there is no clash.”

Khaled Ahmed’s telefilm Gurmukh Singh ki Wasiyat, based on a Manto short story about Partition, marked Aamina’s entry into television. Playing the daughter of a retired Muslim judge in this poignant drama, she caught the attention of drama addicts. Her first role in a serial came soon after, in Humayun Saeed’s Wilco — a story about the army and the call of duty. “Roles such as these are so distinct from your own lives that you really enjoy doing them. Mostly channels like to play it safe and very few are keen to portray such characters, since their ulterior goal is to make sure the serial is a hit among the masses,” says the talented actress, who has certainly pushed the limits of conventional television.

In the revolutionary telefilm Asmaan Choolay, Aamina was cast in the role of a rickshaw driver, the sole breadwinner of her family. With her feet propped up on the side of the rickshaw and chewing carelessly on a twig, Aamina swept aside all traditional notions of female characters in one go. She didn’t know how to drive a rickshaw but had to drive one. She had to manoeuvre the vehicle at peak traffic hours on M.A. Jinnah Road and in Garden area, with a camera affixed to the side of the rickshaw. “I even got a couple of passengers, who never realised who I was, and then there were these street children who chased me with a broken light bulb, upon discovering that I was a female,” says Aamina laughing.

Three major serials starring Aamina in lead roles — Daam, Haal-e-Dil, Dil-e-Nadan and Ishqe Gumshuda — have completed their run and four other serials featuring the actor — Hum Tum, Uraan, Mera Saeen and Abdul Qadir Houn — are scheduled for the new quarter. In Dil-e-Nadan, she co-starred with Nadeem Baig and Samina Peerzada, and she was full of praise for them: “It still amazes me that people who have worked for 25 years still come with so much passion on the set. It is very reassuring.” Aamina is extremely discerning when it comes to accepting roles and steers clear of the more commercial ventures. “I don’t do soaps because they are money-making tools and all of them are 100-plus episodes and require more then six months of commitment,” she explains with candour.

Aamina’s versatility on camera is commendable. But it does not end with acting. She displays equal flair in her fashion shoots. “I detest bridal shoots! You have to strike the same typical poses. I like to create something new with my body language,” says the dark-haired beauty, who has been compared to Angelina Jolie. Fashion has evolved by leaps and bounds in the recent past, and Aamina has been at the helm of it all. She made her runway debut with Rehana Saigol’s fashion show in 2008, but with a height of 5ft 5inches, she prefers to stay away from the ramp. Her recent mega Eid campaign for Sheep, a clothing outlet, adorns billboards all over Karachi, but her forte seems to be print modelling. She has been chosen as the cover girl for several fashion magazines and has recently done a shoot for Niche with Atif Aslam. Dedicated and professional, Aamina brings to the shoot what many models in Pakistan don’t — creative input. After all, she’s majored in the arts.

How does Aamina Sheikh survive in the cut-throat business of modelling? “Essentially, it is not a corrupt business, only a few bad fish tend to dirty the pool. And anyway, I am not very socially active within the industry,” she remarks.

Aamina likes to spend time with her family at home, cleaning up or watching a good movie. Her life, surprisingly, is far removed from the glitz and glamour of showbiz. “I hang out with my childhood friends — I treat my TV colleagues and my friends as two separate entities; it helps keep me grounded.”

On the career front, Aamina plans to sign up for less clichéd roles. “Rather than depicting women as victims I would prefer to portray them as powerful figures instead. Additionally, I would also like to address the situation in Pakistan.” In light of the political turmoil and the violence that has gripped Karachi, she feels that television offers a potent medium through which important messages can be delivered to the public. But Aamina humbly confesses that she still has to put in a number of years in the industry before she sets out to change the world.

Her heart is equally set on doing films, even though the embryonic film industry has a long way to go. “It may take a lifetime but Pakistan will gain a foothold in the cinema industry. They just have to carve out their own identity and take it from there,” says the effervescent, ever-optimistic actress. Having worked in several telefilms, she feels that there is enough potential in them to be transformed into full-length feature films. As the media industry continues to booms, Aamina’s predictions may yet come true.

Click any photo to begin the slide show:

Maheen Bashir Adamjee is an APNS award-winning journalist. She was an editorial assistant at Newsline from 2010-2011.