Being a star kid is a lot harder than it sounds. In Bollywood the privilege may offer one a potentially exciting launch pad but it doesn’t really guarantee future success; cases in point: Abhishek Bachchan, Uday Chopra, Esha Deol. The pressure of following their parents’ footsteps is often intense; critics are harsher in their verdict and the audience judgmental over comparisons. In Momal Sheikh’s case, however, there were no advantages to begin with. Veteran Pakistani actor Javed Sheikh’s daughter, Momal has been working on and off television for the past few years, switching between the roles of a lead actress and a talk show host. And while she has managed to prove her mettle as an actress in TV serials like Aitraaf and Mirat ul Uroos, she doesn’t quite enjoy the star status that many of her contemporaries do. In her own words, “it’s not an easy journey” and it seems the Pakistani entertainment industry is a rather tough place where there are no free rides and where the only way up is through hard work.
It’s then no wonder that Momal, who recently made a confident and commendable Bollywood debut in Aanand L Rai’s Happy Bhag Jayegi, feels that B-town is relatively “warmer and kinder”. That’s a comment that landed her in hot water back home, ruffling more than a handful of sensitive feathers.
“People were really nice and warmer; I had a great experience working with all of them but I never said they were better than people here in Pakistan. I have been misinterpreted and misquoted,” Momal clarified in response to the backlash. “I was very nervous when I first went there; it wasn’t my home ground and they weren’t my people. But everybody was very supportive, even my co-stars were there to help me if I needed anything. It’s all about being a good host and they all came across as my own people so I didn’t feel any difference. And this is what I meant by that statement.”
Momal has also been wearing the producer’s hat for several years and wasn’t quite passionate about acting until she landed a prominent role in TV sitcom, Frequency, which marked her acting debut. In Happy Bhag Jayegi, a rom-com that revolves around a runaway bride, Momal stars as a “confident, self-made woman” called Zoya, who is full of emotions and is completely in love with her fiancé.
“The character has shades of my own personality so it was easier for me to portray this one. I didn’t have to do much work for it,” the actress shared. “I felt that I could build my character within the script that revolved around the lives of many people and I was one of them. For me, the major attraction to go for this role was that I was playing a Pakistani girl; I was delighted that I’d be representing my country internationally in my first film only.”
Unluckily for Momal, Pakistan’s censor board did not feel the same way and the film was not cleared for release and no official reason was given for the ban.
“They are still not giving any official quote on the ban, which means they are still thinking what the problem is,” asserts Momal, who is justifiably upset over the issue. “I haven’t watched the whole film so I am not in a position to comment on it. However, I feel that if an offensive comment comes from an Indian character in the film then it’s wrong but if the character is a Pakistani, that is, Bilal Ahmed (Abhay Deol) then it’s not. We too pass remarks on our country but we still love it.”
The actress is of the view that if the ban has been enforced in the interest of the country then she has no qualms about it and that her film is very small in front of her country’s dignity. But if it has been done for some internal (questionable) reasons then it’s not right and she is “upset” about it.
“It’s not mandatory to bring a political angle to every affair; this is just a form of art so one should take it lightly. I don’t think there is as much hatred between the two countries as we get to see through media,” maintains Momal.
Hatred or not, there is only appreciation for Momals’s performance in India; critics have lauded Momal’s performance in Happy Bhag Jayegi. “Momal Sheikh, in her first big screen release, is a welcome addition to the growing tribe of Pakistani actresses trying their luck in Mumbai films,” remarks an Indian publication.
Momal does not have the main role but she is content with her decision that she chose this film as her launch pad in Bollywood. “There was enough margin for me to perform,” the HBJ actress believes. “Bollywood is huge. Happy Bhag Jayegi has a star-studded cast and making an appearance among all of them is a big thing. I took it as a challenge and I believe I have done justice to my role and the film.”
Even though she is the second lead, she managed to impress viewers and critics with her strong presence in the film. “Momal Sheikh has few scenes in the film but she is watchable as a possessive classy fiancé,” the Deccan Chronicle reviewed.
Here are a few excerpts from our conversation…
Instep: Was working in Bollywood always a dream for you?
Momal Sheikh (MS): Not at all. In fact, I’d never thought that I would ever get a chance. If it had been a dream, I would have gone there, struggled for it or asked baba (Javed Sheikh) to help me out. It was sheer luck that I was offered this film and got an opportunity to prove myself.
Instep: What impact do you think it will have on your career?
MS: I have matured as an actor; the experience of working in Bollywood will help me a lot in my career. I am sure now when I will get back to the silver screen in Pakistan, there will be a difference in the way I act.
Instep: Was this the first Bollywood film that was offered to you?
MS: No, I was offered quite a few other films, Welcome Back being one of them. But I couldn’t accept since I was pregnant. Then I was offered two films while I was filming HBJ but I thought let this film come out first and see how it fares. Also, I have a lot of restrictions so in the next offer I need to see what I can do and what I can’t. Of course the banner has to be good and the script has to be good. I need to see if I am lucky enough to get something like that. Right now I have not been offered any film.
Instep: Have you been offered any Pakistani film so far?
MS: No, I haven’t been offered any Pakistani film yet and I don’t know why (laughs). On second thought there was one offered to me in February, opposite Danish Taimoor and baba was also a part of it but I couldn’t take that up because I was shooting for HBJ. I would love to work in a Pakistani film and I think it should be my next goal.
Instep: How do you manage family with work?
MS: I have a very supportive family, both my mother’s side as well as my in-laws, including my husband. I don’t stay away from home for more than 10-12 days and once I come back I make sure I spend a lot of time with my kid and my family.
Instep: What other projects are you currently working on?
MS: I wanted to take a break so I don’t plan to do much work. I am considering a script for a drama I’ve been offered lately and have to finish shooting for my play Khuda Gawah that is already on air.