Switching modes between runway glamour and the reality-driven big screen appearances she’s made in films like Zinda Bhaag and Good Morning Karachi, Amna Ilyas talks to Instep about her life, career and the truth about backstage drama.
Bindaas is the word that describes this runway hotshot best.
Dressed casually in a crisp white shirt and a pair of jeans, Amna Ilyas arrived at Espresso on time and before me. She was balancing her cell phone with a cigarette when I walked in – inexcusably delayed by the heavy Karachi traffic – but there was nothing of the prima donna cold shoulder that I expected to receive for being late. Amna was lounging in one of the leather sofas, an easy smile warming her dusky, androgynous and sometime intimidating runway avatar. Even in this makeup-free state she was attracting attention and curious glares from the people around but she was impressively indifferent to her surroundings. An hour into talking to her I realized that she was witty and far more alluring in person than how she came across on camera. She was unapologetically bindaas!
Amna isn’t a new face in the modeling industry; she has opened and closed shows for a myriad of top designers at fashion weeks, she has been the seductive, mysterious and intriguing face selling many a brand including Sana Safinaz and she has successfully transitioned from being the ‘runway queen’ to becoming Pakistani cinema’s budding ‘unconventional actress’ associated with an award-winning film like Zinda Bhaag as well as Good Morning Karachi. Fashion may have a shelf life but this 24-year-old has already found an alternative career and is paving her way to bigger goals in life. Instep spoke to the bold and vivacious catwalker as she stages an entertainment industry takeover:
Instep: You chose to branch out to cinema when you were at the top of your modeling career. Was it a conscious decision and why?
Amna Ilyas: Of course it was a conscious decision because I’ve only come here to work hard and make a name for myself. Initially I was sure that like others I would also step into television first however, I was fortunate enough to be offered films right at the beginning of my acting career. When I compared the offers I had, I felt cinema was clearly a bigger medium to start an acting career with. Plus it’s far more challenging. It can be stressing and fun at the same time. But I would like to add that I don’t intend to restrict myself to any one medium. Just like Hollywood actors and actresses, I will do both simultaneously.
Instep: Do you feel it was risky to make an acting debut with a film, given the status of Pakistani cinema at the time?
AI: Yes it was because at the end of the day how many films are actually being made in Pakistan. And even if there are ten films being made in a year, I can’t neither get all of them nor can I fit into each character. So I was always aware of the limitations associated with the field but I felt it was worth taking the risk.
Instep: Your role in Zinda Bhaag was the very opposite of your glamorous image as a runway model. Did that concern you at all?
AI: As far as acting is concerned, I have never imagined it to be a glamorous field because often the kind of stories we show and the characters we play resonate a very normal, common man from real life and people aren’t so glamorous in real life. As for the fashion image, it’s merely an illusion and not the reality. It is a marketing strategy to lure people towards the brand being endorsed. So a glamorous image doesn’t really matter to me and it wasn’t a hard decision for me to take. Whatever my character demands, I will do it.
Instep: Your last film Good Morning Karachi received a fair share of flak from film critics. Did that bother you?
AI: I am not the kind of person who reacts to criticism, in fact I tend to absorb it really well and try to take a lesson out of it. It doesn’t affect me that critics have bashed the film as long as they acknowledge my devotion towards it. And I am happy that despite mixed reviews, I have received positive feedback for my performance in the film.
Instep: Can you share details of your upcoming acting projects?
AI: I have signed a film called Driven for which we recently held a press conference and I am also doing a TV serial called Tum Mere Paas Ho. I play a very strong, independent character in it opposite Bushra Ansari; my role is unlike the usual victimized housewife we get to see. There is another film in the pipeline for which I am learning Kung Fu and I am really excited about it. It’s in its pre-production phase so I can’t disclose much about it right now.
Driven in particular is a very interesting project and I am really looking forward to it because when I read the script I was baffled and lost for words. It’s a film shot over one night, where two strangers who are desperate to change their lives cross paths and the film then unfolds the events that take place thereafter. It’s a really fast-paced and unpredictable film and will have everybody on the edge of their seats.
Instep: You also served as a mentor on the Veet Supermodel Hunt. Were you satisfied with the final results?
AI: No actually I wasn’t because I wasn’t there at the finale and I think if I was there things would’ve been a lot different. Since I was travelling and Veet had some internal issues where it stopped shooting in the middle, the recordings got delayed and I couldn’t make it to the final. I believe if I was present, the results wouldn’t have been the same. Nevertheless I am happy for whoever won because all the participants were like my younger siblings. My only intention was to teach them what I’ve learnt from my career.
Instep: There was an apparent friction between you and Sabina Pasha on the show. Was it a deliberate attempt to boost ratings?
AI: We had some issues going on but at the end of the day it was just a reality show and we were well aware of that. So we’ve gotten over it and it’s all pretty chilled out now. But yes, most of it was staged because the show demanded it. We were expected us to say things that were blustering and make us come across as very cocky!
Instep: On a similar note, the modeling industry is also quite infamous for catfights and leg-pulling. Is the notion true?
AI: Wherever there is a group of women working together, there are going to be issues and clashes. But that doesn’t mean we scratch each other’s faces off; we have proper rules backstage. I think the industry has evolved in recent years in the sense that girls are now aware of their responsibilities and of the consequences they might have to face for such behaviour. Minor issues exist but we don’t have major catfights as such. At least it hasn’t happened to me so far.
Instep: Unlike world over, models in Pakistan continue to walk the ramp even beyond the age of 40. Do you believe that models should have a shelf life?
AI: We really should have one because there are so many new girls; fresh young talent that wants to come up; if you are 40-year-old you just can’t compare yourself to a 22-year-old. She is going to have tighter skin and a far more energetic walk. Perhaps 40 can work for print because there is so much technology to help out with the final image but not for the ramp.
However, it is also to do with the fact that our industry still hasn’t reached international standards. We still have girls under 5’6” walking down the runway which is insane because that doesn’t happen anywhere in the world. There are just so many bases that are wrong. But personally I do feel that before people start saying it behind your back, it’s best to retire.
Instep: Finally, how do you think fashion weeks have helped models in Pakistan?
AI: Fashion weeks have given a much-needed platform to models for networking and expanding their market value. You get to meet both old and new designers and get to socialize with them; that obviously helps in getting more work.
Of course it’s also brought a lot of money with it. Initially there would just be one fashion week that would require 10 or so girls. Now there are so many fashion weeks and each of them demands more than 30 girls. So it’s offered a lot of financial and economic support. And I feel it has given the fashion industry a chance to grow and evolve as a whole.