Pakistani-American actress-turned-social-activist, Somy Ali is a name that rings a bell. What most of us know is that Ali moved to the USA in December 1999 after ending her nine-year-long relationship with a cinema giant (we’ll get to that later); what we don’t know is that she graduated from the New York Film Academy and traveled the entire US with gang-rape survivor, Mukhtaran Mai. Somy Ali, a young actress made popular for her relationship with Salman Khan, made her first documentary on Mai’s life titled I Can Survive and since then, there’s been no looking back.
Ali registered her non-profit organization, No More Tears in 2006 and set out on a mission to help women who are brought to the US from Pakistan and India and are abused, also children who are victims of human trafficking. “Being a victim of child abuse myself, I think my greatest achievement has been to be able to survive, be a fighter instead of delving into self-pity, because I think that doesn’t accomplish much. I want to be able to help other women and children too,” Ali said.
“It’s very gratifying,” she added in this quick catch-up conversation we had. “I still cannot believe that we have been able to help over 3,000 victims. It’s very difficult for a woman, who’s been brought here from a village through an arranged marriage and is abused, to step out of her house. I think it’s essential to raise a voice for the voiceless.”
We took her life back to the year 1991, when Somy Ali had flown to Mumbai, India and was spotted by Bollywood actor, Dharmender’s assistant in her hotel lobby; he had immediately offered the 15-year-old her debut flick. Somy’s father was the brain behind Pakistan’s first ever Pashto film and she had already appeared in television commercials as a child artist but acting or modeling wasn’t what brought her to the land of the Taj. “I never went to India to get into movies. I went there because I watched Salman’s breakthrough film, Maine Pyaar Kiya and wanted to get married to him!” she chuckled.
She first met her star crush because of Buland, the film they ended up signing together. The film led to a nine-year relationship, which realized her dream but at the same time shattered it. “The awe of a superstar died very quickly,” she recalls. “I realized that I had fallen in love with the character of a film and the actual person was very different.”
It wasn’t all bad, she clarifies, as she does go down memory lane every once in a blue moon. “I learnt a lot about giving and caring from Salman and his family. They are very hospitable, respect every culture and are big on philanthropy. They’ve played a pivotal role in my late teenage years.”
Somy’s personal life was turbulent but her career in Bollywood was nothing short of a rollercoaster ride either. “I was 16, all alone in a hotel room, with no family or guidance. It was tough. I trusted people very easily,” she admits when I ask her to comment on her journey as a B-town diva. “I did make mistakes; however, the best part for me was to travel all over India. I used to watch movies with my mother – she was a fan of Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna – and meeting all these people was fantastic.”
No longer associated with the world of glitz, glamour and gloss, Somy does encourage the revival of local cinema as well as the trade of talent between Pakistan and India. “I believe every act of terrorism needs to be condemned, regardless of race or nationality. I also believe that artists should not be stopped from working in India or vice versa. Art has nothing to do with terrorism. We grew up on Hindi cinema. That’s been our source of entertainment; hence, it’s very sad seeing the current scenario.”
Distending herself from the world of cinema by the day, the only association she has with art is when celebrities step forward to endorse her organization. Case in point: the global singing sensation, Madonna. She isn’t very fond of watching movies either though she does voice her opinion about the courtroom drama, Pink, which to her was a film “very necessary.”
After catering to mentally, physically and sexually harassed women and children for a decade, Somy is all geared up to expand her humanitarian and selfless cause by launching the Somy Ali Foundation next year; the Foundation will provide meals, uniforms and school supplies for those who cannot afford it.
Somy’s journey from films to philanthropy is inspirational and we hope she’ll achieve what she’s set out for.