Amna Ilyas Has Seamlessly Evolved From Model To Actor
In a very short time indeed, she has become a household name with the much-buzzed about film Zinda Bhaag, which has been selected from Pakistan for Oscar consideration at the 86th Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film category. In the coming months, she will continue to be on the big screen with Sabiha Sumar’s upcoming feature Good Morning Karachi.
“Zinda Bhaag was a great experience and a good movie, one that appeals to everybody,” she says. “Rubina’s character is fun, passionate, bold and upfront, and the best part is that many girls, who have started working at a young age, can relate to her.”
In real life, Amna’s story is probably the same as the role she plays. She began modelling at about 16, following in the footsteps of her older sisters,
Uzma and Salma Ilyas, who she says are now happily married and living abroad. Despite her bubbly personality, Amna confesses to being a low-profile kind of person.
“Meri bahut ziyda shoon shan naheen hoti,” she says, breaking into Urdu, which she does often during the conversation. The youngest of four siblings, she still lives at home with her mother and brother in Karachi and on the afternoon before the premiere of Zindaa Bhaag, she enthusiastically tells Hello! “My mother is really excited and is coming to the premiere tonight.” Her family’s appreciation is important to her and she feels pleased that her parent has been supportive of her career.
“I have had no family pressure; my family is fine with it,” she says. Tragically, Amna’s father died when she was very young, and her voice is shaky as she shares this information. Amna prides herself on being a method actor and attributes her initial training to Sabiha Sumar, before she began shooting Good Morning Karachi (known till recently by its working title, Rafina). “She is a brilliant director who introduced me to the finer nuances of acting through training workshops, especially exercises on how to explore oneself and one’s body language.”
Amna explains that Sabiha trained her for three months before shooting Rafina, the award winning director’s second feature film (the first was Khamosh Pani), which Amna describes as an emotional and intimate, woman oriented film about a middle class girl who ends up being a supermodel,
and the choices that affect her irreversibly. Good Morning Karachi has done the international festival circuit, was shown at the Raindance Festival
in early October, and is now awaiting national release.
While there was also similar preshoot training for Zinda Bhaag, Amna found that the experience she underwent as the leading lady from Rafina, prepared her for her second film project, directed by the talented Farjad Nabi and Meenu Gaur.
“Overall, the Zinda Bhaag experience was good and the three male actors in the film were new and exciting, so it was fun to work with them,” she
says. To her surprise and joy, she found that the film shoot started immediately and finished quickly – it was shot in Lahore and took about 45 days to complete. “We had a couple of weeks of workshops and script reading – an intensive course, I must say,” says Amna. “But I like doing these rehearsals and my role in the film took about two weeks of shooting.”
What Amna finds most exciting about Zindaa Bhaag is that it relates to the masses and that, for a change, Rubina is not a the typical trademark female character of mainstream Pakistani cinema. “In Pakistani movies so far, women are a stereotypical representation of social norms, projected as victims who are under a lot of social pressure,” she says.
“But we must keep in mind that in every society there are problems and we overly tend to victimise our women. I’m sorry to say that in Pakistan, I don’t think that is the reality.” Amna is refreshingly positive about what women can do in Pakistan and believes they have several advantages. “When I walk into a bank, I see men move to the side, into their own line, and out of respect they let women go ahead. We don’t appreciate these finer things – have you noticed that the police would never stop a woman in this country.” She laughs.
The conversation turns from female characters in Pakistani movies, back to the lead girl in Zinda Bhaag, who Amna feels is outgoing and express herself unselfconsciously. “Rubina is just like a normal, young 22-year-old girl,” she says. “She is very open, very outgoing. The kind of image that we projected in Zinda Bhaag is that irrespective of social standing – Rubina is from a lower-middle-class background in Lahore – a young woman can be
independent and fun-loving. “It’s not a given that only young people from privileged backgrounds enjoy themselves,” says Amna adamantly.
“I was totally in tune with my character, moving away from the stereotypical image that women in Pakistan are repressed and sad. It was great to
portray a reality where women work, where they are passionate.”
Amna is also the kind of person who regularly counts her blessings. “I have been blessed with all the people who came into my life; friends, makeup
artists, photographers, editors – they all became my friends and have supported me through the course of my career.” While she admits that the journey to supermodel stardom, and now actor, was a struggle, she is not entirely self-effacing about her repertoire of skills. “When you have talent than you get seen and noticed,” she says confidently. And she attributes a couple of important personal qualities that led her to become a successful supermodel,
“Firstly, I am very professional – I have no issues at all about the kind of clothes I am asked to wear. If I am required to wear a bikini for a shoot, then I will. Secondly, I am very easygoing, people like having me on set, I don’t throw a tantrum unless it’s a huge issue, and thirdly, I think I have a great body and great looks as well, so that helps,” she says. Surely, this kind of clarity is a great plus point for a woman poised at success.
Amna is really not the one to preen and pose, except on the ramp. “I am really particular about my work, what I say, how I speak, how I look – these
are the little things that really matter.”
So is looking good on top of her list of priorities? “I am just chill,” she says, “Mein bilkul chill hoon,” explaining again in Urdu. “I have no desire to have Botox,” she continues unselfconsciously. “It’s not right to tamper with nature. I am really scared of doctors and syringes so that is an issue for me.” She attributes her chilled out state of mind to the kind of person that she is – someone who doesn’t really stress out much.
So while that is a good thing, Amna also explains that doesn’t mean one loses the bigger picture, especially in a business where there is a very fine line between vulgarity and elegance. “There is a way to even get naked,” she says, clarifying that she has always been discerning about projects and maintaining her standards and dignity. She rattles of a list of designers she loves wearing; Zaheer Abbas, Fahd Hussayn, Shehla Chatoor HSY, Kamiar Rokni, Umar Sayeed. “Sana Safinaz are an absolute pleasure,” she exclaims. And in the west, Elie Saab and Alexander McQueen excite her, “I’ll wear anything short that will show off my legs.”
Amna’s positive attitude has catapulted her to the limelight – her mantra: “Whatever you do, in whichever field you are, make sure you do it properly.” “Keep dreaming,” she advises, “I dream a lot, and slowly, I find my dreams come true.”
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