By Fareeha Qayoom
er face has launched hundreds of apparel brands in Pakistan – no, surprisingly she has never been featured in a Television or print commercial, she is a fashion model specializing in runway shows and still fashion photography, a style icon and now a leading actress in range of roles that continue to show case her acting ability more than her status as a leading model of Pakistan.
She is not conventionally beautiful but she has a very striking face and a personality to match – she happens to be elegant and graceful off stage & off camera too. Her face is full of character and intelligence. In one word, she is hot. But that’s just her appearance. She is not your typical dizzy blonde nor is she a stereotypical model with an attitude. Living in the fast lane has not warped her personality at all. She has a bachelor’s degree from Kinnaird College for Women and a Diploma from Glauca Rossi from London. She also did a stint of regular work at Ali & Tieseen’s salon as a make-up artist before turning professional (model) back in 1996 and moving to Karachi.
She is very bright and extremely opinionated in real life too. She is also very likeable & yes, she is very smart. A gal with brains and beauty – a lethal combination that usually intimidates men in droves – she never lost her cool even once – believe me, I asked her a bunch of real hard hitting questions that should have gotten her goat. I was actually trying to make her lose it – but more about that when I get to our debate on Jinnah, the movie. Hmmm, what more can I say – meet Vaneeza Ahmad, truly a super model, a fashion icon of our times and pretty good ambassador for Pakistan anywhere. I say this because I never cringe on seeing her on stage. She makes us proud instead of embarrassed when we see her representing Pakistan on stage or on print abroad or here in Pakistan.
Vaneeza was ‘discovered’ while still studying (Kinnaird) by the designer of Meeras, Nilofer Shahid. “I never wanted to be a model, or an actor. I never even thought about it while at college. My acting career started when Jamal Shah asked me to do this play. What I love about my career is the fact that it has allowed me to be financially independent at a very early age. How many women in our country are allowed to be independent or can say that? There’s not a lot you can do as a woman after your bachelors. I didn’t have a Masters degree that would allow me to get into a high profile corporate career. Modeling allowed me to make good money and become successful in a very short period of time, the good thing is, I didn’t have to bust my gut from nine to five every day to do it.”
“The work itself is not very glamorous”, concedes Vaneeza. “We look glamorous so people think it’s a very glamorous profession. There is a lot of boring dog-work going on behind the scenes but at the end of the day, it’s a good job and it pays the bills. It has allowed me to earn enough money to own my very own apartment. Being financially independent is a big thing for me.”
Vaneeza was one heck of busy girl this July (2005) – she was traveling all over the place (USA & Europe) and was extremely hard to pin down. I caught her in one of her flying visits to Pakistan before she was off to do an acting job for Faheem Burney in Dubai – a mixed cast of Indian and Pakistani actors. Her work in Ali Azmat’s music video “na ray na” from his solo album social circus is currently playing on all the major music channels of India and Pakistan. The first video she did for Junoon had the distinct honor of going international and was featured on MTV but this actually is not a big deal for her. Speaking about her contribution to the music scene, she’s extremely modest. “What work? I only did three videos and all of them for Junoon. My impact on the music scene is pretty limited. Yes, I have seen the industry grow – there’s a lot more happening now then when I did “Sayoni” for Junoon. But videos were being made then too. I remember Aminah Haq was featured in quite a number of videos in those days. I don’t see any basic change – same people are doing the same things – it’s hardly overnight for any of them. It’s just that the entertainment industry has grown tremendously. There is a lot of original work coming out of Pakistan. It also depends on who you work with.”
Not all work seems to be original though, Pakistani professionals seem to be taking their cue from India as far as fashion or entertainment industry is concerned instead of blazing their own trail. “Yes, we are copying India but I actually don’t think copy is an appropriate word to describe this phenomenon. I would call it inspiration – we are getting inspired by India. We in Pakistan don’t live in a bubble. It’s happening everywhere. Hollywood copies from India. India copies from Hollywood. India has the largest entertainment industry in the world. It’s natural. We copy India because India has a similar culture and back ground to ours, our weddings are similar – we dress the same way, we even speak the same language, the only major difference between our two countries is religion. I don’t see any harm in this – it has allowed our industry to grow by learning from others. Besides, I think we are doing better work in terms of television and music than they are.”
Vaneeza thinks Pakistani fashion industry has come of age too. “There is no longer a “Begum” design approach to fashion for one thing. People are actually going to school to learn the basics of design and cut. There are so many new fashion schools that are contributing to this growing trend. Begum designing is history. I don’t think its arrogance on the part of new designers when they claim they are better than our traditional designers. They are. They are trained for this work. They know how to cut a shirt. In the past, dress designing was the profession of bored housewives only. I think it’s a positive change.”
About the possibility of holding a fashion week in Pakistan to put our industry on a more professional and international footing, Vaneeza is excited & positive, “We can be ready for anything, they are already talking about it in the fashion circles, but this thing needs to be backed by the government to make it effective and large scale.”
Vaneeza has experienced all mediums of acting in her career so far. She did stage work in college. She has done television work. She was lucky enough to even land a small role in a film called Jinnah with an international mix of actors – she played Dinah, Jinnah’s only daughter. Talking about her film experience, she says “I was extremely privileged to be part of this film. It’s part of our history. Such projects don’t come along every day. I have never thought about a career in films though – I don’t know if I want to grow in this direction.”
Vaneeza has only good things to say about Jinnah, the movie, which actually surprised me – “I think it was a good movie.” I happened to disagree with Vinny’s assessment – I think this movie sucked on several counts, the script and story line at the top of my list; I was extremely vocal about my disappointment to see such a great character reduced to a mere pantomime of the original – Vaneeza to give her due continued to defend the movie. “Jinnah was a very understated character. It was a difficult to create a movie around his character. I think it turned out well in spite of all the difficulties.” I went for the jugular than…I really made her defend her position on this movie. I felt it didn’t do justice to Jinnah’s character at all – it also didn’t make any mileage out of all the dramatic possibilities and events that happened in our history – he changed the course of history for Muslims in India – let’s get real, he had to have a pretty dynamic personality to achieve that!
Vinny was quick to retort, “You know the trouble with Pakistan? People love to tear down someone else’s effort. No one will come forward and appreciate the fact that such a movie was made but every one is quick to criticize!” Diplomatic and loyal. These qualities are endearing but what can I say, I still disagreed with Vaneeza. In my opinion, the reason why the movie never made the grade internationally is precisely how Vinny put it— Jinnah’s effort and achievement should have been appreciated in the movie, instead of being torn down and criticized by the writers. The problem was never acting but a lack of respect for the characters that shaped our history. The writers also chose to emphasize events that actually didn’t do anything for the story or the characters that it portrayed. It’s sad that such good acting was wasted on such a badly written screen play.
Vaneeza doesn’t think modeling or acting is related to age. “I plan to continue doing what I am doing now – modeling and acting. At my age, it’s difficult to find another career and reinvent yourself. No, there is a lot of scope in growing with this job. Take Abid Ali, or Shabana Azmi, or any older Holly wood actor like Anthony Hopkins – they continue to find interesting roles. If you have the spark, you can continue to find and do interesting work. People who have given up acting to pursue other things have done so because they didn’t want to act anymore – I don’t think age is a factor in their decision to stop.”
Vaneeza is a self-proclaimed workaholic. “I have no time to do anything other than work. Any spare time I have, I end up spending it with my family. I am very focused on my work – I don’t feel I am missing out in my life by working non-stop. I am very fulfilled and happy.”■
This article was originally published in the print edition of “The Knit-Xtyle Fashion Review,” (Tkfr), issue 12, October 2005