Say hello to TV’s it girl – Ainy Jaffri Rahman! Known for playing characters of strong, independent women, Ainy isn’t afraid to pursue what she wants. In just six years, Ainy has whizzed past every benchmark of stardom, thanks to her selective projects. From lending her voice to the superheroine Jiya in Burka Avenger – listed as one of TIME magazine’s most influential fictional characters of 2013 – to playing Maira in Aseerzadi, Ainy has come a long way since she first made her TV debut in a college drama Dreamers. She holds pride in not being typecast, is selective about her projects, and in no rush to take more – she is clearly a yardstick for other young actors to follow, investing her time and skill in quality scripts.
From the time she learnt to talk, a period of which she has no memory, Ainy Jaffri Rahman was an entertainer. “I was told by family, I was always in front of the camera posing and talking to a lot of people; I was a bit of an exhibitionist. If I was in a room, I would want people to know I was there by engaging with them,” the artiste, who grew up in Singapore, puts across. Spending nine years in the Lion City, Ainy would mostly be found at the ‘lost and found’ centres of shopping hubs. “We used to go to the malls a lot and my mother would take me with her and I would talk to strangers all the time. They found this act of mine ‘cute’ and I would be engaged in conversation with them,” and more often than not this ingénue would be lost performing her craft.
“The loudspeakers would be blaring, calling out to my mother, ‘Mrs. Jaffri, your daughter is here with us please come and collect her’,” Ainy fondly shares memories from her childhood.
Her venture into the sphere of show-business wasn’t a plain sail. “My mother was excited, but was also a little weary,” she talks about how challenging it was to convince her parents to let her join a profession she thoroughly enjoyed. But then a guardian angel wrapped her wings around her.
“When I joined, my khala, Azra Mohyeddin, who is married to Zia Mohyeddin, had started acting. She used to sing, but not professionally. When I stepped in, she knew everybody so I had her support and that made my parents a bit comfortable, but no, they weren’t that happy,” Ainy points out how demanding that time was. “It took them years to get comfortable with it; even now, when I’m married I have relatives who enquire when I will stop, thinking it’s a phase. But it has lasted six years! Thankfully I’m in a career in which we never have to stop till the day we die.”
The first to be a part of this industry from her maternal and paternal side, Ainy started acting in her late 20s. This ‘regular, down-to-earth woman’ is extremely grateful to be doing something she is so passionate about. “It is tough for women, especially in Pakistan, and around the world to juggle between the two (professional and personal life), especially if one’s husband isn’t from the same industry,” and the dramatic artist marks out the patience that is required. “The work schedule of this very career can be demanding and at times the intimacy that is required with the co-actor can be very hard for one’s own family and husband, too,” Ainy explicitly defines the dynamics of the stagecraft.
“Not only in Pakistan is show-business stereotyped, but even around the world, actors are considered to have lose morals”
But grateful she is and has every reason to be, for her husband supports her endlessly. “Faris works in finance and hasn’t lived in Pakistan for almost 20 years,” and endless support is what she gets from him. “He is as cool as he can be. I was already acting for three years when we met, so he knew what I was doing and was quite excited about it. Times when I have to be away from him and home, can be testing for Faris, as he misses me,” Ainy says.
She has set her own standards and limitations for herself and that was even before she met her better half. “I’m bound by certain traditions, aspects of my culture and have made boundaries for my own self, and will not make any changes to the stuff I will or will not do,” she asserts. And that has made her let go of some major projects, but Ainy has no qualms.
“There was a Disney film, apart from another British film, which would have been big but I didn’t go for it,” and her reason for not taking up the project was?
“I will not kiss, I will not wear certain clothes that are revealing; maybe in another lifetime but not this.”
Painting herself with words, Ainy refers to herself as “blunt, honest, hard-working and headstrong”. A Bachelors in Marketing, Ainy did her undergrad from McGill University, Canada. “I lived and worked in Canada for six years in marketing, working with huge global agencies. I did that for a few years and then moved to Pakistan, continuing to work in the same field.” If not acting, she might have trodden the same path or pursued journalism, but she is glad she didn’t, for she found marketing “boring”.
Starting off in 2010, Ainy’s first project was Zip Bus Chup Raho (ZBCR) followed by Dreamers. “I played Aisha Khan’s daughter which was really strange and Mohib (Mirza) was in it too.” From practicing in front of mirrors to stepping out on a real set with a crew, the very first time turned out to be hard for this trouper. Having worked with Karachi Drama Circle, Ainy found acting for the small screen “hard”.
“I had never done camera acting before, so I didn’t have the sense of different frames, cuts and types of shots. I used to get confused when we would redo everything,” she recollects. And she had another challenge to counter. “I think in English. Probably it was because of my schooling; maybe my parents should’ve pushed Urdu on me more,” Ainy discloses the issues she faced with scripts initially. “Going through the scripts quickly was difficult, for I hadn’t read that much in Urdu and I had to Romanise everything. During my auditions I was repeatedly told that my accent needs to be desi and not too anglicised, and for the first couple of years that was challenging.”
“I’m bound by certain traditions, aspects of my culture and have made boundaries for my own self, and will not make any changes to the stuff I will or will not do”
Characters that speak out loud to Ainy are strong female roles. She has given her voice to Burka Avenger, an animated TV series that was nominated for the International Emmy Kids Awards. The hazel-green eyed actress is all smiles revelling that very moment. “OMG! It was amazing. Like I wasn’t surprised for the show is globally so appealing! I mean Emmy’s are huge, and to know Pakistan’s work was recognised on such a massive platform, was big,” she talks about the animated character who “is not fighting bad guys with guns, but with books and pens.” Even though the locally produced animation didn’t win the award, but appreciation on a global scale did mean something for all those who worked so hard on the project.
Ainy enjoys the craft she does to the fullest. “I love the research process; from reading the script to getting into the character and then losing oneself in front of the camera,” the chiselled-faced lady shares, how she fully lives through each process. “When people come to me and say they can relate to my character, that makes me happy. You want the viewers to be moved, for you are entertaining them at the end of the day,” she talks about the importance of feedback, while she adds, “It (the character) has to speak to people on some level.”
For Ainy, acting is an escape from reality. “It’s like an adrenaline rush. Knowing that all eyes and cameras are on you, and that every muscle movement will be caught, losing yourself in a character that isn’t you; transforming yourself into a different reality is what I enjoy fully,” and it’s not that Ainy doesn’t like her own reality, as she states, “It’s just that I like living all these different lives which makes me more compassionate to all sorts of people.”
Last year, career wise, has been unforgettable for this soon-to-be-seen on silver screen star. Balu Mahi, which will hit cinemas on Valentine’s Day, kept Ainy occupied the previous year. “It was my first film with a title and lead role in which Mahi is the soul of the film, who has two avatars – I won’t say she has a dual role, but that’s a surprise for the audience,” she talks about her character. Paired alongside Osman Khalid Butt, Ainy learnt horse riding and polo for her character in the film. “It is not easy to act, and emote and then play polo,” she states, while pointing out how 90% of the shoot was outdoors. “We shot on mountain tops where people couldn’t breathe, some even suffered nosebleeds, so it was physically challenging, and emotionally too it was hard being away from family half of the year.” Seeing actresses lip-sync on screens seems easy but Ainy reveals, “Every syllable with eye movements has to mean something,” and she talks about how on the first day of the set she broke down.
Ainy was cast in a Bollywood film, when tensions across the border were soaring, but her visa didn’t come through. She has no issues in working in any of the entertainment woods, be it Hollywood or Bollywood. “I don’t think artistes are supposed to be bound geographically. If I get a good script, and if the role, and story speaks to me, I will go for it,” says the planner who “goes with the flow, leaving everything to fate and destiny.”
If anything that irks her, it has to be all those “fanatics who do watch shows but they have the wrong perception about entertainers. This needs to change! Not only in Pakistan is show business stereotyped, but around the world actors are considered to have lose morals,” with a prominent increase in her pitch, Ainy reaffirms how important it is now to respect all those associated with the entertainment sphere.
Does she believe as an entertainer she has a cultural responsibility? “I don’t want to take it upon myself and make it so heavy. Yes and no. I mean, on one hand, I believe artistes should not be bound by politics, religions or cultures. As an actor you should be able to transcend those boundaries. As a pure actor that’s all your responsibility. You should be able to play any role.” And she quotes Zia Mohyeddin, “If you are a serious actor, then the clothes you wear, the intimacy shared on screen are things that shouldn’t be of your concern be it in England, America or Pakistan. All that is required from an actor is to be honest in front of the camera and these are not things that a serious actor thinks of.” But Ainy is “just not an actor, but a daughter, a wife and a Muslim Pakistani girl, who has a responsibility to herself.” •
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