Clad in a loose striped shirt and black baggy pants, Suhaee steps out of a suitcase... yes, a suitcase! This was the first time when I saw her perform in Karachi Arts Council’s jam-packed auditorium where the audience was waiting to see her dance like never before. Goonj, Suhaee’s brainchild was a performance she used to exhibit her personal journey and left the audience not just mesmerised but dewy-eyed at the same time following snippets of her life with the help of personal monologues and of course, dance. “It (Goonj) was not a typical performance with beautiful costume and jewellery. It was raw and experimental and I was really happy that people came and appreciated it,” she says, adding “There were some memories that I chose to speak about. Like my childhood, my struggle with epilepsy and the part about my niece’s death. So the audience didn’t know what to expect next,” Suhaee says, recalling her recent performance at Karachi’s cultural hub after coming back from Italy to spend time with her loved ones.
Being born in a family that not just respects the arts but has also contributed immensely to the field, for her mother Atiya Dawood is known for her activism as well as her influential writings, while her father Khuda Bux Abro is a popular painter and illustrator. No wonder Suhaee was given complete freedom to pursue a career in the performing arts, making her an accomplished dancer and an actress performing strong roles on TV. However, her love for dance knows no boundaries and will always be a priority.
“While doing a lot of acting projects, I wasn’t dancing as much, so it was really frustrating for me to just sit and wait for my scenes to begin. Be glamorous, decked up in make-up and get photo shoots done; that’s not my thing. I need to sweat, dance and be on the floor. So acting is not enough for me and I will never ever leave dance, but I would still love to do interesting acting projects,” she reveals, adding, “My father still has a letter I wrote to myself when I was nine years old, wherein I wrote that I am going to become a dancer when I grow up, which I did, fortunately.”
Suhaee is not a regular dancer. For her, dance is a way of life. “Dance for me is very natural and I feel that it doesn’t necessarily mean moving a lot, it’s in us by default. We move our bodies in a certain way when we are sad or our body language becomes a certain way when we are happy, at weddings or even when we hear something, so there’s always movement in our body. Even the blood rushing through our veins is movement,” she makes it known.
The 23-year-old ballerina has been dancing for more than 16 years. She received her initial training at the age of seven for Bharatnatyam and Kathak from Sheema Kirmani – a well-known name in the dancing realm – and gave numerous performances ever since then. However, the dusky lass decided to delve deep and explore the art by learning innovative moves and contemporary dance from Italy, where she currently resides. “I found a program there for contemporary dance at the right moment. I felt much better and happier there. While here, I wasn’t improving and my mind was still stuck in the same place. Creatively, it helped me discover myself better. Despite having performed in India, China, Nepal and Germany, I was not exposed to the world outside as much as I should have,” she talks about her life abroad, which according to her is “a different experience”, considering, it gave her a chance to be alone and understand herself, while working with different artistes and people from all over the world.
Suhaee has worked in several TV projects that did not just entertain viewers but carried strong messages for the society to ponder upon. Her work in drama serials Shaali, Guddi, Man Kay Moti, Baba Ki Rani, Noori, Sang-e-Mar Mar and Mor Mahal were all based upon strong characters that are entrenched in viewers’ minds. But keeping in mind her work throughout, it isn’t difficult to notice repetition in the kind of roles she is normally seen performing. Is she a victim of typecasting? I ask. “Yes, I’m often typecast. First of all, I look very desi and secondly I’m Sindhi, so I can pull off a Sindhi accent (when speaking in Urdu), which is why I get a lot of desi roles like that of a village girl. Somehow, people just don’t see me as the modern girl,” she laments about the dilemma, adding, “Many times I have said no to roles because they sound so similar. I am offered roles of a victimised woman, a dancing girl or the kali girl who doesn’t get rishtas because of her colour, all because I’m dark. Unfortunately, it is ingrained in the Pakistani mentality and we’re obsessed with fair skin. Therefore, I don’t say ‘no’ to them because I’m ashamed of my colour but because it’s getting repetitive now.”
Even though Suhaee played a role in the critically acclaimed film Manto but in 2015, she shot as the lead actress for an independent film My Pure Land, which premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2017, and has already received appreciation deeming her as the “desi wonder woman” following her role as a strong girl from a landlord family, who fights for her land. “I was trained to shoot with AK-47 in the film and it was an amazing experience. But the film is yet to be released,” she shares. Has she been offered a movie role in Pakistan? “I have been offered item songs, but they’re just not my thing,” Suhaee asserts, talking about how she doesn’t relate herself to item numbers. “I don’t see dance like that. It’s not possible for me to dance for enticing people. I’m trying to portray a different side of this art and am glad that people are now noticing me,” she gushes about her efforts to change perceptions regarding dance one step at a time.
It is not just her roles that portray her feminine yet strong demeanour; the girl is fighting many a battles in her real life as well. Suhaee was 17 when she was diagnosed with epilepsy, which she initially chose to keep mum about. However, it was during Goonj, her recent performance in Karachi, where she spoke about her battle with the disease. “I try to be as normal as possible. Being a dancer it gets very difficult sometimes because my movements get affected and I lose control over myself. It also affects me psychologically due to the medicines. Yet, I decided to talk about it because I wanted to educate people and create awareness regarding the disease,” she opens up about the struggle and how she overcomes it using dance as her source of strength.
Suhaee calls herself “the funny one in the family” and loves spending time with them when in Karachi for a visit. She plans to continue living in Italy since she wants to freelance and work as a dancer there. “I’m young and this is my age to perform. I have no plans to teach because conducting workshops and masterclasses are two different things. Maybe after 20 years, I might end up teaching. But right now I want to learn and perform as much as possible,” she discloses her future plans as we wrap up our conversation. •