Ayesha Omar - BOLD & BADASS

Most of us have an intimate familiarity with her as Khoobsurat, a character that has become her ultimate trademark. When you see her on the cover of all those flashy magazines or spot her prancing around in her fashionable best, it takes you a moment to revel in her staggering charm. But beneath the always-smiling, poised and dressed-to-the-nines star, there resides a facet which is the true core of her being. She is more than the masquerade of Khoobsurat, more than a style icon for the masses, more than her social media feed; at the apex, she’s Ayesha; the responsible, diligent actress. As she breathes in the fresh, salty air of a beach by Key West, Florida, the star looks back nostalgically at her first strides into her career, her roots in Lahore, her work as a singer and actress and much more - in an intense conversation with MAG.

I was just a year old when my father passed away,” she begins. “My mom moved to Lahore to raise me and my brother as a single parent. We had a tough childhood,” Ayesha reminisces, as wistfulness leaks into her voice.

“I helped my mother around the house, did my chores; like making my own bed, iron my own clothes and much more. And I think that’s why I am as independent as a person can get today. I live alone, run three houses and I support my family. I support myself and my brother’s education,” she shares.

On being asked about the instances that went into the making of the person she is today, she answers, “I was educated at Lahore Grammar School, after which I went to NCA for my bachelors and masters. Throughout school and college I took part in a lot of co-curricular activities. I participated in theatre acts and learnt how to dance. I was part of the singing choir and the school band,” the actress recounts, adding, “I was exposed to various forms of art at a very young age. I think all of this in a way paved the way to where I am today.”

Ayesha was just eight years old when she faced a live camera for the first time when she hosted the famous show Meray Bachpan Kay Din on PTV.

“One of my aunt’s best friends was the general manager of PTV back then and she got me to host my first TV show. At just eight years of age, I was given the coveted chance to interview the biggest celebrities of Pakistan like Inzamam-ul-Haq, Javed Miandad, Adnan Sami Khan, Tina Sani, Arshad Mehmood, and many more,” she adds to my surprise.

“Not only did it boost my confidence but also marked the start of my career. An early exposure to a live audience took away my fear of the camera,” she says profoundly.

Ayesha has a stream of notable dramas to her credit, which include Zindagi Gulzar Hai, Dolly Ki Ayegi Baraat, Ladies Park and Bulbulay, to name a few but she considers the role of Zarmina in the film Yalghaar her toughest role to date.

“Yalghaar was a film based on the war on terror and military operation in Swat, and re-enacting a real life incident was what made it so challenging. There was a lot of physical abuse and violence involved in the kidnapping scenes; I’d say that was tough,” she tells me, her voice trailing into a grave note.

As badass as she is in real life, Ayesha wants to do roles that demand her to come out of her comfort zone and are based on women empowerment.

“I would like to step into the skins of challenging characters, which are based on empowering women and don’t portray them as suppressed and feeble,” she shares her reel life priorities. “I am not very keen on playing a character which portrays women as demure, weak and sheepish counterparts,” she continues, taking no prisoners. Mulling over, Ayesha clears the air, “By this, I don’t suggest stepping into roles which depict women better as men, not at all. I am a feminist and it doesn’t mean that women are better or superior than men in anyway. Feminists stress the fact that women should be treated as equals,” she divulges.

Sometimes for a good actor, acting can go skin-deep. Has there been a role, which the actress found hard to paddle her way out of for long?

“I have breathed inside the character of Khoobsurat for a decade, and it has become a part of my recognition, nationally and globally,” she begins tentatively. She claims that although the role has not successfully melted into her being, it has made a powerful impact on her personal life and privacy. She shares an incredulous laugh as she narrates the qualms of being Khoobsurat.

“It (the role) has placed a stamp on me. Breaking away from her mould has been very difficult. No matter how many other roles you play after that significant ‘one’, people will still see you in the skin of that character,” she opines.

The actress has since then pushed the envelope and worked harder on her other roles, striving to escape the persona that her famous role imparted her in public imagery.

“Apart from that, the character of Zarmina really affected me. On the sets they had placed a cave, and for seven days and maybe longer, I was shooting inside it. I only used to go home and sleep for five to six hours and return to the sets to shoot again. For that period I was living the life of the traumatised Zarmina, which actually had me slipping into depression,” confesses Ayesha. “It was the kidnapping scene which got to me; my face and clothes were to be dirty, I couldn’t wash my face, I was lying in mud for [what felt like] ages. So yes, that one went skin-deep, too.”

What most people don’t know about her or deliberately choose not to acknowledge is that Ayesha is a singer too. She has lent her vocal chords to TV commercials for Capri, several OSTs for drama serials like Ladies Park, Manjali and many more. In 2012, she released two albums Chalte Chalte and Khamoshi for which she took home a Lux Style Awards for Best Album. A year later, she gave her voice for an old classical song named Laage Re Nain and another fusion song Miyan Ki Malhar for Coke Studio Pakistan Season 6.

When I ask her who came first, Ayesha, the actress or Ayesha, the singer, she releases a gentle sing-song laugh and shares, “The singer came first; I learnt classical singing when I was eight years old. There was no acting at that time. Then came Ayesha, the artist, the painter. And then came Ayesha, the actress.”

Over the years she has morphed into a style icon for the masses. There is never a moment where we laid eyes on Ayesha and found her not dressed impeccably.

“I am still taken aback when people refer to me as a style icon because I never really cared about what I wore,” she says timidly, adding further, “I was a tom boy as a child and never really cared about how I looked. I am still more of a tomboy than a style icon.”

“I keep my style very easy-going and laidback. My inner style plays well with the monochromes.”

Speaking about her style favourites, Ayesha says she finds Meesha Shafi’s style game wonderful. She cites Kate Moss, Madonna, Anna Wintour, Victoria Beckham, Amal Clooney and Blake Lively as her pivotal fashion influences.

In the beginning of this year, we were greeted with jaw-dropping pictures of the beautiful Ayesha at New York Fashion Week as Pakistani spokesperson for Maybelline, rubbing shoulders with international super models. And Ayesha is all talks while revealing the details of the event.

“It was a fantastic and eye-opening experience; just being there in the international fashion scene and seeing how comfortable people are with their style and seeing how people express themselves in fashion. New York is the hub of it all and everybody was on top of their fashion game. And then of course meeting all these other global faces of Maybelline like Gigi Hadid, Adriana Lima, and a lot of other models was amazing.” The starlet promises that fans will see her in many more international events.

How has it been working with her co-stars and who in particular she enjoys working with, is the next question I pose.

“Working with co-stars especially when you are travelling with them is amazing. I love working with Azfar [Rehman], he is a dear friend of mine and I’ve travelled almost the whole world with him! Be it Dubai, London, US, Thailand, you name it,” she answers. “Adnan Siddiqui is fun to work with, too, so is Humayun with his easy-going personality. I’ve done couple of serials and a film with him, I find him very comfortable to work with,” she continues. “I love working with Sanam Saeed, when you talk about female co-stars. Same goes for Annie Jaffri!”

Citing her favourite actresses from the industry, Ayesha is all praises for Saba Qamar. “I think she is the best!” declares the actress. “She is probably the greatest actress coming out of Pakistan in my generation and Sajal, from the younger generation; she too is fantastic. If you go a generation above me, then Sania Saeed is brilliant, so is Savera Nadeem and Maria Wasti. Across the border, I am a big fan of Deepika [Padukone], Madhuri [Dixit] and Kate Winslet in Hollywood. I love the works of Jennifer Lawrence and Cate Blanchett, too.”

When questioned about a quality that sets her apart from others, Ayesha is at loss. “Well, I don’t know, this is something people would know better,” she says, thoughtfully. “But a friend says that I am real and honest. I like relating to other people and making them feel comfortable. I exude empathy, which is something people don’t have in their DNA, anymore. Empathy is when you step into someone else’s shoes and see it from their perspective; I think it’s lacking thing’s from society at the moment.”

Who does she prefer, Ayesha, the actress or Ayesha, the style icon? “Of course, Ayesha, the actress!” she exclaims.


Favourite perfume?

There are two; Stella by Stella McCartney and Paradiso by Roberto Cavalli

Last movie you watched?

In the cinema, it was Sanju. I saw The Female Brain and Goodbye Christopher Robin during my flight, too.

A song that you have been listening to on repeat lately.

Empire State of Mind by Alicia Keys and Dost by Abida Parveen.

Favourite lip colour for a casual evening out?

Peachy or nude-washed colour. Perhaps something with a tint of rose in it.

Last picture you took?

Of the sea! I am in Florida, Key West.

Beaches or mountains?

Well, I am at a beach right now, but I really can’t choose between the two. I’d take both.

The scariest moment?

An accident I had two and half years ago was the scariest moment of my life. It was just before my car collided into a truck. Even after the accident, I had several panic attacks, as I didn’t know what I had broken, how I am going to be rescued. When people tried to rescue me I thought I was being kidnapped! It was scary.

The most thrilling moment?

Is yet to come! Maybe the day I get married.

The most memorable moment?

Well, that would be when I realised I was alive after the accident. Also, when I won my first award for an all-rounder student of performing arts when I was in NCA.

Celebrity crush?

In Bollywood, it would be Ranbir Kapoor [laughs]. From Hollywood, Bradley Cooper, Jason Statham and Chris Hemsworth.

Your idea of the ideal man?

Somebody who has the sense and ability to grow with you. Someone with empathy, as it really matters, you must feel for human beings and not be selfish.

Last book you read?

I am currently reading the The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle.

Hair & Make-up: Adnan Ansari | Coordination: Thomas Fernandes
Umair Bin Nisar | Styling: Sana Parekh