The last thing I expected to see Sanam Chaudhry sporting is a nerdy look.
It is in complete contrast to her twirly-whirly blond hair extensions while playing the devious home-breaker Anji of Ghar Titli Ka Par (GTKP), or the tearful and vulnerable Hania of the recently concluded Baydardi Saiyyan. Or the tomboy Ayaan in her ongoing TV serial Rubaru Tha Ishq.
She turns up sporting black wire-rimmed glasses, an oversized checkered top and denim capris; her poker-straight dark hair accentuating her rose petal complexion. That she arrives a mere 15 minutes after the appointed time could easily be blamed on traffic and not yet on star nakhras, for even after almost a decade of successful TV serials and her debut film Jackpot, she comes across as extremely unassuming and grounded.
A day away from the premiere of Jackpot, she admits she is nervous. “I feel pressured because it is my first film,” she says. “People have seen me on TV doing miserable roles or the wicked home breaker on TV but in Jackpot I am the traditional ‘heroine’, I am a bit confused. But having said that, I feel confident that people will like me in the film.”
Talking about her role in the film, Sanam says, “I am a performer and people have seen me in solid roles on TV such as Rabiya in Khataa, the title role in Shiza, Kashaf in Bohtaan, Anji in Ghar Titli Ka Par and as Ayaan in Rubaru Tha Ishq, to name a few — so by playing Chandni in Jackpot I felt I wasn’t contributing so much in the film as I would have liked to. But then generally it is the male lead who carries the film. But I’m happy my first film is out there, I got big-screen exposure and was right beside the male lead, doing all that ‘heroines’ do but, as an actor, I’m not satiated.”
Sanam Chaudhry has several successful roles to her credit in TV dramas. But before she signs up for any more films, she wants to gauge the response to her debut film Jackpot.
Why didn’t she refuse the role? “I didn’t turn down the role in Jackpot because I fell in love with the script. It is hilarious and a lot of fun to do.”
Sanam’s sister Zaib Chaudhry who is also an actor, introduced her to showbiz some 10 years ago. In 2013, she was nominated as the Best Soap Actress at the 3rd Hum Awards for her role in the drama serial Bhool. “I was only 16 when I started getting offers from TV. I did one play and thought that this is too much pressure and I’d rather pursue my studies. But a couple of years later, I was bombarded with acting offers and I had to leave my studies,” she laughs.
I am a performer and people have seen me in solid roles on TV, so by playing Chandni in Jackpot I felt I wasn’t contributing so much in the film as I would like to have but then generally it is the male lead who carries the film.”
Khataa was her favourite serial until the role of Anji came her way. In GHTP, she plays Anjum aka Anji, a middle-class ‘material girl’ who has a devious, devil-may-care attitude as far as her needs and desires are concerned — it could be a waiter whom she flirts with to get a free meal or her best friend’s brother to get married into a rich family, the fellow in her neighbourhood or the husband of her best friend whom she is extremely jealous of. The overly-ambitious Anji treats her husband like dirt and dumps her kids on the maid for her devilish schedule.
“Anji is the pits but I have loved playing her,” says Sanam, her face beaming. “I like it when people forget my name and remember me by my character’s name. I had been crying way too much in the roles I’d been getting and when the role of the mean, wicked Anji came my way, I thought it would give me a much-needed break. I had to choose between the sweet Bia or the evil Anji. After I read the script, I realised that this was Anji’s game right through so I decided to play her. Now everyone is offering me similar roles but none of them are as bad, or as good,” she laughs out loud just like Anji.
So which side of Anji is the real Sanam, the sweet pretentious side that Anji puts on when she is at her cunning best or the ugly, vicious vamp who hides behind the adorable, caring person she pretends to be? “I am not at all like Anji,” Sanam cracks up laughing heartily. “She is a dangerous woman. GTKP is only Anji’s story. Even though Aiman Khan plays the female protagonist or lead and I am the antagonist, I’m the mover and shaker of whatever happens in the lives of the characters in the serial.”
Sanam feels that it is the negative characters that truly entertain the audiences. “People sympathise with the miserable character or someone who weeps all the time, but negative characters engross them as these are meaty roles where the actor has the margin to perform.”
“For instance Imtiaz in Udaari and Mir Hadi in Khaani were lauded despite being negative. In a positive role, other characters talk and you just look pretty and smile or weep, but in a negative character you need to deliver continuous lines and give facial expressions of varied intensities, use body language for all the manipulation and scheming that the evil character is doing,” she explains.
Sanam has done a huge variety of roles so there is hardly a wish list. But she still has some goals. “I’d like to essay a mute girl — no lines just facial expressions. Perhaps I’d like to do what Rani Mukherjee did in Black.”
Before she started her TV career, Sanam says she only watched cartoons on TV but as an actor she watches a lot of dramas now. “Ali Abbas is a great colleague, we laugh a lot together, Aagha Ali is one of my favourite co-workers and among the older people, I like Saba Faisal a lot,” she says, not mentioning any of her competition. I point this out to her.
Sanam believes that Pakistani cinema is going through an experimental phase. “In some instances we are lacking in content and in some cases in visuals.”
“As the face of a drama serial, we are all competing against each other so I watch dramas on all channels,” she quickly replies. “I like to keep an eye on who is doing what because I don’t know too much about our seniors but I think it is important to know where exactly your co-stars stand, in order to perform with them. It helps me do my work better. I pay attention to my get-up and clothes for the role I have chosen to do,” she says.
“Deepika and Alia Bhatt are my favourites across the border and I like to see how they dress up. A lot of work goes on off-screen too,” she flashes that sweet Anji smile.
Sanam enjoys dances but being a southpaw is a problem with her when it comes to choreographed numbers. “I have always loved dancing but now we have choreographers doing the dance sequences which are a lot of fun to do but, being a leftie, I get out of sequence every now and again. I have to be mindful about it or I’d be the odd one out. Free moves are the best.”
Sanam believes that Pakistani cinema is going through an experimental phase. “In some instances we are lacking in content and in some cases in visuals,” she says.
She also appears chubby in TV plays where camera work is different from films. Sanam worked hard to lose weight for her role in Jackpot where her outfits and shots were cleverly done to suit her weight loss. But dieting still poses a challenge.
“I’m Punjabi and main khul ke khaati hoon [I eat freely]. When I was trying to lose weight, I would cheat on my trainers. I would eat the diet meal as well as a normal one,” she says, her eyes dancing. “Then I would go and complain to them that I’m gaining weight and they were quite perplexed but I worked out pretty hard for Jackpot.”
Had she not been an actor, she would have been a make-up artist, she confesses. “I do my make-up both on and off screen. I have learnt my face over time and I know exactly what I need to do. So if I am looking good, the credit goes to me,” she says pointing to herself, rapper-style.
Originally published in Dawn, ICON, July 15th, 2018