In the recently culminated drama Ishq Zahe Naseeb, there is a single scene which is the most memorable.
Zahid Ahmed’s character, who suffers from Dissociative identity Disorder, is discovered by his new bride, Sonya Hussyn, applying makeup. She is evidently unnerved but she summons her courage and asks him if she could apply his lipstick. His female alter ego cocks an eyebrow at Sonya and says, ‘Sahih sahih karna’.
And then, she carefully applies his lipstick. There are no other dialogues. This scene, as soon as it was aired some weeks ago, went viral because it presented an image that was unprecedented on local television and was layered with so many emotions.
“Both Zahid and I were crying when we shot this scene,” recalls Sonya. “IZN had a very heavy duty storyline but you’ll be surprised how much we would laugh behind the scenes. But with this particular scene, we felt the pain of our characters. The very notion was harrowing that a girl could get married and see this side to her new husband and struggle to accept that he could actually be a lot like her.”
“It was a very important scene,” she continues. “I think this scene, and the entire drama, can be instrumental in educating people about this mental illness and how they need to accept and deal with it.”
Sonya and I are meeting long after she has wrapped up IZN. The drama’s last episode aired a few days ago and she’s already started working on a new project. Basking in the rave reviews that she got for her performance, she speaks with a quiet confidence.
She also looks very much like a star – dressed in a chequered two-piece, set off by a bright red coat. Sonya, of course, has always been a very stylish dresser and in an industry littered with fashion faux pas, I have always loved her individualistic style statements. The fact that she is an accomplished actress only makes her fashion sense more noticeable.
Her Instagram account is testament to this as is the award that she recently won at the Hum Style Awards, for Most Stylish Actress on Television.
“It’s great to be recognized and to get an award but it’s also great to get thousands of ‘likes’ for a photo on Instagram and to read the comments. I feel blessed when they tell me that they connected with a certain scene or character. It gives me a strong sense of accomplishment.”
IZN had a storyline that could be expected to get critical acclaim but did she expect the drama to also turn out to be a commercial success?
“No, I didn’t,” she says. “It isn’t your typical drama. Usually stories about domestic issues get high ratings on TV.”
“I also thought that my character wouldn’t be very noticeable in the drama since she isn’t the one who is mentally ill. But people have really appreciated my work.”
She continues, “Being an actor, I felt that it was my responsibility to be part of this story. People often consider mental disorders to be a taboo and tell their children to keep it secret. Boys are still under less pressure compared to mentally disturbed girls who are told to hide their condition otherwise no one will marry them. And often, such illnesses can be traced back to a history of childhood abuse or neglect. I hope that a story like IZN can help in normalising mental illness and making people more aware.”
The drama that she is currently working on deals with schizophrenia. Is she consciously opting for stories that particularly tackle society taboos?
“Not really. Yes, ever since I was young, I used to wonder if I would have any purpose in life. Roles like these give me a sense of purpose. But when I am considering a role, I am basically thinking about whether or not I like the script.”
“There are certain scripts that just don’t appeal to me. Television is an extremely powerful medium. It can help change people’s mindsets. I wouldn’t want to be in a drama that give one-sided depictions of women as evil and manipulative. We live in a society where I feel that women often don’t get the recognition that they deserve and I don’t feel comfortable being part of stories that encourage that way of thinking.”
I touch upon a topic that has lately been in the news: the fact that she had refused to act in Meray Paas Tum Ho when the hit drama has been offered to her. Her role was then played by Ayeza Khan. Did she reject the script because she did not like it? Sonya pauses. “I don’t think there’s any point in talking about a drama that I haven’t acted in.”
But does she regret having refused the role given how the drama has gone on to become one of the country’s biggest hits ever? “No,” she says promptly.
“I don’t regret the decisions I make. Of course, I would love to work with the same team in the future. Nadeem Baig is a brilliant director and Humayun Saeed is a superstar!”
Does she not even regret certain projects that she has acted in – a movie opposite Moammar Rana called Azaadi comes to my mind?
“That movie did turn out very differently from how I thought it would be when I had read its script”, she accepts. “But it was the first time that I had dabbled with completely commercial cinema and I learnt a lot from the experience. Perhaps I would have felt worse if other Pakistani movies had exceptional storylines. But generally, most local movies aren’t faring well at the box office. It made me feel less bad.”
She has consistently been working in television dramas as well as in films – her movie Tich Button releases this year. Does she feel that in comparison with television, Pakistani cinema has a long way to go?
“Yes, it does. I think filmmakers need time and experience in order to learn how to knit a story well. TV, right now, is much more popular.”
And yet, she will be seen soon with Farhan Saeed, Feroze Khan and Iman Aly in Tich Button. Is it a heavy duty story? “No, it’s very happy-go-lucky. It’s a story about love and family values. I am looking forward to it.”
Even though she has lately been very busy with work, there are lax periods in every actor’s life where he or she has nothing to do for months, waiting for the right script. These long time spans can make actors feel very insecure about their future careers. Does she ever have such apprehensions?
“Many times!” she admits. “Sometimes, when I don’t get any good scripts offered to me for months, I tell my mother that I think that I should just quit. She gets concerned and starts suggesting alternate career options to me. It’s frustrating – to wait for interesting roles and to worry that they may not come my way at all. I am tempted to sign on to just any project because this is, after all, my bread and butter. I need to keep working in order to pay my bills.”
“But then I tell myself that I need to wait and fortunately, so far things have worked out.”
She’s about to be seen in a drama that she wrapped up right after IZN, once again opposite Zahid Ahmed. What made her decide to work with Zahid again?
“He’s a very good actor,” she points out. “And it’s a very complicated, emotionally charged story about a married couple and the problems that they face.”
The story about schizophrenia, currently under production, is also close to her heart. “I am playing the schizophrenic and in order to understand my role better, I have been interacting with people suffering from this mental condition. How they pretend just in order to fit into a society that is quick to seclude them. It’s heartbreaking – and it’s an important story to tell.”
Knowing Sonya Hussyn, she’ll try her best to tell it well.