Poised, wearing a minimalist black suit, Sajal Aly came on to the stage at this year’s Distinctive International Arab Festivals (DIAFA) awards and accepted the trophy for International Icon.

The awards took place this past weekend in Dubai and even before the actress had come on stage, local social media had started buzzing with pictures of her on the DIAFA red carpet. The hashtag #SajalinDIAFA popped up on Twitter and there were plenty of haywire fans posting about how excited they were.

Sajal is extremely well-loved, obviously. But it surprised me that this fact wasn’t quite so obvious to the actress herself.

Talking to her after her DIAFA win, she confessed to me, “Sometimes, I am just overwhelmed by my fans. I wonder if they truly are for real. After the DIAFA’s, I checked social media and there was such an outpouring of love from them. Different publications were writing about my award but more than anything else, my fans were so happy that they made the news even more of a big deal for me.”

She continues, “I have never believed in especially publicising myself on social media or getting my PR to put news about me in the headlines. I have always felt that my job is to do my work well and give it my best and if people like it, it will take me places without me having to emphasise on it. So it’s very special to me when I attend an international awards ceremony and all on its own, people get excited and start spreading the news.”

Attending the DIAFA’s was exciting for Sajal because she was being recognised on an international platform. “Most importantly, I was representing my country internationally and it’s just made me want to do more, work harder and bring more pride to Pakistan,” she says.

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Was she nervous, especially considering that she attended the ceremony on her own, without friends or family from home with her? “Yes, my family wasn’t there with me but even normally, I get nervous very often,” Sajal confesses.

“Regardless of how confident I may be about my work, when the spotlight is on me and I am about to step on stage my heart starts hammering loudly. Even otherwise, when I get praised, I sometimes get flustered or just find it unbelievable.”

Speaking like the consummate actress that she is, she continues, “Fortunately, I have noticed that the fear and nervousness isn’t there when I am acting. The camera rolls and I just become someone else, some character that I am playing.”

We move on to what she wore at the DIAFA’S – a basic suit rather than the elaborate gowns that tend to be the outfits du jour at such ceremonies. “It was from my own wardrobe and no, it wasn’t designer wear,” says Sajal.

“I decided to wear something simple, something that I could wear again and again. This year has been strange for all of us and I am increasingly beginning to feel that we need to place less focus on material things like clothes. We need to start thinking about sustainability and prioritise what we consider important in our lives.”

Of course, an actress of Sajal Aly’s prowess doesn’t need clothing choices to define her work. She has an extensive, incredible repertoire of work as her claim to fame and masses of fans, all over the world, cheering for her and following her incessantly. Sajal – in all her refreshing modesty – may find their love to be unbelievable, but it certainly is there. The hype following the DIAFA’s was merely one example of this.

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