Amna Ilyas, as one of Pakistan’s top models, has launched countless brands; other than her outstanding presence as a supermodel, she’s one of the country’s most prominent voices to object to the glorification of fair skin and has categorically refused to endorse fairness creams. She’s also one of the very few models who have made a successful transition from fashion to acting. And her acting skills were recently recognized by the Lux Style Awards, where she has been nominated for Best Actress alongside Mahira Khan, Mansha Pasha, Maya Ali, and her Baaji co-star, Meera.
From being a gorgeous supermodel, who made it big with her dusky complexion in a community obsessed with fair skin, to an acclaimed actress, Amna Ilyas is now optimistic about branching out to theatre.
Speaking to Instep in this exclusive interview, Amna Ilyas talks about her transformation as an actress, her ability to adapt to every platform, and why she doesn’t do TV anymore.
Instep: First of all, congratulations on being nominated as Best Actress in the Lux Style Awards 2020. How does it feel?
Amna: Although I was expecting to be facilitated for being part of Baaji, I wasn’t prepared for a Best Actress nomination, to be honest. When I saw director Hisham Bin Munawar’s name in the Best Director category for Ready Steady No and Saqib Malik’s for Baaji, I was content in my own way. To find my name in the esteemed category of Best Actress after so long (six years to be exact) was something that made my day. I still remember when I was a new entrant in the field and was nominated for Model of the Year at the 11th and 12th Lux Style Awards; that was a great feeling. I was equally thrilled on winning the Best Dressed Female Award at one of these events was declared the Best Female Model at the 14th Lux Style Awards besides the time when I was nominated as Best Debut for Zinda Bhaag. With this Baaji nomination, life sort of comes full circle for me as a performer, pumping me further to do better.
Instep On Sunday: Two of your films in 2019 have been nominated – Baaji and Ready Steady No. How does that make you feel, as a leading lady in Pakistani cinema, where even one good film is hard to come by?
Amna: You have no idea how happy I am with these nominations; while Baaji was Saqib Malik’s brainchild with a star cast that featured Meera, Osman Khalid Butt and myself, there was nothing starry about Ready Steady No, except Salman Shahid’s presence. The director was new, the producers were first-timers, the cast comprised of people who were good but not given chances and the story was simple, unlike any recent Pakistani film that I have watched. Even then the film resonated with the audience and despite not being a box office hit, it was remembered by those who matter. I am glad that I was part of one big-budget and one small-budget film in 2019, and hope to cash on the success of both in the coming years.
Instep: Is it true that after two LSA nominations as Best Actress – Film, you have limited yourself to the ‘film club’?
Amna: I am a professional who wants to give her 100% in whatever field I am working in, be it modeling or acting. The two LSA nominations certify that at least I am a good actress, and if after that I get an offer from theatre (which I did), I would do that to learn and improve. Sadly, I haven’t done any TV since Taaka Jhanki last year (with Azfar Rehman), despite being open to suggestions. I think TV folks don’t consider me much of an actress, or I don’t meet their standards. Whatever the reasons, I know there are some people out there with whom I might collaborate, if they approach me, that is.
Instep: TV does have a reputation of preferring a fair-skinned stereotypical prototype for its leading ladies, and you’re someone who embraces her dusky skin with pride. But while you’ve actively spoken against body shaming when it comes to skin tone, you’re caught, these days, in a controversy of making fun of another model’s weight gain. What do you say about that?
Amna: The video clip you are talking about came out two years ago. People change in two years and so have I. One must understand here that we all have been conditioned in such a manner that we distinguish people on the basis of their appearances first, and their talent later. I am kind of glad that the video came out and people are picking up on that but also, people can’t condemn me now for something I did two years ago. People must give as much importance to what I stand for now, as they are giving to my old video.
Instep: You have moved on, and moving on to theatre, how is the theatrical version of Ankahi 2020 shaping up?
Amna: Ankahi 2020 is one of those projects that are very close to my heart. Not only do I have the blessings of Haseena Moin, the classic drama’s original writer, but also I am loving the challenge of bringing Sana Murad’s iconic character to life after nearly 40 years. Had the world not been hit by Covid-19, we might have experienced Ankahi 2020 earlier this year, but the delay has sort of helped us develop the stage version into something new. With Saqib Sameer and Sajid Hasan co-writing the new script, and Dawar Mehmood at the helm, I am sure that the audience will love the new version through which we will play tribute to the original. We have changed a few things here and there to make it into a 90-minute play, which has comedy, romance, and above all, dance… something that wasn’t part of the original Ankahi.
Instep: Talking about dance, you are rather good at it as we all know since you have done standalone dance numbers in films. Wouldn’t it be difficult to perform on stage for the first time in front of a live audience?
Amna: I know which dance numbers you are referring to (laughs). I did the one in Dekh Magar Pyaar Se because of Asad ul Haq, whereas the one in Mehrunnisa V Lub U happened when I had nothing else to do. However, my perspective of dancing and dance numbers has changed considerably after Baaji, where I loved doing ‘Khilti Kali’ as well as ‘Yeh Aaj Mujhko Kia Hua’ with Meera Ji. I did them all with full honesty and whoever saw them, liked them.
As for dancing on the stage, it would have been new had I not walked a ramp and been a film actress, the modeling experience gives me the edge here. Acting or dancing in front of a live audience will hopefully be something that I would excel in. Besides, it will help me in improving my skills as an actress.
Instep: There are rumours doing the rounds about Amna Ilyas finally finding the right man …
Amna: Kuch To Log Kahenge… I prefer to do the talk with my work and that’s why don’t listen to any kind of rumors. Not only do they distract you from moving ahead, but they also hurt your friends and family. Whenever I find the right man, you will get to know about it from me, rather than people on Social Media who one day are promoting one product and the next day are bashing those who were part of their ‘paid’ campaign.
Instep: What’s next on Amna Ilyas’ plate besides Ankahi 2020?
Amna: I hope COVID-19 ends soon and we are able to finally present Ankahi to the audience that has been waiting for it with bated breath. We plan to do shows all over Pakistan (major cities, of course!) and take it to UAE, USA, and UK as well. As for films, Mastani is nearly ready and I am quite excited about it. I am open to offers from TV; the medium that hasn’t recognized me as an actor. If a good role comes my way, I will give it my best and not disappoint the producers. After all, I have two LSA Acting nominations to prove my credentials (smiles).
Omair Alavi is a broadcast journalist who can be contacted at @[email protected]