Unlike most models in their prime — for whom the drive for fame and fortune is their sole mission in life — Iffat Umar chose to settle down and raise a family at the peak of her career. She is perhaps, by definition, an exception to the rule and luck has played a pivotal part in her long-standing success.
Satisfied with the decisions she took in her life, Iffat now looks back upon her experiences and says, “I have hardly felt that modelling is something big, and neither is it (an avenue) like Hollywood where you can become a media god over night. Ours is a very limited and small industry where an artiste’s foremost objective is to ensure his bread and butter and to maintain certain living standards. And I think I managed this successfully and with dignity, and that’s what I cherish the most. I only did what I was comfortable with and refused the rest.”
Testing her hands at production, she made her debut with Iffat’s Fashion Magazine that was co-hosted by Hasan Shehryar Yasin followed by Gurus and Divas. In Zikar Us Pariwash Ka, she experimented with old film songs shot on modern heroines. The programme went on to be rated as ‘the pride of PTV’. In her final project — a 76-episode magazine show called Sunehre Log — she interviewed actresses from Pakistan as well as neighbouring India.
More often than not, models are considered poor actors, but Iffat’s recent nomination for the best actress category for her role in Bano Ko Pehchano in the upcoming fifth Lux Style Awards indicates otherwise. “Fortunately, I realized the difference between acting and modelling at quite an early stage, whereas many models realise this when they have nothing left to lose. In acting, you have to drag out your ego to delve into the character you are given to portray.
“For instance, if a situation requires you to be a village girl, you must think like one, leaving the model inside you far behind. I started acting during the days I was busy as a model, but modelling doesn’t take up more than a day whereas acting demands a lion’s share of your time. I took up very few projects in those days as I was studying as well.”
Doing a sitcom like Family Front was, for Iffat, a first attempt at stand-up comedy. “Both Saba Pervaiz and Wasim Abbas are good friends, and we used to get together twice a week for rehearsals and recordings. Those were fun-filled moments but after doing Family Front, I realised how tough doing comedy really is. Making people laugh is like taking the well to the horse. Saba has perfect timing sense and she excelled in it. If I had contributed anything worth watching, it was only due to the fact that I was getting a good response,” says Iffat.
Acting, she admits, gave her a new lease of life and today she has carved her own niche among the host of the most sought after faces on television. Unlike her modelling career, she didn’t confine herself to particular character roles either. Presently, she is working with whosoever has a good script, a good team and a role providing her with ample margin for performance. “I have always been complimented for my acting, even for my first play Nangay Paon, wherein I felt I wasn’t good enough. But I have been receiving a really good response from my audience, even going as far as calling me the next Roohi Bano. I feel honoured to be compared to a living legend like her who is, I personally feel, incomparable and has no substitute,” she says.
‘I have no qualms in saying that fashion shows should not be held in Pakistan. Such events are meant for buyers and clients but they never turn up here. We are simply left with an audience which is nothing less than mere spectators making passes at girls and ogling at them. They hardly know who the designer is, what the product line is, what the event is meant for or what the theme of the show is,’ says Iffat Umar
Talking about an extremely catty entertainment industry like ours where it has always been a dog-eat-dog scenario, Iffat considers herself quite lucky that she never suffered from shifting loyalties and that her true friends of “those days” are still there for her. Does she miss the days when only her name used to be enough to draw huge cash flows for her sponsors? “You remember such things when you get isolated or change your field. But I’m still there and I still have people around me who are my best friends. So I hardly feel any difference. I very much see myself as the part of the business even today,” she says.
Did modelling help her with acting in any way? “No,” comes a flat reply. It was, in fact, the other way round. “It was actually acting that helped me a lot in modelling. I have recently signed on for a commercial in which I play an expecting mother’s role. It was offered to me because the directors thought I could do justice to it. It’s a great feeling to see that people don’t just take me as a good face but as a good artiste as well who can give a life to a character,” she says.
Iffat says she considers veteran TV personality Ayub Khawar her mentor who helped her discover her latent skills as a performer. “He was the one director who taught me the basics and helped me understand that acting is not about looking good; it’s about how to react in a certain situation.”
Surprisingly, doing ramps was never appealing to her and she clearly expresses her antipathy, “I was very young at that time, and today I remember it with some regret. I have no qualms in saying that fashion shows should not be held in Pakistan. Such events are meant for buyers and clients but they never turn up here. We are simply left with an audience which is nothing less than mere spectators making passes at girls and ogling at them. They hardly know who the designer is, what the product line is, what the event is meant for or what the theme of the show is. They are only interested in the models and this entire picture is very unprofessional.”
Doesn’t she regret pulling herself out of the league of models in her prime, while her contemporaries who started with her are still in the limelight? “I know Iraj and Vinnie really well,” she says, “and they are not what I used to be like. When I was 16, marriage was my ultimate destination and perhaps the only thing on my mind. I wanted to settle down.
“They, however, are professionals and they value their careers. I happen to be a typical girl-next-door type and I had to get married, so I refrained from over-exposing and fashion shoots. I had to keep in mind that I have to get married, so I should not taint my image.”
And now that she is married, has she ever thought about returning to the fray? “Umar, my husband, doesn’t want me to model anymore, and it has been 10 years now since I left it all.”
Iffat makes a passing comment on the present modelling scene, saying, “We have progressed a lot, technically. The ideas are good and designers are working painstakingly to meet international standards. The only thing I find missing here is true talent. The wave which brought in Iraj, Vinnie, Aaminah (Haq) and me has, subsided and despite having so many facilities, new girls having the makings of fashion divas have stopped emerging after Iman (Ali).
“I remember we used to invest a lot of hard work and time. We often had to dress up inside covered cars and starve for hours in the absence of quality food. But today, there are so many facilities for outdoor shoots and yet, a shortage of true talent.”
And how does she find working in media after starting a family? “Now that I have become a mother, my daughter is my real asset. Umar is a confident, intelligent individual who can aptly deal with a media woman’s fame, success and admirers. He lets me do what I enjoy but I, too, know my limits,” says Iffat Rahim.