The stunning Iman Ali could have been the best thing to happen to the modelling world since Vinnie had she branched out of Lahore. She never did and till she captured the nation's imagination as Shoaib Mansoor's Anarkali no one really knew who she was. That casting coup though was her ticket to the top and now after an unprecedented run as three consecutive years as a Lux girl, Iman Ali is a shining star. And yet, she is neither a top model nor a top actress.
For one with a reputation of being elusive and distant, it's almost shocking to sit with the lissome Iman Ali and hear her talk. Nineteen thousand to the dozen, she goes on without inhibitions. Iman has no fear of sounding politically incorrect; on the contrary, she is delightfully undiplomatic. Perhaps she truly is too na‘ve to bother with what people think of her, but the more one talks to her, one realises that in this competitive era of 'playing the game' Iman really does not care. She is the ubiquitous fashion diva whose views on fashion, television, film and the people she works with are unchangeable - almost carved in stone even if it is to her detriment. Iman takes a stand on everything, a habit that has its pros and cons in the quicksand world of modelling.
Seen as loyalty by friends and snobbery by others, Iman's rigidity does not win her many votes at the popularity polls. As a model she has been criticized for a complete lack of versatility, her inflexibility to work with anyone but photographer duo Ather Shahzad and, almost unforgiving so for a model, her constantly fluctuating size. She refuses to accept that working with one make up artist forces her into modelling just that one winning look - that dark eyed, pale lipped supernova look that brought her instant stardom. And yet, despite the odds she has managed to make it to the supermodel bracket in Pakistan, modelling for almost all major design houses and winning an unprecedented third year as the face for the Lux campaign, despite never winning a Lux Style Award for Best Female Model.
However, even as the fashion world has found her rigid, Iman has branched off into television quite easily. Her lineage must have helped; she is veteran actor Abid Ali's daughter. However, over a period of time, she has won the grudging respect of critics for her powerhouse performances, even though the make up is sometimes a tad over the top, but then again, that's television. The highest point in Iman's career came with Shoaib Mansoor's magnum opus music video 'Anarkali', that captured the imagination of the nation, catapulted her to being a household name and of course won her the role in Mansoor's first big screen feature film Khuda Key Liye, for which she has already shot with amongst others, actor par excellence Naseeruddin Shah.
These achievements are not small yet she seems unaffected by the success. Over a period of time, she has also gravitated towards television. Iman is unmotivated to move higher in the glamourous world of fashion. Modelling, she emphasizes has always been an unplanned stroke of luck for her. She has no dreams, no ambitions and no hopes from her modelling career. "As a model from Pakistan what can I achieve?" Iman asks. "We're not treated very well, almost like racial outcasts and we will never make it to the international scene." Her views are bon out by the wave of models who move towards television. From Seemi Pasha and Ayesha Alam to Vinnie, ZQ, Tanya Shafi and now even Xhallay Sarhadi.
Yet none of them exhibit Iman's brand of disdainful carelessness towards fashion. Could losing the Lux Style Award for Best Model in 2004 be another reason for Iman's lower than low opinion on fashion?
"I was told that I didn't get LSA last year for not having worked with another photographer," she shrugs. "That has made me more stubborn, if anything. Shahzad (Raza of Ather Shahzad) was so upset but I said it's not like the Oscars. It doesn't matter. What has it done for Vinnie, Iraj or Aaminah? The Best Model Award has just been a Lifetime Achievement Award so far and that's good. These girls have given a lot to the industry."
But why, does she not experiment and explore her potential more widely? After all modelling is about change and versatility and the only way a model can ensure her own evolution is by working with all the stylists and photographers in the fashion world, at least the top notch ones. Surely fashion does not begin and end with Ather Shahzad? Does Iman really think the entire lot of Pakistan's top photographers is incompetent?
"I work with Ather Shahzad because I feel they are the best," she replies, as blas» as ever. "If I were insecure then I would move to Karachi and do a lot of PR, but I'm not. I'm not greedy and I'm not bothered. I feel working too much is a sign of insecurity. I get enough work from Ather Shahzad and I don't get time for anyone else. Secondly I live in Lahore and Tapu and the Karachi photographers have honestly never asked me to do a shoot," she sails over the matter at hand.
It is clear that acting and the affiliated arts of song and dance have always motivated Iman more than modelling. And this hardly comes as a surprise, even though she confesses to having a 'distant' relationship with her father, Abid Ali.
"My father was never there," she says. "But there is no resentment otherwise I would have moved out to Karachi. I'm very close to my mother. I'm still living with them so that must mean I'm happy." However she does concede that since the dos and don'ts of acting were always table talk, they gradually became second nature. "Being a natural on screen does come from him. The camera doesn't scare me," she adds, "and it's much easier for me to be in front of a camera than to socialize."
But like modeling, Iman has a lukewarm enthusiasm when it comes to television productions and currently admits to avoiding them to no end. From Pervez Malik's Arman to Anjum Shahzad's Qismat she talks about the difficulties she faced to overcome the expectations of being a model turned actress. People expect excellence as an actor but not at the cost of looking beautiful. The roles she gets, she says, are so easy that she gets irritated. They are as she puts it boring, simple and illogical. The strong opinions Iman has on the fashion world are matched by her equally strong opinions on the television industry.
"Ninety nine per cent of our population is very stupid," she elaborates. "They lack common sense and most of these stupid people can be found in this field. Whatever role I get is going to be about a beautiful girl. As a woman it's great to look good and feel good about yourself but you should not have to dress badly to prove your intelligence. It frustrates me to the effect that I've stopped working. It's not working for me anymore. I have to be taken seriously. I don't want to be treated like a bimbette."
The direct result of this inordinately verbose discontent is that Iman can barely be seen in television productions anymore. People like Anjum Shahzad, she claims understands her, but hardly anyone else. Obviously the TV producers and directors who are lumped into the category of "90 per cent stupid people" do not belong to the Iman Ali Fan Club. Of course, she is lucky that as high profile a director/producer as Shoaib Mansoor believed in her talent enough to have offered her first Anarkali and then the lead role in his much talked about feature film. The comfort level Iman established with the respected director while filming Anarkali, motivated her to take up the project.
"It's a film about an ordinary girl going through strange situations," she reveals, refusing to disclose more. "I'm hoping for comfort in this film." She does add that Khuda Key Liye has answered a lot of confusions regarding religion. It has answered the dilemma of blind faith for her, something she admits to be struggling to understand. "It will be controversial but it's great that Shoaib Mansoor had the guts to tackle such a sensitive issue. I'm happy to be part of it no matter how many problems it might create for me."
However, her rigid notions are carried on to her potential as the next big screen siren. Despite having a passion and flair for acting, Iman says that she would stop short of getting formal training, as it would be a negative thing for her. "I'd be over qualified for what's happening in film and TV here," she argues, even though over qualification is never a bad thing, especially since she was clearly bowled over completely by working with an institution like Naseeruddin Shah on the film. If anybody is 'over qualified' for Bollywood, it's him. He defines acting as a craft not an art, something Iman agrees with wholeheartedly.
Iman definitely has an uncanny ability of recognising genius, but she simply does not have the will power to strive for it herself. She has been struggling in a love/hate triangle with her careers. Indeed, her attitude towards all her chosen disciplines is too calculating for her own good. She is the young girl who struck gold at the end of a day's walk instead of a rainbow. She says that there are no dreams even as she delves into the fantasy worlds of fashion, television and now film. Her fairy godmothers are none other than Ather Shahzad who transformed her into a goddess with one stroke of their wand. Her knight in shining armour is Shoaib Mansoor who seems to have saved her from the plight of acting the 'dumb blond' on television. And she is indebted to them; the problem is that she refuses to budge an inch forward without them. For someone who has never dreamed, Iman is indeed lucky to have come such a long way...
Why are you so unamibitious?
As an industry we are scared of stars and we pull them down instead of making them. We hate stars. The industry is very sick that way. The result is we are nobodies. We are just big fish in a very, very small pond and that's the reason why I'm not ambitious.
What do you have to say about the unprofessionalism creeping into the modelling business?
The only thing I cannot compromise with is using the profession of modelling for other purposes. Prostitution I can understand when it's for survival but not when it's for Gucci and Louis Vuitton bags, Armani suits and all. I've been raising my voice but no one's listening. Girls are coming into the profession to improve their client list. It makes life so difficult for us. They are spoiling the market. Clients don't care about model's morals. Photographers make them look good and they come cheap though they can never develop class. There are no rules. Everything works and that's the sad part.
Do you think the Lux Style Awards can help?
As far as work is concerned I don't think these awards will make any difference. Our viewers just wait for the Indian awards.
What about the fashion council?
We have far better designers in Pakistan than in India. I've worked with Suneet Varma, Tarun Tahiliani, Rina Dhaka, JJ Valaya and numerous designers at the Bride and Groom show in India but they don't measure up to the quality work we do in terms of finishing and design. Some of them are really bad. Ritu Kumar's work is okay and she's one of the biggest designers there. What I'm saying is that if we handle the council honestly, then there is hope.
As a model how do you handle your weight fluctuation?
Yes, I put on weight but so what? Television wants me big; fashion wants me small. I wish people could be more realistic and models could look normal. People don't want to see skinny women. Curves are okay. People actually like me because I seem more real. My abundant figure is only a problem as nobody really looks at my face when they're talking to me. At times I put on weight and Shahzad hates it but I'm never too pushed. I eat five meals a day and love it. Gym I've never liked but I've discovered yoga is my thing.
How would you describe the ideal woman?
An ideal woman would be intelligent, beautiful, well dressed and have lots of compassion. Women, I feel, love to hate women. That should change, as men are the enemy. That's how I see it. We're fighting alone which stops us from becoming a force.
How have you shown compassion to women around you?
I have always been a support for Nadia Malik, Cybil and now Misha. I easily pass on roles, which would suit others better. Then I've given up many opportunities to make money on TV, rejecting roles just because they are portraying women in the wrong light. I've ended up not working at all. I've never done anything to harm anyone.
People do describe you as a distant snob?
I've never been rude to anyone though I'm not very good at handling people. I'm not a peoples' person like Vinnie is. But people are always nasty to me. They seem to want to attack me before I do. It's probably because I always have an opinion.
As an actor would you take up an offer for a Mahesh Bhatt film?
No. I'm not ready to take my clothes off. But it's wrong to condemn Meera for doing that in India as she does a lot worse here. But I wouldn't do in India what I wouldn't do here. Mahesh Bhatt's company makes awful films and I wouldn't want to work for them. So much seems to be happening in India but there is nothing really. In Paap, where did this girl living in the northern areas get new and glamorous undergarments? In Black why are people behaving as if they're in Rome? Fantasy is okay but not when touching such a sensitive subject. I have a serious problem with all this.--AHI