She may not be the number one film heroine at the moment but Amna Ilyas is on her way to becoming one. With everyone praising her work in Baaji where she was pitted against the best actors of this generation, Amna Ilyas is fast becoming a household name.
Her work as a film actress includes her debut flick Zinda Bhaag, the art film Good Morning Karachi and 7 Din Mohabbat In where her performance was appreciated by all. The News Tribe got hold of the charming model-turned-actress who spoke at length about her past, her present and her future.
TNT: Your film Baaji is doing good business at the box office and has been appreciated by all. Didn’t you feel during the shoot that Meera might steal the limelight because a) she is a veteran actress and b) the film is all about Meera and works around her character Shameera?
AMNA: The first half definitely belongs to Meera and when I signed the film, I knew that the film till the interval will revolve around her character. However, in the second half, the story takes a shift and things start happening around my character.
I would like to mention here that the film starts with me, intermission is on me and it even ends on me, so I don’t have any issue regarding the limelight. Had that been the case, I would never have said yes to the role of Ghazala in 7 Din Mohabbat In.
I always believe in myself and that whatever character I am enacting, it would stand out. In all my films people remember my performances be it against Meera, Mahira or any other actress. What convinced me to go for Baaji was the fact that it was not going to be a one-woman film but revolved around two women and that it wasn’t Meera’s biopic otherwise I would have my doubts.
I never wanted it to be a film about my character but if you remove Neha from the equation, it will result in an incomplete film.
TNT: Were you ever intimidated by Meera during the shooting?
AMNA: Of course, I was and it would be incorrect to say that I wasn’t. But that effect lasted for just a couple of hours maximum. I must tell you that I was nervous and petrified in the beginning but when I became Neha, it was all secondary as she wasn’t Meera but Shameera.
My strength is that when I embrace a character, I am able to act in front of anyone, even if it is Amitabh Bachchan. Off the sets, she would be Meera for me but when we were on the sets, we were working and we were equal and I couldn’t take the chance of getting intimidated by her or anyone else.
TNT: Out of the three boys in the cast – Ali Kazmi, Mohsin Abbas Haider, and Osman Khalid Butt – which one was the most troublesome?
AMNA: They all were very good. Ali Kazmi and I had just one scene where Meera’s character throws him out of her house. Mohsin Abbas Haider with whom I had a number of scenes could be found in a corner with his dumbbell. Not many know but Osman Khalid Butt is a sensitive guy who is short tempered as well.
Whenever there was a delay or something that shouldn’t have happened, happened, he used to lose his cool and I would, in turn, counsel him. So yes, you can say that I was his counsellor and he has admitted that in a few of his interviews that ‘Amna used to calm me down’.
TNT: And then there was the Golden Girl from the 1970s, Nisho Begum with whom you shared a few scenes as well. How was the experience of working with the veteran actress?
AMNA: Nisho Jee is a delight to work with and although our on-screen interaction was less than others, it was our off-screen discussion that I would take back from Baaji. Her knowledge of Pakistani cinema gives you a nostalgic feeling, whereas the poetry that she incorporates in her discussion is impressive. And then she talks about Waheed Murad and her heroes and compares them to the ones we have now, and it just is something one shouldn’t miss. Being with her has a mazedar feeling as it takes you down the memory lane.
TNT: Your character Neha in Baaji fitted in both the urban and rural settings. How did you make that possible?
AMNA: The character of Neha isn’t black or white and like all of us, she is a very opportunistic kind of person. That’s why her character looks real and believable on screen. As for the fitting in both settings, well that’s something I would attribute to myself because I have seen both the sides in my personal and professional lives.
I belong to a normal, well-read and well-fed Karachi family who hasn’t forgotten its roots; that’s for the personal side while my career as a fashion model taught me the experiences of the elite. In fact, by being into the lives of people who work for me, I get insight into how the act and react, and that helps me a lot as an actress.
I can’t live in a glamour bubble or stay shut in my vanity as that would limit me as an actress. So, the scene where Neha praises Shameera, she is only doing so for the sake of a better tip. I know that because when I go to Saloons, this is exactly how the girls working there behave.
In fact, my encounters with these girls were going through my mind while I was doing the massage in that scene.
TNT: Your character’s turning point was the scene where you confront your brother and show him his place. From where did you bring all that anger?
AMNA: Through that, we wanted to send a message that Neha is a fearless and ambitious girl who has got a good heart, is providing for her family despite her brother’s beliefs. For her, celebrating within the house isn’t a bad thing and when her brother makes hue and cry for no reason, she stands to him and tells him that being the man of the house doesn’t mean others can’t have their say.
That one scene addressed the whole issue and told the girls out there that they also can stand up for their right. I am lucky to play that scene as we should do away with such rubbish and let others live their lives.
In fact, I feel bad for those men who can’t marry outside their family because of their business or property reasons. I hope this scene would give them the courage to take a stand and do what is right.
TNT: You also danced with Meera in as many as two songs, whereas shared the screen in three songs. How were you able to upstage one of the best dancers in our film industry in Khilti Kali?
AMNA: Was I? I am flattered if you think so but that could have been possible as most of the song was filmed on my character. We shared scenes in Badlaan that was in the background while in Yeh Aaj Mujhko Kia Hua she took the lead as I came later into the song sequence.
Let me be honest, I have never taken dance classes in my life and have never done theatre. Dance comes to me naturally and I can only say that it is something inbuilt; when it is time to dance, I just switch off everything and dance.
When I was young, I used to dance at every wedding and my family used to praise me by becoming the audience. I know that if I polish it, it’s going to be great and yes, I think I should polish it.
TNT: Then why did you waste your dancing skills by doing item numbers in Dekh Magar Pyaar Se and Mehrunisa V Lub U?
AMNA: I did DMPS when I had no good roles and although Kaala Doreya was a success, it didn’t do any good for me. The MVLU song couldn’t do well as they changed the narrative after I accepted to dance and maybe that’s why it doesn’t look relevant. That doesn’t mean that I am against doing dance numbers because I loved doing Khilti Kali and if I am offered good dance numbers, I might dance again on the big screen. I must add here that I had no dance number in 7DMI but since I liked my character, I did it will full honesty and whoever saw it, liked it.
TNT: For a film heroine, it is uncommon to have back-to-back released in Pakistan but you have Ready Steady No lined up in a few days, within a month of Baaji’s release. Was that a deliberate attempt to cash on Baaji’s success, or has it happened by chance?
AMNA: All by chance obviously. We shot RSN long before Baaji was even offered to me so all I can say is that it isn’t done deliberately. The film was supposed to release first in April and but was delayed till July and now here we are, with the film releasing on July 19 while Baaji is being played successfully all around the country as well.
I am actually happy and scared at the same time as I want both my films to do well.
A lot of my friends are saying that after a hit film if my second film flops then I would be back to square one but I think otherwise. When it was offered to me, I kept on laughing while reading the script and I believe that it is the kind of clean comedy flick that we might be waiting for. It may not be as big budget as Baaji but I saw people actually laughing on the trailer recently and am hopeful that they will do so after its release as well.