Sarwat Gilani’s presence on social media offers a lot of insight into the person she is; free-spirited, chirpy, with a voice of her own and not giving a damn to what the world thinks about her and her views. The Pakistani television and film actor comfortably juggles motherhood with her acting ambitions, finds unique ways to keep herself busy when she’s off work and has been one of the rare celebrities to have been productive during the lockdown with her artistic pursuits. Sarwat is to be seen next as Sarah in Churails, the web show helmed by Cake-fame filmmaker Asim Abbasi that the world would get to watch on August 11, thanks to ZEE5 Global and Zindagi. In an interview with LetsOTT.com, Sarwat offers us a peek into her life.
In a previous interview, you had told that you wanted to be an artist because the world lacks colour. How colourful is your life as an actor now?
My life is absolutely colourful. The energy is so amazing, especially during promotions because we get to explain and tell people what we’ve been through while making this show and we’re just spilling colours across every platform we’ve been going to and interacting with. I was conducting virtual art classes during quarantine to help other mothers in creatively engaging their kids at a time there’s no school, play or time to spend with friends. I have been spilling colours everywhere since four months and Churails is the ‘paint ka dabba’ I’ll have to throw on paper (laughs).
Is the best part about acting, the opportunity to observe the life of another person in a different light?
Yes, I am very much a people’s person. If I wasn’t an actor, I would have never known what it means to be in another person’s shoes. Acting has widened my understanding of the lives of many people and gave me a lot of perspectives to look at one situation. This profession has taught me to also look at life through the many people from different strata of society; it makes me a humbler person. I’m like a Siamese cat whose interests keep changing and it’s great that I am getting to bring many roles alive on screen. It’s lovely knowing what the ambitions, concerns of a girl from a low-income household; something like Khasara (her television show that aired in 2018) told me what it means to be a powerful mother from a rich family and how you could be still dissatisfied with a womaniser husband. Many people live in amazing mansions, but their life may not be as rosy as we think of it.
For someone who has been a part of several films and television shows that reached a specific set of audience, what does the entry into another medium feel like?
I think it’s amazing to be a part of this revolution and about time that Pakistani content gets its due abroad. I would like to thank ZEE5 Global and Zindagi for taking the onus upon them to help us do this. I never imagined that a project I’m a part of could have such a global reach; the change in medium brought in a slight difference to our acting styles. The genre was different. Television generally requires you to exaggerate your emotions more than you would do so in reality. The reaction time in the digital space is more instantaneous. I’ve reinvented myself as an actor because it really challenged me to change my acting skills I’ve been since so many years.
Do you think it’s sad that even in the 21st century, the stories surrounding women still need to be marketed as ‘female-centric’ or ‘women-centric’?
These labels are essential to make people understand what content we’re talking about. There’s no doubt that words like ‘negative role’, ‘positive role’, ‘male-centric’ or ‘female-centric’ are a cliché; it’s about time we understand that various kinds of content exist to empower people, give them insight and create awareness. Churails is also trying to do that; it’s not trying to not focus on one stratum of the society or women, but also looks at life through men. Judging the book by the cover or the look is a cliché. One needs to give the content that time and make an effort to know what the content is all about, to change their point of view for sure.
How have the women around you influenced the way you approach the characters you play?
I grew up around very strong but measured women; I come from a Nawabi family owing to which there a lot of things that women can’t do in our house. I was, obviously, the black sheep who got out of it and entered the entertainment industry. I’ve had women who have supported me and I come from a background where women have their place in society and also in the house. I was brought up in an environment that if something is going wrong with you outside your home, you either tell us or deal with it yourself. I was always told to stand up for myself and also for other women if needed. Women empowerment was very important in our house and we were told to have a voice. Sarah in Churails is a lot like who I am.
If a pregnant woman is standing on the road while I’m moving in a car, I’ll be the one to stop the car and ask if she needs a lift, even if she recognises me or not. During my university days when I would travel in buses, if somebody was teasing or being nasty to a girl whom I didn’t even know, I would stand up for her in a heartbeat and I have done that many times. For me to understand where Sarah and these Churails are coming from, was very easy.
Isn’t it unfortunate that women cause more damage to the lives of women than men? Does Churails try to reflect that thought?
In the show, it’s the men who’re causing this turmoil to the women. In real life though, it’s true that women don’t have the power to control their mind. So their mind can go places and it can even destroy a healthy relationship. Women are emotional beings and react extremely; very few women I’ve known hold their thought, think hard, reflect before they talk. Sometimes in that vendetta and that emotional reaction, they can do a lot of crazy things (laughs).
Is this a frustrating time to be an actor, when you have almost nothing to feed your creative juices?
Amongst all the celebrities, I think I’ve been the most useful one during quarantine (laughs). A magazine has even gone on to label me the ‘most hardworking actress in the times of Corona’. I’ve been hosting art classes for four months in this situation and to create content every day for mothers and kids to keep them engaged wasn’t easy. You don’t get to go out and the world is shut. I had to try to find art from what’s readily available from people’s households, say jhaadu ka tinkas, dhaagas, purane dabbe.
I fulfilled my desire to be an artist after so many years because I didn’t get the dance to do it during my shooting days. COVID-19 gave me a chance to get back to my basics. It was a great feeling to have given many parents and kids something to look forward to, in these dreary times. There’s no hope in this hour and things can get monotonous. Before the time I had organised these classes, I was always wondering how to keep myself occupied for the day. A day sans any activity felt so unmemorable, you remain clueless. The art classes gave me a sense of purpose and the kind of feedback I’ve got has been amazing. I’ve received messages from Australia, Muscat, Sahiwal, Gujranwala, interior Sindh, Punjab, Scotland, Germany; you name the country, I’ve reached out to them all. I was just blown away by the power of social media and the impact that you can make.
Are you a nervous wreck before the release of Churails?
Haha, waiting for your show to release is such an amazing feeling but more than that, it’s the kind of story that Asim (the writer-director) is telling that I am more excited about. It’s not about me or the other actors; the story is bigger than any one of us. I’ve never read or done this kind of content on any medium. For somebody to tell a story about Pakistan and Karachi in streets that we move every day, shoot it artistically, the experience has exceptional and I can’t wait for the world to see insights that Asim wants to give about our society. I was meant to do Cake initially; we were sad we couldn’t collaborate earlier. However, we were the happiest to have worked for Churails.
The show is important for me because I feel that a lot of women like to live in their cocoons, self-imposed prisons. They don’t want to tinker with archaic thoughts or beliefs, but it’s time they know that the younger generation doesn’t think the same and desire change. They want to live by their roles and seek freedom. Churails will give the many women living in those cocoons to understand the importance of liberating themselves psychologically.