Sanam Jung has finished hosting Jago Pakistan Jago, Hum TV’s popular morning show and is surrounded by fans. Before another fan can grab her attention, she quickly moves into the makeup room for a breather.
In the last six months, Jung has not had a day off from hosting Jago Pakistan Jago. She has just returned from Islamabad, where she was hosting an episode for Nestlé EveryDay’s 12-episode Khaas Taste Challenge TV show. In a few days she will be shooting the last part of Hum TV’s drama serial Alvida, which is topping the TRPs these days.
Everyone – channels, producers, advertisers, audiences – will tell you that for the past two years almost everything she has touched has turned to gold. Yet, despite her meteoric rise after her debut role in the hit TV drama serial Dil-e-Muztar, she remains uncertain about her success.
“After Dil-e-Muztar people started to recognise me; when you act in a TV drama everyone knows you. I did not think it would do so well and even now the whole fans-walking-up-to-me routine is new.”
Jung credits her family with keeping her feet on the ground, adding, “I am still scolded by my father in malls in front of people.”
She also finds it difficult to sit with her family and watch herself on TV.
“When the first episode of Dil-e-Muztar was aired, my mother wanted to invite friends over to watch it with us. I said no, because ‘beizzati honay waali hai’ (‘I am about to lose face’). Instead I went to a friend’s place. Whenever one of my dramas comes on, I end up watching them online at night after locking myself in the room.”
Her hesitation has made her play it safe when it comes to selecting projects; yet her choices have turned out to be – well, gold.
“I have not worked with many different teams. Of the four serials I did, three were with Shahzad Kashmiri as director and Momina Duraid has produced all of them. That is my space and I haven’t stepped out of it. I know it can be a drawback, but that is okay.”
In an age when celebrities will be celebrities and do it all, from provocative numbers to flying off to Mumbai at the first whiff of an offer, Jung has been running in the opposite direction and when Bollywood came calling, she turned them down.
“When I said I would not do bold scenes, they replied they could ‘cheat’, but even if they cheat a scene, the audience will think I have done it. So Bollywood is out of the question.”
None of these moves has made a dent in her fan following. Her choice of TV commercials has been impeccable and reads like a wish list that more ambitious models would kill for – Cadbury, Fair & Lovely, KFC and brand ambassador for Nestlé EveryDay. Jung is clear that she will only work with the best brands.
“I receive a lot of calls about appearing in commercials, but I am careful about what I choose. Instead of doing 10 a year, I prefer to pick one good brand and get paid well. We work so hard to build our profile, why throw it all away for a cheap face cream ad?”
Although she thinks “my acting is a tukka (fluke),” her choice of serials has been flawless and includes TRP busters such as Dil-e-Muztar, Alvida and the lead role in Mohabat Subh Ka Sitara Hai, written by the doyenne of Pakistani drama serials, Umera Ahmed.
Despite landing the choicest of TV roles, Jung says she is as nervous about her acting as she was on the first day of the Dil-e-Muztar shoot.
“They were shooting the scene when Sila marries and moves to a new house. Her husband doesn’t like her and she is unsure; this is how I felt then, so it was all natural as I had no clue what would happen next.”
It was that role (and that smile!) that led Jung to win the hearts of the nation as well as the Best Television Sensation Award (Female) at the 2014 Hum TV Awards; this year she hosted the awards in Dubai. She may be modest and self deprecating, but she knows to stop short of self sabotage.
Her onscreen vulnerability is palpable and therein lies her appeal. When she started hosting Hum TV’s morning show, she was as in awe of of the celebrities she invited as any fan would be. Her stories about the fan base she has acquired across Pakistan while shooting the Nestlé EveryDay campaign reflects this. Her eyes light up when she talks about women coming up to her to bless her – and pull her cheeks.
“They pull my cheeks because they think of me as one of the children in their household and they hug me as if they have known me since childhood.”
The girl-next-door in the truest sense, Jung, by her own admission, is “super close” to her family and hangs out with a small set of close friends from back when no one knew her. She puts this down as a major reason why she still has her head screwed on straight and hasn’t given into temptation in a world where temptations abound.
“My family is foremost in my mind when I decide whether to do a project. I don’t travel alone, whether to Islamabad or to Dubai. I am not allowed to. One of my sisters or my mother will accompany me.”
Jung’s career took off in 2008 when she went to Nabila’s for a free makeover while studying for her BBA.
“They were making portfolios, but I was more interested in a free blow dry and makeup by Nabila and an evening out with my friends.”
However, soon after, she received a call from a modelling agency, which landed her first commercial with Zong. Next she was approached by Play TV to be a VJ, although her father warned her that if her grades suffered it would be the end of showbiz for her. Jung cleared her BBA and started her MBA in 2010 when she moved to AAG TV as a VJ.
“When AAG TV closed down, I thought the honeymoon was over and it was time to get serious about finding a regular job.”
That was not to be; she received a call from Duraid and as Hum TV had been asking her to act for two years, she thought it was time to give it a shot and that is how she got onto Dil-e-Muztar.
Today Jung is hosting Jago Pakistan Jago, travelling extensively for Nestlé EveryDay and starring in Alvida. Yet, whereas most celebrities would be overjoyed at being seen everywhere, she remains cautious.
As to what’s next, Jung says she doesn’t plan things. For the time being she is enjoying hosting the morning show and quietly lets on that wedding bells may be tolling soon, although she refuses to say more except that “he is not from the TV industry and I have known him for a long time.”
As for her celebrity status, she ends the conversation with these words:
“I never want to reach a point where I think I am the best, because the moment this happens I will lose it.”
Shahrezad Samiuddin is a pop culture junkie and an aspiring screenwriter.