Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Mar-Apr 2009

"I am ambitious but not for money or power"

Vaneeza Ahmad, model, actor and entrepreneur, in profile.

If you don’t know who Vaneeza Ahmad is you have probably been living on a remote desert island without access to any sort of media. But in the unlikely event that you don’t know her by name, you will definitely recognise her face.

After all, hers is a face that has graced the covers of most of Pakistan’s fashion and entertainment magazines over the last 15 years, as well as uncountable fashion shows, TV serials, commercials and billboards across the country.

When I met Vaneeza at her office of Style360, a “lifestyles” channel, she is dressed in a purple button down shirt (it is almost indigo – like the brand she endorses), black slacks, and what my uneducated eye can only decipher as ‘designer’ eyeglasses.

As Vaneeza enters her office there are at least three people who need her immediate input on their work. And even though she is clearly in a rush, she doesn’t look ruffled, with just the odd strand of hair out of place, dealing with each problem in a methodical manner… “the actress is pregnant? Loosen the dress…” spiced with a candid remark and a hearty laugh (“please make sure that guy doesn’t put on women’s foundation… men look horrible with women’s makeup!”), before she settles down for the interview.

When I ask her what exactly it is that she does at Style360, her answer is somewhat vague.

“I was initially the general manager, but I realised that management wasn’t my thing. Now, I am in charge of the overall look of the channel, and programme concepts.”

And, she adds, in what I realise later is her characteristic way of being self-deprecating,

“I am sometimes called the creative head or creative director, but then, I am also a driver, coordinator now and then… but I don’t mind, as long as the channel looks good!”

Despite being considered a ‘controversial’ career for obvious reasons, Ahmad took on modelling almost 15 years ago, because it gave her “the financial independence I wanted, so I continued, even though it modelling wasn’t really considered to be a real profession back then.”

Two years later, bored from modelling, Vaneeza “caught the acting bug” after she landed the coveted role of Dina Jinnah in Jamil Dehlavi’s Jinnah. This was followed by her first major role in Kal, a TV play directed by Jamal Shah, in which she played a rape victim.

Kal was made 13 years ago for PTV, which had strict censorship policies; we couldn’t even use the word rape. It was a difficult topic, but Jamal did a great job.”

Numerous, popular plays, including Tum Hi Toh Ho, Jaane Anjaane, Tere Siva and Tum Se Mil Kar followed.

Clearly, Vaneeza seems to have a penchant for playing controversial roles. From the start she played a rape victim; followed by Suraj Girhan in which she was “married to the Quran” right up to the recent Khamoshiyan, in which she played the “bitchy wife who cheats on her husband.”

But the controversies aren’t limited to her ‘reel’ life - they have emanated into her ‘real’ life as well - with rumours circulating that she contracted aids, when in actuality she had meningitis, to her personal life being under constant scrutiny.

She laughs off the gossip easily.

“People come up with all sorts of stories, but that is part of being a celebrity, so I take it all in my stride.”

“I don’t work just for the love of it. I have to pay my bills as well. When I say this I am labelled ambitious, manipulative, clinical. Yes, we sometimes do projects that are close to our heart for less, but at the end of the day, everyone works to make a living.”

Among the controversies, was the one that that had to do with her lawn label, V9, which she launched with Shehryar Sumar, of Mohammad Farooq Textile Mills (also her ex-fiancé). After the couple split, the ownership of the name came under dispute between the two parties.

“The label was always called Vaneeza Lawn, but was advertised as V9 because I didn’t want to call it Vaneeza Lawn explicitly. We initially launched nine prints, which were advertised as V9, with ‘Vaneeza Lawn’ written at the bottom. Once we split, the controversy began. The case is now in court.”

She adds with a grin that “no one in the Farooque family has a name that starts with V.”

What strikes me most about Vaneeza is the fact that she has so many projects going on simultaneously: TV serials, TVCs, fashion shows and shoots, her work at Style360, her lawn business and an upcoming flagship store that will sell fabrics and furniture.

How on earth does she manage it all?

“Time management…. women are good at multi-tasking,” she says, “at least most of the time. I love my work; all of it. I have my leg on so many boards, but I would get bored otherwise.”

Speaking of her love of work, (yet) another rumour that constantly circulates about Vaneeza is that she is a manipulative and mercenary professional. What are her thoughts here?

“I am ambitious but not for money or power. If I do something, I want to be good at it. When I began modelling, I did it professionally and insisted on a proper contract that would safeguard my and the other models’ interests. I treated it as a job, unlike many of the other girls who modelled to be famous, or compromised on their fees because they were insecure and thought they would lose the job if they were too picky.”

Isn’t that somewhat of a clinical attitude to have about one’s work?

“I don’t work just for the love of it. I have to pay my bills as well. When I say this I am labelled ambitious, manipulative, clinical. Yes, we sometimes do projects that are close to our heart for less, but at the end of the day, everyone works to make a living.”

This comment discloses another trademark Vaneeza quality: honesty.

“I am usually the one who opens her mouth when I see something is not right. For instance at a fashion show if everyone thinks that the makeup is too gaudy, I am the one who will speak up in order to ensure that the makeup is improved. Of course, that makes me ‘manipulative’,” she adds with a hint of exasperation.

And her honesty is not limited to other people, it surfaces when it comes to criticising her own work; she admits that in the past, she took on certain projects, such as modelling for ads for a bleach cream or a mattress, “without thinking too much”.

“It wasn’t an issue for me then, but I realised that if I wanted to last in the profession, I would have to be choosy in order to sustain myself. So of late, I have opted for exclusive brands such as Indigo, Olper’s, Lux and Pepsi. I am wiser now...”

Clearly, Vaneeza is in the business for the long haul. And knowing her, she will continue to reinvent herself and explore new spheres – all the while remaining controversial, of course.