Claiming that the actor is a superstar in every sense of the word would be an understatement

KARACHI:

A decade and a half ago, a meek, wide-eyed Sajal Ali entered the Pakistani entertainment industry, debuting with Nadaaniyaan. With self-admitted highs and lows embellishing her journey, Sajal can now boast a staggering fan following in the millions, a body of work that boggles, awards and accolades that are a testament to her craft, and the recently conferred Tamgha-e-Imtiaz. Speaking exclusively to The Express Tribune, the actor opened up on fame, trials, and honours.

The road so far

Photo credit: M. Naeem

Shedding light on her journey, Sajal shared, “As an outsider with no connection or family in the industry, the first few years were met with immense challenges but because of those challenges I was able to gradually make my presence felt in the industry. I have absolutely no regrets. In fact, I cherish my initial years in the industry that have made me a stronger person today.”

Gaining her footing in shows such as Nanhi and Gohar-e-Nayab, Sajal’s skill set began to attract eyeballs. Her journey continued with standout performances in emotionally profound offerings like Behadd and Yaqeen Ka Safar. Sajal’s talent transcended borders with her Bollywood debut in Mom, where her portrayal of a victim of sexual assault garnered universal acclaim.

The star’s portrayal of the vibrant and rebellious Sassi in O Rangreza earned her further praise and nominations. Continuing her impressive streak, Sajal garnered critical applause for her role as Chammi in the television adaptation of the acclaimed novel Aangan. She proceeded to win over audiences with her portrayal of Momina Sultan in the spiritual romance Alif. Sajal’s versatility was further showcased in 2022 with her portrayal of a female cadet in Sinf-e-Aahan, whereas 2023 brought forth the portrayal of a hardworking real estate agent in Kuch Ankahi. Moreover, the actor stepped into Hollywood with her debut in What’s Love Got to Do with It? in a brief, yet significant role

The gifted artist, who was recently honoured with the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz, marking yet another milestone in her upward trek towards inimitable fame, described the prestige as “surreal.” She stated, “I am grateful to everyone who has supported me throughout this journey, especially my mother who has played a pivotal role in shaping my career; this recognition wouldn’t have been possible without her support and contribution towards my career. I owe everything to my mother. At the same time receiving this honour has further motivated me to work hard, and associate myself with projects that can help me put Pakistan on the world map of entertainment.”

Navigating diverse terrains
Photo credit: Natasha Zubair

Though Sajal is proud of her achievements, she remains cognizant of the tribulations that doubled as hurdles. “Every point, every step was tough and I still feel it now,” she revealed. “If I have to pinpoint, I believe that when my mother left that was the toughest point, because she used to help me through a lot of things, especially when it came to my work, and I was very dependent on her. Whenever I’d get a script for a project, she would read it for me. But now, no matter what project I commit to, I start from zero and I think it’s good to feel that way, because you end up putting in the same kind of effort. I don’t get bored when I have to begin again. Instead, I take it as a challenge.”

Opening up about projects that tested her mettle, Sajal shared, “The toughest project would have to be O Rangreza because firstly, it was a difficult project as well as different. There were some emotions I hadn’t played on screen before and there are so many sides to the character that feeling and portraying them was demanding.” In a heartbreaking admission, the actor furthered, “That was also the last project my mother had read for me and the last thing that she told me was, ‘It is something you have to do no matter what happens to me’. My sister and my family forced me back onto the set though I had absolutely no confidence in myself, but they did, and they encouraged me to give it my all.”

Talking about maneuvring the digital space – a challenge for many who have been bested by the beast that is the online sphere – Sajal remarked, “I treat the digital space as a platform to share news related to my projects but also to share content that impacts our society. Now more than ever, I feel my followers are listening, so I try to highlight others’ work such as educational projects because I feel that regardless of what we want to improve in our country, we should start with education. I try to share the news that I feel will make a difference. I also use it to connect with my fans, who are very important to me.”

Global acclaim, fan love

The performer did not hold back when appreciating her admirers. “I’d like to say thank you for being there throughout the journey,” Sajal voiced. She continued, “Secondly, Allah has given us a lot of power and anyone can achieve anything. Never let the child inside you die who dreams big and never give up on yourself because there’s a sea full of opportunities to explore. Just believe in yourself, be confident and work hard towards achieving your goals. There’s no limit to what women can achieve, it’s essential they embrace education and pursue their dreams.”

Talking about her varying experiences of having worked across three different industries, the star divulged, “I have been fortunate to have worked with great people, I’ve been really lucky. I never think of the differences, and instead focus on the experiences which have been significant learning opportunities. Through them, I’ve evolved not only as an artist but also as a person.” She added, “During the time I worked with Jemimah, the people, culture and environment were all so new as well as working alongside Shabana Azmi who is a legend and with Shekhar Kapur directing, it’s impossible to not have learnt so much. This is the mindset I keep whenever I commit to a project and it gives me an adrenaline rush.”

Fifteen years down the line, claiming that Sajal is a superstar in every sense of the word would be an understatement. Straddling multiple industries and leaving her irreplaceable mark on each, Sajal’s metamorphosis is a blueprint by which many will continue to be inspired.

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