Moomal Sheikh: the girl with the golden name

The only consolation an ageing actor can provide his fans is perhaps in the form of his progeny—a child in whom they can trace the many shades of the star people once cherished and adored. And even though Javed Sheikh is anything but past his prime, it’s comforting to see his recently unveiled and rather talented daughter Momal Sheikh slowly and gradually take the front seat, all geared up to walk her father’s—and family’s—iconic footsteps.
Hailing from a family that is, and has worked with all that is synonymous to greatness as far as the Pakistani film and television industry goes, Momal shows great potential of maturing into a fine actress as she impresses all and sundry with her creditable poise and a set of personal boundaries that are a testimony to her fine upbringing. She already has a couple of star studded serials under her belt and a few more are on the way, along with a few prominent modeling contracts as well as one of the most highly anticipated films of the year, “Naach”, in which she stars opposite Shaan.
Here, Xpozé talks to the unapologetically talented, pretty—and very smart—Momal Sheikh about her take on Bollywood, the kind of work she’s interested in doing at the moment and, well, growing up a Sheikh…
Tell me a bit about your early years. What schools did you go to and what kind of a child were you while growing up?

I went to City School and then Lecole for my A Levels, after which I went to College of Central London and Saint Martins for further studies. As a child I was very different from what you see today, I was a complete tomboy playing outdoors with the boys all the time, I hardly ever hung out with girls. Really, most of my best childhood memories are from those days!

What’s your relationship with your parents like?
You know, I don’t get to express my gratitude towards my parents, especially my mother, as much as I would like to, but she has literally taught me everything I know and I can’t be more grateful to her for raising me the way she did. She’s the reason I’ve been able to achieve so much in such a little time and I owe all my confidence and ambition to her. She is the one who molded me into the strong, independent woman that I’ve grown up to be. She’s also my best critic, and I adore her for that. She watches my work and tells me where I need to improve.
As far as my dad goes, well, I’m still his baby girl; his one and only laadli, and he’ll do anything and everything I ask him to do for me. Sometimes I take advantage of his unconditional love for me. In fact, I’ve often had other people come up to me to get me to do something for them because everybody knows he doesn’t say no to me! Really, my dad and I are like best friends. We’re extremely close and we share everything.

What are your earliest and most favorite memories of your dads work?
My personal favorite would have to be his film “Mushkil” it was his directorial debut and we were all extremely excited for him. I remember being on the sets when it was being shot, and it was an amazing experience and such a surreal feeling at that age!

What was it like growing up in a family that was constantly in the limelight?
Well, growing up in a well-known family can be fun and it definitely has its perks, like going out to big fancy events and parties and always getting to play dress up! But honestly, at home we’re all just so laid back we never really think of each other as celebrities. Especially when the entire family gets together, including all the uncles and aunts and all the kids: you should see us then!

I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, but who do you admire most as an actor: Your dad, your Chacha (Saleem Sheikh) or your uncle (Behroze Sabzwari)? What qualities about each of them do you admire most?
All three are great actors and they each have their distinctive qualities with the way they work. My mentor of course is my dad. Not only do I love all the work he’s done over the years, I also admire the way he works and his style overall. I just adore his work ethic and how he’s so very dedicated and honest to his work. If he has a 10 hour work day scheduled, he will give 12 hours regardless of whether his scenes are done or not, and that is perhaps what makes him so likable.
What I like the most about Behroze Uncle is how he is so straight up with everyone. A lot of people outside the industry might not know this, but he gives the best advice too. And it’s all really valuable considering his extensive experience! And then there’s Saleem Chacha, who’s well, Saleem Chacha. He is just so full of life and such a fun loving person it’s always great having him around!

How did you and your husband first meet? Tell me a bit about him and what he does. How supportive has he been of your work overall?
It’s actually quite a filmy story; we first met at a friend’s older sister’s wedding rehearsals, and from there is where it all began! He is great guy and has an amazing personality and more so we get along really well and that’s the key. He is an HR senior manager, and belongs to a totally different, corporate world… but he’s been there for me a hundred percent. I wouldn’t be doing the work I am doing if it wasn’t for his support and encouragement. He’s been there for me throughout and always tells me I can achieve anything I put my mind to, and so here I am!

How and when did you personally develop an interest in acting? Was it a conscious decision you made yourself or were you hurled into it by the family?
Contrary to popular belief, it was never decided that I would become an actor like the rest of my family. I always had a feeling that my dad wouldn’t be too keen on me joining the industry because while I was growing up, he always made sure that I lead a rather sheltered life. So it honestly never even really occurred to me that I could also one day be doing what I’d watched him do all my life. It was only after I got married that I started thinking that maybe I should give it a shot after all. I spoke to my husband about it and he was very supportive and said that if I felt that I had it in me I should definitely give it a shot… and like I said before, the rest is history!

Tell me about your first acting offer?
My first project was a sitcom called “Frequency FM 109” by Najaf Bilgrami and Ifran. I had gone to my friend Pheby who has started her own company called Phegency, and gave her my portfolio so she had asked if I were interested in taking up the project. I got pulled into it because my cousin Shehroze and a couple of friends like Breakhna and Komal were also a part of it and I thought it would be fun, which it actually was!

What kind of gigs have you done since then? What kind of work do you enjoy doing most?
I’m the brand ambassador for Pantene, and I’ve also done a few other ads that are in running these days. I’ve also done a couple of photoshoots for designer lawn recently that were a lot of fun. I wouldn’t mind doing fashion modeling, but my focus at the moment is still acting. I have done a couple of serials and telefilms. I recently had an incredible experience working with Adnan bhai (Adnan Siddiqui) and Sajid Hasan in “Aitraaf”. One telefilm that’s extremely close to me is the one I did with my father. It was a part of Susraal Gainda Phool, and it was an amazing experience for a young actor like me to work with a seasoned actor like my dad.
If I had to choose between modeling and acting, I’d definitely prefer acting because it’s much more expressive. I of course am still in the learning stage, which makes it all the more fun!

How accommodating has the local television industry been for you? Did you face any problems as a newcomer while trying to carve your own niche?
Well it was a little hard in the beginning as it is for everyone, but you have to prove yourself with your work and have patience and once you achieve that, I feel doors start to open for you themselves. I wouldn’t really call the small scattered issues I had problems, but yes I too had to face some hardships as a newcomer. But I guess these things come with the territory, no matter what field you’re in. The beginning is all about hard work. I don’t really think I’ve carved my niche yet I still feel I have a long way to go. This is just the beginning for me, hopefully!

Which costars have you enjoyed working most with? Why?
I’ve enjoyed working with each and every one of them. Every one I’ve had the pleasure of working with so far was spectacular in his or her own way and there is so much I’ve learnt from them all. But my best experience hands down was with Shaan. He is a brilliant actor and an amazing human being. Having to stand opposite him was so intimidating, but even though I was just a newbie, he was extremely considerate and reassuring throughout. He shared a lot of his experiences with me and gave some really good advice too, which I will always try to remember.

Our TV industry is brimming with legends. Who do you personally aspire to be more like as an actor? And who would you love to work with in the future?
Nadeem uncle, for sure. I’ve been watching him and his work ever since I was a little girl, and honestly, his is the only name, other than Babra Sharif perhaps, that comes to mind when you ask me who I aspire to be like! Both of them aren’t just amazing actors, they’re amazing people too and I’m simply in awe of them.

What’s the one thing you’ve learned from your counterparts, both young and old?

I continuously look around me try to pick up things from other people, especially their good qualities. What I’ve learnt the most from our elders is punctuality, which I feel just doesn’t exist anymore. The younger lot has taught me the importance of dedication, which also is very important no matter what you’re doing.

How helpful has your dad’s acting expertise been for you? How often do you turn to him for acting advice?
It’s definitely been a blessing! I turn to him for practically everything, be it advice on a project or tips to brush up on my acting skills. I also have my brother Shehzad and cousin Shehroze and my uncles to help me out throughout the way. So yeah, it’s a great help and I couldn’t ask for anything more!

Every actor has a dream project or a character they’d love to play. What are yours?
I haven’t really thought about my dream project, but I guess I would love to do a role that is “different,” you know… where I could prove my skill set and also my potential as an actor. I’m still in the learning stages of my career, so any such dream projects will just have to wait!

A few years ago your dad took a hiatus from work before resurfacing with some very useful connections in Bollywood. Has he asked you to, or do you have any aspirations to find work on the other side of the border as well?
Well to be honest he hasn’t asked me anything and we haven’t spoken about it. But yes, I wouldn’t mind working on a Bollywood project if a good production house approached me with a good script that has potential of turning into a nice film. You see, before “Naach”, I’d never really actively thought about doing a Lollywood movie either. But when a good project came along, which had a good director and a good cast, I agreed to do it. I feel the same way about Bollywood. If something really good comes along, then why not!? The only problem is, Bollywood’s culture is a bit different and I, as someone who believes in the importance of keeping within limits, have to take that into consideration. Generally, I feel it’s still too early for me to be thinking about Bollywood right now. My achievement would be to become a good actor and an entertainer, not an actor who’s done a Bollywood film. Think of it this way: If it’s not on my menu, I can’t order it, right!?

Tell me a bit about the “Naach” experience. Had you ever thought you’d find yourself working in a Pakistani movie?
Well, yes, I never thought I would but when I got the offer for “Naach” by Nasir Tehrany, I just couldn’t say no. It had so many pluses: it had an amazing story, my dad was a part of the film and I was being cast opposite Shaan! It was so surreal and brilliant; I would have been stupid to pass up on it! I was obviously very scared and nervous. I didn’t know if I’d be able to pull it off, but everyone around me made it extremely easy for me. Everyone including the director, my dad, my good friend Hasan Rizvi, as well as Shaan, were extremely supportive throughout the filming.
I worked with Pappu Samrat in Lahore for the dance sequence I did with Shaan, and I had a blast. It was a huge, huge challenge, and even though I got hurt pretty bad while shooting, I’m really glad I took the chance because the end product is just amazing and I’m sure everyone will love it too. Now I’m really looking forward to the rest of the shoot now which is due to begin soon. The only thing that saddens me is that people still associate Pakistani movies with the rubbish that was being made until a few years ago, and I don’t blame them, but “Naach” is very different. I would encourage our youth to definitely show their support because that’s the only way we can bring about a change, a much needed change!

And what was working with Javed Sheikh—the actor—like? Was it easy play or totally intimidating?
This is the second time I’m working with my dad and it’s really unnerving at times. I like to rehearse my lines before shooting, and I would do the same with my dad, and everything would be perfect. But once the cameras started rolling, I’d have a private panic attack because it would suddenly hit me that I’m sharing screen space with Javed Sheikh-the actor. He wasn’t my dad then, and it got a little intimidating. At the same time though, I got to learn a lot from him. He has taught me so much, and he gives me advice about everything, right from how I should stand and move to how I should deliver my dialogue, and it’s all priceless not only as his daughter but also as a young actor who’s still trying to learn as much as she can from her co-stars.

I’m sure you’re well aware that your swift success has raised a few questions as well as eyebrows, with people automatically assuming you’re simply reaping the benefit of your dad’s name and influence. How do you defend your position in the face of such unabashed presumption?
First of all, I’d like to tell everyone that my father didn’t even make a single phone call to get me work. Of course he’s been there for me throughout, but everything that I have done so far has been out of my own initiative, and I’m very proud of that fact. A lot of people might not understand this, but it’s quite hard for me to make my own name in the industry. This is not just something I’m doing for myself. I’m sure people think it’s easy for the children of superstars and that we don’t really have to work hard to prove ourselves but they’re very wrong. On the contrary, I have to function under the constant pressure of doing my dad and my family proud, and making sure nothing I do threatens to damage the family’s name.

What are you working on these days?
I’m currently working on three huge projects. One of the serials has Zainab Qayuum and Farhan Ali Agha playing my and Shehroze’s parents. We recently wrapped this one up and I had a lot of fun filming it. The second serial I’m working on is also a lot of fun too because it has a huge cast of youngsters, including Aamina Sheikh, Meekal, Ahsan, Mehwish Hayat etc.
The third one is a project of Momal Productions, and it has a very unique story. The cast includes Angeline Malik and Deepak Perwani as parents, me and Imran Aslam as siblings and Sanam Saeed as our evil step-sister, and Junaid Khan as my love interest. I’ve also been busy with some photo-shoots recently. I’m also into hosting because I just love talking. I recently did a Eid show for ARY Digital with Aijazz Aslam which was pretty exciting.

Do you consider yourself to be a fashionable person?
Yes! I’m definitely a very fashion conscious person. But I will not take any favorites’ names because I’d rather be diplomatic than piss someone off! As far as international brands go; I like Mango and Zara because I feel really comfortable in their clothes. On the higher-end, I like Gucci, Dior, Roberto Cavalli and Chanel—even though I don’t have Chanel in my wardrobe—yet! I wouldn’t mind getting a Chanel handbag someday soon though!

Momal in a Box
• Birthday: 15th May
• Birthplace: Lahore
• Current home: Karachi
• Marital status: Married
• The last good movie I saw was: Ice Age
• I stay home to watch: Good comedy, like The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men etc. I’m also an all-time fan of Friends. Star World helps me get my mind off things after a hard day’s work.
• The book I’ve been reading is: None! I’m not a big reader at all.
• Favorite pig-out food: Xanders, Aylanto and late night runs to Crepe Factory!
• I can’t stand: People who lie
• Personal hero: My mother
• Every New Year’s I resolve: To start saying my prayers regularly
• Nobody knows I’m: Nobody knows for a reason, let’s keep it that way!
• I wish I could stop: The nonsense that’s prevalent in our country these days!
• I’m better than anyone else when it comes to: Driving and giving directions! I believe—know, rather—that I’m better than anyone when it comes to driving, and can easily challenge anyone living in Karachi!
• I’d give anything to meet: Quaid-e-Azam, but unfortunately that’s not possible
• If I could change one thing about myself, it would be: My anger
• People who knew me in high school thought I was: A tomboy
• I knew I was a grown-up when I: Took the car out all by myself on my 16th birthday!
• If I wasn’t a model and an actor, I’d be: A fashion designer
• Handbags or heels: Heels, definitely!
• Three words that best describe me: Loud, hyper and honest