“I have nothing new to say. That’s why I stopped giving interviews a long time ago,” says Pakistan’s petite diva of the silver screen, Babra Sharif as she pecks on spicy sauted mushrooms at a trendy Lahore café.
”Why would anyone be interested in knowing about me now?” she asks casually. And there goes my interview! Although, if she looked around, she would find the answer.
The moment we stepped into the chic eatery, every head turned in her direction. And since then, every eye was closely scanning each move made by the diminutive woman who ruled the silver screen with a vengeance since her debut film Mera Naam Hai Mohabbat way back in the mid 1970s.
We deliberately select a corner booth to be away from stares… to no avail. “I don’t go out much. Once in a blue moon, I dine out and that too with friends,” she tells me. A contradiction of her earlier statement, I point out to her gently.
However, despite great effort one can’t find a single trace of artificiality in her tone. She truly sounds genuine.
She is busy these days in renovating her houses in Karachi and Lahore. Shunting between the two cities, Babra is tired of arguing with masons, contractors and architects. Meticulous to the minutest detail, she likes doing it herself.
Despite feeling down and out, her porcelain skin and flawless complexion – which is an indescribable blend of rosy and gold –is aglow: Dressed in a short white muslin kurta over a pair of blue denims, hair casually tied up with a few strands hanging carelessly loose, Babra looks as if she just stepped out of a fashion glossy.
Over the years, her constantly evolving sense of style has made her a style icon. “I love experimenting with my image,” she says. We cannot seem to have enough of her… if not in her films than for her style surely.
Babra satisfies our deep-seated yearning for owning a screen diva. After Noor Jehan, she is the only screen siren who has held our collective imagination captive for years. When told that she is the Pakistani equivalent of Bollywood diva Rekha. She claps her enthusiastically and says, “Oh! What a compliment.”
She stuns, amazes, amuses and leaves us craving for more by her even-evolving style. Babra’s hibernation almost always results in a reinvented image. And the grand entry is cinematic in style and chic in content. Her films take a backseat as she changes herself chameleon-like… the one performance she is never tired of.
The gurus of Pakistani’s fashion industry have a variety of different opinions but there is one point where their views converge and that is Babra whom they unanimously declare a style icon.
She is a designer’s dream and a photographer’s delight. Stylists kill to color that stunning face even more beautiful.
Babra’s extremely fastidious nature only allows her to work with the best. “Fashion is my passion. I do shoots for my own satisfaction.”
And though few and far between, Babra’s fashion shoots are unforgettable. Mention this to her and she simply laughs it off. Babra turns magnanimity into triviality and vice versa.
“Sure,” she says her in signature trivializing fashion. “If I go to Japan, they would say, “Oh! One of the better pieces among us.”
Now that she seems inclined towards an interview, I make another attempt to slip in a question. Sensing the motive behind the query, she deftly dodges it.
”The reason why I avoid interview is, there are no new questions. Same old stuff: ‘Why did you leave films at the peak of your career?’ “What difference do
you find between cinema of your time and today?’ ‘What do you think of today’s actresses?’ ‘Why don’t you do television more often?’
She focuses all her attention on her next spoonful of Thai Chicken Oyster as if it’s the most important job in the world for the moment, before continuing, “I have answered all these questions more than once. So I decided there is no point in repeating myself.”
“Whoever is interested in reading about me should pick up old magazines and papers.”
Without saying anything, she has exposed the local media’s level of ingenuity. And just to distinguish myself from mediocrity, I abandon the idea of an interview.
There are many facets of Babra, which remain hidden from us. Perhaps, radiance and lure of her persona doesn’t let us explore the person behind this elfin goddess. To being with, not many people are aware of the fact that her hospitality could floor even the most generous of them all. She is one of the best hosts one has ever come across.
Think of all possible expressions of hospitality and you could see them in practice. If you are her guest and wish for stars, although despite the obvious impossibility of the task, Babra would definitely try to fetch them for you. And then the replacement is even grander that you will forget your original wish. Babra certainly makes you feel the most special person on this planet.
A similar spirit is at work in her friendships. She has few friends, but those few could easily consider themselves privileged. A true friend is always just a call away for anything in the time of need. And most importantly a great company and compassionate support when you are down and out. She becomes the ray of hope, a glimmer of the brighter side of life when nothing seems to be working.
But if you try to discuss these wonderful personality traits, Babra shies back into her shell. “How can I talk about my ownself? I mean how could elaborate, rationalize or discuss my own self as if I am somebody else,” she questions back leaving you with no coherent answer.
However, she cannot be taken for a ride. Blessed with an innate shrewd sense of self preservation, she has a knack of sifting users from genuine friends. “I don’t like being used,” she murmurs almost audibly. The tone itself is a great deterrent for users to come within a radius of five miles. She prefers to invest her time, effort and wealth in people who are either worth it or in need of it.
Suddenly the music changes from Sting’s ‘Desert Rose’ to Shwetta Shetty’s ‘Totay totay’
”I love this song!” Babra announces gleefully and begins moving with the rhythm. Glances become even sharper and more focused.
“Not that I loathe the attention, but there are times when one wants to be left alone. I am not in the limelight any longer,” she says, becoming still after a few seconds of sashaying.
Babra refuses to pale in the memory of our media and our masses. She is still big; it’s the Lollywood screen that has become too small for this superstar.