The interview with Sunita Marshall lasts over an hour. When she left, she smiled and said, “If you say something controversial without thinking, don’t include it in the interview.”
This is a request frequently made by celebrities. A face-to-face interview can be an animated, sloppy session with a lot of informal talk and only the more stable parts set aside for publication. But Sunita doesn’t have to worry. Models and actresses are natural, easy-going, and politically right.
Even when she shares anecdotes or complains, the discussion takes her away from lewd gossip. I mention this to her and she replies, “I’m just saying it the way I always do.”
I think this is totally plausible as I know this is a very attitude that has helped her navigate her career. In the 20 years now, Sunita has continued to build her repertoire in the infamous fashion and television arena, and has never been paparazzi friendly. Her colleagues love her, job offers keep coming in, and she is one of the very few young Pakistani female celebrities who are never trolled on social media.
“I have always stayed away from infidelity and gossip. “Sometimes you only get the latest news from friends from outside the industry. I am more interested in my work and my life. After work, I go home.”
For over 20 years now, Sunita Marshall has steadily built up her repertoire in fashion and television without the controversy or scandal typically associated with those in her profession. Is she a typical perfect model even in real life?
It sounds like a very healthy way of life, but doesn’t she sometimes feel the need to network with power players in the fashion and TV industries? Many consider it essential to a career in both fields.
Not Sunita. “I have never relied on networking for my career. If my job is good, people will notice and get more offers.”
In a world full of one craft and fierce competition, Sunita’s way looks much more wholesome and refreshing. Slowly and surely building her career, she has now soared to certain highs with her role in 7th Sky Entertainment’s mega-hit drama. Khuda Aur Mohabbat 3, Currently airing on Geo TV.
Knowing this well, she often mentions this in conversations: “I’ve mentioned all of this before, but now that the drama is a hit, everyone is paying more attention to what I’m saying!”
Barbie with a difference
on Kuda Aur Mohabat 3, Sunita plays the bhabi (sister-in-law) to the lady Iqra Aziz, but she’s no ordinary bhabi, mimicking the background or devising evil plans. Her role is more pivotal and triggers a change in the storyline.
As the rich Bahu (daughter-in-law) of an influential family, she looks very glamorous and strongly insists on a sophisticated three-piece suit. The story can revolve around two lovers who intersect as stars, but the camera focuses on the beautiful Barbie and gives advice or frowns anxiously.
“The credit for this goes to director Syed Wajahat Hussain,” says Sunita. “He is so focused on developing all the characters, looks and horses. I think that makes the story interesting.”
The drama has garnered huge fans, reaching millions of YouTube views within an hour of airing. But the story isn’t particularly new, and the actors are all familiar faces we’ve seen in countless dramas before. What do you think is the key to her? Khuda Aur Mohabbat 3 huge success?
“I think it was treated in an extremely grand way,” Sunita said. “A lot of effort and financial investment has been put into the details. The wedding scene was filmed about four times. There were drone cameras filming the landscape and the whole house was decorated with lights for the wedding.”
“This was not an easy drama to shoot,” she continued. We were in the middle of filming when the Covid-19 lockdown was imposed. Filming in Bahawalpur and Multan had to be canceled several times. At some point, the entire cast and crew arrived in Lahore and several others, including me and Ruby or Ashraf, had to fly a few days later. Rubina apa suddenly said that she tested positive for Covid-19. Everything stopped immediately. The crew came back in, and we waited while she recovered from the very bad spell of the coronavirus. We sincerely thank the 7th Sky Entertainment for continuing to film the drama despite suffering a lot of losses.”
In real life, we go from little girls to mothers, daughters-in-law, daughter-in-law. Similarly on TV you have to accept when the ‘screen age’ is past a certain number of years. People have seen me in dramas for a long time. Now is the time to move on to character roles without obsessing over the lead role.”
Were the size of the project and a reputable production team a factor when she decided to play bhabi’s character? Early on, Sunita always played the lead role, but Kuda Aur Mohabat 3 and Aulaad (aired on ARY Digital), she turned towards a character role, namely that of a bhabi.
“Yes, I agreed to the role because I knew the project itself was good. If the team behind the drama is strong, the whole cast shines rather than the main lead.
“I also understand that this is part of the evolution of my career. In real life, we go from little girls to mothers, daughters-in-law, daughter-in-law. Similarly on TV you have to accept when the ‘screen age’ is past a certain number of years. People have seen me in dramas for a long time. Now is the time to move on to character roles without obsessing over the lead role.”
But you still look young enough to play a female lead. “But I no longer get offers to take the main lead. right? It doesn’t matter as long as you’re playing an important character. Now I am waiting for a different and exciting role.”
Working with the best actors on TV, has she ever been intimidated by them?
“Of course! I was shivering in my first scene with Naumaan Ijaz,” she recalls. “I could barely remember my lines when I acted with Uzma Gillani. And I slowly relaxed.”
Now that she’s in a new stage in her career, do you see the merit in awards ceremonies that recognize the entire cast rather than the main lead? The recent ARY People’s Choice Awards presented trophies to actors who played a variety of characters, from Best Sister to Best (and possibly cheating) Mother-in-Law.
“Of course, everyone likes to be recognized for their work. Why is there no such category at the Lux Style Awards?” she asks
It is very unlikely that the LSA will create a category for the entire drama furniture, but this will lead us to the topic of awards. Although Sunita didn’t win, she says it didn’t affect her career.
“I would have been happy if I had won an award, but I never really stuck with it,” she says. “When I was modeling full-time, I was nominated three times by the LSA for Best Female Model. In the fourth round, I stopped transferring my portfolio.
“At that time, it seems that models were awarded based on seniors, and when I became a veteran name, I started to focus on acting in dramas. Behind the scenes we’ve always called the LSA the Retirement Award for Models!” she laughs
Why? Sunita begins the story. “Every model that wins an award will eventually retire. — from Vinnie [Vaneeza Ahmed], Iraj, Aaminah Haq, ZQ [Zainab Qayyum], Tanya Shafi, Neha and Tooba Siddiqui. Among the recent names, Fouzia Aman has won and now she has reduced her workload and Sadaf Kanwal has also started acting. “
What motivated Sunita to focus more on acting than modeling? “I’ve been modeling for a very long time and I’ve always loved it,” she said. I thought I had enough now. [But] I’m still involved in occasional campaigns and shows like this year’s Hum Bridal Couture Week.”
Far from the crazy crowds of after-party and behind-the-scenes stories, Sunita entered the modeling world with characteristic elegance. Her ability to look great on the catwalk – even when holding a heavy duty rengar – is often a popular choice when starting or ending a show. But she’s just as happy as going out in the middle.
“Although the designers chose me, I never had a show open or closed or asked to wear a specific costume,” she says. “I also hate brands that ask for a free model. I always tell them this is my bread and butter, and if they want me on board they have to pay me.”
Has she observed colleagues working on the basis of friendship or ‘favor’? And me too! Does it happen as often in the fashion world as people claim?
“It happens freely everywhere. I’m glad people are starting to protest against abuse. And yes, some people may work through shady networking and strong ‘friends’, but it is also possible to work ethically purely on merit.”
Age is nothing but a number
Her own career is a good example. Inspired by an industry often criticized for being jojo. Also inspired by the way she recently cried at 40. Posing with friends and family, Sunita uploaded a variety of beautiful photos from her 40th birthday celebration. “Why do I have to hide my age?” Sunita laughs. “I always wanted to celebrate my 40th birthday with a lot of fanfare.”
But wasn’t she worried about losing playing the character of a young woman once she declared her real age? She shrugged. “I’m 40 and I love that I look so good for my age.
“The problem is, I’m selective about what I do anyway. I work on two dramas a year. Signing more scripts will end up ignoring children. So we wrap up one drama before July and after July.”
Her husband, Hassan Ahmed, is also a busy actor, and the two manage each other’s career schedules closely, so one parent stays in the city with their children when the other is away. “I also live with my mother-in-law, which is helpful,” she says. “As parents, we can be incredibly busy, and grandparents have a special role to play in guiding and nurturing their children.”
This way “you sound like the perfect bhabi!”
“I’m not perfect!” she laughs “People make all these assumptions about me. I like to party and have fun too. And I talked at length about my children and my family. Yes, I don’t like posting every little detail of my life on social media. That’s probably why I’m not trolled and people like me.”
“People on social media often ask me, how can I marry a Muslim, as a Christian,” she said. They openly ask if my nikah is legal and what beliefs my children follow. I don’t mind their curiosity, but I feel insulted when I hear them say, ‘You’re so kind, do I have to convert to Islam so I can go to heaven?’ What does this mean? Are you saying that I am lacking because of my religion?”
But if the good girls go to heaven, Sunita will cheat through the golden gate. In an interview, she said, “Right now, I want to play a negative character. I don’t know why I always get such positive roles.”
Perhaps it’s because she fits the bill completely.
First posted on Dawn, ICON on June 20, 2021