Time and again we are given moments of absolute wonder. We meet people who are vessels to the Almighty’s word. Who portray all the goodness we seek in this world with their kindness and it is their persona which affirms our belief in miracles. One such personality is that of Laila Wasti. A vision of grace, this talented actress had to literally go through hell when she was diagnosed with cancer, to come to a place of absolute steadfastness and resilience. But at no point did she let her tribulations dampen her spirit. Her positivity towards all that life threw at her makes her one of the most versatile artists of our industry. Social Diary had the pleasure of speaking to this incredible woman who inspires us on-screen and off!
SD: Despite being the daughter of extremely talented actors, you went to learn direction in UCLA. Is there a project in the works with you in the director’s chair?
Laila: I came into acting by default. Being surrounded with the industry as a child, I wanted to become a teacher. I eventually did a teaching stint but couldn’t continue. After I debuted in television,I immediately realised that I wished to expand my horizons and opted for UCLA for my Filmmaking. Direction is another ball game altogether. Anything good onscreen is to the director’s credit, and anything bad onscreen is the director’s fault. I have directed a lot at Indus Vision during my initial time, including classics like Ashfaq Ahmed Sahib’s ‘ Tota Kahani’ and also my telefilm titled ‘27th Street’, which was written by Zoha Hassan; it was nominated for the TV One awards. It is available on YouTube. I have done ‘Hum Larkiyan’ for Hum TV. When I was heading Aaj TV Entertainment with Nadeem Baig, we started a series, ‘Dekh Magar Pyar Say’ for which we auditioned around 500 newcomers and used them as stock characters in the single plays. Now, I feel, I can only work on a project of a shorter duration. The subject matter is the core of my work. It has to inspire me.
SD: Your journey is so inspiring. You speak so well too. Ever consider becoming a motivational speaker?
Laila: I, fortunately, by the grace of Allah the Almighty, come from a family of professors. My great grandfather was also a professor. My paternal grandfather, S.M. Jamil Wasti studied at Cambridge University and was also a professor. I am, however, very nervous speaking in front of an audience on stage. That’s why I have only done one theater play in Los Angeles. It was conducted by the fabulous Mr. Shahid Nadeem and the lovely late Madiha Gohar Sahiba through Ajoka Theater. So many people have suggested public speaking, however I feel awkward and shy about it.
SD: If a major OTT platform like Netflix offers to make a movie on your inspirational journey to beating cancer, what is the one thing you wish they will absolutely get right?
Laila: I am simply one individual who has faced cancer and I spoke about it in a detailed interview to maybe provide one single person some courage during times of distress and thousands responded.
What I would want the platform to emphasise is how positive cells stem from positivity and an attitude of gratitude can work miracles.
SD: You’ve spoken of a very strong spiritual connection which keeps your positive energy thriving. What keeps that connection with Allah going?
Laila: Sheer faith in Allah the Almighty. Tawakkul, Sabr and Shukr. My attitude is gratitude. My childhood with my paternal grandmother instilled this faith within me as a foundation stone. Her spiritual and religious teachings played a huge part in my upbringing. I am blessed to have had such great role models around me during my impressionable years.
SD: Were you looking at finding something specific and very personal when deciding on your comeback project to the screen?
Laila: I was simply lucky to be alive, walking and working. My first play after an absence of a decade was Sangsar on Hum TV. It was with the fantastic Kinza Hashmi, who has since become a dear friend and colleague.
SD: Overall, the drama industry of this country tends to cater to ‘family-feuds’ as a leading storyline. And it sells. But how can we change this monotonous culture so as to bring worthy stories to the screen?
Laila: It is a business after all and it caters to what the audience wishes to see. Change can happen when it is allowed to happen. To challenge a mob mentality is equivalent to self drowning. To every saas-bahu drama that comes, there is a more meaningful play lurking in the shadows, waiting to spring out on its unsuspecting prey and shock the daylights out of them. There is all kinds of content being created. At the end of the day, it’s a day job, just like any other profession.
SD: What kind of roles would you definitely be signing up for if offered?
Laila: My criteria in choosing a project has never been how many scenes I have or how much air time either. Even if it’s one scene, it should add value to the storyline, and have a performance margin.
SD: There is so much critique, mockery and ridicule on social media now. Why do you think people are so committed to always spreading negativity now?
Laila: Allah the Almighty expects kindness from us. That should be our language. This is the purpose of being in this world. To. Be. Kind. Some of us are simply intolerant and are completely missing the entire point of our existence.
SD: After the pandemic’s damaging blow to the film industry, things are finally picking up. Are you looking into stepping into the cinematic experience soon?
Laila: I am all for supporting our films, however few and far in between they are. I did a couple of guest appearances in Khel Khel Mein, and Ishrat Made in China. Our work should speak for itself.
IN A GLANCE
Best memory from childhood?
I have vivid memories from when I was a toddler. The best ones were well spent moments with my Dadijaan in her veranda, watching her pluck Kachnar flowers from her backyard to cook, and me circling around her while she gardened her sweet-smelling motia bushes and planted colorful dog flowers.
Your most prized possession?
Memories of my parents.
Your favorite work of your father’s?
The book he wrote on ‘ Sher Shah Suri ‘ .Your favorite work of your mother’s?
All the scripts she wrote for screen.
Three things you have with you all the time?
My integrity, honesty and kindness.
Your life’s motto?
To be a better human being by practising gratitude even in times of distress. This helps dispel any negativity and wards off toxic elements like a shield.
Why is LA home?
Because it simply is. And also for the fact that it reminds me of Karachi, for some reason.
Not any which I am consciously aware of. Oh, yes, house lizards!
No regrets ever. Cannot regret any decision which was made as the most intelligent one at that particular time|state of mind.
An Inspiring Role Model
My mother and father, Tahira and Rizvan Wasti.
Allah the Almighty
Someone you wish to meet
My parents again, in another realm, in due time.
Top 3 things on your bucket list
To explore the world, to make a difference, to leave a softer footprint.
The best thing about your work
The art of acting which is my passion.
The worst thing about your work
The weather with the fans and ACs off in Karachi for the audio of our dialogues. It isn’t all that glamorous as many perceive it to be.
A drama you wish you didn’t do?
Like I mentioned above, no regrets
What people don’t know about you?
They shall never know.