Starting out as a model, Zhalay soon found solace on TV and began making appearances as a VJ and host in different shows. Perhaps, it was too soon for her to decide on a clear roadmap. “I was never interested in it … catwalk was never my forte,” she tells The News Dispatch. Her true calling lay with acting alone and TV hosting may have acted out as a litmus test for that. “Acting was something I always wanted to do,” she says. Zhalay recalls her days in school and college when she would always be the first one to sign up for extracurricular activities and participate in events to show off her acting skills. “I pursued it very aggressively back in the day,” she adds laughingly.
From the jovial girl in school to one of the starlets of Pakistani TV and film, she has indeed come a long way. “I had never thought things would turn out this way.”
As of late she has been flooded with TV work. “Two of my projects are currently under way. One is Khoat which is based on the life of an expat, working woman who submits to conventional norms. The other is a crime series called Yeh Junoon in which I play a lawyer,” she says.
Zhalay, whose sister Zyla Sarhadi is also making inroads into television, is of the view that the viewership of Indian soaps in Pakistan has died down over the years. “On the other hand you see Turkish dramas making headway into our TV lounges.” With international content now at their fingertips, Zhalay feels Pakistani audiences have also begun to view a variety of dramas. “With shows like Game of Thrones being seen in Pakistan, the audience base has certainly expanded.” She says Pakistani TV too has moved in leaps and bounds and is today working on a plethora of subjects. “From plays that are meant for the more conventional audiences to those that aim at raising social awareness, we do have a lot on offer,” she maintains. However, Zhalay feels a lot more that can be done remains untapped. “It’s just that we are functioning in a comfort zone and not willing to explore more areas. We need to work on new genres in TV.” Yet, she maintains that the Pakistani audience needs to support local content. “We should sit and watch our own plays too for social awakening,” she adds.
On the other hand, film is one medium where Zhalay feels a lot more is happening. The actor says, “That’s where Pakistani films step in … They are doing just that [experimenting]. Our film-makers are exploring all new genres and that has given the industry a major boost.” According to her, not one film-maker is repeating the same genre. She has already made two appearances in local films – Jalaibee and Ramchand Pakistani. While she was widely appreciated for her acting skills, herJalaibee item song drew a mix of reactions. Where some did not fancy her swaying to a racy number, actor Hamza Ali Abbasi appreciated her, saying, “I am tremendously proud of Zhalay Sarhadi for not taking her clothes off in her performance in the film … Proud of Yasir Jaswal for not tagging along with the emerging trend of revealing item numbers in Pakistani films.” Although he later clarified that he did not mean to point fingers at any individual and had made the comment in good taste, it gave rise to a controversy surrounding dance numbers in new-age Pakistani films.
So does Zhalay fancy a Bollywood stint? “Why not … If I get an offer for a good Bollywood film,” she states.