There’s something so humbling about speaking with Zara Durrani. She’s polite, yet assertive. Soft spoken, yet confident. She speaks modestly about her success yet she’s proud of all she’s done.
And proud she should be. Zara Durrani is an actor, model and television host. She is a producer, activist and spokesperson. She has found success in so many different ways and yet in speaking with her, it takes a while to delve in to all that she’s done and all that she wishes to do.
Born in Lahore, Pakistan, Durrani spent much of her childhood and adolescent life moving about Southeast Asia. She never dreamed of fame or fortune despite her instant love for performing, but instead lived a “gypsy life” as she travelled with her family to places like Thailand, Singapore and Turkey among many others.
“I remember feeling this sense of belonging,” Durrani says speaking about her first time on stage. “Deep inside I always wanted to be a performer and entertainer.” But Pakistan was not the place for such hopes.
Arriving in Vancouver almost 14 years ago with only the dream of better opportunity, Durrani’s love for the spotlight became not only a career but a path to prominence within the entertainment industry. It was Durrani’s mother who planted the seed that she could be a model, that she could be one of the girls they had seen on television. It didn’t seem so crazy to Durrani and it was the start of a modelling career that turned into so much more.
From modelling came acting, from acting came hosting, and from hosting came her own show. The past year has been busy one for Durrani. She finished four feature films in three different countries. She worked as the official reporter for the We Canada campaign, Canada’s initiative for the 2012 Earth Summit in Rio. Durrani was selected as field producer and host for the Vancouver International South Asian Film Festival. She produced and hosted the television show ‘VanEssence,’ which led to the creation and production of her own show, ‘Life and Style with Zara.’
Airing 13 episodes on four networks across Canada and founded on the principles of fairness, equality, spirituality and inspiration, the show gave Durrani the opportunity to interview many influential celebrities including David Suzuki and Bif Naked.
“I love fashion,” Durrani says, “but I love more to know why people do what they do. Talking to people, who have been change makers in the world inspires me to go out and make a difference.”
At the heart of it all, it’s clear that Durrani is a story teller. She passionately speaks about being able to uncover the stories of the guests on her show, as well as the characters she portrays through her acting.
“Acting allows me to discover different parts of myself,” she explains. “When you’re researching and studying for a role, you learn to become more compassionate for other people. I lose myself in the character. And that’s something that is really beautiful, when you can understand what it’s like for other people. Acting allows me to get in touch with humanity.”
Perhaps it is Durrani’s commitment to helping others through the telling of their stories that keeps her so humble. While not something that she is quick to boast about, giving back is obviously ingrained in her. Durrani was recently selected as the international ‘Spokes Model Ambassador’ for Fashion Hope, an organization that aims to expose, rescue and rehabilitate survivors of human trafficking. Her work with Fashion Hope allows her to raise awareness, while travelling to high profile events such as New York Fashion Week and the Toronto International Film Festival.
“I want this to be my way of giving back to the community,” Durrani says after explaining how her struggles growing up have made her feel more connected with those she is reaching out to help. “I’ve always thought on a global level, because I grew up travelling, so when this opportunity came up I thought it would be an honour to speak up about what’s going on. I didn’t know this was something that was happening locally...but it happens here.”
She’s been able to use her voice as an activist for women’s and children’s rights, eating disorders and human trafficking and there’s no doubt she will continue to do so.
“I have this opportunity to speak up for some- thing and it’s important for me to do so,” Durrani says. “Anything that I think, anything that I believe in, I should stand up for it.” And it’s obvious she does.
Zara, meaning light and brightness, lives up to her name. She is a compassionate person with a genuine interest in not only telling the stories of others, but helping to speak on their behalf. She may wear multiple hats but she wears them all well.
Photo: Brandon Hart