Shehla Arif: A Story Of Struggle, Passion And Success

Scaling the heights of success is never easy for anyone and for Shehla, one of the prominent theatre artists of the valley, fighting the stereotypes has been one of the biggest challenges. 

Together with another actor Shehla made it to the finals of a reality show called as “India has got talent” on a national TV channel Colors during 2011. 

“When I told them about my performance he raged over my decision. There was resentment from all sides against this move.”

However, reaching to that stage, she says has been a struggle. 

During initial days of her acting she would hide things from her family with the fear of being castigated but with the course of time they became her biggest support.

“When I won my first award, at a youth festival, in acting, I hesitated to reveal it to my parents.

For days she kept this truth from her parents just because her father thought acting has no scope in Kashmir. And when she pulled up her strength to speak the truth, her father went furious.

“When I told them about my performance he raged over my decision. There was resentment from all sides against this move.”

Earning a support of her family was quite a difficult task for her then, she remarks. 

“You always love to share your success with your dear ones but I had to conceal it given to the stereotypes attached with acting field over here.”

Sheila – who had her schooling from Mallinson Girls School in Srinagar – was interested in arts from early days of her life – but getting a permission to pursue it was an issue for her. 

 “I wanted to go for fine arts but my father suggested me to opt for psychology. As per to him it would keep my interest as for him it links to arts but I found it of no use.” 

She found that her enthusiasm for art wasn’t dying down.

Her passion for acting grew more intense as she gained years. 

One good thing she says, her admission at Kashmir University did, was providing her a much needed platform.

“At University I took part in many performances and got appreciated by people.”

Appreciation and praises boosted the confidence of Shehla and then nothing stopped her. 

“I participated in skits, street plays with Kashmir University and many organizations.”

Sheila is among few Kashmiri’s who have shared a space with actors like Naseerudin Shah.

Later on she joined University as an Assistant Cultural Officer to give a shape to her passion – but quitted after two years as her talent wasn’t getting the due recognition, she puts.

Arranging fests and events was a part of her daily job. 

Big break came when she and her colleague Rayees Mohi-u-deen performed in a cultural event for the NAAC team, who were on a visit to Kashmir University.

“During that event we did a stand up comedy only to fill a gap between two skits. After the performance when we went backstage, a person introduced himself from colors channel and asked for the permission to enlist our performance for preliminary selection for ‘India has got talent’.”

The duo agreed immediately and after some days they got a call and an e-mail from the organizers of event. 

Shehla, together with Rayees, then went to Mumbai for auditions. 

“There were 250 contestants in first round which shrank to 48 and we were amongst the finalists.”

This is for the first time anyone from Kashmir, from acting background, reached to the final stage of any reality show. 

Sheila is among few Kashmiri’s who have shared a space with actors like Naseerudin Shah.

Giving much credit, for recognising her talent, to Shah she says: “I got noticed in a youth festival arranged by ANHAD – where I bagged the best actress award. The festival was also attended by Naseerudin Sahab. It was there I recognised what was inside me.”

He later trained the team for ten days which Shehla says helped her a lot. 

Shehla together with Rayees, after coming back from Mumbai started their own event management company with two other people – which is running successfully today. 

Besides this Shehla also has her own designer label and runs a boutique. His father today is her biggest supporter – who attends every event of hers. 

“He regrets for stopping me but today he is the one who encourages my every decision.”