She is a driven entrepreneur, a popular tastemaker and one of the world’s most beautiful women, with a fan base in her native Pakistan hungry for news of her every move. Her summer wedding to lawyer and journalist Feisal Naqvi was the pop culture event of the year. Recently, she added newspaper columnist to a packed résumé as a model, actress and television personality looked to by millions.
Yet, there was a time, not long ago, Juggun Kazim had no idea how to open a bank account. Born a child of privilege, Kazim, BA’02 (MIT/ Sociology), was a self-described “spoiled-brat kid” when she landed in Canada to attend King’s University College. She travelled here alone – a 17-year-old kid on her own and half a world away for the first time.
“I wanted to go to a place where I knew no one. Pakistan is all about cliquey culture; everyone wants to go where everyone else goes,” she said. “Most people opted for America at the time. A lot were going to McGill and Concordia. Western wasn’t the place of choice. I didn’t know anyone there. I had heard it was a great school, and I thank my lucky stars I went there.”
She loved the university from her earliest days on campus, although culture shock was a constant companion early on. There were a few first-year follies – a few failed laundry efforts here and there, and then there was that bank account.
“I came and I had all this money and I was like, ‘What do I do with it?’” she laughed. “My roommate said, ‘Put it in the bank.’ ‘And how would I do that?’ ‘You need to take your stuff to the bank.’ ‘What stuff?’ I didn’t know what to do with it. Not at all.”
When her finances failed to add up at one point, Kazim thought she might need to return home after only two years on campus. Western staff worked with her juggling visa restrictions to get her into the university’s work-study program. There, she found a new world.
“I managed to get two jobs on campus,” said Kazim, née Syeda Mehrbano Kazim. “I was a janitor for one, which was really fun because I had never even made my bed back home. I was like ‘I have to clean? What does that mean?’”
Today, she is a familiar face to millions, one who has graced page, stage and screen – both small and silver – in her native and adopted countries.
Born in Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan, her parents separated when she was barely a year old. While she has no memories of her family together, she knows they came together over one notion: Neither side considered acting to be a proper profession for a woman of her standing.
That didn’t quite work out. “I have always been a bit eccentric,” Kazim said. “It was hard enough for people to deal with me back home. And then I got to Western.”
Funny, fast-talking and delightfully foulmouthed in casual conversation, Kazim speaks in a mismatched gravelly voice – not her favourite trait about herself. She explodes with energy.
She is also confident – yet without pretention.
“Western opened up my perception on life, on the way things should be versus the way things are,” she said. “Things like respect for human beings, for human rights, the fact being a woman doesn’t have to equal getting married, having children and running a home.”
She has rocketed to stardom ever since. She started in commercials when she was 4; made her first appearance on the stage when she was 14. Her first feature film came in 2004.
As a spokeswoman, Kazim has framed everything from Diet Coke to Samsonite in a glamorous light. In 2008, she was nominated for the MTV Model of the Year Award. In 2010, she was named a L’Oreal brand ambassador for Garnier Fructis Pakistan.
In Pakistan, she started hosting television programs, many of which she conceived and wrote. Her current project, Morning with Juggun, airs weekdays on PTV Home, a channel boasting the nation’s largest viewership base.
“I didn’t act at Western. I didn’t do any of the stuff I do today. But I always wanted to,” she said. “My professor said to me, ‘You should do what you want to do. At least try. And keep trying until it works.’”
Despite a young lifetime of success, one of the most famous women in a country of 180 million calls Western “the best experience of my life,” one that helped her find the “backbone” to be the woman she is today.
“I am a known face in the media. I have my own breakfast show on the national channel. I’m an actor,” Kazim said. “But I’m 5-foot-4; there’s no reason I should have modeled. But being in a place like Western gave me the confidence to believe I can do anything. That stuck with me.
“At Western, I got the kind of confidence I would never have gotten in Pakistan.”
If she has her way, and there is no reason to suspect she won’t, her Western connection will continue on to the next generation of her family.
“I don’t think most schools care. I want my son to go to Western. My husband went to Princeton and Yale, and so he often laughs and says, ‘You didn’t go to a real school.’ Well, I went to a school that made me a real person,” she said.
“That’s the Western I remember. It gave me the kind of skills that have gotten me everywhere.”
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