Interviewed by Muhammad Ali
Sania Saeed is one such actor who has focused on her craft to the extent that she has perfected it, and can therefore be expected to play any role with incredible finesse. Having worked in the past with greats like Anwar Maqsood, Haseena Moin and Noor-ul-Huda Shah, Sania Saeed never compromises on the quality of scripts and even in the modern times, has worked with the best of writers such as Faseeh Bari Khan, Saji Gul and Mustafa Afridi. I caught up with the theatre, television and film actress to ask her a few questions:
You outdo your own performance every time. Do you still do a lot of homework or is it because of having done countless characters that things have grown easier for you?
I still do a lot of homework, as it is a myth that acting gets easier with time. It gets more difficult instead, for you utilize your reservoir of memory to recall people you knew and the traits you picked up in them along your journey as a human being. Trying to locate different nuances in characters and portraying them in a new manner, different from your previous ways of enacting roles, becomes all the more cumbersome. Besides, I consider myself lucky that I often get to work with writers and directors who are always willing to have discussions at length regarding characters. They are usually with me when I am performing a role, guiding me and answering my countless questions with patience. It is never something that you do alone. At times it’s the co-actors, or even an entire team when it comes to theatre who help you in interpreting your character well by giving their own input. In theatre, we work everything out during rehearsals. Since you do not get time for the detailed procedure of analyzing characters when it comes to the medium of television, most of the work has to be done on your own before you reach the set.
These days, we have a lot of young directors in the industry. For a veteran like you, is it easy being dictated by someone younger than you?
I have mostly worked with first-time directors, such as Yasir Akhtar, Shahid Shafaat, Sarmad Khoosat, Erum Binte Shahid and Mehreen Jabbar. If you intend to ask regarding people who are less experienced than me, then I would say that acting and directing are two entirely different jobs. Even if you have been acting for quite a while, it does not mean that you know better than a professional director. So, it’s not much of a problem for me working with young directors. However, I don’t endorse the idea of dictating creative artists, as a result of which I try to work along-with the directors instead of as someone separate or senior than them and expect the same, such as their equal involvement when it comes to a discussion on my character. My problem, therefore, is dictation and not young directors. I have worked with a lot of them including Ali Hassan, the man behind my personal favourite recent serial, “Meri Guriya”.
Do you believe that your subject, Psychology helps you have a better understanding of the characters you are given to perform?
Definitely! Both are about people and their behaviours. So, Psychology helps a lot while acting.
You have done both subtle social serials like “Aahat” and bold social serials like “Meri Guriya”. Which of these do you think is a better way of creating awareness among the masses?
I am not someone who likes to hammer an opinion. All the same, I am not one of those actors who appreciate jargon, the kind of language which only a certain section is able to comprehend. Given the limitations with which our television is working when it comes to content, I would appreciate both the efforts and their importance. However, personally speaking, I would still go for “Aahat”.
Your play “Chewing Gum” based on same-sex relations received a lot of backlash from the audience. Do you think more such plays are needed to inculcate acceptance among people or will they always be criticized?
Any subject which is considered taboo by the society will certainly create a feeling of discomfort, but some creative works are bound to do that, as not every piece of writing is penned to please people. I believe that such projects should definitely be brought up. What can be argued is the way they are presented creatively on screen. As a director, I would not go for certain things when presenting such an issue, but all of that would be related to the creative process, and not the content. What matters is not what you represent, but how you present. “Chewing Gum” was written in alacrity and got produced in a very short span of time, as it was a replacement of another script. Had it been given proper time and treatment, it would have turned out to be a better play. To issues like these, the time which is the right requirement should be allotted. They should be handled with utmost care, as the purpose is not to offend the people in question, but to develop an understanding of something which has been misconstrued and therefore kept at a distance.
When you are given projects which are adaptations of literary texts like “Ab Tum Jaa Sakte Ho”, “The Ghost” and “Manto”, do you read the original pieces to see how your character was originally conceived?
Yes, if there are originals of those adaptations, I do read them. “Manto”, however, did not have an original text. It was a theatre play which was stretched into a serial and then re-edited into a film. But when it comes to Manto’s work as a writer, all of us had acquainted ourselves with it. “The Ghost” was a fantastic adaptation but we made several changes to it. Samina Peerzada and my character were originally one. We split it into two, creating two different stories and accordingly, two different timelines out of them, placing them in two different continents. It was a very well-executed job, making “The Ghost” One of my favourite serials, as I have a liking for period plays.“Ab Tum Jaa Sakte Ho” was based on a short story by Khadija Mastoor which I had read, of course. There was another such play, which was more of a reproduction than an adaptation, titled as “Sanam Gazida”. It was one of the episodes of Ashfaq Ahmad’s series, “Aik Mohabbat Sau Afsaane”. I had watched the original, black-and-white version of it. However, as it was being reproduced almost after twenty five years of the original production, Mehreen Jabbar made some changes to it in accordance with the modern times.
You have been teaching acting as well. What makes you hopeful and what makes you disappointed about aspiring actors?
I am a very realistic person, knowing that it is a certain kind of environment which is required to produce creative artists and then provide them the space for creative expression. This has to be worked on by everyone. A lot of people who come to learn acting do so only because they have watched television and have been inspired by popular celebrities, the kind of which they then wish to become. Our task is to show them that there’s more to acting than fame. One relief is that many people are also moving towards acting classes for self-actualization. They wish to probe into themselves and become confident and eloquent personalities. Some of the students’ favourite part during an acting class is yoga instead of acting, nonetheless giving them a chance to look into themselves and be at peace with who they are. So, acting courses do a lot more than just teach acting. When it comes to aspiring actors, I’m not disappointed at all, for I get to work with amazingly talented people, both in theatre and on television. It is not with the actors that I am disappointed, but with the content heads for the kind of content they are creating and distributing among the people.
Name a few writers and directors who you think are trying hard to keep the Pakistani drama industry intact.
Unfortunately, “intact” becomes a word of concern when you see how the profiteering mentality has started ruling over our dramas and has turned it into a business. The writers or directors alone cannot save the industry from collapsing with a “seth” mindset being the authority. There are some producers who do wish to produce good stuff and therefore create small spaces for creative artists to work freely to some extent, succeeding in ccreating a watchable piece once in a blue moon. I believe that our actors and directors are really good. What is lacking is good writers and accordingly, good scripts. We need more and more writers along-with a welcoming attitude towards those writers who write well but have stopped working because of the channels’ disagreeable demands.
You wrote an episode of “Kitni Girhein Baqi Hain”. Why did you never write after that?
It would be wrong of me to take credit for having written that episode, for it was an already written script to which I only made some changes along-with Erum Binte Shahid, who happened to be its producer. I performed in it along-with with a child actor, my role being of a woman who realizes after her husband’s death that he had had another family, the off-spring of which she then has to live with. Seeing that a child is involved, we felt the need to look at the relation differently, and therefore edited it a bit. I rewrote the part based on the relation between the woman and the child, both of them suffering through trauma as a result of being thrown into a new situation where they have to live with people they have never known.
You have worked a lot with Mehreen Jabbar. What do you miss the most about those projects?
There was innovation in the ideas and one dramatic situation would be looked at from different perspectives. We would experiment and produce subtle, creative stories. Other than that, all of us were friends who were working together and were therefore comfortable and on the same page about almost everything.
What are your upcoming projects?
One can’t say anything with certainty, considering the on-going pandemic. The next project would probably be the film which I did with Sarmad Khoosat last year. Besides that, I am doing a lot of voluntary work; doing fund-raisers for TCS and other organizations and narrating stories for a tele-school by the name of “Suno Kahani”. I am also doing a series of talks with Kiran Foundation, an organization that works on education in Liyaari, and have also started volunteering at an animal shelter called ACF.