Her warmth radiates through the door and across the room as she greets yet another journalist ready to interview her. Sania Saeed is like the sun; she lights up every space she occupies.
And this, actually would be a good place to stop describing her, because as Saeed puts it, “I don’t want to be someone who was just ‘famous’.
“I want, when I leave this world, to mean something to certain people. For them to know that I chose to work for the causes I believed in. Whether it was ACF or TCF or Kiran Foundation – I have done my best to contribute what I can.
“The audience won’t know this, but the fraternity would. I want them to remember me as someone who helped build an environment for the industry that was just, and professional. And this doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s a life choice to live your way towards your goals every day.”
Currently on a high from the reception of Joyland at Cannes, and looking forward to another Sarmad Khoosat film, Kamli’s release, Saeed shares why she chooses to return to Khoosat’s projects.
“It’s not returning – me, Samiya (Mumtaz), Nimra (Bucha), we’re all the same structure, the same ethic. It’s not that we’re returning, it’s just that we’re already there.
“When I read the script for Kamli, I was exhilarated. It’s a very visual narrative, and weaves space and time as part of every character’s story. I was worried if depicting it visually would be difficult, but then I thought, ‘well, it’s Sarmad’.”
We’ve seen her grow up and grow as an actor over the last three decades, registering on Pakistan’s radar as what some would call a ‘thinking man’s actor’. While that sounds like a compliment, it doesn’t encompass the full range of Saeed’s talents.
The very mention of her name prompts a heartfelt, “Sania hon gi tu accha hi ho ga (if Sania’s in it, it’s bound to be good).” And while that kind of praise is both well-earned and well-deserved, and Saeed is a literal veteran, she still acknowledges that the phenomenon is “scary.”
“You do worry about whether you will fall flat on your face or end up disappointing your audience,” she says. “Before we go on set, we do worry how everything will come together, but once there, it comes easily.”
Whether she’s talking about her work, or her hair, or how life has been so far, Sania Saeed finds a glimmer of possibility in every subject she touches upon. Her height? Never been a problem. That super-curly hair? She’s straightened it twice for work. A performance done below her own par or her audience’s? She dusts it off.
“Buri performance hogayi tu hum kehte hain, ‘nazar battoo hai’,” she laughs.
But anyone, no matter how confident, can second guess themselves when faced with specific questions. And Saeed, with her experience, undeniable skill, and what appears to be an overarching optimism about life, can be given pause when these questions come up.
Yes, any time you will hear Sania Saeed’s name, you will hear the standard, ‘then it will be good’ line, you may also hear a, ‘phir tu serious ho ga’, and sometimes, you might be given a very sweeping, ‘but everything she does is the same!’
To be fair, if we look at the entirety of Saeed’s portfolio, she is very diverse in her media and her talent. She will play a dutiful housewife on television, and at the same time, be completely believable as a flirty, aging socialite on stage. Sania Saeed doesn’t play just the one note, it’s just that perhaps when she emerged and gained attention early in her career, she didn’t have any equals. There was no one as young, or as talented, or as enthusiastic as Saeed in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and she outshone any costars who did share the screen with her.
Today, that start, plus of course, all the subsequent success and skill honing, has established Saeed as a serious actor, an actor from whom we expect nothing but the best, but also, often, the actor we think has nothing to offer but serious, thought-provoking characters and story arcs.
For Saeed, part of her image comes from the teams she works with. “I have had the good fortune of being associated with good productions, talented people,” she says, “and when you choose to work only with the very committed, credible people – different people, but credible – consistently, the association for the audience comes with it.”
This is where it becomes clear why fortune has favored Sania Saeed so often. Everything, she believes, boils down to choice.
“If you’re scared of failing, you won’t learn anything. Life is exactly like that, isn’t it? If you fail, you don’t get stuck, you don’t just stay there. That’s not life, that’s not what life’s meant for. You’re meant to take risks and make mistakes, learn from them, and move on. Do your best – don’t harm anybody – do your best. That’s all you can do.”
She chooses, even at the worst times, during less-than-stellar experiences, to learn to better herself.
She elaborates: “These experiences teach me what not to do, what can be harmful, what can be hurtful, what can be distracting. What could cause you to not commit 110% to what you’re doing, that is something you need to learn too.”
And she chooses, from her place of privilege and influence, from her status as one of Pakistan’s female role models, to tell the stories she believes are important.
“This label – of being serious, or being aspirational – that hasn’t happened accidentally. I choose to play the characters I do, in the way that I do. There are ordinary characters and ordinary stories too – I just choose to see the depth in them.”
When you choose to see everything as a choice, it is almost senseless to not choose what feeds your soul, your practical concerns, and the world around you. Sania Saeed may have the humility to say that the clout she has as an actor, or the faith placed in her by audiences and directors is maybe a “stroke of luck,” but she is someone who chooses to live every day on her own terms, and by the values she set for herself long ago.
Sania Saeed is like the sun. She reminds you that each day is a chance to choose again and choose well.