When we talk about actors who are passionate about their roles and characters, Sania Saeed’s name will pop up in the top list. Sania started her career as a teenager in late 1980s. She quickly rose to stardom by doing memorable roles in dramas like ‘Tapish’, ‘Aahat’, and ‘Sitara Aur Mehrunissa’. Over the years, Sania has progressed in her craft even more and has continued to challenge the concept of age limits for lead roles, whether it’s a drama or a film.
In her career spanning almost three decades, she has used her skills in almost all genres of acting: theatre, dramas, film, and web series. Her recent roles in drama serial ‘Sang-e-Mah’, and feature film ‘Kamli’ have gotten much critical acclaim. She recently represented Pakistan at the Cannes Film Festival with the film ‘Joyland’. In an exclusive interview with You! Saeed talks about her roles over the years and her views on the progress of the Pakistani drama industry…
You! In your teens, you did a role of a mother of five in the drama serial ‘Aahat’. What inspired you to do that character at such a young age?
Sania Saeed: When I was a child, I used to attend meetings of Anjuman Taraqqi Pasand Khawateen with my parents. There I came to know about the issues of working ladies in factories. They used to tell their problems and among them, one was their susceptibility in birth control of their children. At that time I was so young to understand this but it raised many questions in my mind like how a woman can’t have a say in the process which is obviously related to her body. Some of my queries were solved when these issues were discussed at home. When I grew up and started a job at NTM, Sahira Kazmi called me one day and asked if she knew an actor who could understand the issue of unwanted yet unhealthy pregnancy and the pain of a woman facing this problem. I still take it with pride that I was not cast because of my acting skills but for understanding the issue, on which the serial was based. I then took it as a compulsion to portray Rabia in the right manner.
You! At the start of your career, we saw you doing everything from theatre, hosting, dramas, while also studying…
SS: Sometimes I also wonder. I think youth has its own energy. My plan for the day was doing a live programme at FM 100 early in the morning, then going to university, after that I used to rehearse theatre and then come home late. At home, I used to do laundry, clean my room, complete assignments and then go to sleep. All that could not be possible without time management, I learned from my mother, who is a very disciplined woman. Moreover, all the family members were workaholics. Our father didn’t let us sit idle. He always kept us busy doing something. So, it was our lifestyle to work, work and work.
You! How was the Cannes Film Festival experience with your film ‘Joyland’?
SS: It was great. I have a small but important role in the film for which I am thankful to the director Saim Sadiq and producer Sarmad Khoosat.
You! What do you think were the elements in the movie that took it to the Cannes Film Festival?
SS: I think its state of the art technical expertise. We usually lack technical expertise despite having very good stories but ‘Joyland’ is comparable technically with the international standards. Also, the film develops with a modern way of storytelling that can be understandable world over.
You! Your role of Sakina in ‘Kamli’ is gaining a lot of critical acclaim. What is it for you?
SS: ‘Kamli’ is a film that we all made with our hearts. It has a very unique narrative and quite different from what we are currently telling in our films.
You! Do you think ‘Kamli’ is a women-centric film?
SS: It is a human story, which depicts the behaviour of humans living in our society. It is told through women but I disagree with labelling something as women-centric or male-centric. To me the most important thing is the story itself that must be interesting and touchy, and should move one emotionally. The narrator from whose perspective it is being told may be different in each story.
You! In ‘Sang-e-Mah’, you depict a role of a bold and brave Pashtun women. Have you ever met one like her actually?
SS: No. I haven’t met anyone like her but when we were shooting, I was told about a woman like Zarghona in a nearby village. They also said that my character was a mellowed one, she was harsher. The whole village is scared of her. So, in a way, it was not all fictional, but what was given to me, already written in the script. I have added very few in it.
You! Do you agree that there is a age bracket for a lead role in dramas and films?
SS: Limiting age for the lead roles in dramas and films obviously reflects the reality that our society as a whole is ageist, especially when it comes to the age of a woman. We judge women with the utility of their age; mostly the child bearing years are prime years. But now, female characters are transforming with the economy and awareness all over the world. Many actresses of my age are doing lead or central roles in many dramas, whether they are of our current age or even older.
You! So how do you think this ageism in the media could be resolved?
SS: It will take time. It is not easy to change centuries’ old mind-set of society. If we don’t accept this change, we will become irrelevant as we have already become in many other areas. So, it is time that we advance ourselves intellectually and ideologically in our overall behaviour.
You! Where do you see our dramas going with respect to subjects?
SS: Our dramas have become like mass produced clothing which comes out in bulk at a time without too much effort on one piece. It all started when private channels were launched. Everyone was happy that they could produce more content but unfortunately we became short of those personnel, who were supposed to handle these channels properly. We didn’t get enough creative people according to the numbers of productions. In NTM days, or in the early days of private channels, there were many trained people from PTV, but we didn't prepare the next lot of talent. Then, we tried to avoid risks and started to feed the audience what they could digest easily. We were not sure if we would go for an offbeat idea, it would get admiration in masses. So, our only challenge was just to go with popular themes, not to come up with different stories. In this, we restricted many talented directors and actors like Sarmad Khoosat and Mehreen Jabbar to do selected work. If you ask them to direct a typical saas-bahu story then they would only do it to an extent.
You! So, what is the solution for the progress of our dramas?
SS: Unless the story improves in producers’ minds, it will not improve overall. It is assumed the content we are currently producing, enough for the audience but I believe it is not. We have to move forward with our stories and characters. It will start from changing our intent. If we recall, the content right now on screens was not so popular two decades ago but we kept producing it and created the taste of it for the public. So, again it needs courage and trust to start working on fresh ideas, if we want to change the narrative of our drama.
You! Don’t you think that the same patterned drama is still popular among the masses?
SS: In the current scenario, if the criteria of producers are just to get ratings for their dramas, no matter what the content is, they are successful in a way.
You! How do you choose your character?
SS: I always say it has become very tough. For so many years, I used to do one project a year. Now I have to do a couple of them. As I do fewer dramas, I have a choice from the script that appeals to me. Those actors, who have to do many projects with the same type of characters, must discuss it with directors, to do it differently. Some directors are cooperative and yet innovative. They make changes in the script on their own.