In order to prepare for your interview, I searched for you on Google. One of the results started by saying that Sana Javed is a “good girl” and another referred to you as “beautiful, nice and cute.” Are you really “nice” and a “good girl?”
Of course, I am. When is Google wrong about anything?
Mera Pehla Pyar, Ranjish Hi Sahi, Meenu Ka Susral, Meri Dulari, Hisar-e-Ishq, and, of course, Pyare Afzal, you have appeared in a large number of hit plays, in a period of just two years. What do you attribute your success to?
I am in show business for the long haul and take my career very seriously. I work hard. I study the characters that I play very diligently, learn my lines carefully and prepare for recordings meticulously. I think that hard work contributes to my success.
I get a lot of support, advice and guidance from my co-workers. This helps me do well on screen. I am easygoing and do not make things difficult for others, make myself available for discussions and rehearsals, show up on time for recordings, and cooperate with everyone in the team; as a result, I am popular with directors who give me, perhaps, a little more than a fair amount of attention. The results are, therefore, usually good.
Do you think your good looks have nothing to do with your success?
I do not think they do. Honest.
Good looks can get one noticed. They can help one enter the world of show business. They can also get one a role or two in television plays. Real success, however, depends on talent. An actor can have one-off success due to good looks but needs talent, hard work and professionalism to enjoy a long, successful career. I have done more than just the highly successful Pyare Afzal and been in a number of hit productions. I would not have had a lot of success if I had relied on my looks alone and paid no attention to my craft.
How did you learn to act?
All of my training in acting was on the job. As I mentioned, I tend to get attention from my directors. This helps me improve my craft. Moreover, I have worked with some very capable actors during my short career and found them to be helpful, supportive and caring. They have been generous with advice and guidance, and taught me a great deal about acting.
Do you plan to formally study acting?
No, I do not. That would be taking a step back in my career. I think my directors and co-stars will continue to help me improve my skills. I will also learn by watching world cinema and television.
Are you enjoying being in show business?
Yes, I am. A great deal, actually. My work makes me happy.
Work makes me happy for a variety of reasons. I have thought about this and found out that there are three things about show business that make me happy. One, I like the sense of accomplishment. It feels good to be recognized as a talented and capable individual. Two, I like the love, attention and popularity. I enjoy get-togethers, parties and having fun. As an actor and model, one gets invited to the best of events. Finally, I get satisfaction from knowing that I entertain a number of people in Pakistan. Pakistanis, except those who are really affluent, do not have many sources of entertainment and recreation. That I am able to bring them some happiness, however small, gives me a lot of satisfaction.
Did your friendships change as you gained fame?
I certainly did not change and, fortunately, my good friends did not either. I have a few close friends whom I have known for a long time. Our friendships continue to grow with time but I do not think my success and fame affect the love, camaraderie and trust we have in each other. Having said that, success and fame in showbusiness have certainly made it easier for me to make new friends. I meet a lot of people and quite a few are interested in becoming friends. I am a friendly person and get along with just about anyone. However, it takes me very long to get close to someone. My close friends continue to be ones that I made before entering show business.
Are you afraid of finding the one crazy “number one fan?”
Yes, I am. Oh God, I am.
A few days ago, I was having dinner with some friends at a restaurant here in Karachi. A young man joined us at our table and sat uncomfortably close to me before professing his love and telling me that he planned to kill himself if unable to marry me. The guy shocked the hell out of me. I was freaked out by the sudden interruption to a very pleasant dinner but maintained an outward façade of calm and composure. I did my best to talk him out of his plans, and, once he seemed to have come to his senses, left the restaurant. A particularly unpleasant incident.
But you are laughing as you narrate it.
I laugh about it now. You should have seen how freaked out I was the day that the incident took place.
I think that the time has come for actors and models to realize that they have a need for security. The industry should not be forced into providing security as a result of any tragic events that will inevitably happen if we don’t act now. We need to be proactive. I think on-set and on-location security is the responsibility of the production whereas the onus for personal security rests with the actors. Neither should be non-serious about it.
What do you look for in friends?
My best friends are those who are always available and always there for me, in happiness and in times of sorrow. They are people I can call any time of the day, with any request and be comfortable in the knowledge that they will do their best to honor my request.
The world of show business seems full of glamor from the outside. Palatial surroundings, fashionable clothes, expensive jewelry, exotic vacations, lavish parties, fast cars and much else besides; is the world as glamorous as it seems?
Yes, it is. A lot of what people believe about showbusiness is true. They are, however, wrong about one thing: people in showbusiness do not have it as easy as people think they do. In fact, they do not have it easy at all. I believe that some of the hardest working people in the world are in showbusiness.
You are very young ….
Not as young as you think.
You look very young and have worked with a number of people who have been in the industry much longer than you have. Nadeem Baig, Aijaz Aslam, Faisal Qureshi, Imran Aslam and many others; did you have a crush on any of them as a young person?
I did, although I am not sure if I want his name published. The crushes were few and innocent but I used to be in awe of a lot the actors I have worked with and met in the last two years.
How did you find them in person?
Very different. When you work in showbusiness, you find out that the industry has no stars. It is full of very hardworking people who have no airs and who are genuinely nice and helpful. I have come to admire and respect a lot of people in the industry and consider myself fortunate to be amongst them.
Do you ever give thought to a conventional future where you settle down with a husband and kids?
The prospect of marriage and motherhood scares me. It comes with a lot of responsibility. I am not ready for it. As of today, I do not have the time, energy and devotion that being a wife and mother demand. I will get married and have kids only when I feel confident that I can fulfil the demands of both roles faithfully and not a minute sooner.
What kind of a husband would you want?
I would want someone who is able to both give and receive respect. I am not talking about respect just for one’s wife. It would be someone who knows how to respect his in-laws, his own family members, his colleagues, his friends and even his servants. It would be someone who graciously accepts respect without letting it go to his head. I would want someone with a lot of character, a sense of responsibility and a high level of morals. I hope that I will find someone who will not only be well-educated but progressive and enlightened, as well. Fortunately, I have time and do not plan to settle for a man who does not have the qualities I mentioned.
Looks do not matter?
No. I know it is a cliché to say that one is not attracted to someone based on good looks alone but, in my case, that is the absolute truth.
What are the qualities that you do not like in men?
I do not like insecure men who are suspicious of others and especially of their wives. I find being distrustful pathetic and despicable. I hate men who are controlling and who like to dominate their wives and I absolutely loathe men who think women are inferior to them.
Pakistani television does a service to society by highlighting the despair and grief that plagues the lives of our women
Are Pakistani women as sad and miserable as they are shown to be in television plays?
No, they are not. Certainly not to the level that is shown on television but Pakistan does have an inordinately large number of sad women. That truth cannot and should not be denied. Far too many women in our country are genuinely sad and miserable. Pakistani television does a service to society by highlighting the unhappiness, despair and grief that plagues the lives of our women. Pakistani women deserve better. We cannot continue to expect them to be content with their gloomy and disconsolate lives. The preponderance of sad and unfairly treated women in our society is a gravely tragic matter. It needs to be the subject of books, magazine articles, films, television plays, forums and seminars. We need to be aware of the problem and do any and everything to address it. I commend television for continuing to raise awareness of the doom and gloom that pervades the lives of women in Pakistan. Art without social responsibility is meaningless. I always look to work with people who have a sense of social responsibility and who try to bring about positive change through their work.
That being said, I do find a few plays to go a bit over-the-top in displaying the misery of women in Pakistan. They want to ride on the past success of the plays depicting sad women and do not really champion any cause. These plays propagate and perpetuate a negative image of Pakistan and Pakistani society. I find this criminally irresponsible.
You spoke about social responsibility. What are the causes that are near and dear to your heart?
In order to progress as a nation, we need to promote a position of legal and social equality of women and men, in our country. It is our moral obligation, our duty and our responsibility. A society where half of the population is relegated to a powerless position is destined to fail. There is a lot that is wrong and needs to be changed in Pakistan but if there is one thing that is more important than all else, it is the recognition of the equal social, intellectual and legal status of women. There are hundreds of thousands of Malala Yousafzais in our country. We should not have to wait for tragedy to strike before we recognize them.
What are the rights that you feel need to be accorded to women, first and foremost?
The right to education. The lack of sustained democracy, the norms of our patriarchal society, and feudal practices have contributed to a tragically huge gender gap in our educational system. This gap needs to be closed.
Women should be granted marriage rights. Child marriage needs to be stopped. The dowry system needs to be criminalized. Women should have enforceable legal means to make claims against abusive husbands and in-laws. Marriage should not be used as a means to limit inheritances and trade estates. Most importantly, women should have a choice. They should be able to say no.
Violence – both, emotional and physical – against women needs to be stopped. Honor killings, domestic violence, forced marriages, vigilante justice, mutilations, rape, servitude, and debt bondage are crimes against humanity. How can we not stop them as nation?
It makes me sad to think that in the twenty-first century, there are parts of our society where women are traded to settle feuds and monetary disputes. How shameful! How utterly shameful!
There is so much that is unfair and unjust here. It makes my blood boil. We need to make women equal to men. Period.
Ally Adnan lives in Dallas where he works in the field of telecommunications. He can be reached at email@example.com