There are times when I feel that it is almost impossible to find genuine people in the world of showbiz these days. But then I get to meet artists like Sania Saeed. From being a political activist to an eminent theatre and TV actor, Sania has navigated the various spectrums of the society that our typical showbiz stars would avoid, sometimes like the plague.
But Sania is cut from a different cloth. And that is probably one thing that I really liked about her as we chatted at a café before zigzagging the various roads of Karachi together. Our supposedly little chit-chat lead to a long conversation in which I got to know more about Sania than her on-screen persona reveals.
“I hail from a family of teachers where both my parents were political activists. They are socialists. I was brought up in an environment surrounded by trade union workers, women workers who were all vocal about their beliefs. We were pro-democracy, and anti-clergy and anti-dictatorship. This was in the Zia-ul-Haq era when I grew up. I had lots to protest about. I was working with few other youth as a teenager with a Sindh-based organisation Saathi Barrara Sangath, a group that talked about the rights of people and how they could improve their lives. During my school holidays, it was my dad’s idea to be associated with this group rather than sit around the house just wasting time. Hence, I became a part of this outfit and became President of their Karachi and, later on, Sindh wing. This experience of working with people from all walks of lives changed my perspective towards life completely. And that is how my real-life started,” reminisces Sania Saeed.
At a very young age, Sania was exposed to the harsh realities of life making her mature and responsible beyond her age. Girls her age are generally seen gossiping with friends, sharing lip colours or discussing various fashion trends, but not Sania! Not in a million years could she be lured into a world that speaks brands and loves to flaunt the same. And this trait has become a constant in Sania. She has been criticised, questioned, and some have even gone as far as trying to convince her to sport labels.
So why doesn’t she buy branded fashion and beauty products, I query? “Because that is absolutely against my nature and my philosophy. I do not wear brands and I will not!” she says emphatically, leaving no more room for questions or arguments on the same.
Unlike actors of her stature, Sania has no qualms dressing up in whatever catches her fancy. “I am comfortable in being myself. I am content, very happy and in no mood to prove myself to anyone. I have nothing to prove to the world.”
Take me or leave me is her mantra and she has so far managed to do just great by living life on her terms. “I am grateful to my industry and fraternity for accepting me the way I am. They simply adopted me despite the fact that I did not adhere to the rules - I make my own rules. Even initially when I started out people knew that I would not adhere by the showbiz rules. I did not use make-up, did not dress up according to the nature of my work, didn’t have my hair coiffed, said whatever came to my mind, did not do something that I did not believe in, and I must say my fraternity has been amazing for accepting me for the person that I am,” she asserts.
Sania’s artistic journey dates back to the 80s when her parents formed the theatre group Dastak.
“The idea behind the formation of Dastak was that the activist group that my parents were a part of realised early on that theatre was a very strong medium for putting your viewpoint across to the people. And so they started having theatre presentations of which I was an integral part. Quite a few intellectual people were involved in Dastak in those days namely Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Dr. Salimuz Zaman Siddiqui and Aslam Azhar amongst other luminaries that I found myself surrounded with. With such a literary and politically-rich environment I was learning a lot more than just craft and skill.”
Under the banner of Dastak, Sania and company did quite a few anti-dictatorship plays.
“There were times when we would not be allowed to stage the play at theatres or venues where we wanted so we ended up doing plays in factory godowns. There was no electricity at the factory so the workers brought along their trucks, turned on their lights full beam and we staged our play amidst such a realistic setting. And the best part was that while many educated and learned have not been able to grasp some of the plays we have done, these uneducated people were fully able to understand the message we were trying to give as it was about them.”
It was at Dastak that she first met her husband Shahid Shafaat, who was also an active member of the group. “I met Shahid when I was a kid. We’ve been together ever since. We were colleagues [first] and later on [became] good friends. It was somehow understood that we would end up together. There was no formal proposal from Shahid, however, he does say that he waited till the time I was 18 years old before he told me of his interest in me,” she shares. “In fact, it’s really funny how we got engaged. Shahid took my mother and me to a jewellery shop where he purchased a ring and put it on my finger, and my mother said ‘chalo bhai bohut mubarak ho tumhari mangni ho gai’! It has now been 18 years since we’ve been married and, to date, we are great friends,” she reveals. Sania and Shahid share a special bond where both allow each other sufficient space without stifling the other. “I have never adhered to authority, and neither does Shahid. Being married certainly doesn’t mean that you have to be physically together at all times.”
Sania finds it very amusing that even now people sometimes ask her if she’s married. “Just because we are both busy in [our own] lives and are not seen together much, people assume I’m unmarried,” she says mirthfully.
The sense of security probably stems from the fact that, having been together since childhood, their’s is a bond that is the strongest beyond any doubt. It is this very reason that Sania is at absolute ease when working from Karachi or any other city knowing that her understanding better half is also busy at work with his television serials and film.
Talking about films, it is strange that Sania Saeed, an actor par excellence, has not been seen in any of the latest films so far. We did, of course, see her in Manto but that, she says, was not your typical film. “Manto was more like a television serial, it was not recorded like a film. Other than that, I have certainly not signed on any film. Be it television or film, the genre makes no difference to me. If there’s something for me to do, that I believe in and can justify, then I will certainly do that,” she makes it clear.
Talking about her current activities, besides acting in quite a few serials, “I am working on a project in Lahore with Olomo Polo media. It is the four of us who have formed this company – Kanwal Khoosat, Erum Sana, Vicky Yi Yin and I. Under the banner of Olomo Polo media we conduct workshops, theatre, literary readings, book launches, literary events, film viewings, etc. Olo Totolo is the children wing of the company where we conduct various classes and sessions for children.”
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