After working with Irrfan Khan, I believe I can work with anyone: Saba Qamar
Saba Qamar’s name is synonymous to quality performances, be it in a TV drama, film or even a commercial.
From captivating an audience with her amazing performances in Pakistan to carving her own identity in front of Irrfan Khan in the Bollywood film Hindi Medium, Saba has come a long way, and she is still willing to move forward but on her own terms.
Spotlight met the versatile actress and spoke to her about everything, from her start at Hum TV with Paani Jaisa Pyaar and Maat to her upcoming projects including Cheekh where she will be seen playing a strong woman who doesn’t give a damn about anything – in short, an extension of her own self
Your career can easily be divided into two parts – Before Hindi Medium and After Hindi Medium. How did the experience of working in India help you to become a better actress?
When we were young, our elders used to say that one should travel as much as possible to learn and that’s exactly what happened to me during Hindi Medium. Not only did I get to experience a different culture professionally but also a confidence which was huge.
Irrfan Khan is beyond doubt a wonderful actor and I hope he gets well soon; he isn’t enthusiastic when it comes to rehearsals and maybe that’s why we clicked so well as we were spontaneous and not methodological. To make your presence felt among one of the best actors in the world was a huge achievement for me, even more than the nominations I got after that film.
The exposure and the wisdom I gained from working in a bigger industry was something I might not have gained had I stayed in Pakistan, as we are different from them in many ways. Now that I have worked with Irrfan Khan, I believe that I can work with anyone in the world!
Then there was Baaghi where you even surprised your most ardent followers with an exceptionally powerful performance. What was the reason behind that?
Trust me, Baaghi was something that I would do only once in my career; In fact, if you ask me to choose between Baaghi and Hindi Medium, I would take Baaghi at a heartbeat.
Before playing the character, I had no idea who Qandeel Baloch was, but afterwards I was so involved in the character that even during the night, her bruised face would come in front of my eyes and I would get depressed.
People thought that after the success of Hindi Medium I had become proud and too big in my own mind, when in reality it was Baaghi that was affecting me.
That’s something we didn’t know since you never spoke about it before. Why?
I put my heart and soul in the project and it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that at times I even felt possessed; on many occasions, I didn’t even remember a scene for which people were congratulating me. I did speak about it to my mother who scolded me for taking such a project but had I not done it, someone else would have.
I don’t think I will ever be able to do something better than Baaghi, although at first when I signed it I just knew that it would get good ratings and would be seen as rebellious.
I went through different phases during the play as I was completely drenched in the character. I still remember that when I was first introduced to a Qandeel Baloch video when she was alive, I inquired about her and didn’t think much about it until after the role was offered to me a few years later.
I did ‘like’ her Facebook page only to ‘unlike’ it a few seconds later as I didn’t find it something that suited my image. She was a misunderstood character who wasn’t classy because she wasn’t that educated and this class division is what killed her; we are yet to decide the criteria of vulgar in Pakistan because here an educated vulgar person is classy, whereas an illiterate one becomes Qandeel Baloch.
It was a good way to do something with shades of grey since you only stuck to negative roles on Hum TV before that!
So nice to bring Maat and Bunty I Love You up (laughs). I have had my share of negative characters and I feel that they give the actor in you a chance to do something different. Everybody can become a pyaribeti but not everyone can become the vamp who wants to do things her own way, whatever the repercussions may be.
Off-screen I am a pyari beti but on it, I have to be something I am not, something out of the box and that’s why I go for challenging roles. My upcoming play Cheekh has me in a strong character and people will like it because they will be able to relate to its struggles and its principled stance.
How do you manage to work on different channels considering every TV channel has its own flavour, its own standards etc.?
I am one of the few actors who has featured in dramas that have gone on air on PTV, Hum TV, ARY Digital, Geo Entertainment, and even Urdu 1. I have been able to do that because my superpower is my limitless energy (laughs); experience teaches you many things and had I not been attentive to my mentors in the beginnings, I might have been a mess right now.
When I started acting, it was to run my kitchen but now it has become a passion, a hobby and when you are able to pick and choose, that’s where you do better work. It’s not that I don’t want to travel and live abroad, I do but the aim is to challenge myself and not do the remade versions of Maat and Humsafar, which is exactly what is being offered to me.
Which brings us to the million dollar question – why is the standard of dramas going down in Pakistan?
It’s not a million dollar question but a very straightforward one – we are losing the battle because we are scared of going out of the box. Ever since we became obsessed with the rating system, things have gone down and the audience is watching the same thing all over again with different actors and characters.
Nobody wants to experiment, change the features and don a wig to appear different because in their minds, being perfect is what will attract the audience. That’s the wrong approach because the audience notices everything, be it the perfect makeup in the morning or the perfect hair after an action sequence.
The only two places where the directors noticed such details were either at PTV or at Hum TV where we were taught that the best way to appeal to the audience is to be natural.
I still remember that MominaBhabi (MominaDuraid) used to check the make-up even before the shoot, and if it was too much for the character I was playing she would recommend to lessen it up. We are missing that very detailing that was the base of a character; the audience has started noticing it and if we don’t improve, they will move elsewhere.
People compare Pakistani dramas to Indian films all over the world but we take that for granted; if we continue making the same stuff, the audience will switch to something else and we know how that will affect the industry.
Also, everyone is running after films even when our dramas are bigger, better and followed more. Most of the people who are making films are either failed TV actors or those who do supporting roles on TV; we must first understand the genre and then join the bandwagon because bad films push us back and dent the work of good filmmakers’ big time.
Does that mean that you will not be working in a Pakistani film anytime soon?
India has banned us so if I want to do a film, it would be at home but surprisingly, the kind of films I am being offered are not that appealing, especially to someone who prefers quality over quantity.
I believe that if we want to make proper films, we will have to start from the grassroots because we might have acquired huge cameras and equipment but the filmmaking mind is stuck back in time.
When you start something, you start at the grassroots level, so that by the time you perfect the art you know about its pros and cons; sadly in Pakistan, we don’t have that kind of expertise when it comes to filmmaking and that’s our dilemma.
Our filmmakers must first start shooting things from mobile, and then move up towards film after experimenting with Tele Films, YouTube content and finally venturing into the big league.
This might offend some people but that’s the truth; I may not be a very good actor but I am a very good viewer and that’s why I don’t understand the kind of films we are making.
The day we become experts after learning the basics of filmmaking such as coming up with a quality screenplay, how scripting is done, and the basics of editing, that’s the day when I will sign a film. Secondly, we need to respect our technicians as well because that’s what people across the border do and look at their industry!
You don’t seem to like award shows and miss most of them at home. Why?
We give the award to pyari beti (laughs) whereas others give it to talented individuals. Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder and at home, I am neither the beauty nor the pyari beti.
Yes, I have got many awards but the number could have been higher. After 2015, I have stopped caring about awards and frankly, that’s the reason why I don’t attend award shows.
I am not the kind of person who has a huge PR, who loves to attend brunches, who is invited to parties and all because I value my work over these stunts. I would go to a place where I would be recognized and respected than to an award function where nothing of that sort happens.
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Thankyou Masala for honouring me with this award. You made my day. I would like to thank all my fans from around the globe for all the love and appreciation they have given me. Thank you! ❤️ Thank you @shehlachatoorprivate for the lovely outfit 😍 #sabaqamar #masalaawards2017 @masalauae #bestactress #hindimedium #baaghi #dubai
We don’t know how to make stars because you attain that level of stardom if you respect others, not because if you are from a big family or that you have social media following.
People don’t come to shoots on time, insult the technicians and even throw things besides tantrums, and in such an environment you can only become a huge social media sensation, not a star!
This year many artists in India and Pakistan have come forward with #MeToo allegations against their colleagues in the industry. What is your take on that?
It’s sad when you hear such stories about people who have been around for so long. I am not against #MeToo because I know how the girl or woman who is narrating the ordeal must be feeling.
We should have the matter investigated rather than blaming the person who was at the receiving end; in fact, both the parties should be investigated and if found guilty, then punished. To comment on such a thing without knowing its background is stupidity in itself because there is always ‘more than meets the eye’ when such things happen.
You live in Lahore but work in Karachi; how do you manage that and why is drama production not like the past in Lahore?
Karachi is the entertainment hub of Pakistan because people here love their work.
The downfall of Lahore happened because of the laidback attitude of the producers and directors there who couldn’t keep up with the way things were moving.
For me, both the cities are important because I believe that art has no boundary and that goes for India as well.
How does it feel to represent Pakistan internationally since you have been to multiple countries?
It is one of the best feelings, especially when people recognize you abroad in places where you least expect to be recognized. I don’t have a proper PR agency which is why I stay connected to all my fans and followers the same way, the world over. I have a lot to achieve in life, and for that I have to stay the way I am and not change myself to compete with the younger lot.
I got the Filmfare Nomination in Bollywood because I worked hard for it, and that’s the best reward because here people lobby for awards which makes it just a trophy in my eyes.
I don’t like success to make me an ungrateful person, and that’s why I stay grounded and try to represent my country with dignity wherever I go, whenever I go!
In the end, something about your upcoming projects?
Right now I am working in a Big Bang Production titled Cheekh where I am paired with Bilal Abbas Khan who is one of the better actors from the current lot. I play a girl who doesn’t want to be treated less than anyone else, and is a fighter who likes to tackle every problem head-on.
She is a lot like me because I consider myself an individual who believes in principles and can go to any lengths if I find someone being mistreated for no fault of his or her own.