Imrana Maqsood : The Woman Behind ‘Uljhay Suljhay Anwar’
Behind every successful man, there is a woman – be it a celebrity, a sportsman, a soldier or a businessman.
In Pakistan, being all four is difficult because people judge you for everything and the only people who don’t are your own family members, starting from wife to children and finally, friends and relatives.
Noted playwright and actor Anwar Maqsood has been blessed with a talented wife Imrana Maqsood who has supported him ever since he became a big shot in the entertainment industry. They will be celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary later this year and none of them show any signs of slowing down.
While Anwar Maqsood is busy working for TV and writing for theatre, Immu Jee has also kept herself busy as a housewife who raised two talented kids, look after Anwar Maqsood, wrote a few TV plays and theatre dramas and above all, authored over two dozen books with the last two being published within two years with Uljhay Suljhay Anwar becoming a bestseller in no time.
We decided to talk to this super talented wife, caring mother, excellent hostess and an amazing writer as the first person in our ‘Meet The Women’ series, as she stands tall among all celebrity wives.
Anwar Maqsood is an icon when it comes to play writing, he has written for TV, theatre and continues to be a host for TV programs. How have you managed to put up with such a creative man for the last 50 years?
This December we will be celebrating our Golden Jubilee anniversary but trust me, the guy I married wasn’t a playwright but an investment banker who traveled in rickshaws, owned a few suits, used to tie his own tie and taught me a lot of things that he now himself has forgotten.
We haven’t always been cool and calm, and like couples have had good days and bad days, but that’s the beauty of marriage. Sometimes you are all fine, sometimes you are rash and unforgiving. We have grown up together and although he is five years my senior, now I teach him a lot of things in return.
How have you managed to keep up with his trips abroad, visits to the studios, his friends and his functions all around the year?
Time is a very good teacher and over the period I have learned that no matter where he is, my husband will always return home.
Currently, I am totally unaware of where he goes, when he goes out and when he would return. I had two kids to look after and I kept myself busy in their lives more than Anwar’s. I am still very involved with my kids and although Bilal (Maqsood) wasn’t that difficult to raise, Anju was. To raise a girl in this society is a Herculean task because it’s a huge responsibility and I am glad that I managed to do that.
My philosophy is that life is like hopscotch (we used to call it ikia dukia) where you have to be careful every step of the way otherwise you can miss out, big time.
There must have been times when you felt that it would have been better had you married someone else, someone not a celebrity?
Anwar is a very easy going husband, time has taught him to trust me because there might be a reason behind things I do. The same can’t be said of the family because when Bilal (Maqsood) decided to switch to Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture from Government Commerce College, all hell broke loose as at that time, Indus wasn’t empowered to issue a Degree – they were waiting for the Charter’s approval.
After I had approved Bilal’s decision, Anwar realized that there must be some method to the madness and stood by me while the whole family didn’t. At the back of my mind, I knew that Zahoor Ul Ikhlaq bhai was a reasonable man and he wouldn’t have gone to Indus without preparations; also, people like Noor Jahan Bilgrami, Shahid Sajjad, and Shahnaz Ismail were teaching at Indus so I had to rely on my gut.
I also trusted Bilal and it paved off because the day they were passing out, they were empowered to issue degrees and Bilal’s batch became the first to graduate from one of the best universities in Pakistan. Thankfully, he also found his life partner from the same university and I couldn’t have been happier.
It is said that creative people are very irritating, and your husband and son are both popular people. Hasn’t managing them both been a challenging task?
My kids knew that their mother was involved in their lives so they never did anything to make me angry. Yes, I had to quit my job and become a full-time housewife for Bilal as when he went to College, I opted to pick and drop him so that he doesn’t bunk the class or get involved with the wrong crowd.
Thankfully, he became friends with Faisal Kapadia in College and the two have been like sons to me since. Anju, on the other hand, used to commute in her College’s bus so I didn’t have to worry about her much. When they both told me about their choice of life partners, I stood by them – Bilal wanted to marry a colleague, Anju her first cousin.
That must have been difficult … seems like a scene from the family dramas of today.
Bilal was in his teens when I found out through others that he was interested in a girl in his University and that made me happy as he became more involved in his studies.
(Laughs) The girl’s uncle was renowned actor Khalid Hafeez (of Guest House fame) and in his youth he also had a music band, so we thought that getting married would be easy for him but when they raised objections regarding Bilal’s profession, both he and Faisal decided to take a break and went MIA as Strings; thankfully that break helped them as it was much-needed in every way, both personally and professionally.
When they made a comeback after 6 years, nobody had any objection as they carefully planned it after understanding the nuances of professional life. As for Anju, I immediately agreed because had I said no, who knows she might have become depressed or rebelled although I am sure that wouldn’t have happened.
You must have faced opposition when they turned singers, both Anju, and Bilal, in 1988?
Considering Anwar’s whole family has been in showbiz since forever, there shouldn’t have been a problem but we are like any family, there was stiff opposition when Bilal chose to pursue music. Yes, both Anju and Bilal sang a song together but Anju left and Bilal made a band with Faisal and friends, and they hit it off well.
I didn’t let the discouragement from the family demoralize Bilal because I trusted him and his instincts. In a few years, they became one of the top bands in the country; the very people who opposed the decision were later asking me for his autograph. Anwar didn’t say much back then but since he has written most of their lyrics, I feel he has given his approval in that way.
And then there was the book Uljhay Suljhay Anwar; when I asked Anwar Maqsood about it, he said that you wrote whatever you knew and a lot still remains unknown to you. How true is that?
Anwar is a very innocent person and he knows that I know a lot about him; the reason I chose to share selected incidents in the book is that I wanted to entertain the reader, not embarrass the subject.
His respect comes first and trust me, compared to him, I am the one with a short temper; whenever we don’t agree on something, he is the last person to respond and he does that in his typical witty style and closes the issue.
However, that still doesn’t mean that I like entertaining his guests at our house as early as 8 in the morning! He is a morning person but I am not and when he invites over people on phone in front of me, I sometimes even lose it as to how I will get the house in order, set up refreshments and receive the guest that early. He listens to me when I retaliate and we know that none of us can do anything about it.
How did you get the idea of writing a book about Anwar Maqsood and why?
It was our friend and veteran journalist Asif Noorani who came up with the idea of Anwar’s biography as not much has been written about him.
We got the publisher on board, and since by that time I had written over two dozen children books and a couple of recipe books, I knew how to go about it and the result was a book that sold like hotcakes and was one of the Top 10 books at the World Book Fair in Karachi.
You have been a regular writer for TV but you wrote for theatre soon after Anwar Maqsood’s plays became a hit. Why not before that?
Well Dawar Mehmood was the one who approached me after Anwar went on a break after their first few plays; the director wanted a quick script and since I had already written Dhaani, I gave it to Dawar only to learn that Anwar had completed his play and Dawar would be doing that first.
It was the same time when Dawar had left out Umer Sultan from the play so I gave my script to Umer, who did a fantastic job with the play as a director. Yes, it was a play done in retaliation (smiles) but with Sarwat Gillani and Sanam Saeed on top of their game, it became a runaway success, as did my other TV and theatre plays.
And what about a career in acting, considering most of Anwar sahib’s friends let their wives act?
Renowned TV director Zaheer Khan offered me the lead role in Afshan way back in the late 70’s; in fact, he told me that they were looking for an actress and I would fit the role. He even asked Anwar why he had kept me hidden from them, maybe because I looked the part.
However, after a few days Zaheer apologized to me and said that he wouldn’t be able to work with me as it was ‘closer to home.’ I, however, later acted in a Manto play for 10 days and recently in an Alia Imam serial that was written by me.
You are the wife of a celebrated writer, mother of a pop star, a bestselling author of countless books, and a celebrity chef, how do you go about wearing all those hats?
I could have been a singer as well but since I can’t sing, I don’t (laughs). I believe that a person should only do what he or she is good at. I can write and that’s why I started with children books, graduated to recipe books and have now written a biography. I was recently asked by Yasir Hussain the actor to write a book on theatre and I might be considering it.
But trust me, the journey of self-discovery that I undertook wasn’t offered to me on a silver platter as I had to find myself the right way. I taught at schools, stayed home for my kids and it was only after their marriage that I found out that writing is the way ahead for me. I am happy writing books because I can’t write for TV right now; these days plays are written for ratings while I write for myself; those at the helm might find it old-fashioned.