What can you expect other than earsplitting shrieks of adoration when teenaged Glee fans meet the loveable Principal Figgins of the fictitious William McKinley High School from the popular American musical television series?
Armed with cameras and smartphones, dozens of girls thronged The Second Floor (T2F) Café on Thursday evening, just to hear Iqbal Theba scream his trademark phrases: “Sue Sylvester!” and “Williaaaaam!”
Pakistani-American actor Theba arrived precisely three minutes before he was expected at the informal talk with fans at T2F, smiling ear-to-ear and looking comfortable in a crisp orange cotton kurta and a dusty-blue patterned scarf.
Before he took the floor to talk to his fans, I was lucky enough to have a quick chat with him. As Theba spoke, his face was radiant and his voice clear; he didn’t mind repeating himself over all the chatter, and proudly flaunted his poised Urdu accent. I realised he would make an articulate radio jockey.
“It always feels wonderful coming back to Pakistan,” he said. “I had mixed feelings [before I returned]; I love the country I was born in, but the political and the security situation here…” he trailed off, perhaps to avoid making a negative comment.
“I’m not scared, but I know that every time you leave your house, you are taking a chance with life,” he said. Moving on to things he loves about Karachi, he said, “I love going towards Clifton and smelling the ocean, it’s comforting in its own way.”
He smiled as he compared beaches in Los Angeles to Karachi saying, “Beaches in LA are cleaner, but beaches here are more interesting — they have camels! And the spirit of people is just so endearing. Everyone here goes through hell everyday but the zeal for living goes on. People celebrate life and they have a pursuit of happiness.”
Before Theba opened his talk, he was silent for a moment and then said, “What do I say, yaar?” The room echoed with the laughter.
He talked about his stay in Pakistan, and said that he loves being around people. “I enjoy eating biryani, zarda and kebabs. My stay here is always crazy, hectic, wonderful and fun.”
He kept the audience engaged by slipping into the persona of Principal Figgins from time to time.
He also talked about his journey to Hollywood. “It all started when I graduated as a civil engineer. I hated my major and went up to my father to tell him that. My father reacted just as any other father in his place would — he told me to deal with it.” Theba said he shrugged off the idea of giving up and took up a summer internship with a school senior.
“I soon realised that this is not what I want, so I quit it and waited tables to pay the bills.”
The turning point in Theba’s life came when his friend invited him to see the play she was acting in. “It was the first time I went to any play and it got me thinking.” Theba described acting as a “very mystical field” and said that he was immediately fascinated by it.
“It was a difficult decision,” he went on. “You spend four years in school and then put the money and time to waste. It takes courage to open up to your family and tell them, you only live once,” he said, as the audience shouted “YOLO!”
Theba said being a Pakistani in America has worked in his favour. “I get way more acting offers only because I am a Pakistani, I don’t feel like I am discriminated against,” he said.
Theba recalled his first role in the film A Decent Proposal, where he delivered only one line which was later chucked out. “I didn’t give up,” the actor said, “You need to keep your faith strong and be ready to make sacrifices.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 9th, 2013.
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