Shazma Haleem was a small town girl with a big dream. Born and raised in Swabi, the now seasoned Pashto television artiste embarked upon a path less travelled back in 1985, when she took a shot at pursuing acting.
Today, Shazma has more than a hundred television and radio dramas to her credit. She went on to receive a total of six Best Actor Awards from PTV, which are her pride. She presently hosts a morning show on Khyber TV, and recently acted in television dramas on a few notable local channels.
“There weren’t many young girls in the industry then,” says Shazma, who was merely 15 years old at the time. Other than her father Abdul Haleem, who was in the military, most of her family members and friends expressed disapproval for her career choice.
“My father was a constant source of support for me. He did feel uneasy that I would have to live in Peshawar alone [to pursue acting] as we did not have any family there, but he promised to visit me regularly and he did,” she tells us.
However, when her father retired from the army, things got tough. “He used to go to the mosque and people used to say to him that I would ruin the family name or run away with someone. But my father kept faith in me,” she says.
Despite the opposition she faced, Shazma remained undeterred. “I wanted to be a son to my father,” she shares, explaining that she is the eldest of seven sisters; her two brothers were born much later. “People used to look at my father and pity him for not having any sons [then]. I wanted to show them that I could do the same thing a son could do. It was about money. By acting, I could earn money and help my father support our family.”
She capitalised on her Pashto and Urdu language skills, which were strong due to her extensive travelling within the country with her father when he was in the military.
Lucky for her, her cousin Muhammad Israr Yousufzai was working as an engineer with Pakistan Television (PTV) at the time. He told her the network was looking for fresh faces. She requested him to take her there and help her get an acting gig.
She still remembers her first day at work. “I was so nervous, but after a couple of days, I got used to it and started improving. When I got my first cheque, I was shocked that after working so hard and for so long, I only got Rs111.”
Shazma tells us that she is lucky to have worked with good producers, such as Masood Ali Shah, Shaukat Ali and Farmanullah Jan. “They saw that I was a Pashtun girl who had gotten out of a small place like Swabi and had a passion for acting,” she said. “When I told them I wanted to study and do my LLB, they encouraged me to chase my dreams.”
And so she did. To pursue her degree in Law, Shazma enrolled at Margalla College for Women in Islamabad. After finishing her classes, she would get on a bus to Peshawar to record, rehearse and read more scripts. The day would wrap up around 10pm, which is when she would head back to Islamabad and prepare for the next day’s classes.
For the first six years of her career, she said she only used to eat, sleep and think of acting. Her love for acting paid off when she received her first PTV Award in 1988. She remembers how nervous and star struck she was at the award ceremony. “I had a large chador wrapped around me and had no idea how to sit in the hall,” she said. “I was nominated with two other actors and did not know if I would even win.”
Of her personal life, she shares how she met her husband. “I had just worked on a drama called Aasman. I received an award for my acting in the drama. The press had organised a dinner for the entire team and my husband was one of the journalists present there,” she says.
“He came up to me and asked why I did roles of older women [which she has in multiple dramas] when I was so young.” She added that afterwards, he took her number and said he would get in touch for an interview.
A few days later, he went to Islamabad to interview her. “Before he left, he asked me why I was still unmarried. I told him because there was no [potential suitor]. He laughed and asked what if someone wanted to ask,” she said. “I thought he was being funny and didn’t take him seriously till a couple of months later when his brother sent a proposal to my father.”
After her father, her husband and two children are a great source of strength for her. “He is good to me,” he said. “When we got married, he told me that I had done so much for our culture and language that he just could not let me sit at home.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 21st, 2014.