I anxiously await the arrival of Sheheryar Munawar Siddiqui, the 26-year-old actor and filmmaker all of Pakistan has been swooning over. I feel completely star-struck and the adrenaline rush is gradually taking over me.
It isn’t every day that I find myself in the company of celebrities, let alone someone who has taken over the local entertainment industry since his first serial Meray Dard Ko Jo Zuban Miley, back in 2012.
My mind is still contemplating the hundreds of ways I could end up making a complete fool of myself when Sheheryar walks in, clad in a fitted black shirt, blue jeans and a pair of nerdy glasses. There is a sense of purpose in the way he shakes my hand and apologises for making me wait before plopping onto his seat and lighting up a cigarette. I can tell he means business — a man of substance and not just another charming male celebrity.
Nonetheless, ‘charming’ would be an understatement for Sheheryar. “You see, I generally don’t do many interviews and when I do, I want everything to be proper,” he tells me, regarding our pre-interview arrangements. He comes off as a bit of a perfectionist and when he tells the housekeeper to bring him some tea, this trait becomes even more evident. “Meray hee cup mein laana,” he instructs sharply before turning to me. “I am very finicky,” he admits, laughing as he requests a blow-by-blow run through my plan for the interview. Once I am done explaining, Sheheryar begins the story of how he — a graduate of the prestigious Institute of Business Administration — stumbled upon acting, something he had apparently never given much thought to before.
“I never wanted to become an actor,” he shares, “In fact, my interest has always been behind the camera. But then I happened to get an opportunity to be in the forefront and took it as a means to launch myself in the industry. I didn’t get to attend film school so when I was offered my first role, I thought I might as well start from here and see where it leads to.” As fate would have it, Sheheryar exploded onto the limelight, gathering praise, fame and fortune whilst working his way up. Eventually, the exponential growth of his career did lead him to his true calling as he is currently working as an assistant director at The Vision Factory, under the guidance of talented filmmaker Asim Raza. “A director is an artist and his emotional quotient must be extremely high for him to comprehend what makes audiences tick, “explains Sheheryar. “It is a status that I hope for, at some point.”
I must admit that I am a tad bit surprised — and confused — by Sheheryar’s indifference towards the limelight, considering that he has become a household name in the local spheres. But he is a jack of all trades who recently acted in and also co-produced Asim’s latest offering, Ho Mann Jahaan. With so much on his plate, including the stellar supporting cast of Mahira Khan and Adeel Hussain, it must have been very difficult to manage, I ask, to which Sheheryar laughs and says, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” Still, he admits to having taken on a little too much for his age and jokes about how it did almost kill him. “I would take a breather for two seconds to detach myself from the world and snap into Arhaan, the character I played in Ho Mann Jahaan.” While he reflects on juggling his two stressful roles in the project, I catch my first glimpse of the sheer passion Sheheryar has for the art of direction and filmmaking, in general. Just to prepare for his characters, he goes out of his way to understand the dynamics of their story in order to be “reacting, rather than acting.” Ever the perfectionist, Sheheryar claims, “I am not a serious person in general but when it comes to my profession I take things very, very seriously.”
Through the course of the interview, I begin to realise Sheheryar’s dichotomous personality which, unfortunately, gets concealed beneath his cool vibe and dapper looks. Sheheryar is amongst the few lucky ones who can enjoy their jobs thoroughly but also revel in the non-professional environment. He is a perfectionist who simultaneously refuses to take himself too seriously, lest it suck the fun out of his life. Sheheryar’s laid-back disposition seems to be blissfully unaware of the effect his voluminous hair and cheeky smile have on Pakistan’s female population and when I ask him why he seems to attract a certain type of roles (protagonist belonging to the upper echelons of society) only, Sheheryar laughs to his heart’s content. “Mein tau bohut ghareeb admi houn, yaar,” he says, grinning from ear to ear. “Meri bohut chohti chohti khushiyaan hein jo logon ko bari lagti hein.” But before I can wrap up the question, he explains himself just in time. “An actor should be versatile and able to portray any role. I actually feel quite offended when someone says I look a certain way.” In fact, the character of Arhaan — a middle-class boy looking to become a musician — was Sheheryar’s attempt at breaking the typecasting. “I did a lot of research for Arhaan, from learning how to deliver certain dialogue to even holding a cup the right way,” he shares, so much so that it has become difficult for Sheheryar to become Sheheryar again.
Nonetheless, he isn’t complaining. According to Sheheryar, it is up to him and his fellow members of the entertainment fraternity to expel the negative connotations our society attaches to the media. “This is how change manifests itself, through time, from one generation to another. Change is an evolution, rather than a revolution,” he explains. “The more people come into the industry, the more it will grow and breed competition, making us strive for better.” Values, morals and responsibility are at the core of everything Sheheryar takes on. “If I have given my word to someone and advised them to do something, I should be able to stand by them and do it as well!”
With so much integrity, Sheheryar never forgets to be thankful for the success he has garnered in such a short span of time. “Fame itself has never been a driving factor for me. In fact I avoid it,” he says. “My mantra is jiyo and jeenay do and that’s how it should be for everyone, around the world.”
What Sheheryar said
“At one time, I really wanted to join politics to make a change but after reading and watching the recent news, I think it has become very scary. Politics makes an animal out of even the nicest of people. For me, simply being a good citizen and not bothering my fellow citizens counts as giving back.”
“As an actor or any other professional, one aspires to keep getting bigger and better. We can’t deny Bollywood is a much bigger platform for artists so it isn’t so much about going to India or Bollywood as it is going to a better opportunity. In India, actors receive the recognition and star power that they deserve, which is always nice. That said, I personally wouldn’t just jump onto the bandwagon as I am too finicky. I would rather wait for something both Indian and Pakistani audiences can identify with.”
His upcoming release, Kambakht
“Unfortunately, it’s still stuck in post-production. The producer, my friend Hamza Ali Abbasi, would know better as to when it will be out.”
Senior actors of Pakistan
“I have been extremely lucky that I got to work with Bushra Ansari, Nimra Bucha, Usman and Arshad Sahab, Behroze Subzwari and other seniors of our industry. Even the senior musicians I’ve worked with are really welcoming and supportive because they don’t feel threatened or think that I am competing with them. They are very confident of their talent and capabilities.”
Favourite Bollywood directors
“Zoya Akhter, hands down! She is an excellent director with some crazy, artful shots, beautiful people, beautiful clothes and amazing sets.”
“Personally, I find Julia Roberts to be extremely beautiful and talented. I love Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale too, although I don’t think the Batman series is amongst his best performances. Closer to home, Ranbir Kapoor and Farhan Akhter take the cake in the male category while Alia Bhatt outshines her female contemporaries. She is so young but very smart in the way she picks up on the sensitivities of her character.”
Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, May 10th, 2015.