Model/host/actor, Saim Ali wears many hats. He takes Mahlia Lone through the journey of making it in showbiz
Tell us how you evolved from a model to an actor?
Saim Ali: I was a chubby kid who wanted to become a model, but then a choreographer/fashion designer dismissed me saying, “You’re not made for fashion, you can’t make it in this industry.” That was the best thing anyone could have said to me as it spurred me on. I hit the gym for a year and a half and then proved him wrong by appearing on a magazine cover. From then on, I was not only in fashion shows locally, but was a showstopper at several shows internationally too. My big break came when the actress Noor Bukhari asked me to appear on the morning show Good Morning Zindagi on A-plus channel with her. We would spontaneously break into dance, and the show became such a big hit that it would regularly garner a 100+ rating for the channel. One particular steamy dance routine went viral. I developed a considerable fan base, comprising both men and women. Seeing the reaction, Noor, who was directing and starring in a movie called Ishq Positive, asked me to do a cameo in it. I had 12 major scenes and a song was picturised on me as well. That’s how I made the leap from the small to the big screen.
After this, I took part as a celebrity contestant in a season of the ARY Digital reality show Madventures (a take-off on Fear Factor), which has 6 celebrities from Pakistan participating alongside 6 celebrities from India. The show was set in Thailand where we had to participate in many water sports. I finished as the runner-up. In Heer, a drama serial for Geo, I play a psychotic doctor. In the first 10 episodes, I appear as the quintessential chocolate hero, but then my dark side takes over in the next 10. I really sank my teeth into this role and used my acting chops. In a Farouq Mengal directed movie Hijrat, I play a bad boy picking up girls in an Istanbul nightclub. It was freezing weather and I was clad in jeans and a chiffon t-shirt for the song and dance, but as they say “the show must go on”, and it did at all costs.
Director Sangeeta then asked me to be the second male lead in romcom Tum Hee Ho, releasing 15th April. It’s a four-angle love story in which I star alongside Danish Timoor, Matthira and Qurutulain in her debut role. I have two songs in the movie; I’m emoting, romancing, dancing … hopefully my fans will enjoy it.
In a very different role for an upcoming drama serial, I’m playing a drug addict, the son of a postmaster. I completely immersed myself in this role. I started smoking to see what it would feel like and barely talked to anyone between takes to stay in character. I looked grungy and unkempt. But as soon as the cameras stop rolling of course, I would snap out of it.
You sound like a method actor. Have you studied drama?
No. I feel I’m a natural at acting and don’t need to study it. In every cut or action, I know my job. I draw on my personal life. For example, having gone through a very bad relationship myself, I know what it feels like to love somebody, invest in them emotionally and then be betrayed by them. Whenever I’m doing a love scene, I visualize this person. I know how to sell love passionately.
What’s your pet peeve about this industry?
The politics, definitely! And the back stabbing! Everyone is so sweet to you in person. They will like your pictures and posts on social media, air kiss and compliment you on the red carpet, but behind the scenes is another story entirely—their ferocious egos take over. There are some stars who call themselves “the Big Bs” and who like to rule the roost. I was hired by a channel last year for a drama serial. They said no need to sign a contract. I worked for two whole days, and then was unceremoniously dropped from the production without a reason. I was not compensated in any way. Apparently, the leads became insecure. This type of behavior is very unprofessional for a lead to get a supporting actor fired for no reason at all. So an actor with a smiling face may well be holding a knife behind his/her back.
Have you experienced the casting couch?
I’ve been propositioned certainly by men and women. I chose not to take them up on it. Perhaps that’s why I was sitting at home for much of the time last year!
What is one crazy fan moment?
Oh this Lahori school girl who got obsessed with me. She used to follow me on social media. I have a considerable social media following on my Facebook page and on Instagram, which both my PR manager Pheby Haroon and I handle jointly. Pheby alerted me to her. The girl would comment every couple of hours on my Insta. She wanted to know everything about my daily routine, what I ate, where I went, etc. It started to get weird when she recorded herself cutting her finger and writing the letter “S” and posted it, so I called her from a random phone number (not my own) to calm her down and dissuade her from this extreme behaviour. She started crying hysterically, saying that she loved me and wanted to marry me. Then her mother posted her own photo on my Insta and wrote please marry my daughter, she loves you. Finally, when the girl started posting risqué pictures of herself, I had to block her.
And a good moment?
There were two actually that I cherish. I always wanted to be greeted by fans at the airport. After Ishq Positive, I was returning from a trip to Dubai and as soon as I exited the arrivals section, all these ladies and kids recognised me and circled me. Some ladies kissed my forehead saying I reminded them of their sons, others gave me their blessings, children hugged me. My father who had come to pick me up was touched by what he saw. I felt joyous.
Having gone through a
very bad relationship myself, I know what it feels like to love somebody,
invest in them emotionally
and then be betrayed by them. Whenever I’m doing a
love scene, I visualize this person. I know how to sell love passionately
Another amazing fan moment occurred when we were taping a live special morning show episode for Samaa TV at APWA College in Karachi. Hundreds of students were waiting for me when we arrived. They were screaming out my name, “We love you Saim!” I made a casual remark that I had missed my breakfast to come on time and was feeling hungry. Quickly the girls offered me their lunches. They gave me little gifts, like T-shirts and flowers. I danced especially vigorously that day, spurred on by the girls chanting they were “Saim ki fans.” It feels so good to make people happy.
You are a versatile actor, a showstopper model—any other feather in your cap?
I’m also a compere. I’ve been the MC (master of ceremonies) at many televised corporate events. Recently, I hosted the red carpet for Prince Charles’ fundraiser benefitting The British Asian Trust in London.
What’s coming up for you?
My mother says one should not reveal your plans till they reach fruition. But I can tell you this, being a huge Bollywood buff, I’ve been in talks with the Anil Kapoor Film Company. The producer for the film Khoobsurat happens to be a family friend. I sent him my portfolio. Anil Kapoor has himself approved it. InshAllah, in six months it will be announced that I’ll be playing a special role in his next home production. I’m confident I’ll prove all the naysayers wrong and become a star!