Saba Ahmed talks to Pakistanâ€™s longest-standing hero
We often hear the phrase â€œageing gracefullyâ€ applied to men or women who carry their middle-age excess with dignity. But how to describe someone who, with age, has settled into a startling allure all his own? For the millions who watch him, Adnan Siddiqui grows more refined each year. There is the smooth, angular face; the long lashes on rumpled eyelids; the enviably slim frame. If actors should cultivate an â€œX factorâ€ all their own, Adnanâ€™s is his unrivalled grace.
Adnanâ€™s Urdu-speaking background is a tremendous benefit in an age in which a new generation of stars pronounce â€˜qeemaâ€™ â€˜keema.â€™ Adnanâ€™s father, Afzal Siddiqui, is a man of letters who passed onto his son a love of poetry and words. His father comes up repeatedly in our conversation (Adnan lost his mother as a teenager), and it is clear to me that Afzal sahib holds tremendous sway over his sonâ€™s heart. â€œWhen Pakistan tested the atomic bomb in 1998, and some girls, whom my father calls â€˜chewing gumâ€™ girls, called the house to ask about me,â€ Adnan tells me, â€œmy father scolded the fan in question for asking about me when something so important was happening in Pakistan!â€ He calls his father his â€œreal life superhero.â€ In the course of our conversation, Adnan sings old ghazals, and even plays the flute for me. Perhaps more than anything else, I am struck by his unguarded sense of fun.
Anwar Maqsood is one amongst his many mentors who has put together the Adnan Siddiqui that we know and love today. While visiting with Anwar Maqsood with just some minor modeling experience under his belt, he chanced upon Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi. Javed Akhtar happened to be working on a film at the time, Mr. India, for which he offered Adnan a role. He politely refused, thinking at the time that he wasnâ€™t cut out for acting. Finally, after four and a half years, he took up a serial just so that he got to wear a navy uniform!
On a recent visit to Dubai, Adnan’s Pakistani fans had to make way for his Indian fansÂ
Currently on air is his show Aahista Aahista on HUM TV with co-stars Sarwat Gilani and Mawra Hocane. To portray a rich man with all the trimmings, producer Momina Duraid found the perfect house and swanky car in the US. â€œTo film outdoor scenes with me driving was risky without a license,â€ Adnan tells me. â€œI was regularly greeted with a one-finger hello!â€ Adnanâ€™s role features him playing a man who, cornered and emotionally bullied by his mother, has married for the second time. He laughs: â€œCome to think of it, in which serial do I not have two wives? A kid once stopped me and said â€˜youâ€™re the man who always has two wives?â€™â€
Zaib Un Nisa (2000) directed by Sahira Kazmi was the turning point in Adnanâ€™s career; people began to take him for more than just a pretty face. A spectacular performance garnered him a nomination for Best Actor (TV) in the LUX Style Awards in 2002. In fact, on a recent visit to Dubai, Adnanâ€™s Pakistani fans had to make way for his Indian fans who are now also enjoying the presence of Pakistani stars on their screens. (Incidentally, on a recent trip to India, a Delhi aunty told me, â€œufff woh Adnan Siddiqui kitna handsome hai. Humein de dou!â€)
â€œWhat boundaries are there in acting?â€ asks Adnan. â€œArt can be done anywhere â€” India, Pakistan, America.â€ On blogs and in the press, he reads Indians claiming that Ekta Kapoor and Star Plus have been making fools of themselves, and that Pakistani shows are the real deal. At home, however, skeptics say our television productions are taking a turn for the worse, putting increasing emphasis onÂ appearances. Adnan quotes Marlon Brando who said that an actorâ€™s success is largely decided by his demeanour and looks; the rest by luck and the remaining one percent by his acting skills. â€œThereâ€™s no harm in this, itâ€™s showbiz, it should be glamorous,â€ says the man with the understated glamour. It strikes me, as I gaze at the flecks of grey in his hair, that Mr. Siddiqui is Pakistanâ€™s longest-standing hero. â€œI will not dye my hair,â€ he says with a preemptory smile.
â€˜Are you the actor who always has two wives?â€™
Adnan looks to the future with the same pragmatism as when he took his first job. In his words, â€œI always strive to understand the times before time passes.â€ He continues to dabble in ventures other than television. He is currently partner at two advertising agencies, runs a haircutting salon, and preparations are underway for his new salon to open in Karachi. He is also the father of three beautiful children â€” Maryam (whom he calls Maryam jaan), Danya (whom he calls Danya jaania), and his youngest, four-year-old Zaid (whom he adoringly calls Zaid sahib).
Watch out for Adnanâ€™s role as a Lieutenant colonel in Yalghaar. Female fans across Pakistan are holding their breaths in anticipation of the much-awaited uniform-clad Adnan Siddiqui.
Art direction: Arsalan Bilgrami
Photography: Hasan Hashmi
Special thanks to: Phresh Spa & Salon