Saba Ahmed meets actor Omair Rana

In the world of acting, there are a dwindling number of true enthusiasts who respect the art. When I meet Omair Rana on a sharp winter’s morning, his grin catches me off-guard: he has the air of an irrepressible performer. I’m struck by his wit and his composure. After all, he has recently become father to a beautiful baby girl!

Omair is once again pursuing his lifelong passion for theatre. His most recent tribute to the late Shade Hussain, a beloved music teacher at Lahore Grammar School, was the play It Runs in the Family, a comedy by Ray Cooney. Staged at the Alhamra Arts Council, the play had all the trappings of the plays of yesteryear, in the heyday of theatre in Lahore.

“I have been doing things because I enjoy them rather than because I want to reach somewhere,” says Omair. Whilst doing theatre plays with Shah Sharabeel, Adeel Hashmi noticed Omair and offered him a role in the much beloved comedy drama sitcom, Teen Bata Teen. Having dropped out of the TV circuit some time ago, Omair discovered films and went down that road mainly because the projects were interesting to him. “Film and theatre both require a bit of madness and I enjoy that,” Omair says with a wide grin. He has had the pleasure of working on some critically acclaimed films, notably Dukhtar and Chambaili.

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Theatre is more organic for and comes more naturally to Omair

Omair tried hard not to settle for a run-of-the-mill career. According to Mrs. Samina Rehman, his colleague at Lahore Grammar School, he would have been selling oil and salt for the rest of his life had he stayed any longer at the sales and marketing gig before he came to focus on acting. He quit and in 2000 founded Real Entertainment Productions, which has since its inception done over 50 plays.

Omair believes in specialization, and that people should be delegated and trusted to their respective work. Likewise when working on TV, he sees people that are less than capable at directing plays. “I believe that every art deserves its proper respect,” he says. “I might be able to carry a tune but that doesn’t make me a singer.” With Tamanna, Salman Shahid, himself and the rest of the team would repeatedly bounce the script off each other. “We would each edit it, share it and pass it around with everyone,” he says. “On a TV set, everything should be ready for the actors: the lights, the cameras, that’s what a supporting crew is for,” says Omair. “They’re still quite a few steps behind and it’s more about money per hour than anything else.”

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“The fool that I am, I would always be on time and once I waited for ten hours before being put in front of the camera!”

He has teamed up with TV actors and other people from the fraternity including Faisal Rehman and Atiqa Odho to start The Actors’ Collective (ACT), an association of actors, including film, theatre and televisions artists in Pakistan. It aims to standardize and better the industry locally and internationally. Omair recalls an experience he had while on a TV set: “The fool that I am, I was called on set and I would always be on time and I waited for ten hours before being put in front of the camera without a script. I was livid!” Being part of a good team with a good script is what he cares about, and if the money isn’t great, he’s one of the few who doesn’t care.

The TV industry in Pakistan thrives on typecasting actors, yet thankfully Omair has been able to avoid being typecast. The TV industry believes less in character acting than the theatre and film industries, where an actor can completely become someone else. “On TV, I’ve done some crazy stuff, been able to do roles that are quite apart from who I am,” he says, adding that “they are still trying to typecast me!” The moment he dyes his hair or becomes clean shaven, he becomes someone else. At a very base level of understanding, the TV industry recognizes what one looks like and so do the viewers. For Omair’s age and looks, he will typically be cast on TV as the young single father or as the thirties about-to-be married man. He recalls, “Last night I had a nightmare that someone was casting me as a sixteen-year-old college student!” The last serial he was cast in, he played a character that was contemporary friends with Noman Ijaz’s character, who in real life is at least 15, 20 years older than him. According to Omair, there are a few people out there in TV who like to experiment and push boundaries. But the forces of production houses are so strong, they kill the enterprise of those not stereotyping actors according to their unaltered physical appearance.

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Theatre is more organic for and comes more naturally to Omair. The last play Omair did prior to It Runs In The Family was showed as part of London’s 2012 Cultural Olympiad, the Urdu adapted version of Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ (translated as ‘Ilaj-e-Zid Dasteyaab Hai‘) and was performed in London as part of the ‘Globe to Globe’ program. Along with Nadia Jamil, Salman Shahid and others, the play opened to rave reviews with many in the audience moved to tears.

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