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Interview by Ally Adnan

Noted restaurateur, the grandson of the greatest songstress of all time, and now the male lead of Asad Ul Haq’s upcoming feature film, Dekh Magar Pyaar Say, Sikander Rizvi talks to Ally Adnan about show business, growing up without a father at home, his illustrious grandmother and much else

What is it like to be the grandson of the biggest star India and Pakistan have ever produced?

Noor Jehan was, first and foremost, my daado and then a star. Generous, indulgent, kind and loving, she was a great grandmother. I grew up thinking of her as warm and caring person in my life and not as a star. I was always aware that she was someone special because of her aura and how everyone treated her but it wasn’t until I was in my teens that I began to realize the enormity of her talent and the magnitude of her stardom. And even though I now have a grip on how big she was as a star, I remember her as my doting and loving daado. She was the best grandmother anyone could have.

How do you remember her?

Daado was full of life. She was always surrounded by people. There was a positive energy about her. She was loving, she was warm and she was a lot of fun. She had a larger than life persona but she was approachable and kind. I loved her presence and her company.

As a child, I used to spend my summers in the South of France with my mother and her parents. Daado used to visit us with her entourage of attendants, musicians, friends and family members. Those visits constitute some of my fondest childhood memories. Daado would sing for us during those visits, tell us stories and entertain us with her jokes. And she would take over the kitchen during her visits and cook for the entire family.

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“The audition did not go well and I was surprised when I was called back and offered the role of the lead. It really fell in my lap”

And she was one hell of a cook.

Yes, she was. An amazing, amazing cook who could work wonders in the kitchen. I have not had desi food as good as that cooked by Daado in my life. Listening to desi music, while eating desi food and enjoying desi jokes, all in a French setting, was an unreal and exceedingly charming experience.

Noor Jehan was not the only strong woman in your life. Your mother, Florence Villiers, is an amazing woman herself?

Of course, she is.

My mother is one of the strongest, most resilient and enterprising women that I have ever met in my life. As a young lady, she hitchhiked her way to Pakistan, met my father and married him after a heady romance. When my parents divorced, she raised me and my sister, Sonya Jehan, entirely on her own.  As a young lady, she ran a boutique which was very successful. This was followed by the opening of her own restaurant, Café Flo, in 1998. It has been running successfully for more than seventeen years and continues to be one of Karachi’s toniest eateries. She treats her guests, her staff and herself with great respect. I have immense admiration for my mother. She is honest, straight-forward and does not believe in playing games. She suffers from multiple sclerosis but is fighting the disease like a tigress.

Your parents divorced when you were five years old. Did the divorce affect your childhood negatively?

To some extent, it did but not terribly.

Sonya and I lived with my mother after the divorce. She assumed the roles of both the mother and the father to a large extent. There were, of course, times when I wished that we had a father in the house but those were few and far between. My mother filled what could have been a terrible void very well. Sonya and I were allowed to meet our father. We loved him and would visit him in Lahore. He would come to see us when he was in Karachi. He had great love for us. Sonya and I were never short of paternal love. I think that my mother had made a concerted decision to not use us as pawns in a game against her ex-husband. That, more than anything else, helped me have a positive, happy and fulfilled childhood.

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“I remember Nur Jehan as my loving and doting Daado”

Show business is not an easy industry to enter. A lot of people have to work hard for years, dealing with disappointment, rejection and humiliation, not to mention abuse, before they see any success. Did you have to work hard to get the lead role in Dekh Magar Pyaar Say?

No, I did not. My entering show business was pure happenstance. I had done an advertisement for Asad Ul Haq. Six months after the ad, he invited me to audition for a role in his upcoming romantic feature film. The audition, in my opinion, did not go well and I was surprised when I was called back and offered the role of the lead. It really fell in my lap. I had never had a serious plan to enter show business. I am grateful that I did not have to grow through what a lot of people have to before they get their first starring role in a feature film.

Do you think that your financial and social standing helped make your entry into show business easy and protected you from abuse?

It probably did but it was not the only thing. I think the manner in which one conducts himself also protects him from predators. Confident people who work with dignity and integrity are less susceptible to abuse.

Show business in Pakistan, and elsewhere, has a dark side. Did you see it?

I have heard about it but, fortunately, I have not seen it myself.

Dekh Magar Pyaar Say was shot in a spell of forty-five days. Was it hectic?

It was hectic but a lot of fun. Director Asad Ul Haq’s team is very capable and managed the project very well. Travel, logistics, costumes, rehearsals, shoots were all done on time. I do not think many movies have been shot in periods as short as forty-five days.

Is acting in a film glamorous?

No. My mother, who had lived in Shah Noor studios for a long time, had warned me that shooting for a film required a lot of patience. I was prepared but was surprised at the amount of waiting that was involved. I had to wait for hours between takes. It also always seemed to be very hot. And I was always sleep-deprived. Waiting, heat and sleeplessness are the three facts of shooting for a film but I enjoyed the experience nonetheless. It was good to take a break from my restaurant, Xander’s. After running it for almost four years, I had become very comfortable managing the restaurant. It was nice being forced out of my comfort zone.

I am new in the industry and really do not consider myself to be a part of it but I have seen a lot of successful actors work very hard day in and day out. Acting may seem to be glamorous, it may actually be glamorous, but it is not easy. Managing dates, memorizing lines, rehearsing, dealing with the media, promoting projects, and handling celebrity make up for a grueling livelihood. And then there is the heat, sleeplessness and waiting!

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“My mother hitchhiked her way to Pakistan, met my father and married him after a heady romance”

Did your furlough affect business at Xander’s ?

It did. The restaurant did better business when I was away!

A lot of Pakistani films have been criticized for imitating films from Bollywood and for their stereotypical depiction of women as weak, emotional and dependent. Is Dekh Magar Pyaar Say going to be different?

Yes, it most certainly is. It will be a refreshingly different film. The story is good, the music is good and the direction is good. The story is romantic and fresh. Dekh Magar Pyaar Say is certainly not Bollywoodesque. I think people will enjoy watching the film.

The film certainly has a very fresh look and feel?

Yes, it most certainly does. It has an ethereal, almost fantastic feel. The city of Lahore has been shot in a manner that is completely new and unique. Asad chose excellent locations to shoot for the film and cinematographer Nic Knowland did a masterful job capturing them on film. Dekh Magar Pyaar Say is very appealing both aesthetically and visually.

How did you prepare for Dekh Magar Pyaar Say?

I trained, primarily on diction and dialog delivery, with Asad and some other folks for a month. I speak Urdu fluently but not like a Lahori. It was a challenge to learn how to speak the language as Lahoris do but a great learning experience. The rest of the training was about acting basics, camera angles, continuity, and body language. Asad made it easy and fun for me.

Did you have to learn how to dance for the dance number with Amina Ilyas?

Actually, no. I know how to dance and enjoy dancing. It is something that I am very comfortable doing. Wahab Shah choreographed the dance and I rehearsed some moves with him but did not have to learn how to dance for the film. It was the one thing I had down before Dekh Magar Pyaar Say. The real challenge was shooting the number in Lahore’s blistering heat while wearing a sherwani and pretending to be having a lot of fun.

Isn’t Amina Ilyas lovely?

She most certainly is. Very down-to-earth, intelligent and very interesting.

Did you make new friends while working in Dekh Magar Pyaar Say?

Yes, the entire Dekh Magar Pyaar Say team. I got along very well with everyone on the set. As far as friends in the industry go, I knew a lot of people already, because of my restaurant, through my sister and because of my grandmother. I have socialized with a lot of people from the industry for a few years. Doing the film did not add to my set of close friends.

Your mother who is French has made Pakistan her home. You studied in Switzerland, worked in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe, and spent a part your childhood in France but are settled in Pakistan. What do you like about Pakistan?

The people. Pakistani’s are warm, friendly, loving and hospitable. One can forge lifelong friendships in Pakistan, ones that survive the toughest of times. When they want to be, Pakistanis can be unbelievably hardworking and conscientious. And they are genuine, sincere and kind.

The French are not like that, are they?

No, they are not as warm as Pakistanis.

They also have a reputation for being rude.

Yes, they do.

Is the reputation fair?

Not really. I have met some very polite and kind French people over the years. People in Paris tend to be rude but once you get out of the city, you see a gentler and kinder type of the French. The reputation for being rude is somewhat dated, in my opinion. Things have been changing for the better for several years. The French government understands the power of the tourist. It has been educating its citizens that people will stop visiting the country if they find the French rude and inhospitable.  The museums, boutiques and cafés will not survive without tourists. It makes business and economic sense to be warm, polite and friendly.

Do you ever think about leaving Pakistan for France?

I have dual citizenship and could move to France whenever I want to but like it here in Pakistan. There are things that bother me in Pakistan but the country has great people and a lot of opportunities. I like it here. This is my home.

Ally Adnan lives in Dallas and writes about culture, history and the arts.
He tweets @allyadnan and can be reached at [email protected].

Ammar Shareef

GT talks to the brains behind Scentsation

How did you decide to start up Scentsation?

It was my brother Mohsin and my idea, because most major international brands didn’t want to come to Pakistan. Before Scentsation, there was no organized retail for perfumes and cosmetics. In Lahore, for example, one could find a scattered inventory at various department stores, Alfatah, Potpurri, etc., but not in one place dedicated to cosmetics and fragrances.

Do you personally have a big interest in perfumes and skincare?

Who doesn’t like to smell nice? I started with Azzaro, and then moved on to Mont Blanc which we import otherwise also through our company Multi Tech Marketing. We then felt the need for retail outlets which we started from Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Multan and then Faisalabad. My favorite scents are from Hermès. I like to wear all kinds of perfumes. Chanel Blue and Issey Miyake for men are two that I particularly like.



Is our market good for this line of work? How has Scentsation improved the retail experience for the Pakistani consumer?

Before, when there was no designated retail outlet, customers would end up buying from Dubai, America or wherever abroad they went for travel. Fragrances and skincare there are at least 15 to 20% more expensive than they are here in Pakistan. But despite that, there were two reasons why people would not buy locally: first, because of so many fake products in our markets; second, because the latest brands to launch would not appear in stores until much later. So with Scentsation, we only stock original products as we are authorized retailers of the products that we sell. And we launch our products at the same time or close to in Pakistan as they are launched in the rest of the world.

Through the advent of Scentsation, we were able to launch, for example, YSL and Lancôme, which were not found in Pakistani prior to our launch. We have been able to provide space for these lines as well as bring in skincare and cosmetics lines—previously not found here-such as Clarins and Guerlain. We try to keep a wide range of high—end and medium brands so that any customer who comes in is able to leave with the brand of their choice.



Scentsation is the only place in Pakistan where you can get a customized gift perfume bottle for your loved one with his or her own picture on it

Whats next for Scentsation?

Loyalty cards: we already have around 20,000 loyalty card members from all across Pakistan. We have also recently signed with TCS to collaborate with them to bring Scentsation products to our customers’ doorsteps via TCS Sentiments Express. We have discount collaborations with banks, namely HBL and UBL, where participating customers receive discounts on their credit and debit cards. We always try and maximize advantages for our customers.

And in addition to our existing outlets, we are expecting to open 6 more nationwide within the next year including new locations in Lahore and Rawalpindi.

What was your occupation prior to the establishment of Scentsation?

We used to import major brands to Pakistan such as Hugo Boss and Lacoste. When we went out into the market and specified our nature of product placement, we were hugely disappointed by the responses we received from the leading supermarkets and department stores. This is the point at which we decided to open up our own sales points and started Scentsation!

What’s the most important consideration for choosing a location for opening an outlet?

We choose to stay in the big, well-frequented malls. In Karachi, we are located at Dolmen Mall, Park Towers, etc. In Lahore, at Vogue Towers and Mall of Lahore. In Islamabad, at Safa Gold Mall, and Centaurus. In Faisalabad, at Sitara Mall; in Multan, at Pace. We plan to open up at the Nishat Mall in Johar Town and in the upcoming Hyatt Towers, both in Lahore.



“We introduced YSL and Lancôme to Pakistan”

Any collaborations with the fashion industry?

For Bridal Couture Week and Karachi and Lahore Fashion weeks, we collaborate every year on the red carpet and our goody bags are always a staple. We also have backstage makeup collabs with celeb makeup artists that make use of our featured cosmetics and skincare lines.

How does Scentsation do the major holidays?

Valentine’s Day, Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha and then of course Mother’s and Father’s day we celebrate with full fervor and decorate all our stores with the most festive decorations. We are the only place in Pakistan where you can get a customized gift perfume bottle for your loved ones with their very own picture on it. Gift cards are a great way to let your loved one decide and buy their own favored scent.


What’s your daily routine like?

I usually sit in the office and stop by at one of our shops to assess what’s going on in the retail. I always make it a point to get some exercise after: either I go for a walk or I play squash depending on my mood, and, definitely once a week, I play cricket!

Photography | AB Lakhani

The Golden Boy of Pakistani TV
By Saba Ahmed

It’s just so easy to talk to Ahsan Khan. He has an ease about him that makes everything seem alright: our first conversation feels like I’ve been reunited with an old friend. This is his charm — his positivity, his ability and his kindness — a bit of which resides in every TV-viewing Pakistani household

Congrats on your win at the HUM awards this year for Mausam! How does it feel to have won? Do you feel that the networks have favorites?

There are loads of actors around me who move in a network of people they happen to be working with. There are always lobbies and everyone has their favorites. But I’ve been working with everyone and everywhere. I try to choose projects where I’m working with people who are great at what they do, but beyond that, I have not fixed myself to a certain production house; I don’t feel good doing that. I want variety in my life, not only for my characters but also for the team that I work with. At PTV last year I did Heer Ranjha which was a very desi play. I immensely enjoy working with HUM TV. They are the network that has most adequately showcased my skills and acting ability. They have always given me very different types of characters like in Daastan, Paani Jaisa Pyaar and some others. I guess it’s natural to end up having favorites!

Do you think awards help an actor’s career?

If any actor says that awards don’t help, they’re being not-so-honest because everyone in the industry wants acknowledgment of some kind. There’s hardly a plethora of awards — there’s HUM, LUX and PTV. Of these three awards, if an actor wins any one, it feels good. This year, I also won a LUX award but that was for a producer award. I had produced for the first time so you can only imagine my surprise. In fact, it’s convinced me to take on more production work. So at the end of the day, everyone can use the acknowledgment.


“When I began my career, I had trouble saying two lines in front of the camera”

There are much fewer comedies on Pakistani television now and the quality has also weakened for the comedies that are there. Why do you think this is?

I agree. Sadly, it’s not the audiences, it’s the channels. They no longer consider comedy a serious business. That is why, nowadays, comedy shows are mainly limited to some rubbish sitcoms which are aired at 7 pm. They’re just filling the slots, these shows, they’re not considered a great thing to watch or to be featured next to. I did Taakay Ki Aayegi Baraat on Geo and I still feel that that kind of script, the kind of class displayed by the actors involved and the way the channel showed it, it turned out great. Sitcom producers get paid less and are hence less motivated to do good work. The serious drama usually gets higher ratings than a comedy. It’s the unfortunate truth. When something becomes a hit, people relentlessly follow the same formula for success.

You have the most extensive Lollywood and television screen experience of any Pakistani actor your age. For each, tell us about how you feel they have progressed and what is still standing in the way of progress for them?

The old Lollywood is almost gone and, now, since the past two years, we’ve had a revival of a new kind of cinema. When you look back at Lollywood, the people were hardworking, they were great technicians, and great actors too. But still they were not exposed, creatively, in the way filmmakers now are. Most of those in Lollywood were coming straight from their villages and making films for themselves. I’ve always called it a regional film industry —  people making films for their specific regional villages mainly. In the middle there, Lollywood had zero international presence. Choorian, for example, was a big hit, but at the end of the day, it was mainly targeted towards and watched by a small, specific, regional audience. That era is gone. Now we have an extremely educated, professional class of people making films with an international sheen, certainly in terms of production values.

One impediment here is that audiences are nitpicky and critical. When the industry is new and raw, there is a learning curve and audiences should ideally allow for that in terms of their reception and criticism of new works. When I began my career, I had trouble saying two lines in front of the camera! But with the passage of time, I’ve seen a huge change in my career, in my skills. and in my acting ability and it’s similar for the industry.

For the drama industry, one thing that scares me is that many good directors and actors want to concentrate only on films. The result will be that the quality of our dramas could drop. We should not forget that we are known for our dramas. For all the actors who have become big stars: I’m not popular today because of Lollywood but because of the drama industry. If Fawad Khan, Mahira Khan, Saba Qamar are stars today, it’s because of the drama industry. We owe something to it and cannot neglect it.


“When something becomes a hit, people relentlessly follow the same formula for success”

Since the heyday of Dhoop Kinare and Tanhaayan, do you think scripts have gotten weaker or stronger?

I don’t think that scripts have gotten weaker, I always say this. The difference now is that you now have twenty different channels instead of one and to fill them all, you need lots of dramas. So like any other field and in other part of the world, there is A, B and C category work. In the Pakistani drama industry, there are also all types of people. We have great writers like Umera Ahmad, Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar, Zafar Mairaj, Faiza Iftikhar, Zanjabeel Asim Shah and Noor-ul-Huda Shah. There are many more. They write so well and if alongside them, you choose a good director and a good cast, the drama can become excellent. Our dramas which have become international hits and our TV actors have now become mega stars just by virtue of these spectacular dramas. I am very happy with this industry and I will not say that good work is not being done.

How is your ideal day off spent?

I have three kids, Mashallah. That’s my ideal day off, I just laze around, and I literally lay like a log and let my kids climb all over me. That’s the best and most blessed feeling. I work hard and travel so much that I hardly feel like being on the move again so I just enjoy talking with them, coloring, watching a movie, maybe going out for a small drive, for ice cream.

As a Lahori, personally and professionally, what are the pros and cons of living in Karachi?

This question sounds so odd to me because it instantly brings up that Lahori Karachi rivalry! I have never in my career or in my life felt this difference and have never even felt that people from either city treat me differently. I love both cities and I also love living in Karachi. My friends from Karachi can’t believe that after having lived in Lahore I can actually enjoy living in Karachi. I’m generally a very flexible guy and always live for the present.

Career wise, I have grown in Karachi as an actor more, obviously because all the work is being done here. Noman Ijaz, Fawad Khan, Me, Mikaal, Saba Qamar, Ayesha Khan and many others have all come from Lahore.


“If Fawad Khan, Mahira Khan, Saba Qamar are stars today, it’s because of the drama industry”

Who’s one director whom you’d love to work with?

Vishal Bhardwaj is someone whose work I have always admired. Haider, Omkara and Maqbool are incredible works of art.  Having acted in Shakespearean plays during my childhood and then in school, Shakespeare has also been one of my favorite writers.

I’m a big fan of Irani cinema and one director whose work I really admire is Majid Majidi. Another is Asghar Farhadi who won me over with A Separation. I always encourage Pakistani audiences to explore Irani cinema as it features phenomena closer to home while still maintaining a subtler style of expression than our own.

What is your greatest weakness?

Good food! I’m a real foodie and I love living in Karachi and visiting Lahore so that I get the best of both worlds!


What is your greatest extravagance?

Clothes, shoes and shopping! I know, it’s a “woman’s” response to the question, but when I represent our industry, I always like to put my best foot forward. I also love gadgets: the latest speakers, phones, you name it.

Favorite Pakistani actress?

Barbara Sharif, she’s still so very cute! I love her for how much poise and dignity she spent the last years of her career. She’s terrifically multi-talented, she always did great comedy. And did I mention that she’s still gorgeous?!

Pakistani actor you most admire?

Noman Ijaz and Shaan. Enough said!

Photography | AB Lakhani

Saba Ahmed talks to Fahad Mustafa – Beloved Host, Actor, Rising Film Star

We see a lot less of you on TV in drama serials. Why is that?

Over the past two years, things have changed when it comes to drama serials. Serials have become less of a priority and films are slowly taking over. There has been a progressive change overall in our industry. I have greatly reduced the number of serials I am doing and have started doing more shows instead. I figured, for me, since I actually enjoy acting, it would be better to do fewer serials so as to keep enjoying acting in them. I saw a transition period where I went towards shows and also had more time to focus on films. I got this film called Mah-e-Meer which will be released in the next month or two. This is a film written by Sarmad Sehbai and I’m playing Meer, in fact I play two very interesting characters. Iman Ali and Sanam Saeed are co-starring with me. I’m currently working on one film and waiting for the release of Mah-e-Meer. It’s already been selected for the Toronto Film Festival just from people having watched the promos.

Tell us about Big Bang Entertainment, your very own production house

Producing a serial is a lot of money. Acting in serials is something I don’t enjoy anymore, but since I’m running my own company and I have a sellable name as an actor, I do a few to sustain my business. Last year we produced over 20 odd serials including Koi Nahin Apna, Arranged Marriage, Mera Hamrahi, Tootay Huay Taaray and we’re currently working on Aashiq Hussain featuring Faisal Qureshi. Producing these serials was the first step for us towards films because television is the only well-functioning, thriving entertainment industry we have. I now have plans to produce my own film also called Band Kab Bajay Ga which will start production around end August this year and will hopefully be released end of this year.




“Something funny that happens is when girls come up on stage and whisper to me that they want to hug me”

You are now more inclined to act in and produce films? Why?

Film is a larger medium where you can focus more, it’s less time and fewer scenes than television and you can develop characters far better than in television. 500+ scenes in a serial, and 60, 65 scenes in a film, which do you think would be done better, where would you be able to focus more on, say, art direction and character development? For most actors, drama serials are where they began and that’s what has shaped their identities. Like I said, the drama industry is the only industry that we have, the film industry has only just started and everything is based on wishful thinking. Let’s hope and pray that it will grow and prosper but it still has a long way to go. Somebody like me who’s doing and has done so much can maybe afford to do films now but someone who’s just started out can’t afford to take such a big risk and opt to do films only.

Has your star status changed since Jeeto Pakistan? And how?

I’m hosting the number-one show in the country called Jeeto Pakistan. I’m enjoying it very much, it’s a different kind of stardom that I’ve seen through this show. Whether it’s a rikshaw waala or a rairdy waala, someone from the elite class or from the corporate sector, everybody knows me now. Before, it used to be just the people who were following dramas. Now all of a sudden, I’ve become a public figure and that’s a really different sort of experience for me and I’m really enjoying that.




“While films about the war on terror are important, people in Pakistan also want to laugh”

Tell us about your experience hosting such a widely viewed morning show as Jeeto Pakistan

When I started hosting the show, everybody asked me why I had agreed to do this show and why a morning show? Now, every child in Pakistan is watching it. And honestly, I just go up there and have fun, I don’t even host, I just go and have a few laughs, make a few jokes, I get two hours of relaxed fun time in the morning. And I think people see that and enjoy the show for that reason. I think it’s because I don’t pretend to be what I’m not, I just go on the show and be myself. You can’t pretend on television for a very long time, especially if you’re hosting.

Any funny occurrences on the stage of Jeeto Pakistan?

Something funny that happens to me on the show is that when girls come up on stage, they whisper to me that they want to hug me. Unfortunately on our television screens, this is considered rather odd, a girl giving a boy a hug. But I think that perhaps I’m the only exceptional case that I oblige the audience members by hugging them and the viewership at large does not take offence to it either. The producers have also chided me at times and told me not to hug these girls on stage but, come on, it’s not like that. When people appreciate you as a television personality, they just want to touch you, and I think there’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes, I oblige just to tick off the people at the channel!


“You can’t pretend on television for a very long time, especially if you’re hosting”

Tell us about Na Maloom Afraad and the rise of the entertainer film.

We’ve made an entertainer film which is new for our recent wave of Pakistani cinema. We were stuck in the rut of making films about war and mujahedeen so it’s heartening to hear that, currently, in production, are 30 odd entertainer films. While films about the war on terror are important, people in Pakistan also want to laugh. I say show them something they are used to and can relate to, not just jihadists and war. My own film that will be coming out later this year will be a romantic comedy. Whether or not it does well at the box office is a separate concern. I think it’s great to take the initiative to entertain people rather than making people sadder about their circumstances. I’m an optimist and I believe that the conditions in our country will get better and we will be the ones who will make that happen.

Was it as much fun to film as it was to watch?

Filming Na Maloom Afraad was a blast. Each day was so much fun with so much happening. My director had specifically instructed me not to work out as he wanted me playing this average Joe complete with a saggy body. And to top it off, most of the time, on screen and on set, I was not wearing a shirt, a towel mostly. And in the winter too! And when you’re showering and the whole crew is watching you, it’s too much! I just got used to it after a while. There was a scene in which my towel falls off which was immensely difficult to shoot, lots of boo boos there! I think the actors’ chemistry and positive energy on set shone through. No one was bored.

Photography | AB Lakhani

Saba Ahmed talks to model-turned-entrepreneur Nadia Hussain about her other job — cosmetic surgery and the murky field of aesthetics

What is the most common Botox request you get from clients?

To make them fair. This has become the most common demand. Now clients want whitening injectables. This also includes already very fair clients. It’s unbelievable to me. There are Pathans, Baloch, Sindhis, all types of people who are already fair demanding fairness injectables. I tell them to their face that it will change nothing about their appearance. How much more fair do they want to become?

Can you describe your philosophy on beauty regarding plastic surgery and identity?

Since it is an elective procedure, it’s definitely up to the client and if it boosts their confidence and if they feel good about it, then there’s no harm in going ahead with  these procedures.



What are the most common concerns clients have regarding injectable procedures?

There are a lot of people who are generally afraid of needles and don’t want to get anything injected on their faces. The other factor that holds people back are budget limitations. These injectable procedures are aesthetic procedures and the concerns that most people have less to do with the possible side effects and more to do with the fact that the procedure may have to be repeated. Sadly, everyone wants a quick fix and that is just not possible. I tell them that there is no such thing. This is a solution to your problem, I tell them, but you will have to come back for repeat treatments. Even if you feel that a lot of money is being spent on these treatments, don’t believe that when you reach the age of 50 that you might not need a face lift. These treatments cannot stop aging, they can only camouflage your lines and are not a permanent solution to ageing.

It’s not just dark girls, it’s the fair girls too who want to become fairer

Do you feel that Pakistan is moving in a more positive direction regarding perceptions of beauty, especially regarding skin colour?

There are young girls in the media and on television nowadays — I don’t want to take names — but they are all somehow very fair. I have recently shot a pilot project in which I was to play a role where I am to transform from ugly to beautiful and the only real difference between me being ugly and beautiful was that for ugly, I was dark, and for beautiful I was fair. I argued saying this was not right to portray, I am coming from a salon where I am telling women that it’s ok to be dark and here I am myself doing this project. So to make me go from badsoorat to khoobsoorat, the only thing they did was to make me go from dark to fair.

As far as whitening is concerned, our perceptions as a country have not changed much at all. As far as skincare goes, yes, people have become very positive, they do want to take care of their skin, they use good products, everybody is very conscious now. They want to know good treatments — for example, people are getting regular facials, regular cleansing, investing in good-quality creams; they are very conscious of all of that. But this whitening thing has become too much, it’s not just dark girls now, it’s the fair girls too who want to become fairer.




The clients who go a bit crazy are the ones who get lip fillers done

Have you had any clients who were going too far? Can you tell us about the experience?

The clients who go a bit crazy are the ones who get lip fillers done. Sometimes I have to tell them, enough, this is not suiting you, this is more than you need, but they don’t want to hear anything, and they insist, just a bit more, just a bit more. I had an experience where a young girl had just had a full filler done about a month ago and she came back, when the filler was very much still there and said that her most recent injection had made no effect and that she wants more. So I put another filler and advised her to stop at half, at which she told me no, that it’s still looking insubstantial and that she wants more. To which again I advised her to let the swelling come down a bit and get the rest done after a week. She told me no and to do it all now, so I did the full filler. So the next day, her lips were really really big and she really got worried. I told her I told you so. That is the most common issue that happens with lip filler clients, they want these unnaturally huge pouty lips.



To make me go from badsoorat to khoobsoorat, the only thing they did was to make me go from dark to fair

What’s the most ridiculous request you’ve ever received from a client?

A lot of older clients with very deep lines and very deep wrinkles want a quick fix. They want the wrinkles to disappear and not come back. For such clients, nothing of this sort will work and they need a face lift or some other surgical procedure. When you have deep lines, you’re going to have to use a whole lot of filler. You do end up looking rather artificial.

Have you had any work done yourself?

I’ve done fillers and Botox, both, but it’s been a while since I last did anything. After my second baby I did thermage on my tummy for the loose skin. Other than that there’s not much.

Photography | AB Lakhani

GT talks to ultra-talented stylist and photographer

How did you get into styling?

I’ve been sketching since I was a child. Whenever I would draw a portrait it would never turn out properly—I would always mess up the proportions because I’m attracted to distortion. As I grew up, I began thinking I would become a painter. But when I was in college in Gujrat, at the School of Art, Design and Architecture, I studied communication design, which is basically an advanced form of graphics. From my first year I started shooting portraits. I got into photography. As I got to know myself, I realized I was attracted to distortion, darkness, disfigurement,  even filth. I like unusual faces.

Who are your inspirations?

Nobody in Pakistan! The work here is very commercial whereas I am drawn to more artistic things. There is a Spanish photographer Paco Peregrin whose style is similar to mine; he also shoots head transformations. I stylize and drape normal faces as if they are a piece of art. I’m inspired by eastern and western mythologies, in particular the goddess Morrigan who is one of the great “negative” goddesses of Irish mythology. She represents battle and strife.

Why is there so much darkness in your work?

I’m an unusual person. When we used to study Maths in school, I used to ask my teachers “Why do I need to learn algorithms? I don’t need algorithms in my life! I need art.” I always used to ask questions, and nobody had answers. For my thesis, I wanted to do my project on Azab-e-Qabr—when our bodies will be all bones and ash. But then my father fell ill, and I understood that to be an omen of some sort. I put a hold on the darkness. I got more into art, beauty, and fashion.







‘I am attracted to distortion, darkness, and disfigurement’

Do you come from an artistic family?

Yes, my grandfather used to make pottery! But sad to say no one kept up his work.

You moved to Lahore in 2013. How do you like it?

It’s very small. People think small. They need to start thinking bigger. The people in Karachi are better, more cosmopolitan. The fashion industry in Lahore is not very approachable.







What is your most memorable shoot?

I did a shoot called “The Diseased” about people who are shadowed by a deep and persistent melancholy—those who have no lasting comfort for the soul.

‘I wanted to show hijras in an entirely new concept. I wanted to capture a feeling of sadness’

Why aren’t people getting out of their comfort zones?

People are preoccupied with money. Money is important, certainly, but it’s not everything. For example, I wanted to show hijras in an entirely new concept—the title I had imagined was “The birthless mothers.” It’s in process. I have to justify my concept. Hijras dance and sing but they have a lingering inferiority complex that they can’t birth a child. They sometimes adopt a child. It’s a feeling of sadness that I wanted to capture in a shoot. The shoot will involve babies stuck to the bodies or to the head. People still look at hijras with a filthy look. There is no acceptability in our society, frankly. We get embarrassed. And I wanted to show that.

Do you think art flourishes under difficult circumstances?

I’m not a very political person. I don’t absorb tragedy like that. For example, when the Peshawar tragedy happened, I was deeply sad, but I don’t think I incorporated it into my work. I continue to be obsessed with transforming and playing with established norms of what things are like.






When did you first realise you wanted to be a journalist?

After college I tried teaching and then advertising before I realised that mine had to be an unfettered path. I searched for a career that gave hope, passion, freedom and a tremendous sense of adventure, so journalism was my natural destination.

Recount an incident during your years as a journalist that has deeply impacted you.

There are many but when I was a crime reporter, I worked on an extensive story about families who had lost their sons, husbands, brothers, fathers to brutal state oppression and target killing. It taught me so much about the curse of fear, and changed my direction completely.


‘I love spending mad evenings with friends and family. Mad is mandatory’  

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

Playing mind games with myself, and sometimes with others, to create imagery I suppose. And I do that till a deadline whacks me out of it.

What is the inspiration behind your new book on the Historic Temples in Pakistan?

It has a single message — As long as Life is infinite, Faiths will remain indestructible — that was the idea, inspiration and the cause.

Where did you get your information for your book?

Some two years of research and travel. So, archaeology departments, British Museum, scholars, works of ancient archaeologists and travelers, the on-ground research such as visiting sites, measuring every crevice, recording details of architecture, tales of the locals, village elders, and priests.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I love old Western and Eastern music, reading, travel, yoga, staring at the night sky or the television. Or spending mad evenings with friends and family. Mad is mandatory.


‘Pakistanis are inherently tolerant, despite being deeply wounded in some pockets’

What impact do you hope your book will have in fostering a better relationship with India?

It isn’t a peace mission but a reaction to the half-truths about this country. The book showcases the massive gulf between the people of Pakistan and the perception of Pakistan. So as a humble attempt at documenting antiquity and its value for the populace regardless of faith, I hope it is seen as a window into an unseen or forgotten Pakistan, which is essentially pluralistic.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?

I discovered my people and my country. Both are beautiful, all-embracing, inherently tolerant, despite being deeply wounded in some pockets.

How was it collaborating with Madiha Aijaz who did the photography for your book?

It was a wonderful experience; we were able to enhance and complement each other’s vision and had a lot of fun at the same time. Madiha captured a moment or a detail with equal passion and beauty.


Do you have any suggestions to help aspiring writers? If so, what are they?

Hold on to idealism and the hunger for a cause. And please be a purist with language.

What do you think makes a good story?

The human condition. A story comes alive in the treatment of details, and the angle. Just don’t abuse it for ratings and sink to calamity porn.

As a woman, what challenges did you face whilst travelling around in Pakistan?

Our gender worked in our favour; we got access into areas where men were not permitted. Being a woman broke down many social boundaries.

Tell us about your roots and the influence they had on the theme of your book.

I dont know how to answer this. Most of my family is in India but that had nothing to do with my book. It is my work on socio-political issues that led to it.

On a lighter note, what is your favourite attire when you are writing?

Really not fussed. From a sari, pants to kaftaan, anything that helps meet a deadline comfortably.

What do you look for in your surroundings that gives you inspiration?

I try to look out for anomalies — social, individual, circumstantial — and also absorb a lot of what people I look up to say, be it a conversation or the written word.

Name a living Pakistani author who’s style you admire.

Mohammed Hanif. I love his journalism and his books. A truly original thinker.

Have you begun work on another book? If so, what is the theme?

Its research, features and columns at the moment. Something will eventually start to brew soon.

What is the image of Pakistan that you want the world to see through your book?

That nothing can wipe out history and thousands of years of pluralism embedded in us; and that there is harmony in the most unexpected of places. Pakistan’s real people are its best kept secret.

What is your favourite quote?

“What happens if you drop all the things that make you I?” — Graham Greene.

“The victor belongs to the spoils” — F.Scott Fitzgerald.

What advice would you like to give the youth of this nation who are so hungry for change?

Stay angry, aware, idealistic and reclaim your space. Don’t wait for promises to be fulfilled.

GT talks to filmmaker Sabiha Sumar about her latest venture

What makes Good Morning Karachi different from your other films?

Good Morning Karachi reflects what has been happening in Pakistan over the past 10 years with the opening up of the media and how that has afforded opportunities to young people. Literally overnight, some 32 TV channels cropped up. We don’t have a major film school, a TV academy, no notable learning ground, since our country has never invested in any of that. Yet with so many channels coming up, there has been a need for directors, producers, camera people, anchors, hosts, the works. The fashion and beauty industries have grown alongside with the media industry. We don’t have modeling schools, our models haven’t been taught how to walk the catwalk. And yet, all the people working in the industry are extremely talented and have learnt on the job. This was the inspiration behind Good Morning Karachi. Shandana Minhas wrote a beautiful novella called Rafina which became Good Morning Karachi. Shandana had herself been a model for a very short period and all those experiences came into Rafina which we then made into a screenplay. If you look back to ten or twelve years ago, what were the possibilities for a woman like Rafina? If she was ambitious, bright, talented, good looking, what could she do besides getting married? She could possibly become a receptionist somewhere or a teacher. These were the two mainly respectable employment opportunities. What would she really do with that? But now, with the opening up of the media and fashion and beauty industries, it meant that women like Rafina could dare to dream. They could dare to see themselves being economically independent, calling their own shots, living life on their own terms and simply enjoying themselves. Women like Rafina don’t have to say yes to marriage because they have come into their own and that is what I wanted to show in Good Morning Karachi. It has an understanding of how our culture is evolving, the urban middle class is growing and how these new industries are allowing that to happen.




How did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?

I knew quite early on that I wanted to be a filmmaker. Film to my mind is the only art form that has the power to change the way people think about the world and about themselves. When I say it’s the only medium, there are other art forms that are very powerful too, but film is a mass medium and it reaches very far and wide. The atmosphere at home, growing up, was always full of literature, poetry and music. My parents, believers in Sufism, brought us up with stories from Rumi and Hafiz and a lot of Farsi poetry too. So I grew up with the sense that storytelling is a powerful thing and that stories can change the way we think about the world. We can actually humanize societies. It was with this thought that I started making documentaries. I wanted people to reflect and to think about the stories I was telling.

How is fiction more persuasive than factual storytelling?

I do narrative feature films because the story often tells itself better as fiction. Khamosh Pani started out as a documentary initially. But when I came across women who had been through the trauma of being abducted during partition, who were now languishing in ashrams in India, or living what had initially been very difficult lives in Pakistan, my thoughts changed. For a documentary, I would have to bring these women out to talk to me about what had happened to them and that would be scratching their wounds. It just didn’t seem right to me. So I thought: how can I use my research material to tell their stories but not have to rely on their specific truths? It worked out very well because then I distilled all my research into the story of Ayesha, a Sikh woman who lived in Pakistan. And I was also able to look in into the Islamization process in Pakistan in 1979. So the whole dramatization of these facts became what is Khamosh Pani. I think it’s a powerful story.




Tell us something funny that happened on the set of Good Morning Karachi?

We had a partly Dutch and Pakistani crew and it was nice to see these guys learn from each other. Everything was working really well. One day we had to put up a billboard of Aamina Sheikh, who plays the cardgirl in the film and we had one of those rickety old ladders — it looked hellishly dangerous. Martin, our Dutch gaffer (head electrician) was entrusted to go up the ladder to do some lights when our German production designer rushed up to me say, “Martin is a father and what if something were to happen to him?”In the meantime, the local light boy had rushed up the ladder, fixed the lights, and come back down. And he probably had many children himself!

Why the focus on Karachi?

Because it’s as much about Rafina as it is about Karachi the city. The movie is very much in the context of a violent and hostile yet beautiful place. Karachi is a commercially thriving city that offers great opportunity. It has beauty and horror mixed into it. That’s the context in which Rafina operates and you can’t leave the city out of the story.

Saba Ahmed meets actor Ali Safina

Actor Ali Safina bends half his body to pass under blinds just high enough for the short people that inhabit my home. He is animated, with great hair, and a larger-than-life ability to make anything funny. His various roles as DJ, TV actor and,soon-to-be film star, do justice to the incredible energies that reside within him. The iconic “Milk Sheikh” — Ali in the garb of an Arab journalist — was enough to demonstrate the actor’s love for novelty and humour. With movie “Jalebi” in the pipeline, Ali is set to carve a niche for himself at the perfect moment when Pakistani cinema is seeing a serious revival.

Director Yasir Jaswal approached Ali to do “Jalebi,” an action film with a comic edge. “My interest was instantly sparked because I could get to do my own stunts which I probably would have had to do anyway because finding a double my height in Pakistan can get very tough!” laughs Ali, who is 6’ 3”.The sports and taekwondo he played when he was younger finally paid off. In the film, his character Bagga is a car thief, the sort of person who responds to everything with a rapidly blunt response. “We were shooting an action sequence where I am getting beaten up,” relates Ali. “They called a martial artist to the set who looked super fit but he was five feet tall! I felt like a child was trying to beat me up. They had to change to a kantoota, a traditional strongman of Pakistan, the kind of man who could pick all of me up in one hand!”




When Ali was invited to GEO to pitch his idea, he arrived dressed as the same sheikh that would become the iconic Milk Sheikh

The people on all of Ali’s sets jokingly complain about his height: yaar tu lamba bara hain. With Mira Sethi and Saba Qamar in drama serial Jaanum, Ali was thrilled to finally be paired with tall women. (For shorter co-stars, Ali has to stand with his legs spread apart with the upper half of his body completely straight and serious). He acts out a scene and it is hilarious.

How did this comedy buff get a turn at serious acting? “Takkay Ki Ayegi Baraat” and “Dolly Ki Ayegi Baraat” were his first major acting breaks.”It happened as a bonus that I got to play with the big boys like Bushra Ansari and Marina Khan,” says Ali. For “Takkay,” Ali was nominated for Best Terrestrial Actor in the 2012 LUX Style Awards, alongside Naumaan Ijaz and Fahad Mustafa. “I don’t think anyone would like their debut to be someone who is being zaleel in the whole show!” laughs Ali. “But I’m okay with not taking myself too seriously.”

Drama serial “Jaanum” currently on A-Plus, is a project close to Ali’s heart.He signed onto it after one meeting with director Owais Khan. Ali was so impressed with Owais’s personality and humility, he didn’t care what the project was as long as it involved working with good people. As it so happens, he is starring alongside Adnan Siddiqui and Saba Qamar! “I wanted to show someone very calm and relaxed, with a lot of depth of character,” says Ali of his role as a writer. At the same time, he is playing a completely different role in drama serial “Kaneez.” (The character comes from a family of pirs). Ali likes to push himself, but he is adamant that he has really been able to explore his full potential in “Jalebi.”


Ali Gul Pir, Komal Rizvi, Feroze Malik & Ali Safina in the PekiStan Talent Hunt Show



For shorter  co-stars, Ali has to stand with his legs spread apart with the upper half of his body completely straight and serious

Ali’s childhood in Oman has served him tremendously well in his creative life. He tells me he could never have anticipated that his ability to imitate Arabs would enable him to run a whole season of shows. When he was invited to GEO to pitch his idea, he arrived to the meeting dressed as the same sheikh that would become the iconic Milk Sheikh. Half the people didn’t recognize him; half fell to the floor laughing. “Milksheikh” became the platform for some of his most famous one-liners, like the one he used on Mustafa Khar: “Don’t forget to sheikh my hand!” On air with film star Sana, the Sheikh asked her what caused the extinction of dinosaurs, to which she replied, “What does mean of that?” When asked about her hobbies, dancer Deedar replied, “My hobby is my professional,” to which the Sheikh said” Mashallah! Good good,” coupled with a definitive air of sarcasm.

 “Our Pakistani sense of humour, I always say is a sense of tumour: someone trips over, someone’s bike falls over, people will laugh,” Ali tells me. Throughout our meeting, the actor has made me laugh with his instinctual grasp of the sublime and the ridiculous. From Arab sheikh to serious writer to upcoming car thief, Ali’s affinity for challenging roles will take him far. Coupled with his irrepressible ability to ease those around him, to make them laugh in spite of themselves, this actor is as talented as he is likable.

Saba Ahmed talks to jewellery designer Zohra Rahman

On a cool Saturday afternoon, I walked past an orange tree and up a flight of exterior stairs straight into Zohra Rahman’s beautiful, cement-floored studio. The designer welcomed me with a big smile. We were surrounded by various metallic contraptions — a blowtorch, a rolling mill that creates metallic sheets, a large wooden table where cutting and delicate sawing takes place — as well as pieces of Zohra’s latest collection, “Unsent Letters.”

Months before I went over to Zohra’s studio, I had admired her commissioned pieces — rings, necklaces, even a knuckleduster. “Unsent Letters,” Zohra’s newest collection, is a stunning portrait of what we leave unsaid in our relationships.The pieces are individually handmade and hand engraved, mimicking the effect of ripped pages. Just think of silver and gold in the form of a ripped paper and you have a sense of the meticulousness involved in the creation of the collection. To me, Zohra’s jewellery boasts a sincerity of form, an elucidation of the basic tenets of design. The clean lines and construction conform to the body with pliable ease, respecting the bond between the piece and its wearer. The sparse and thoughtful use of colour calls for a simplification of fashion, which, as it so happens, characterizes the designer’s own style aptly: Zohra’s pieces are at once modern, tactile, functional.

Zohra in her studio
Zohra in her studio




‘No matter how ridiculous my sketch was, I would be wearing that very sketch on Eid’

“My design process is really personal; I usually look inwards rather than outwards,” Zohra tells me. “I get bored easily and keep experimenting with new shapes,” she says. After spending six years in London immersing herself in the art and craft of jewellery, the designer returned to Pakistan three years ago to create her own pieces. While at Central Saint Martin’s, Zohra worked with art jewellery that emphasizes personal expression and design above all else. It was after her move back to Lahore that Zohra shifted her focus to the shapes, lines, composition, and colours of her pieces. “I started looking into pure abstract design and wearability as a kind of design therapy,” she says with a wry smile.

Her collaboration with college friend Daniel Hurlin kindled an affinity for working with stones. The menswear designer was selected for the Hyères Fashion and Photography Festival in Southern France for which Zohra designed and produced all the jewellery, including the belt buckles and shoes accompanying his collection. The shoes were Peshawari chappals using new leathers and colours, making for some spectacular iterations of our beloved local shoe. And she did this much before Paul Smith!The collaboration with Daniel, she says, helped her “take the plunge and get started.” It was also the first time she seriously got into using gems in her pieces.

An earcuff by Zohra Rahman
An earcuff by Zohra Rahman


Photo by Gabriela Antunes
Photo by Gabriela Antunes

The existing types of jewellery available are either traditional designs or copies of big design houses such as Cartier and Tiffany’s

The resulting collection presented at Paris Mens Fashion week, “Moenjodaro,” was all gems and rivets, maintaining an edge of androgyny. But perhaps the most interesting part of the story behind the collection: Zohra scouted her male model at a traffic light in Gulberg. “A lot of the male models here are really buff whereas I was looking for someone with a leaner look,” she says. Having exhaustively searched through her friends and acquaintances, she found her model as he passed by her car headlights. “He was a natural and the shoot was a delight.”

Zohra’s artistic nature — the almost compulsive desire to think out of the box — dates back to her childhood. She spent a lot of time around her family’s garment production factory that produces the clothing line known to all as Generation. She would go to the factory and design her own clothes; she wore what she wanted and cut her own hair too. “No matter how ridiculous my sketch was, I would be wearing that very sketch on Eid,” says she, adding, “There were tassels everywhere, belts on all the shalwar kameez, I had a good time with it!”

“People spend a lot of money here, but they allow themselves to spend endlessly for weddings,” says Zohra. She talks of wedding goers trapped in a time warp, preoccupied by the jewellery of the maharajas ofthe Mughal era and the Raj. The desire not to push boundaries irks her, as does the proliferation of the same designs everywhere. The existing types of jewellery available are either traditional designs (some of which are lovely) or copies of big jewellery design houses such as Cartier and Tiffany’s. “What I’m trying to do here is something new,” she says. “Only when you try, through trial and error, do you find out what is possible and what is not.” Having previously designed in an industry (London), where all varieties of metals and tools were available at a moment’s notice, it was tough at first to be confronted with the lack of these things in Lahore.

M2 copy

From the ‘Moenjodaro’ collection
From the ‘Moenjodaro’ collection




Photo by Nicolas Gaillard
Photo by Nicolas Gaillard

Photo by Gabriela Antunes
Photo by Gabriela Antunes

Wedding goers are trapped in a time warp, preoccupied with a certain type of jewellery

But Zohra persevered. She set up an extensive workshop and began managing the production processes from the first to the last. Battling against the practical impediments to her artistic vision was not easy. “I’ll tell you, it causes a lot of grief trying to realize your designs! It’s taken a long time to get things going, but I hope it will pay off.” As with her unusual decision to choose a flower seller as a model, when trained kaarigars refused to follow instructions, Zohra hired a completely untrained apprentice and trained him in her own way. The same apprentice later chuckled how his sister was flabbergasted at the idea of a lady goldsmith. Watch out for this lady goldsmith, as her nimble designs take Pakistan by storm.

Shoot Photography by Umar Riaz

The reclusive star, known for avoiding promotional appearances and interviews, met with Ally Adnan of Good Times recently for an open and candid talk about acting, television, cinema, friendship, politics and a lot else

GT: After spending almost a quarter of a century in the industry, you are today one of television’s most successful and respected actors. Are you happy?

Naumaan Ijaz: No.

I have had a lot of success, made good money and turned in a few good performances during my career but, in the process, I have lost my true self. The real ‘Naumaan Ijaz’ is hidden far behind the many roles that I play in my life. My celebrity requires me to act a certain way. My children have very specific requirements of a ‘good father.’ My wife wants a respectable husband. Friends demand sincerity. My religion has its own dictates. Directors want good acting. Producers want professionalism. The media wants a certain amount of showmanship. I have been busy meeting all these expectations, all these years, and have been unable to take care of myself. Mine has been a life led for others. This brings me a certain amount of satisfaction but very little, if any, happiness.

I am not a happy person.

GT: You may not be a happy but are you a good person?

NI: Yes, I believe so. I like to think I have been a good son, husband, brother, father and friend. I am simple and straight forward. I do not lie. I genuinely care for others. I am sincere in my relationships. I am principled. I can fight for the right cause. Most importantly, I am not scared to stand up for myself and for what I believe is right. So, yes, I think I am a good person.



GT: You recently stood up for an eight-year-old girl on set. What happened?

NI: I was working on a scene with a senior female actor, who played my wife, and this young girl who played our daughter in the play. The girl was not an actor and no more than eight years old. She was nervous and kept forgetting her lines. My female co-star became impatient with the little girls and lost her cool. She threatened to slap the little girl if she did not get her lines right. In my opinion, her behavior was unacceptable. One does not threaten to hit young girls. The fear in the girl’s eyes made me see red and I lost my temper. I told the director that I will abandon the scene unless my co-star started behaving herself and acting with kindness and compassion.

GT: And there is the strike you are said to have engineered a few years ago.

NI: Oh, yes, there is. When Rana Sheikh took over television, she raised the fees for actors. After she left, PTV tried to retroactively undo the raise. I found this offensive and unfair, and made a call for a strike. As a result, I was accused of inciting trouble and declared an anti-state person. Things became difficult for me for a while but I stood my ground. It was the right thing to have done at the time. I am proud of my actions and for having defended the rights of actors.

GT: You are considered to be one of Pakistan’s finest actors. How did you learn to act?

NI: I am a sensitive person and feel things acutely and deeply. I watch others carefully. I observe human behavior. I think. In my opinion, these qualities have helped me become a good actor. I did not have a privileged childhood. I grew up in a small mohalla where I got to interact with all sorts of people and was exposed to events and incidents that do not take place in the sanitized neighborhoods of Gulberg and Defence. This helped develop a keen understanding of the human mind, behavior and actions. I apply this understanding to the craft of acting.

I did not attend any academy or school to learn acting but did get a lot of help from senior actors. I am a thief where acting is concerned. I steal what I like from other actors and incorporate it into my own craft. I learnt how to use pauses judiciously by closely observing Talat Hussain.      Muhammad Qavi taught me how to use facial expressions effectively. I accurately represent restrained emotions from Farooq Zamir. He was the master of understated performance. My education in skillful footwork and movement came from Firdaus Jamal. And it was not just the senior actors who helped me with my education as an actor. I borrowed, or stole, from everyone that I admired.



‘My wife wants a respectable husband. Friends demand sincerity. My religion has its own dictates. Directors want good acting. Producers want professionalism. The media wants a certain amount of showmanship’

GT: Do you consider yourself to be a good actor?

NI: Yes, I do. I know my craft.

There have been both good and some not-so-good performances in my career but there are some that I consider truly outstanding.  I think I did very well in Yeh Zindagi, Dasht, Mera Saayeen, Rihaai, Nijaat, Man O Salwa, Bari Apa, Ullu Barayee Farokht Nahi and a few other plays. These plays tackled subjects that were near and dear to me. I put my heart and soul into these plays and am proud of the results.

GT: What do you think of the acting programs being offered in academies and schools in Pakistan?

NI: These programs can be useful but, as of today, they are not. These institutions groom students for an industry that does not exist in Pakistan. We show Iranian, Eastern European and Bengali cinema to students in these schools in a country where films titled Ghundi and Aakhri Gujjar play in the cinemas. The schools introduce them to Stanislavski, Chekhov, Meisner, Stratsberg, Mamet and Adler, but the industry does have roles where professional acting techniques can be applied. Students graduate and end up in small cable or news channels, or other jobs, that neither require nor utilize their talent and education. Acting schools and academies make money but the students don’t gain much. Education is only useful when it can be put to practical use.

GT: Newcomers complain a lot about the casting couch. What is your opinion on the financial and sexual abuse of beginners in the field of show business?

NI: My opinion, unfortunately, is not very sympathetic. I believe that they complain about something that they largely create themselves. The phenomenon is not unique to Pakistan. The casting couch exists all over the world and respectable actors find ways around it. I did not sleep with anyone to get to where I am in show business. And no one else has to either.

The truth is that fear, greed and impatience drive people to the casting coach. Predators sense people’s desperation to become successful, rich and famous, overnight, and abuse those who want to achieve their goals quickly without making requisite efforts. Newcomers who look at my success and want the same need to keep in mind that it took me twenty-five years of hard work to achieve fame and fortune. People who don’t work hard, honestly and patiently, end up giving in to abuse in their rush to achieve stardom. There are, of course, exceptions and I am possibly being a little harsh but, truthfully, newcomers can and should themselves draw the line and make it clear to everyone that abuse is unacceptable to them.



GT: What are your views on the resurgence of Pakistani cinema?

NI: Cinema in Pakistan is undergoing a genuine revival but, in my opinion, our enthusiasm for the resurgence is a little premature and exaggerated. We are still several years away from where we need to be. We have produced a few good feature films recently but these have been few and far between. In order to become a serious player in the world of cinema, we need to be churning out more than twenty or so good films a year. Our writers, producers, directors, and actors have tremendous potential but it will take a long time to create the right environment to fully exploit their potential. Fortunately, we seem to be on the right track and on our way.

GT: You have worked with both veteran and new directors in television. Are their styles very different?

NI: Yes, they are. Vastly different.

At the start of my career, I worked with the stalwarts of PTV. The list includes Haider Imam Rizvi, Hasnat Ahmed, Kanwar Aftab, Nusrat Thakur, Rashid Dar, Sahira Kazmi, and Yawar Hayat. These people worked in a leisurely manner. Sets were erected in studios where all required equipment was available. They did not have to worry about finances and were not held responsible for recouping investments. In those days, actors did not act like stars and were accommodating and cooperative. The veteran directors did not have to worry about much other than direction and production. As a result, they were able to maintain their focus and produce work of great quality.

Television has now moved to the private sector. Things are more difficult. Today, directors and producers have to ensure both artistic and financial success. They have to make sure that locations are secured, the right equipment is available, scripts are available when needed, actors show up on time, the crew is paid in a timely manner, catering is done correctly and a whole lot else. They are more project managers than directors and producers. Unlike the producers and directors of the past, they do not have the luxury of focusing solely on the art of direction. In fact, that is often the last thing on their mind.

Yet there are a few directors today — Sarmad Khoosat, Kashif Nisar, Mehreen Jabbar and a handful of others — that combine the best of both worlds. They work within the constraints and demands of the current environment to produce work of superior quality. The private sector forces these truly amazing people to work tirelessly, sacrificing sleep, rest, personal lives and much else, to produce plays that makes money, receive critical acclaim, and have mass appeal. This is not a small achievement.


‘The real Naumaan Ijaz is hidden far behind the many roles that I play in my life’

GT: Are actors able to make good money today?

NI: Yes, they are. I think talent, track record, star staus, professionalism, popular appeal and looks affect an actor’s paycheck but the profession is viable and worthwhile in Pakistan today. Acting is my only livelihood and I lead a comfortable, somewhat luxurious, life.

Now that we have money, I hope respectability will follow. Most Pakistanis do not consider acting to be a respectable career choice. In the minds of some, men in show business are all bhaands (jokers) and women sex workers. This is sad and has to change.

GT: Would you like your children to become actors?

NI: First and foremost, I would like them to get a solid education. Then they can do whatever they want as long as it is legal, respectable and financially viable. I used to discourage my kids from taking up acting as a profession but now that things seem to be improving in Pakistan, I am not necessarily against the idea.

GT: Do you have many friends in the industry?

NI: I have many friends but only two — producer Kashif Nisar and actor Sohail Ahmed — in the industry. Friendship is important in my life. Very important. I will do any and every thing for a friend and, often, without him even having to ask. On the other hand, I expect very little in return. It does not matter to me if my friends like me or not. I do not expect them to do anything for me. My focus is on being a good friend myself.

GT: What are your upcoming projects?

NI: I finished shooting for Mehreen Jabbar’s Jackson Heights a few months ago. I first worked with Mehreen in the feature film Ramchand Pakistani five years ago. This time the serial brings us together. The serial revolves around six expatriates living in Jackson Heights, a neighborhood in the northwestern portion of the New York City borough of Queens. It tells the story of their lives in what is essentially a foreign land, focusing on their trials and tribulations, successes and failures, and despair and happiness. I think the serial will be a great success.

GT: Pakistan is in the midst of serious political turmoil. Where do you think the country is headed?

NI: Serious political turmoil. Now that is an understatement. I believe, and I have hope, that there will be light at the end of this very dark and long tunnel. There will be blood, suffering and pain. A lot of blood, suffering and pain but I think Pakistan will emerge as a successful, progressive and respected nation. That is my hope, belief and faith.

Saba Ahmed talks to Nagin Hayat, a fiery crusader for the arts

It’s true that it takes an artist to make one. The founder of Nomad Art and Cultural Centre in Islamabad, Nagin Hayat, is an artist first and then an ardent crusader for the arts and crafts. And Nagin’s outlook is visionary. Nomad has become a major hub of creative and cultural cross-pollination in Islamabad and boasts creative partners from all four provinces. Fearfully articulate and enterprising, talking to Nagin is a thoroughly engaging experience. She was a founding member of the Islamabad chapter of the Women’s Action Forum, as well as the brains behind the small art and design consultancy called Nagin Hayat and Associates. She worked on integration with villages and their communities years ago, in 1984, when social entrepreneurship was relatively unknown.

“When people walk into Nomad, everybody gets treated as a visitor or a guest. We don’t have what we call buyers, because we look at Nomad as a larger cultural space,” says Nagin. Half the work done by the small team at Nomad is voluntary and community based. The times I have visited Nomad, it’s always bustling with people and creative activity of some kind or the other. The café is laid back, the type of place where you can converse and discuss art (the food too is light, similar to the fare of a tea house). Vocational training is provided through Nomad’s program called Art for Social Change, Peace and Activism. The subjects range from organic paper-making to graphics and media. “The outreach,” Nagin tells me, “is great because we do a lot of work through other organizations.”



Nagin chatting with friends in the garden at Nomad
Nagin chatting with friends in the garden at Nomad


The good news: all of this comes back to us as colorful and delightful indigenous craft pieces

The training programs at Nomad have a domino effect on teaching and outreach. Working with different profiles of workers and communities, Nagin creates specific outreach programs for women and the villages they come from. Such programs bring back up on their feet those home-based workers who have been through trauma, abuse or are barred from leaving the home. The good news: all of this comes back to us as colorful and delightful indigenous craft pieces.

“It’s very difficult to choose a favorite amongst the crafts,” she replies when asked which her favourite is. Not only is Nagin an avid painter and photographer herself, she also guides and critiques many artists who have been coming to her over the years. “To me, an artist is any person who has a creative side,” says Nagin. A lot of contemporary art spaces have sprung up in Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad, and they automatically provide the kind of creative and nurturing environment that she thinks can only be positive. “With an artist, irrespective of art education, I think it’s the end result that matters,” says Nagin. “As long as they get a good critique and guidance, and places where they can exhibit their work, they can get a response and a reward. That’s what matters.”

Nagin acknowledges the presence of commercial art and commends the skill of those who create and market such artworks. At Nomad, you’ll see more abstract, expressionist, symbolic work. “I find that more exciting” says Nagin. “And it’s got to excite me to be here.” Nagin and I both agree that art snobs need to realize that art is not always for art’s sake, especially in a country like Pakistan. “You and I may like that idea, it’s very romantic,” says Nagin, “but everybody would like to get a little paycheck if they’ve invested something.” It’s true. Successful Pakistani artists like Shazia Sikander and Rashid Rana have made a name for themselves, and helped expand the horizons for Pakistani artists. Christie’s and Sotheby’s too have now picked up Pakistani art along with the Dubai, Miami and Basel art fairs.


Products on display at Nomad
Products on display at Nomad
The mugs
The mugs
The cafe at Nomad
The cafe at Nomad

Nomad has been running film festivals with Amnesty International and has only recently held the first Nomad Media Film Fair for young Pakistani filmmakers

In Pakistan, the media — TV, especially — is a very important tool with there being more than a hundred channels. ”Forget the public sector,” says Nagin, “Just look at what the scripts and drama serials say about women or how they reflect our society. Sometimes it’s as bad as the texts and the curriculums and the history which has been distorted.” The media industry desperately needs a dose of progressive education. Nomad has been running film festivals with Amnesty International, Vancouver and has only recently held the first Nomad Media Film Fair for young Pakistani filmmakers.

Up at Nomad these days is a major show by Nahid Raza and Sumera Jawed called Counter Narrative, Redefining feminism. In a country like ours, exploding the stereotypes associated with feminism becomes crucial. “Even most women don’t understand it,” says Nagin. “They believe you’ve got to be a bra-burning feminist lesbian to get accepted as a feminist. This is not true.”  As with most of us, Nagin feels pain and sadness at the diminishing pluralism in Pakistani society. But everyday she persists in her work and the fight to make this country a more tolerant, diverse place. “You must be empathetic and go out there and treat others with kindness,” she says. “I don’t see too much of that around and this is sad, because we lose so much.”

Saba Ahmed talks to Ayesha Omar about her film debut

It’s always a pleasure to meet Ayesha Omar, as much as it is to watch her on screen. Her down-to-earth candor and easiness catches one, both in real life and on TV where she is best known as Khoobsurat in the super hit comedy “Bulbulay.” From seeing her gorgeous artwork hung up front and center in the principal’s office at the Lahore Grammar School, and now chatting with her about her latest project, film “Yalghaar,” I’ve seen Ayesha traverse every kind of artistic landscape: cooking shows, a recorded album, stage plays, musicals and now a movie.

These days, she finds herself switching from her glamorous self from the likes of “Dolly Ki Ayegi Baraat” for a somber role in “Yalghaar.” The most expensive film yet to be made in Pakistan—I know we’ve heard that before, but all reports confirm this is true!—“Yalghaar” is not dissimilar in subject matter to “Waar.” It’s based on the true events that took place around the Pakistan army’s military operation in Swat. It’s also got a stellar cast: Shaan, Humayun Saeed, Adnan Siddiqui, to name a few industry heavyweights, alongside newcomers Aleeze Nasser and Sana Bucha. “My first spell of shooting has been very intense,” says Ayesha who found herself in a system of caves constructed on set in Karachi. The set was so realistic, Ayesha tells me, that even the bats began to call it home! “Without revealing too much, I’ll just say that it was not all fun and games. It was hardcore, very dingy and dirty but that’s the environment we wanted.” So for six grueling days of shooting, she left herself go and would only experience luxury and comfort when she returned home to her bed. It’s hard for our actors to shake off their inhibitions while acting, certainly Pakistani girls who are expected to look and act a certain way. “We’ve grown up with this kind of conditioning,” Ayesha tells me, “And I had to break away from all that for the film and really had to stop caring about how I looked. Let’s hope it works!”



The set was so realistic that even the bats began to call it home!

Ayesha tells me candidly that she got cold feet while shooting for the film, the kind one may get on the day of their wedding. “I felt like I would not be able to come up to the expectations of the director, [Hasan Waqas Rana], but the director had so much faith.” Ayesha was fortunate enough to have been offered the film alongside her friend and filmmaker Bilal Ashraf. He has been an objective and harsh enough critic on set to satisfy Ayesha’s perfectionist streak. “The film team is like a family now,” says Ayesha. “We have a WhatsApp group, we’re sharing ideas and we’re constantly in touch. The supporting crew as well, like the wardrobe assistants and the DOP’s are all young and energetic people who are new to the industry and full of fresh ideas.”

For any actor, the big screen is the ultimate place where you get to make an impact. “I never thought I’d ever get into films. Especially the kind of local films that we grew up with!” says Ayesha. But with the revamping of Pakistani cinema, there are all sorts of people joining the industry armed with creativity, new ideas and new technologies. “We don’t know where cinema is headed and we don’t have an identity yet, so everyone is experimenting with what will work,” says Ayesha for whom this is a real change from her known and loved screen identity as Khoobsurat on “Bulbulay.” Laughing, she says, “Most people now choose to call me Khoobsurat instead of my real name, even people who I’ve known all my life!”

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‘I really had to stop caring about how I looked’

The golden era of PTV, an era of calm rehearsals before the shoot, no longer exists in the drama industry. The few directors who go the extra mile are richly rewarded for their efforts. Ayesha has immense respect for Hina Dilpazeer, an actor who seems to have perfected the juggling act of building depth into her many TV characters. According to Ayesha, who is a co-star and also a fan, “She is the coolest person I have worked with, a real institution. I learn from her every day, I share everything with her. We’ve been working together for years and when we’re working, we don’t even need to talk to each other to know what we’re going through.”

Hair & Makeup: Ayesha Omar
Photo Courtesy: Abdullah Haris

Saba Ahmed talks to Pakistan’s longest-standing hero

We often hear the phrase “ageing gracefully” 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 “X factor” all their own, Adnan’s is his unrivalled grace.

Adnan’s Urdu-speaking background is a tremendous benefit in an age in which a new generation of stars pronounce ‘qeema’ ‘keema.’ Adnan’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 son’s heart. “When Pakistan tested the atomic bomb in 1998, and some girls, whom my father calls ‘chewing gum’ girls, called the house to ask about me,” Adnan tells me, “my father scolded the fan in question for asking about me when something so important was happening in Pakistan!” He calls his father his “real life superhero.” 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 wasn’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 fans 

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. “To film outdoor scenes with me driving was risky without a license,” Adnan tells me. “I was regularly greeted with a one-finger hello!” Adnan’s role features him playing a man who, cornered and emotionally bullied by his mother, has married for the second time. He laughs: “Come to think of it, in which serial do I not have two wives? A kid once stopped me and said ‘you’re the man who always has two wives?’”

Zaib Un Nisa (2000) directed by Sahira Kazmi was the turning point in Adnan’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, Adnan’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, “ufff woh Adnan Siddiqui kitna handsome hai. Humein de dou!”)

“What boundaries are there in acting?” asks Adnan. “Art can be done anywhere — India, Pakistan, America.” 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 on  appearances. Adnan quotes Marlon Brando who said that an actor’s success is largely decided by his demeanour and looks; the rest by luck and the remaining one percent by his acting skills. “There’s no harm in this, it’s showbiz, it should be glamorous,” 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 Pakistan’s longest-standing hero. “I will not dye my hair,” he says with a preemptory smile.




‘Are you the actor who always has two wives?’

Adnan looks to the future with the same pragmatism as when he took his first job. In his words, “I always strive to understand the times before time passes.” 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 — 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 Adnan’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


Saba Ahmed meets actress Saba Qamar

The idea of an old-school starlet is becoming dated. In our part of the world on-screen sirens are running thin these days while the West is seeing a revival of glam goddesses like Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz., Saba Qamar is Pakistan’s resident stunner with a heart of gold. It is famously said that when a director asks Saba to cry, the tears come full and steady—without the aid of glycerine.

“I am the way I am, that’s all I can say, I can’t pretend!” is the first thing Saba says to me. Her first time visiting PTV was in 2004 to see a TV serial shoot. Shahid Ahmed Chughtai had a script for a project in which one of the female leads didn’t show up, and Saba happened to be there. Coming from a strict Syed background, a career in show business was not acceptable to her family. “But I had the keera, since childhood, that I’m going to do something important.” The show was to air at 6 pm in the evening. She never thought anyone from her household would watch it, but to her shock, everyone had watched it and she had hell to pay. “That was when I took a stand,” she told me, “And decided for myself that if I do not see any harm in doing something, why shouldn’t I do it? I’m not doing anything filthy. The filth is within our hearts and minds.” Saba Qamar, armed with attitude, began a career in showbiz.

The keera, it turns out, was buried deep within her. “If God has given me good looks, why should I not make a living off them?” says Saba. Her combination of beautiful, playful, and confident landed her the central slot in the comedy show Hum Sub Umeed Say Hain. The show began for Saba about five years ago, after she had worked on many comedies and sitcoms on PTV and ATV. She was to replace Veena Malik as the host. “At first, I turned it down thinking it would be too much effort, but then, once I saw the show on air, I realized that this is one platform from which I can go anywhere,” she told me.



‘If someone is playing a character from a poor household, how can she have elaborate curls that look
fresh from the salon?’

She had already had the opportunity to work with Sarmad Khoosat in Paani Jaisa Pyaar and before that in Daastan; after that she appeared in a chain of dramas including the super hit Maat, alongside Aamina Sheikh and Adnan Siddiqui. Saba’s performance in Maat wowed audiences across the country. “Maat was very special,” she says. “The energy on set, as well as my character—the character graph was incredible.” This year, With Bunty I Love You, Saba has charted new heights. She will likely be nominated, as well as win, the award for Best Actress in at least one of Pakistan’s major award shows (HUM, LUX, ARY). Upon reading the script, she decided the wardrobe for her character (only saris), as well as other seemingly small things like hair and makeup. “People who offer me a role these days are surprised when I ask to read the script—it’s going out of fashion. I have met directors who proudly admit they don’t read the scripts for their dramas,” says Saba. “If one hasn’t read the script, how can they understand it, make an A-Z graph of it? Girls nowadays are fighting over hair and makeup, one wants curls while the other wants flat-ironed hair. If someone is playing a character from a poor household, how can she have elaborate curls that look fresh from the salon?” She smiles, revealing the most-talked about smile in Pakistani showbiz. “Maybe I’m just an old fashioned artist, but I’m going to read the whole script, do my preparation.”

Ullu Baraaye Farokht Nahi with Nauman Ejaz was my personal favourite. The character development was amazing—Saba’s character being trapped into a feudal family full of conniving schemers. Her imprisonment was that of a typical prisoner: at first you use all your might to escape but after some time, you begin to love your prison and even become dependent on it. I loved the show for its portrayal of feudal life. Saba Qamar’s character Gul-e-Rana is strong in the face of her husband and his family despite their treatment of her. Saba beautifully portrayed a woman who has been defeated but does not appear to have lost; she is strong yet respected. In one particularly moving moment, Gul-e-Rana has been confronted with the death of her brother at the hands of her husband. Her portrayal of the humiliation is subtle but steadfast. She questions and incriminates with her eyes. She is firm but a fragility lurks. It is in a portrayal such as this that Saba has proven herself to be the most experienced actress in Pakistan.





Saba’s combination of beautiful, playful, and confident landed her the central slot in the comedy show Hum Sub Umeed Say Hain

Having been the victim of a scandal or two, Saba wishes people would realize the effect gossip has on others. “It’s not only disrespectful to others but to God also, to deride his creations. They don’t understand how gossip and rumours can actually hurt someone.” I am struck when I hear these words from her; they are strangely forthright for a woman at the pinnacle of her career. But that is Saba Qamar: the actor whose tears gush out when the director snaps his fingers, whose reserves of patience and stamina are matched by a sensitivity deeper still.

“My three favourite dramas so far have been Maat, Shehreyar Shehzadi and Bunty I Love You. My favourite place to relax and unwind is Koh Sumai, it’s just so gorgeous! I love to sit around and listen to music. I have a great collection of Kishore and Lata. I’ll call my cousins over, we’ll get together and watch movies in the home theatre, maybe order in and have a good old time.”

Saba Ahmed talks to Lahore-based designer Arjumand Amin

On a warm June afternoon I walked into Arjumand Amin’s cool, dimly-lit office and breathed a sigh of relief. There she was in the corner, scribbling something on a notepad. I have been to many offices of executive types, and I have to say: rarely have I seen a working space so calm and yet so purposeful. The room is stacked with art books — tools of the designer trade. There is a drape of colour swatches, as well as stretched canvases of gorgeous fabric. In the corner, a wire mannequin makes itself useful.

Perhaps the most important way in which Lahore-based Arjumand distinguishes herself from the ever-increasing slew of designers is her drive for perfection. Her brand, Mahnoush, is Persian for somebody who seeks beauty or perfection. Laughing, Arjumand tells me she wanted to become a designer   emphatically not because every other person was doing it. Those around her noticed her knack for creating something different and goaded her to take up making clothes professionally. In 2010, Mahnoush was born. It’s hard to believe, but when Mahnoush was launched, there were just a handful of lawn pioneers competing in the market — Sana Safinaz, Mausummery, and Gul Ahmed to name a few. The easy, breezy fabric that is lawn is utterly wearable, and has a growing clientele. While talking to Arjumand, it was clear to me that like any thoroughly involved business owner, her mind is in ten places at once: she talks and thinks fast.

She has a hilarious drill memorised when allocating work, with snippets like ‘you are the best’ and ‘we are what we are because of you!’

The existing format of making lawn entails collaboration between a textile mill and a designer, whose name and brand drive the product forward. For Mahnoush, the fabric is produced at Samin Textiles, the family business; the designs are done in-house while everything else, including the printing, is outsourced. Specifically, the printing is done in Faisalabad, and the chiffon dupattas are flown in from China. “I’m trying to pick the best from everywhere,” Arjumand tells me. “I had always told myself that I’d never do textiles. Never say never,” she smiles.

Arjumand Amin
Models wearing Mahnoush at the launch
Bunto Kazmi & Shazia Sikander for the Five Women campaign

Earlier, Mahnoush chose five iconic Pakistani women — designer Bunto Kazmi, artist Shazia Sikander, athlete Naseem Hameed, filmmaker Shameen Obaid, and entreprenuer Roshaneh Zafar as the faces of the brand and to highlight their outstanding accompilshments in their respective careers. Mahnoush had another delicious lawn launch this summer, with the top models of the industry including Cybil and Zara Peerzada, modelling the clothes. As always, the collection emphasized prints (Mahnoush’s bird motifs in her first collection 4 years ago were a big hit among other bold and risky designs.) The lack of add-ons, which I personally find unbearable and suffocating in our scorching heat, is one of the reasons Mahnoush is my go-to choice for lawn: their speciality lies in screen-printing with stunning borders, necklines and back motifs. I still remember Mahnoush’s collection from 2011 that included embroideries on sheer organza and chiffon. I bought a peach-coloured outfit with white-on-white embroidery on the back. One felt ethereal floating in it.

I still remember Mahnoush’s collection from 2011 that included embroideries on sheer organza and chiffon

What does running a business entail? “Interacting with production people in Pakistan is like groundhog’s day,” Arjumand tells me. She’s referring to the type of overconfident and proud man in the production sector whom she has to really push to produce work on time. She has a hilarious drill memorised when allocating work, with snippets like “you are the best” and “we are what we are because of you!”


Naseem Hameed for the Five Women campaign


Celebrating 5 years of Mahnoush — the launch
Roshaneh Zafar & Sharmeen Obaid for the Five Women campaign

With Mahnoush’s heavy emphasis on prints, I asked Arjumand about her sources of inspiration. “Inspirations come to you in the world you inhabit,” she says. While travelling, she finds herself noting the visual treats on offer. The next step is “channelling the design” — translating the designs from computer to printing. Distribution, she says, can be crazy. Stocking at stores takes some edge off the tedious details of retailling, but adhering to the summer rat race is particularly enervating. “But this is the reality of Pakistan,” I say, to which she sighs and smiles. If there were one word to describe Mahnoush, it would be meticulous. I’m looking forward to Arjumand’s venture into winter wear and pret.

Saba Ahmed talks to the queen of Pakistani comedy 

Of late, there has been a rush of new blood in the entertainment industry: pretty young things, male and female, exploding on the screen on the most-watched channels in the country. But how many of them can we truly call artists? Production houses enlist whole teams of specialists to primp and prep their stars in order to make them appealing public figures. Hina Dilpazeer, however, is in a fierce league of her own, a beloved television star who has earned every drop of the respect she is accorded.

Hina ji is probably best known for her role as Momo, Ayesha Omar’s absent-minded saas in the megahit TV comedy, Bulbulay. She is equally famous for having played multiple characters in Quddusi Sahib Ki Bewa (QSKB) and as Saeeda in Burns Road ki Neelofar. These have been critically acclaimed dramas that I have particularly enjoyed. This multi-talented star is so incredibly versatile that she has been able to pull off everything from dark to laugh-out-loud comedy.

With her latest drama now on HUM TV, “Mithu Aur Appa,” I called up Hina to ask the many questions on my mind since I first saw her act. Her process is fascinating. Being a painter, poet, and musician — all in addition to being an actress — allows her to glide across various artistic disciplines. Her interplay of characters in QSKB is incredible to watch: she performs seven completely different characters in one episode. Not only that, she also does the clothes and makeup for each of these characters, some that are much older and some that are even transgender. She tells me, “It’s important for characters that are related to look like one another. So, for example, Rooh Afza’s mother should look like her.” With QSKB, reading the script made Hina laugh, not an easy thing, she says, for a script to do on its own. She loved the fun lines and all the old Pakistani songs in the drama. “When I was younger,” she told me, “I would watch films in the cinema, I didn’t really even understand at that age, but Shabnam’s close-up always remained in my mind and once I remember asking my mother why this lady was doing all these antics on screen and everyone quickly shushed me up to let them watch the film. But the image stayed with me.”


Hina Dilpazeer
Hina Dilpazeer

Bulbulay was a riot, not just for us, the audience, but also, Hina tells me, for those making it. “There is one sitcom which we produce and show to the public and there is another one going on behind the scenes!” says Hina of the hilarity that ensued behind the camera. For comedy, it is very important for the comedian to not be laughing themselves, she says. “When there is something really funny, I have to request the team to let me laugh first, to let out all the giggles, or else I am unable to perform!”

She does all the clothes and makeup for each of her characters, some that are much older and some that are even transgender

The delightfulness started with the script she was given by director Mazhar Moin and writer Fasih Bari to whom she credits the success of QSKB. “It’s totally a writer’s effort,” she says. Given the deeply intelligent nature of the dialogue, at once dark and humorous, I would have to agree with  her. As Hina read the script for QSKB, she began developing a series of sketches. As she drew the sketches of each of her characters, she began enacting their respective dialogues. In a field where actors are given lines to rehearse minutes before the camera rolls, Hina’s meticulousness stands out. She is lucky, she says, to have such a melodious syncing of frequencies with her friends and creative collaborators Fasih and Mazhar.

“I think Fasih Bari is the one writer from the whole subcontinent whose writing I like to work with,” said Hina.  His stories, his characters and their back-stories are all cohesively linked, she says. Then Hina Dilpazeer comes along and possesses these characters to their fullest, I say, to which she laughs.

Nabil, Ayesha, Hina & Mehmood
Nabil, Ayesha, Hina & Mehmood

‘When there is something really funny, I have to request the team to let me laugh first, to let out all the giggles, or else I am unable to perform!’

Having got her start writing for a newspaper, Hina was immersed in literature and the arts while growing up. After coming to Karachi, she went first to Radio Pakistan. She acted as a program director for a special transmission where she wrote and conducted shows.

Eventually, she was accosted by Fasih and Mazhar, and magic began to happen. But it wasn’t as effortless for Hina as it seems to us on screen. “Initially, it was difficult for me to face the camera,” she says. “I wasn’t used to it, and when I was in front of so many big names, it gave me fever. It was difficult to remember one’s lines.” She debuted with Burns Road Ki Neelofar, a charming yet sad take on the trials and times of young girls living on Burns Road in Karachi. Since then, there has been no looking back for her.



Hina performs seven completely different characters
in one episode

The key to success is enjoying what one does, she says. Whether it’s painting or acting, Hina throws herself into her work. Lucky for her, she gets paid to do what she loves. She is currently working on a book about the various experiences she has had playing a host of roles on QSKB. As our conversation was winding down, she told me, “Love is the greatest energy in the universe. If you don’t love what you do, you can’t pursue anything creative.” Wise words from a real artiste.

Abbas Carpets is changing tastes in Pakistan

What started as a small business in a tight-knit family has recently become a household name in Pakistan. Abbas Carpets is one of the largest and most successful carpet businesses in the country. Their newest chapter started with Haider and Ahmed Abbas — sons of the brother owners — joining the team, adding a new dimension of finesse and funk to an already impressive portfolio of quality products. I met with them to get the latest on carpets, family love, and how they’ve managed to make carpets as hot and glamorous as fashion.

With the help of his sons Ali and Tahir, Muhammad Abbas Mirza started Abbas Carpets in the 70s as an organized manufacturer. At the time, there were a limited number of designs — the ubiquitous bukhara being a dominant classical Persian motif. The Abbas brothers created a design archive to chip away at the shackling dullness of the existing woven-rug variety. “We’ve broken the monotony of classical woven intricate designs,” Haider tells me, “And developed that into the colour reform movement.” What Haider refers to as ‘the colour reform movement’ is the technique of making new carpets look like vintage ones. In other words, they are today’s version of vintage carpets. After collaborating with US-based ABC Carpet and Home, Abbas Carpets began fusing eastern dyes and motifs with western contemporary designs. (ABC had previously collaborated with carpet weavers in Turkey). “The collaboration has brought a new explosion of color and vibrancy to the industry,” says Haider. It’s true: looking at the stunning variety of their rugs, one is struck by the seamlessness with which new is made to look wonderfully, richly old.

Unsurprisingly, the carpet industry develops in rhythm with the home and textile industry; what has been fashionable in the textile industry has led to the proliferation of two very prominent Uzbek designs: Suzani and Ikat, notable for their bright floral patterns.




Their speciality is making new rugs look wonderfully,
richly old

With nine gorgeous collections — from modern, traditional and post-modern — Abbas Carpets is changing tastes in a country where people love sticking to what they’re used to. With dying, however, not much has changed and they still continue to use natural dyes as they always have. The list of vegetable-based dyes is fascinating: indigo, cinnamon, madder, walnuts, and even little baby pomegranates.

Haider & Ahmed
Haider & Ahmed

Carpet manufacturers are notorious for using child labor, so I went ahead and asked Haider about it. Haider told me this view no longer holds true. Children aren’t typically well suited for carpet weaving, I was told. It is older women who have the perfect combination of soft and malleable fingers which make for ideal carpet weaving. Haider laughs and reassures me that Abbas Carpets has been certified by two American companies, Good Weave and Rugmark, for complying with their international labor requirements for rug weaving.

A typical day at work for Ahmed and Haider varies, but if there aren’t any clients visiting from overseas, it’s mostly work all day. “We start the day with inspecting the raw goods we have received that day. We go through them all one by one to check if they’re up to our standards and if not, we return them,” says Haider. A wrap-up of any outstanding correspondence is interspersed with walk-in customers who they deal with personally. “We’re in the midst of establishing a retail brand right now, so we’re really paying a lot of attention to our social media presence, constantly updating our Facebook page with new products and slowly becoming a trendsetting design presence that exudes style and comfort,” says Haider.

After collaborating with US-based ABC Carpet and Home, Abbas Carpets began fusing eastern dyes and motifs with western contemporary designs

Mohammad Abbas Mirza, founder of Abbas Carpets
Mohammad Abbas Mirza, founder of Abbas Carpets

This is the first time in forty years that the carpet giant is developing a presence as a retail brand. It was this idea that spurred their spectacular presence at this year’s PFDC Fashion Week in Lahore. “Export till now has comprised 90% of our sales,” Haider tells me. “But we’re looking to change that and get deeper into the local market and really present ourselves as an approachable retail brand that has the potential to change peoples’ taste in carpets and open them up to new ideas for contemporary design and home decor.” Markets abroad have always been more open to new ideas. With the proliferation of technology in Pakistan, people’s staunchly traditional tastes are slowly opening up to new trends. With their stunning range — from sea green to burnt orange to blooms of fuscia — Abbas Carpets is propelling colour into people’s homes.

Nida Bano Qureshi on the business of making videos

Pakistani women are constantly pushing boundaries. The most promising entrant into the world of video production is 28-year-old Nida Bano Qureshi. Nida has worked with a diverse group of clients ranging from the World Bank and Alliance Francaise to L’Atelier. Her most recent venture is with couture giant Élan. I meet Nida in her light-filled drawing room on a cool April afternoon. She is quick to smile, and immediately puts me at ease. During the course of our conversation, I am struck by her facility with words, her confidence. Though she works behind the camera as a producer, she could easily be in front of it.

Nida started as a researcher for TV anchor Ejaz Haider’s show on Dawn News. From the very beginning, she has adhered to the wisdom imparted by her aunt: you have to do your job, but also everyone else’s. Swearing by this advice now that she’s her own boss, Nida has done it all — on-site reporting, post-disaster analysis, anchoring talk shows. The “keera,” as Nida affectionately calls it, was the moment she decided to make her own documentary, Once Upon A Reality. The documentary compares 17th century English society to 21st century Pakistani society through the lens of the harsh realities underlying fairly tales. Lucky for her, the people at Dawn loved the idea. They gave her the support she needed to move her documentary along. It was the beginning of new things and while at Dawn, Nida subsequently made eight more documentaries, all covering social and humanitarian issues including one featuring the long-term psychological effects of begging. For this documentary, she found herself eventually high-fiving with the kids in the Main Market roundabout. One day, says Nida, she came across a larger-than-life sound system in a jhompri! “Everyone loves to groove,” she laughs.

One day, says Nida, she came across a larger-than-life, high-tech sound system in a jhompri!

Nida wearing Roberto Cavalli
Nida wearing an Elan dress
Nida in Elan


Ayesha Alam’s morning show on Express TV was Nida’s first baby, from the conception of the show all the way to production. “We started off with a newspaper section, and then Raza Rumi would come in for a small segment called Paper Cut,” she says. “We would also do social stories. It was really informative.” She pauses and smiles: “I loved the show but am ironically not a morning person!” Nida recalls how it was a treat to not have to dress up in elaborate clothes until she had to fill in for Ayesha Alam. The morning hair and makeup were not her cup of tea, and Nida knew in her bones that her strength lay in production.

Who, pray tell, is the lady with the French accent?

A stunning new video for design house Elan shows that Nida means serious business. “I gave Cybil, the model, the character of being this vivacious personality oozing with energy,” she tells me. Khadijah Shah’s Élan Vital is a collection for the fierce, free-spirited woman. The video is shot on stretches of grass and dappled sunshine. Nida decided to throw horses in the mix for an added layer of beauty. Having grown up with horses, she picked the friendliest one for Cybil. Cybil, it turned out, had to wait for His Majesty the Horse as it sauntered around sniffing the grass. The shoot started at 5 am and Khadijah was on time, ready to go. “Working with a consummate professional like Khadijah makes the product so much better. You can work closely at every turn and execute the video exactly to the client’s taste,” says Nida. “I don’t want people to just like it, I want them to love it!” As I watched the final video, I was struck by the meticulousness of the project. Who, pray tell, is the lady with the French accent? Did Nida outsource the voiceover to France? Laughing, Nida tells me she hunted down a French lady, a professor, in Lahore. As Cybil glides by with her horse, a real French accent muses about the importance of joi de vivre. With Nida at the wheel, her production house is bound to go far.


Cybil & Nida Bano
Cybil, behind-the-scenes
Jehanzeb Amin, Cybil, Nida Bano, Faisal Farooqui & Khadijah Shah

Ali Xeeshan envisions designs complete with backdrops, props, the whole nine yards


Sitting in what Ali Xeeshan calls his “zen” garden, we are chatting about all things un-zen: the high-powered world of art and Pakistani fashion. Ali is a designer with a penchant for audacious statements.

A graduate of the Pakistan school of Fashion Design, Ali thought long and hard about how he would distinguish himself in the rigmarole of Pakistani fashion. “It is a cut-throat market that gives no second chances,” he says. His inspiration comes from his culture embedded in his DNA. “I come from a Punjabi family and we love our colours.”


‘I always wanted to be an actor. You know, I’m always so excited to see a poster of Aamir Khan!’

Ali attributes his success partly to the schools where he studied. PIFD is noted for its ability to consistently churn out designers who go on to make a mark in Pakistani fashion. But Ali also has praise for Mrs. Sehyr Saigol, the Chairperson of the Executive Committee of PFDC, who was astonishingly cool about his scattered debut collection. A green parrot perched on one of Ali’s mannequin’s caught her eye, and that became the deal clincher for Ali’s career. He says, “It was very encouraging for me at that fragile time. I was terrified of failure at every turn.”

So, what does it take to make it in the competitive industry of fashion? Imagination, to begin with, followed by tremendous stamina. Ali envisions designs complete with backdrops, props, the whole nine years. In other words, the designer must create drama in his collections. “I always wanted to be an actor. You know, I’m always so excited to see a poster of Aamir Khan!” laughs Ali. Under the umbrella of Ali Xeeshan’s Theatre Studio—where he is also quietly undertaking event management—he practices complete artistic freedom. “I love making areas and creating ambiences, with light, furniture, cut pieces, heights and shapes.”


A green parrot perched on one of Ali’s mannequin’s caught
Mrs. Saigol’s eye

The Ather Shahzad shoot at the Lahore Fort was a particularly memorable styling extravaganza for Pakistani fashionistas. The models, crew and extras amounted to a whopping 70. This kind of creative excess has become synonymous with Ali Xeeshan whose signature style is one that turns heads. So much so that Ali is particularly well known for his runway show at PFW in 2010 where Nadia Hussain walked onto the stage cuddling a furry white cat. His shows have included dramatic jewelry that covers the face, oversized turbans, nurses hats, and much more. His dream as a fashion designer is to do a solo show, consisting of characters for whom special clothes are designed. The show would have props, lights and music to match. “With Fashion weeks,” he says, “there are certain lines drawn already. I try to break them all, but, realistically, there are only a few that one can breach. You can’t just do anything you want.”

The most consistent request Ali gets from his clients is, “I want to look like a princess.” “Now,” he says, smiling, “I can guess it before they even say it!” But it’s clear that a client doesn’t always know what’s best for them. “One client wanted me to make her veil long enough so that five of her friends could carry it,” he says, “But it turned out being so heavily embellished that it wouldn’t even stay on her head!”



Every model wants to be a showstopper

The modelling pool has some ways to go. Ali reports on occasions where models have interfered with art direction and asked to be favoured. Every model wants to be a showstopper, he says, “One show where the model was going third-last made a fuss that she wanted to walk out with me onto the ramp; in the meantime, she missed her turn!” The unprofessionalism, he says, is the result of a lack of education in the industry. In the West, many models have a working knowledge of art history and fashion genres, or a sense of how to carry the ball gown or whatever it is they are modelling. But in Pakistan, raw talent and raw beauty dominate. In a developing industry, is that really a bad thing? Ali agrees that Pakistan is bursting with talent. A number of models, he says, are extremely professional: Mehreen Syed, his muse, is on top of the list; Zara Peerzada and Cybil, he says, are also great models to work with.

As I leave his “zen” garden, I think back to Ali’s quote about fashion shows: “There are certain lines drawn already. You can’t just do anything you want.” If anyone has defied the rules, it is Ali Xeeshan. And he has done it with blazing creativity.

Writer Muhammad Ahmed is that rare thing—a gentleman from another era


The world of screenwriting is unique: the writer labours away crafting beautiful dialogue for the actors, while he remains largely anonymous to audiences. Muhammad Ahmed has successfully merged the two professions. Mainly a screenwriter, he has also starred in several Pakistani drama serials including the much-lauded Coke Kahani and Durr-e-Shahwar. Simultaneously, he has penned the dialogue of blockbusters such as “Tere Bin Laden.” With a command of Urdu that would make old Allama proud, Ahmed is a jewel in the crown of Pakistani television. Through out, he has wielded humour in the service of a humane social agenda.

Of all the roles he has played, he says the character of Durr-e-Shahwar’s father is one of his favourites. He played the part of a caring advisor who gave his daughter (played by Samina Peerzada) little wisdoms that helped her confront her demons. He laughs, “At this point in drama serials, you basically get to only play the father.” The leading roles are reserved for the innocent or evil-as-the-devil female protagonist. But some roles allow for creativity. In Coke Kahani, for example, Ahmed was allowed to play around with a wig. “I’ve always hated wigs, if you’re bald, then you’re bald!”



‘We are told to keep the ending particularly tragic, to begin dousing the female lead in sorrow within the first 3-4 minutes!’

“I’ve taken a break from writing for dramas, because,” he says with his signature wit, “the only thing the industry is interested in is making women cry.” Seasonal trends, he says, dictate TV content. “In one spell, for example, you will only find dramas about extramarital affairs on all four major channels. The heads get together and see what subject the show with the highest ratings is featuring; then they feel a burning need to cash in on the same story!” Ahmed is making me laugh very hard at this point. He continues. “We are told to keep the ending particularly tragic, to begin dousing the female lead in sorrow within the first 3-4 minutes!”

Ahmed has mostly written light-hearted plays. A little-known fact: he wrote “Azar Ki Ayegi Baraat” (2009), the first in the comedy line-up that would eventually include the phenomenally popular “Dolly Ki Ayegi Baraat” and “Takkay ki Ayegi Baraat.” “Azar” starred some of the biggest names in Pakistani television, including Javed Sheikh, Saba Hameed, and the irrepressible Bushra Ansari.

Ever the modest poet, however, Ahmed says, “To clarify, I don’t write comedy—­that is Anwar Maqsood’s job and there has been no one to match his skill yet in Pakistan.”

Dolly Ki Ayegi Baraat
Dolly Ki Ayegi Baraat
Ahmed starring in Coke Kahani
Ahmed starring in Coke Kahani


But “Tere Bin Laden” was noted, especially, for its humorous script. Nikhat Kazmi of The Times of India gave it a 4 out of 5 rating, adding, “compared with recent laugh riots at box offices, Tere Bin Laden has both: a smart script and some smart acting.” Pankaj Sabnani of Bollywood Trade News Network said, “Tere Bin Laden is ‘laden’ with many humorous moments. It is by far the funniest film in recent times. A must watch.” Asked about his style, Ahmed says, “I’m not that good with punchlines, I don’t think my writing makes people laugh out loud, but it does make them smile.” Ahmed was selected after extensive testing and hired to train some of the non-Punjabi speaking cast members who found the Punjabi humour in the dialogue very fun. Citing an example, he says, “Woh bacchi bari tight hai,” something that no one in Pakistan would laugh at, since we have heard it so many times, but spoken by a Sikh in India it had everyone in stitches.

‘The beautiful things that Haseena Moeen has written will be lost to the world’

Ahmed has approached serious subjects too. When he wrote a play about incest, “Khamoshi,” it was banned from being aired a second time. “My reasons for writing about this particular subject was, first, that it was based on a true story and secondly, I wanted to prove that it is possible to write a story about something so vile without sounding vulgar and without the production seeming tacky.” The result was a beautifully directed, sensitive play.




With a career spanning three decades, Ahmed has, with immense grace, divided his talents into acting and writing. An old-fashioned gentleman at heart, he misses the days of yore, when script-writing was mesmerizing, designed to please the heart, not producers hungry for ratings. “No one will ever give television the same high status as literature. The beautiful things that Haseena Moeen has written, Tanhaiyan, Dhoop Kinaray, these all will be lost to the world as great writing.” 

Saba Ahmed meets Arjumand Bano, entrepreneur extraordinaire 


The peacock that eclipses all other fashion motifs, including the Angry Birds chick, can be traced to architect-cum-fashion designer, Arjumand Bano. Upon arrival at her swanky and meticulous studio in Defence, I see that the peacock is just one of many motifs that Arjumand has single-handedly developed in her signature 3D style. She is an artist who believes in creating something exquisite from her bare thoughts. This instinct coupled with serious drive makes her a formidable contender in the world of Pakistani fashion, where old powerhouses are found to be, more often than not, stoic and formulaic.

At Beaconhouse National University in Lahore, Arjumand developed a discipline in sketching that led to ideas one rarely sees in the carousel of commercial fashion designers. Of her process, she says: “The idea evolves from the first sketch to the last; the result itself is often a complete transformation from the initial scribble! Like most artists, I keep sketching and then I leave it for a while; I revisit my design and it can take up to three months to work it all out.” That she sketches with a needlepoint drafting pencil is telling of the effort that goes into her drawings. No computer-aided software for Arjumand, who believes in feeling out her work through hand drawings and extensively intricate sketches. As she says, “I love paying attention to detail.”



The two months of November and December, Arjumand can be found exclusively in her tracks and a huge chaaddar, surrounded by mugs of coffee and her sketches

With increased access to technology and the manically-updated bubble that is social media, designers in the East can keep up now more than ever before with the fashion world of the West. Arjumand argues that this is the changing face of the industry: In fits and starts, new designers are trying to outdo the old by putting in longer hours. “Everyone in the Pakistani fashion industry is trying to stay on top of their game because every year you hear there are fifty new designers coming out!” But the profusion of fashion designers has somewhat devalued the profession, says Arjumand. When people find out about her occupation, their reaction is, “Oh God, another fashion designer!”

If anything, the reaction has spurred Arjumand to stick to her guns. “Every party I’d go to, I’d put together something to wear, often stitching it myself. A good friend, Rana Nauman, asked me why I didn’t just do this for a living. For the longest time, it was a hobby: taking scraps of fabric and putting something fun together,” Arjumand recalls of her pre-Opera House fashion obsession.


Eventually, her family convinced her to go for it. Arjumand dotes on her mother and tells me how all this would not have been possible without her mom who has given her strong motivation to excel and to be happy. “I’ve always been the kind of person who never wants to be treated differently because I am a girl. My parents have always been so proud of me: I do architecture, I do clothing, and I take care of my family. Even if everything drives me crazy, I love it because I’m a workaholic and I want to have no regrets about having missed out on life, especially because I was a girl.”

‘I’m a workaholic and I want to have no regrets about having missed out on life, especially because I was a girl’

The study of Mughal architecture and jaali work, patterns, mehrabs and various other more figurative elements has brought Arjumand to the realm of old-world workmanship that merges with a contemporary vision. “I don’t just like doing a simple motif on a shirt, I like to go the extra distance and would want it in 3D.” True words from someone who is constantly seeking to do better in everything—from how the inside of her studio looks to how her labour is run. A workaholic to boot, Arjumand finds it difficult to delegate: in the process, a degree of charm and attention to detail is lost, she says. But as she expands, she is learning to slowly entrust her colleagues with authority. “Every time a client comes back to me, the little child inside me jumps with excitement!” 


The two months of November and December, Arjumand can be found exclusively in her tracks and a huge chaaddar, surrounded by mugs of coffee and her sketches. She is churning out work for the onslaught of shaadis that begins in the winter. Often, when she ventures out herself, she finds people in her eveningwear. “It’s a great feeling to run into someone wearing my designs and hear them say how strikingly signature my pieces are.” Some of Arjumand’s signature flourishes include peacock motifs, jewellery woven into pieces, and bright embroidery reminiscent of Pakistani truck art.

“When it comes to creation, it’s constantly a learning process”, says Arjumand. With anyone coming into the fashion industry, especially those with a college education behind them, engaging with Pakistani craftspeople is a true test of patience. Putting aside the lack of proper documentation of age-old crafts, Arjumand has learnt everything by simply plunging headlong into her work, and getting her hands dirty. Now, nothing makes her happier than working alongside her kaarigars to create something old from new, and vice versa. 

With his dazzling energy, actor Mohib Mirza is a superb host for Pakistan Idol


Hosting had never been Mohib Mirza’s cup of tea. He found it dull and repetitive—until the American Idol franchise came to Pakistan. This was an opportunity to host something that really sparked Mohib’s interest; he appreciated the level at which the project was being undertaken and decided it was worth auditioning for. One day, Mohib received a phone call from a producer at Pakistan Idol, asking him to be the host. An actor known for his dazzling energy, the slot was a perfect fit for Mohib.

Mohib jumped headlong into a gruelling 45-day tour across seven cities all over Pakistan. And I say gruelling because the host is present on set from dawn to dusk. It gave him the opportunity to interact with audiences one-on-one, which as a performer Mohib relishes. “It’s different being situated in a crowd of 8000 people, amongst all kinds of Pakistanis, as opposed to in a studio or on set surrounded by just cast and crew.”

‘It is rewarding for me as a person, and a performer, to be given insight into the tastes of the younger generation today: what are they watching, wearing, hearing, and what they are exposed to’

Mohib clearly thrives in this environment, feeding off the energy of the pumped-up crowd. “It is rewarding for me as a person, and a performer, to be given insight into the tastes of the younger generation today: what are they watching, wearing, hearing, and what they are exposed to.” Naturally, there are times when even the most confident of hosts will feel anxious being watched by thousands of eyes. Not Mohib Mirza.


The first episode opened with a view into the city of Multan. The judges hopped onto a tonga and rode off on a tour. Mohib’s voice brought us to our destination, where auditions were being held and a heaving crowd had gathered, cheering on the contestants. We saw Mohib standing at the gate introducing us to the multitudes. He opened the floodgates and they were off in a blaze—the seats filled up even before the judges had taken their chairs. A showcasing of the contestants followed: a hopelessly poor boy named Gopal Guddo Ram stood on stage telling the story of his ill father who desperately needed treatment. He said it was a dream to be auditioning for Pakistan Idol. Hadiqa Kiani asked the boy if he could read or write; he said no. She articulated her reservation that he would be unable to sing a variety of songs in the later stages and Bushra Ansari agreed. Ali Azmat found the singing too loud for his taste. Bushra ji graciously added that Gopal was never out of tune and Hadiqa agreed. Together, the judges decided to give Gopal a unanimous yes and he happily proceeded to the next round. Through the next couple of auditions, it became clear that Ali Azmat is the “mean” judge (he will put the contestants on the spot), Bushra is the nice judge, and Hadiqa is the honest adjudicator with a tender yet firm style of criticism. We saw back-to-back auditions with Mohib announcing commercial breaks. With his mega-watt smile, Mohib cheered on the crowds to boost morale; he narrated what was trending with the contestants. We saw a contestant running up and kissing him on the cheek after getting through the first round! Finally, the episode came to a close.



With his mega-watt smile, Mohib cheers on the crowd to boost morale; he narrates what’s trending with the contestants. We see a contestant running up and kissing him on the cheek after getting through the first round!

After the show had aired two full episodes, the organizers were greeted with two types of feedback. First, how much people were enjoying Pakistan Idol. Second: how much the show resembled Indian Idol. All over Pakistan—especially at weddings—Pakistanis dance to Indian music. Bollywood tunes waft through our malls, restaurants, shaadi halls and on the radio. When it comes to praiseworthy ghazals, people still reminisce about Jagjit and Chitra; in the realm of acting, we adore the likes of Naseeruddin Shah. Mohib gets this, and tells me: “We are a country that feeds on imports.” There have been comments from the public regarding the use of Indian music in Pakistan Idol, but the reality is that Bollywood tunes are buried deep in the cultural vein of Pakistan. And there is nothing wrong with that.


‘If I had not met Aamina, if I had not shared my life with her, I would not have grown as much’

Mohib’s upcoming projects include the film Dukhtar, written and directed by Afia Nathaniel and starring Samiya Mumtaz, Saleha Arif, and Mohib, due to hit theatres in 2014. He says he feels slightly let down by Pakistani drama serials. “They are losing touch with their male audiences”, Mohib says, and I agree. Pakistani dramas revolve almost entirely around a female lead and the men are often props. As our conversation comes to a close, I am struck by Mohib’s thoughtfulness. It feels natural to ask him what it feels like being a “powercouple”—married to one of Pakistan’s most respected actresses, Aamina Sheikh. His response is unselfconscious and touching: “If I had not met Amina, if I had not shared my life with her, I would not have grown as much.” Kudos to Mohib Mirza, a man as thoughtful as he is charismatic. Tune in to the next episode of Pakistan Idol to get a whiff of his infectious energy.



Saba Ahmed
meets London-based filmmaker Numra Siddiqui

Numra Siddiqui has an infectiously giggly laugh. The 26-year-old London-based filmmaker was in Lahore for three days, and I grabbed the first opportunity to meet her. Numra has worked on films for the BBC, as well as on documentaries around Europe and Asia. Perhaps most impressively, she has filmed in the streets of Lahore and Karachi, unafraid of the muck and grit of urban Pakistan. She recounts lying face-up on the sidewalk trying desperately to get the perfect shot when she felt something brushing her leg. It was a donkey on the side of the road sniffing her.

‘The Pakistani audience found it interesting that I managed to make a film about wall-chalking as they didn’t think it was a film-worthy subject!’

As a teenager, Numra knew she wanted to make films. “I knew that I wanted to work in documentary. When I come to Pakistan, the country continues to reveal itself in new and unusual ways.” She recounts the experience of making her first film, The Talking Walls of Lahore, an up-close exploration of graffiti and street art in Lahore and Punjab: “I wanted to make a film about moving through the city, like a journey. Everyone from a street artist to a trader has marked his territory. In a country where freedom of expression is shrinking, the walls of cities become alternative sites of expression.” The Talking Walls of Lahore has been screened at the East End Film Festival 2011, London Indian Film Festival 2011, London International Documentary Film Festival 2012 and Whirlgig Cinema’s Spotlight. The documentary came second place at the prestigious Satyajit Ray Film Competition in 2011.




On Numra’s first job working at a visual effects company, she told me of the hardwork and constant multi-tasking involved when she was starting out: “One minute I was the producer, the next minute they sent me out to Morocco for a project. I was 23 years old and they just sent me out there with a cameraman, director, and sound. I was thrown in the deep end but it was one of the best learning experiences.” The experience helped Numra later when she worked at Serendip Productions in Islamabad where she made short films for UN agencies and other developmental organizations. “We travelled to places like Waziristan, FATA, getting shots from helicopters,” she says. “It was surreal.” Numra worked on a film about the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police, and specifically, one of its stations. The station, she says, has since been blown up.

After Islamabad, Numra was back in London working at BBC Factual. She worked with top BBC chef Nigel Slater, and the English farmer and television presenter Adam Henson. Suddenly she found herself in the world of British food and picked up bizarre factoids, such as: smoked salmon does not, in fact, come from Scotland. “Who knew I felt so passionately about how smoked salmon came to the UK?” she laughs. “Apparently I do! It doesn’t come from Scotland as many believe but came with the Jewish settlers in East London.” But Numra was already restless and itching to be more independent. “I realized I want to make my own films. I wanted to make films that veered from the popular imagination.”

Numra’s documentary came second place at the prestigious Satyajit Ray Film Competition 2011

The international media’s perception of Pakistan as “The Most Dangerous Place on Earth” is the kind of subject that Numra wants to move away from. Instead she wants to more intimate stories that shed light on local cultures and habits. “It’s important to bring to light what is overshadowed by the subjects that take the front seat when it comes to any talk about Pakistan — terrorism, war, bombs.” she told me.



It was no surprise, then, that Numra ended up documenting the tremendously inspiring work of Abdul Sattar Edhi. Numra was in Pakistan investigating the jhoolas outside the Edhi centers, where unwanted babies get dropped off. Edhi sahab’s wife, Bilquis, took over his husband’s charity project of “jhoolas” in 1952. These are swing bassinets placed outside each Edhi center with a message in both English and Urdu saying, “Do not kill, leave the baby in the cradle.” It is an attempt to discourage people from leaving behind disabled or unwanted children in rubbish heaps and other dark places. “Nine out of ten of the babies in the baskets are girls”, says Numra. “What happens to those little girls that get left there?” The issue touches on the grinding cycles of poverty as well as the stigma attached to having a female child. When she started her project, Numra says she had a very specific image in mind, of making “a film called jhoola.”  As Numra delved more into the subject, the idea of the jhoola receded; the bright and encouraging futures of the children themselves took center stage. She visited training centers and schools and decided to focus not just on the girls left behind in the jhoolas but others too — women lost or abandoned throughout the city of Karachi.

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Numra becomes emotional when relating her experience with the Edhi foundation. She had the wonderful privilege of meeting Edhi sahab himself. “I was so humbled to meet him,” she says. “I grew up thinking that Edhi is one of the best people in the world. He’s the most respected person in Pakistan. And now I’ve seen and met him for myself.”

Numra will continue to work on her film about the lost women of Karachi from London, where she lives and works. But it is clear to me that this young filmmaker feels more inspired in Pakistan than in the UK. “I like the realist format. I like grit.”

Nina on the set of ‘Mata-e-Jaan’
Nina on the set of ‘Mata-e-Jaan’

As a child, Nina Kashif moved from one military base to another. “My parents wanted me to become a doctor or an engineer,” she says, smiling. “This was never part of the plan.” What Nina enigmatically refers to as “this” is a media career in one of the biggest production houses in the country. As the general manager of all things creative at M.D Productions (formerly Moomal Productions), Nina has her work cut out for her — from reading scripts to soothing temperamental actors to attending to the director’s last-minute wish list. But she thrives in this environment, seeking solutions to challenges and savouring the praise and recognition that comes from a hit drama serial. “Once the project is out, and especially if it’s a hit” she says, “everything, including the fights, are forgotten, and everyone is one big happy family.”


Mahira Khan & Nina

‘After the scene ended, everyone was crying. I have never seen anything like it in my eight years in the industry’

Marriage, says Nina, gave her wings. She attributes much of her success and wellbeing to her husband Kashif and their two kids, Affaf and Salaar. “My family is happy if I’m happy,” she says. Nina’s first stint in the media was at MTV where she worked, among other things, with a little-known VJ by the name of Mahira Khan on MTVs “Most Wanted.”  Many years later, Nina and Mahira’s paths were to cross again, when Mahira starred in Humfasar, of which Nina was the senior producer. Humsafar exploded on the screen, becoming one of Pakistan’s most popular drama serials ever to be aired. Fawad and Mahira Khan shot to fame overnight, but it was also Nina’s first breakthrough. “My husband’s friends would see me in the credits and tell him, ‘wow, bhabhi is doing a great job!’” she laughs. “Before Humsafar, it was very much ghar ki murghi, daal baraabar.”


Many years later, Nina and Mahira’s paths were to cross again on the set of Humsafar

“Mahira is like a younger sister to me,” Nina tells me. “When she and I go to a restaurant, we have to find the smallest corner in the room where no one will see us!” Ditto with Fawad: when Nina joined Fawad and his wife for dinner at a Thai restaurant in Karachi soon after the release of Humsafar, almost everyone, at one point, came to their table for an autograph or a picture. When Nina talks about the project, there is wistfulness in her voice: “Everyone on set had great relationships.” This is unusual for drama serials where misunderstandings, fights, and egos compete. “God rewarded everyone working on Humsafar for having good intentions. These were all good, sincere, talented, self-made people.”


Giving tips to Sarwat Gilani on the set of ‘Mata-e-Jaan’
Giving tips to Sarwat Gilani on the set of ‘Mata-e-Jaan’

On the set of Dastaan, when the shoot was running late and half the costumes had not arrived, Saba Qamar arrived with things like parandas and chooris from her own house

After Humsafar, Nina worked on Mata-e-Jaan, one of my personal favourites, starring Sarwat Gilani, Adeel Hussain and Javed Sheikh. An incredibly well-done project about the lives of two Columbia students, it was shot in part at the university in Manhattan. The list of serials Nina has worked on as a producer are impressive for their range and the quality of their commercial success. Among them are Vasl (directed by Mehreen Jabbar), Daastaan (directed by Haissam Hussain), Paani Jaisa Pyaar (directed by Sarmad Khoosat of Humsafar fame), Mata-e-Jaan (directed by Mehreen Jabbar), Bilqees Kaur (directed by Adnan Ahmed) and Hamnasheen (directed by Siraj ul Haq). The forthcoming “Muhabbat Subha ka Sitara hai” (directed by Sakina Samoo) stars Mikal Khan, Adeel Hussain, Sanam Jung, Mira Sethi, Hira Tareen and others.

Mikaal Khan, Nina, Sanam Jung & Adeel Hussain
Mikaal Khan, Nina, Sanam Jung & Adeel Hussain
With Mehreen Jabbar & Noor Naghmi
With Mehreen Jabbar & Noor Naghmi
With Mehreen Jabbar & Noor Naghmi
Nina & Mahira
Mikaal Khan, Sarmad Khoosat & Nina on the set of ‘Paani Jaisa Pyaar’

Nina attributes much of her success, and confidence, to Mr Ghazanfar Ali (who helped her get started at MTV) and Momina Duraid, the CEO of MD Productions. “They have been a source of inspiration and guidance for me through out. The credit for everything I have learnt goes to these two individuals.” I asked how she balances her hyper-demanding career with the demands of her children and family. “I’d be lying if I said it’s a piece of cake,” she says. “But I work hard.” She adds, playfully, “I have always believed in having my cake and eating it too, so this lifestyle is fine insofar as I maintain a balance!”


One of Nina’s most satisfying and moving experiences came on the set of Dastaan, a Razia Butt novel, Bano, adapted to the screen. “We had to work hard to make the serial as beautiful as the book,” she says. In a country where historical archives are dumped in horse stables (as was recently discovered), Nina tells me there was little visual or historical information with which to create a genuine feel for Dastaan, which is a period drama. It tells the story of Bano, a girl from a closeknit Muslim family living in Ludhiana (in Punjab) in the pre-1947 era. The plot centers around Bano and her fiancée, as they battle the upheavals caused by Partition. Dastaan was the first project of its kind made in Pakistan, and by Nina’s telling, also a one-of-a-kind experience in her career as a producer. “The research involved was extensive; we had to go through movies, clips and endless other sources to get the look and feel of Dastaan just right.” Notable locations of shooting included the Islamic College, the Badshahi Masjid as well as the Pakistan Railways Station. Nina recalls a moment on the set when her eyes welled-up-because the scene they had just shot was so moving. In the July heat of Lahore, in the walled city, some 50 or so actors including Saba Qamar, Sanam Baloch and Ahsan Khan were shooting. After the scene ended, Nina says, “Everyone on the set was crying, I have never seen anything like it in my eight years in the industry.”


Nina with the Humsafar team

Nina goes onto praise Saba Qamar for being a versatile actress with incredible range. “She’s a professional, and completely self-made.”  She recounts how once on the set of Dastaan, when the shoot was running late and half the costumes had not arrived, Saba arrived on set with things like parandas and chooris from her own house — a reflection of her dedication. I asked Nina how she feels working closely with the biggest stars in the country, and in many instances, toiling behind the scenes to make them into the stars they are. “I always believed in giving more than receiving,” she says. “It’s great to see artists prosper in life in a way that your own contribution is evident too.” Nina Kashif is the classic urban working mom: practical, motivated, generous with her praise. From a shy teenager to a newly-wed housewife to managing director of all things creative in the most influential production house in the country, Nina Kashif has had a whirlwind journey. We wish her continued success.


Nina’s Wardrobe: Sania Maskatiya

Makeup and Styling: Beenish Pervez

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