August Issue 2003
Interview: Samina Peerzada
“I will never work with the Lahore film industry again”
– Samina Peerzada
Samina Peerzada is one woman who has always insisted on living life on her own terms and has never compromised on principles. She knows her mind and doesn’t hesitate to speak it either. Her choice of profession, lifestyle and attitude is testimony to that. Samina has taken many unconventional steps in her career, for instance, entering the notorious world of Lollywood with the impossible mission of changing the face of our film industry. She succeeded with her very first film, Inteha — which was a box office hit, breaking all previous Lollywood records by bagging nine national awards. After Inteha, Samina Peerzada became a very real threat to the uneducated Lahore film industry clan who had been ruling Pakistani cinema. And she was perhaps the only woman who could easily jeopardize their strangehold.
Many attempts were made to make Samina quit the Lahore film industry. However, she managed to survive — but not for long. With the debacle of her second directorial venture, Shararat, Samina has said a firm goodbye to the Lahore film industry. However, be it a good experience or a bad one, Samina has never had any regrets, and firmly believes in moving on in life. And now, she has chosen to return to acting on television.
Twenty years in showbiz, and Samina is still as energetic and enthusiastic as she was at the start of her career. Acting is more of a creative urge than a career for this seasoned actress. However, Samina has never restricted her creativity to any particular field. Throughout her career, she has expanded her horizons by shifting gears from modelling to acting to production to direction. With many national awards to her credit, she has represented Pakistan at several international forums.
Q: With a super-duper hit like Inteha — which was treated very differently from the routine Lollywood masala films — to your credit, people had high expectations from your second directorial attempt, Shararat. However, Shararat failed to click at the box office and lacked the magic of Inteha. Any comments?
A: I never do what people expect me to do. I make my own rules. Throughout my career, I have surprised people by changing track. After becoming a successful actress, people thought that I would continue with my acting career but I surprised them by producing and directing a television play, Karb. At the prime of my acting career I called a halt and became a director. After the success of Karb, it was expected that I would make more television plays, but I went on to make a film. People thought I’d cast myself in the movie to promote my acting skills; however, I surprised them once again by taking a backseat as an actor and directing others instead.
In the history of Pakistani cinema, Inteha is the first hit film made by an educated woman. And then after Inteha, people expected me to make another similar issue-based film. However I came up with something entirely different — Shararat, which is a pure entertainment movie. And I feel, calibre-wise, it is no less than Inteha.
Q: So, then why do you think it didn’t appeal to the audiences?
A:As far as Shararat is concerned, my main focus was to make a sweet and gentle film, about the chaos of the city and the serenity of the village. Unfortunately, too many strident forces from the traditional cinema ruined the film.
I have discovered one thing about myself in the process of film-making: either I am a leader or a follower. If I am doing something, either it is going to be my way or somebody else’s way — in between there is nothing. I can only excel if I have total control over something. And unfortunately, I did not have full control over Shararat. It was somebody else’s film and I was only directing it — it wasn’t my baby. From the script to the casting and distribution to publicity — there were too many influences. “Too many cooks spoil the broth,” and I think that’s what happened with Shararat.
However, this experience has taught me one lesson, as far as direction is concerned: I cannot work with any producer or distributor. I have to be my own producer, my own distributor and my own media consultant. I don’t mind taking ideas from others but at the end of the day I want to be the decision-maker.
I wish I had been given absolute power in editing and had handled the publicity campaign of Shararat myself. Anyway, it was a learning curve and I have no regrets.
Q: You come across as a very strong-headed woman, so why didn’t you, as the director ofShararat, take a stand when you saw the film moving in the wrong direction?
A: Till the last second I took a stand. If I hadn’t taken a stand then Shararat would have been another Gujjar film. But when you take a stand against all odds you do get tired eventually. The pocket from where the money was coming was not mine. I wish that money was mine. I wish I had taken control of the movie. And, most of all, I really wish I hadn’t agreed to do this film.
I was in shock when I saw the campaign and the final edited version of Shararat. I told the producer that it’s not my film. If I had control over the distribution, publicity and editing of Shararat , then this film would have done reasonably well. Another thing that went against Shararat was that people came to the cinema expecting another Inteha. They should have been warned earlier that it is a completely different film.
I knew I was getting into trouble from the day I signed this film — but when Samina Peerzada commits to something then she doesn’t back out. On many occasions, I didn’t agree with Shararat’s producer, but I had already committed to him so I had to complete the movie.
I never quit anything until or unless I get really hurt and after some very bitter and unpleasant experiences, I have left the Lahore film industry. I am not going to go back there ever.
Q: What made you take such a drastic step?
A: The Lahore film industry lacks professionalism. Film-making is a very serious and tough job. Unlike painting or writing where you have sole power in your hands, film-making involves too many outside influences. So you have to be very careful because if you get side-tracked then you are dead.
Q:In what way is the Lahore film industry not professional?
A: They are not serious about their work. The whole system is decadent, hackneyed and absolutely dead. I can safely say this because I was a part of that system for a long time. And now I just don’t want to associate myself with it anymore. I have given it enough time and respectability as a producer, director and actor and that’s the maximum I can offer the Lahore film industry. If they cannot encourage me and accept me as the person I am, then I don’t see any point working with them. I don’t have to take that pain again and again.
I got an offer to direct a film from Karachi but when I discovered that the people behind the group were from the Lahore film industry, I declined the offer. I have torn that page out of my life. The Lahore film industry is something that Samina Peerzada will never work with again. I have been there, I have seen it and I know the attitude and mind-set of those people and I cannot deal with it anymore. I will only consider films from Karachi.
Q: But even in Karachi, you will have to work with the same set of actors. How will you deal with that?
A: I’ll go in for a completely new cast, new production unit, new atmosphere, new camera unit and new technicians. Though, it will take me some time to train them, I am ready to do that.
Q: Is that the reason why you are also working towards the revival of Karachi cinema?
A: In the ’60s and ’70s, Karachi played a major role in our cinema but then somehow the Lahore film industry took over. First in 1947, we lost creative people to the Bombay film industry and then again in 1971 many creative people went to the Bangladesh film industry — which was a major setback for our industry. However, somehow we survived. After 1971, a few talented directors like Nazrul Islam and Javed Fazil stayed back and made some good films. But even that period was short-lived.
Q: So, what were the factors that had contributed to the downfall of the Karachi film industry?
A: Creative vacuum. Art really suffers when there is no creative mind. Moreover, television sucked in all the creative people we were left with. It took away the cream of technicians and actors. At that time television was considered to be a safer place with a disciplined environment and hence people from films moved to television.
Another culture took over our films. Film is a very sensitive medium and unfortunately our industry was taken over by insensitive people. Furthermore, Zia-ul-Haq’s mindless policies also contributed towards the deterioration of our cinema. People get influenced by films more than television. You give your undivided attention to films while television is something that you watch very casually. So film, which actually is an instrument to influence people and change their lives, was very cleverly subdued by the marital law regime.
I think this is the right time to break away from hackneyed cinema and make a new start.
Q: It’s not an easy task though…
A: Well, certainly it’s not easy but someone has to do it. And I am willing to take up this challenge.
Q: Why have you moved to Karachi?
A: The Lahore film industry took away everything from me and left me completely empty. I was empty, absolutely empty. Karachi is my city. I grew up here, I studied here and this is where my career as a model and as an actress started. My creative energy has been given to me by this city. And now when I am empty, I am back to my roots — and my roots are here in Karachi. I am so much more comfortable here. I desperately needed the comfort and warmth of this city.
Q: How did your family, particularly Usman, react to your decision of moving to Karachi?
A: Well, Usman knows that when I set my heart on something then nothing can change my mind.
Q: Are you not being selfish and thinking only about yourself, specially when you are a wife and a mother? Don’t you think you have a responsibility towards your family?
A: I have been a very responsible mother and wife. I have never denied my responsibility. But I am also not denying my responsibility to myself. Anam and Amal are grown up enough and I can talk, discuss and sort out things with them. Usman knows me very well. He knows what my psyche and mindset are all about and what my needs are. We all sat and discussed the situation and came to the conclusion that to be myself, it was necessary for me to move to Karachi. This is a collective decision. Every 10 days, I visit Lahore and spend four days with my family. When I am here in Karachi my full concentration is on my work and when I am in Lahore my family is my focus, so I don’t feel divided at all. Initially my daughters were supposed to shift with me to Karachi but then looking at my busy schedule, it didn’t seem a feasible idea.
Q: And what about Usman?
A:Usman is also very busy. In fact, both of us have a busy schedule. However, we are constantly talking to each other and we are always there for each other. We have been married for 28 years now and that is a pretty long time. I don’t think moving to Karachi will create such a big vacuum in our relationship. We have always supported each other and I believe this is how our marriage has survived.
Q: You never had any problems in your married life?
A: Well, there were times when I really needed Usman — but he was too busy with his work to pay too much attention to my needs. However, I believe in talking and sorting out things. I feel Usman hasn’t been able to do the same. During the course of our married life, other priorities took over. Our daughters Anam and Amal were growing up and both our careers were evolving at the same time. So our focus shifted to other things. Our daughters are grown up now and we both are quite stable in our respective careers, so I feel while I am here and he is there in Lahore, we are travelling towards each other. Amazingly, my journey is not going away from him but towards him. People are thinking that Usman and Samina’s marriage is falling apart, while I feel that I am moving closer to him now. Every time I go back, we are opening up and talking to each other. I think it’s wonderful because there is so much to tell him now and I am cherishing every moment with him. Usman has done the wisest thing by letting me come to Karachi to rediscover myself. I am so touched. I haven’t told him, but he has won me over once again. I love him immensely and he is the only man in my life.
Q: After directing films, you are back to acting. Don’t you find it difficult to work under someone else’s direction?
A: Not at all. I am thoroughly enjoying working under somebody’s direction. Also, I have picked projects involving some of the finest directors, who are masters in their field. I am having a great time working with them. Direction means nursing many egos and involves too much responsibilty. I had taken that responsibility for a long time now. I needed to get the love, care and respect that I had been giving to others since Karb. And now I am getting it.
Q: What are your current projects?
A:I am working for Sheeshey Ka Mahal and Yeh Bhi Tu Kissi Ki Beti Hai, both written by Nurul Huda Shah. Then there is Sultana Siddiqui’s play in which Jawed Sheikh and Sania Saeed are my co-actors. I am doing another serial under Humayun Saeed’s production. I am also doing a talk show for Indus Vision called Samina Peerzada’s Show. Also, I have gone back to acting in films. I am acting in Farooq Mengal’s film — which is an independent project. Making another film is also on my agenda.
Q: What are your interests apart from acting?
A: Basically I am a very creative person. I have written poems and short stories. My poems reflect my true feelings. I enjoy painting and I love dancing, but unfortunately I couldn’t learn it because other things took over. I have designed clothes and furniture as well.
Q: Modelling, acting, directing, producing, you have done so much. What more do you want to do?
A: Oh, there is so much that I want to do — I have decided to go into interiors now and design furniture. People really appreciate the furniture I have designed for my house and that encouraged me to think about it more seriously. My friend Nighat Rizvi and I, we both have an eye that makes a difference in a home. So we are both planning to get into the furniture business together but nothing is finalised yet.
Q: Did you face any problems at all because of your gender?
A: Never! I am so proud that I am a woman. Surviving in a man’s world is the toughest challenge for a woman. But then what is life, if it is not tough and challenging? And I love challenges. In the process, I have never compromised on my ethics and moral values. I have received so much respect, love and acceptance for just being what I am — which is an achievement in itself. I am not corrupt and I have no price tag attached to me, and I am really proud of that.
Q: Has there been a role model in your life?
A: I haven’t been able to make anybody my role model. I think it’s better to have subtle influences rather than making somebody your role model, because then you fail to discover your own self. And for me, it has always been important to discover myself.