May issue 2009
Interview: Sonia Rehman Qureshi
“I am sick of crying on TV. People need to lighten up” — Sonia Rehman Qureshi
Sonia Rehman Qureshi, the leading lady of recent television hits Doraha and Mohabbat Karnay Walon Ka Naam, says she was never really interested in acting. She stepped in to help her friend Rashid Sami, who was directing the Ek Gana Ek Afsana series for PTV World. Qureshi describes herself as “a confused character,” who didn’t exactly know what to do with her life. After graduating from NCA, Lahore, where she majored in printmaking and Mughal miniature, she took to designing furniture for a while but then got “fed up of complaining women.” So she shut her business down and joined a web design house. That’s whenEk Gana happened and her acting career took off. However, following her marriage she moved to the US with her husband. Based in Boston, she did various short courses at the New York Film Academy, including black and white photography and direction. She also met Mehreen Jabbar there for the first time to do Pehchaan.
Expecting her first child, Sonia is now basking in the glory of Doraha, the mega hit serial recently telecast on Geo. In fact, a sequel is on the cards and, if not that, then maybe a project with the same team starting early next year. Sonia talks to Newsline about her stint with television.
Q: Let’s start with your recent hit Doraha …
A: To be honest, I am blown away with [the response to] Doraha. Even while we were working on it, we knew it was going to be a little different. Although the story was very typical, the way Umera [Ahmed] wrote it, everything was very believable. The dialogues and situations weren’t convoluted. The characters were dealt with very realistically.
It was more like the older plays that were aired on television. We have become very used to overemphasis, tracking and pauses, but Mehreen [Jabbar] totally eliminated all that so that the plot moved at a much faster pace than what people have become used to. Mehreen herself is amazed by the reaction. I have been approached by people on the streets and appreciated for my projects in the past, but with Doraha the reaction was across the board — people who are not the typical drama audiences nor follow what is on television, were coming up to me to share their views — and they were so passionate about it! Doraha catered to all mindsets: the very traditional women and the considerably educated ones. The story had unknown home truths in it. I got an amazing email from a man who said: “For the first time in my life I know what my wife feels, even though we have been married for years. Thank you for making me more sensitive towards her.”
The same script treated differently would have spoiled everything. It was just the entire package that worked. The reality and simplicity of it touched people.
Q: Is it because marital problems are so widespread now that many people identified with a production that had the single track of marital strife?
A: As someone who has been in a very happy marriage, for five years mashallah, I can’t relate to a bad marriage but I think the problem is quite common. I think a lot of women could relate to a situation where the in-laws were not as much in control so as to make a decision for you, but enough to push you to make wrong choices or do things out of character. But there was something in Sara’s character that had struck the right chord with women. A woman wrote to me saying, “I cry when she cries, laugh when she laughs and smile when she smiles.”
Q: What is your basic consideration when choosing a script?
A: Frankly speaking, we don’t have very fantastic scripts to choose from. However, I do believe is that it is very important to feel challenged by a character and to empathise with it.
Q: You started acting by chance and, that too, after having tried your hand at various vocations. Do you plan to stick to it or are you planning to change course again?
A: I love acting; even if I change course, I will come back to it. I have also been very fortunate to have worked with great people whom I can relate to. That way, you tend to avoid bad situations and have a lot of fun.
Q: What do you enjoy about acting — is it the fame or something else?
A: It’s not the fame — never has been. I think it’s the challenge of being a completely different person to one’s self. It is fascinating to keep it real but at the same time, not to let Sonia Rehman Qureshi overshadow the character.
Q: Do you find acting cathartic?
A: Initially I did. I would never take characters home with me. But now, as I am getting older and playing more complex characters, I am finding that to be pretty difficult. Other than Doraha, Mohabbat Karnay Walon Ke Naam was also upsetting because my character deals with a bad marriage and the loss of a child in it.
Q: When you take a character home how does it affect your day-to-day life?
A: It doesn’t affect my relationships but it affects my moods. I’m not upset but only quieter and more exhausted. If I am doing a fun scene, I will come home elated — it carries over.
Q: You have also taken courses in direction. Any plans of pursuing that?
A: It was all that I wanted to do at one point but I am a procrastinator and am too fussy. Maybe when I come across the right subject …
Q: And what is the “right” subject?
A: I like stories of real people. I am sick of crying on TV. People need to lighten up.
Q: From your choice of roles, you come across as a serious and intense person but in person, you appear quite happy-go-lucky …
A: That was a very conscious decision on my part. When I first started acting, I was doing very light roles and always playing the best friend. I have no qualms in admitting that I don’t fall into the conventional heroine category who doesn’t weigh an ounce over a 100 pounds. However, I realised that if you want to be taken seriously in this profession, you need to do the intense, sad roles. Agar set pe chaar ansoon gir gaye [if you shed a few tears on set] then you get a standing ovation but people don’t realise that the more intense scenes, ones without the tears, are more difficult to do.
There aren’t that many genres to work with anyway. If you want to do comedy, then it is slapstick and terrible — I did not want to be associated with it.
Q: You were also the creative consultant for Mehreen Jabbar’s Ramchand Pakistani. Why didn’t it gain the kind of mass popularity that Khuda Ke Liye did?
A: People don’t realise that it was a true story and both Mehreen and Javed Jabbar were very particular about not letting it stray. Ramchand was very simplistic — an emotional story that didn’t have the masala that Khuda Ke Liye held. KKL was very current and dramatic. People are fed up of the mullah culture, fundamentalism and Talibanisation and so reacted very positively to that film.
Q: Recently you have also done Band Khirkiyun Ke Peechay …
A: An odd choice for me, I would say. I had promised the director that I would do something with him. I read this script and liked the character’s vulnerability and thought it was interesting, but from day one I was adamant that I will not be shown having an affair with a younger man. I am going to be hugely unpopular when I say this, but too much emphasis was given to the scandalous element in the publicity and hype around it — ‘Ãt’s aDesperate Housewives desi style, etc.’ Even during the launch show, I stated that there is nothing scandalous about it — they are actually very believable stories.
Q: And The First Blast?
A: That came about because of Khalid Soorty, the head producer at DawnNews. I have my phases. When I was doing the Morning Show on TV One, I wasn’t acting. Then I got so fed up of it that I didn’t want to do any interviews and although initially I was not sure about The First Blast, I realised that it is recorded and not as demanding as a morning show. It has been an amazing experience, with fun people in an extremely inspiring environment. It’s all a very collaborative effort.
Q: Are you a very apolitical person?
A: I am somewhere in between. I think age has also made me a bit apathetic. I remember being young and very excited about Benazir coming back and staying up to watch the election results. Now, I have come to this point of being uninterested. I guess it has to do with self-preservation really.
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