January issue 2014

By | People | Profile | Published 7 years ago

I first met Sheheryar Munawar Siddiqui in 2006. He and I were both in ‘A’ Levels at the time and were acting in a student production of Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap. When the cast and crew weren’t in class or rehearsals, we were busy with college applications.

Few would have thought that one of us would make a name in Pakistan’s television industry. Perhaps, fewer still would have picked the seemingly carefree Sheheryar out of all the cast members to be the one to achieve this.

After graduating from the Institute of Business Adminstration (IBA), Shehryar dabbled in modelling and hosting; and, more recently, acted in popular TV serials such as Zindagi Gulzar Hai andTanhaiyan Naye Silsila.

When I arrived at director Asim Raza’s The Vision Factory earlier this month to interview Sheheryar, I saw that little had changed about him. As I walked into the office, where Sheheryar works as an assistant director, he was in the middle of a photoshoot, but as soon as he saw me entering the premises, he had the peon bring in tea for me and, between striking poses, kept making sure I was settled in. The perfect gentleman, you could say.

That was how many of us remembered Sheheryar from the school play days: affable, courteous, debonair even. As the photoshoot wrapped up, I wondered if it would be embarrassing to bring up the play since it was such a long time ago and he and I had not been in touch. Before I could say anything, Sheheryar turned and asked, “Did we go to school together at some point?”

Close enough. I reminded him of the play and we began sharing memories of what was for many of us at the time our first acting experience.

“We were all just doing it for sh**s and giggles,” he said laughing. “And in some way, I’m still doing it for sh**s and giggles because life is like that. I honestly believe people who take themselves too seriously are so annoying!”

“Okay, but how did acting go from being just a hobby to a career?” I asked.

“I was in IBA when I started VJing, which is how a lot of people start off in this industry,” Sheheryar explained. “And whatever money I made, I spent partying. But I kept my grades in check so my parents were okay with it. Then I started getting offers for TV commercials. I did four or five advertisements for Coke and became known as the ‘Coke boy’ and…wait, make that Coca-Cola boy, just to make it clear!” Sheheryar said laughing. He followed that up with a public service message: “Don’t do coke, people. Drugs are bad.”

When Sheheryar talks, he often goes into tangents but it’s very natural and there’s no sense of rehearsed, proper answers with him. And from this mention of drugs, he then segued into something very important to him: health and fitness.

“The human body is the most amazing piece of machinery in the world,” he said. “I work out, I eat right. This is very important to me.” He then continued in a slightly more sombre tone. “The idea is not to live long, it’s to live a healthy life. I’ve seen people on ventilators for years. I don’t want that. Allah maaf karey but I’d rather die young than live like that. And by young, I don’t mean now, but like 50 years.”

“Have you seen people in your family suffering old age that has lead you to think this way?” I asked.

“My maternal  grandfather was a beast of a man. He would wake up in the morning and spend an hour grooming himself. He would trim his eyebrows — and I mean trim them, not thread them! — and he would go through his wardrobe and have everything pressed. And that’s one of the things in my family; we’re expected to always dress nicely, speak nicely and conduct ourselves nicely,” said Sheheryar, in what again seemed tangential but proved to be a very telling detail about his life.

“Well, one day, he had a cardiac arrest and died, even though he had lived a very active, healthy life. Then once my maternal uncle called me saying he wasn’t feeling well. He passed away that same day. And then just last year, my older brother passed away in a car crash. So all the deaths in my family have been very sudden,” Sheheryar explained, revealing a gravitas that some might assume he is not capable of.

“Death doesn’t make sense until it happens to someone very close to you,” he said. “It’s not like a break-up where a relationship ends but you think, I can still meet him or her later. But with death you may think you’ve made peace with it but some days you wake up and realise, this person is never coming back. It hits you, but then you go into denial again. The cycle continues.”

Going by his easy-going personality, good looks and self-deprecating jokes, a lot of people may dismiss him as being non-serious or lacking maturity. But there’s a lot more to Sheheryar Munawar Siddiqi than meets the eye.

This profile was originally published in Newsline’s January 2014 issue under the headline, “The Perfect Gentleman.”

Zehra Nabi is a graduate student in The Writing Seminars at the Johns Hopkins University. She previously worked at Newsline and The Express Tribune.