In 2022 alone, major Pakistani artistes crossed borders to create global waves. Actors Fawad Khan-Mahira Khan starrer heavy-duty actioner The Legend of Maula Jatt scripted box office history while the poignant drama Joyland found a place in Oscar’s best International Film shortlist. In music, Arooj Aftab became the first-ever Pakistani artiste to win a Grammy Award and the internet’s favourite musician Ali Sethi delivered the magnetic ‘Pasoori’– billed by many as a track which “united India and Pakistan”.
Amidst all the elation–and attention–Pakistani star Sanam Saeed feels proud of what the country has managed to achieve. One of the biggest names of the industry and a beloved name in India, thanks to her hit show Zindagi Gulzar Hai, Sanam Saeed says the Pakistani industry is currently “thriving”.
The actor’s jubilation is also backed with awards: her Zindagi original show Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam won Gold at Promax India awards 2022 and Asian Academy Creative Awards for best anthology, which she received alongside Pakistani actor Sarwat Gilani, Indian producer Shailja Kejriwal (Chief Creative Officer – Special Projects, Zee Entertainment) and British-Indian director Meenu Gaur.
In an interview with a leading website, Sanam opens up about the importance of more collaboration between India and Pakistan, how politics can fracture the beauty of art, the kind of Indian content she grew up watching and how India learnt very late–and perhaps still hasn’t, completely– what life in Pakistan is.
What is the significance of this win for you?
This was a huge win because it was a collaboration between India and Pakistan. Two similar mindsets, cultures, countries coming together to tell a universal story, made mostly by women. The fact that it came from these two nations is proof that when great minds come together, great things happen. You can achieve so much together, it’s a huge support for both team players… It was amazing, satisfying and humbling.
Does it sadden you that we don’t have more of these collaborations. Except for Zindagi, there is nothing.
Honestly, we are over it. There was a time when a lot of this would happen. We had Kara Film Festival, we had Indian actors coming to Pakistan, our actors went there, Bollywood opened the doors. It has always been a hot and cold situation. We are finally at a place where we don’t get our hopes up too high. Each party is very comfortable with where they are in terms of the work they are doing, respectively.
It is a bonus point when they are given the opportunity to collaborate, because it is different, out of the box; there is another challenge and risk. We were saddened definitely, initially. Politics to come in the middle of art is always crushing, for any artiste, human being. It is like, ‘Yaar ye kyu beech mein aa raha hai, we love these people, we want to see more collaborations.’ So everyone feels that universal pull and sadness. That why is this happening and for what reasons. What good will come out of it, we don’t know.
How did you overcome the sadness?
You have to accept the situation as it is. Always feel proud of what you are doing in the present, wherever you are… Good things will happen at their own time.
But to not keep hopes too high, isn’t that heartbreaking?
It was in the middle. When the doors had opened, it was exciting that, ‘Oh maybe one day we are going to get to work with our favourite directors, producers, actors. The world will open up and it will get to our talent.’ It was exciting to think all these opportunities were there, even Indians were excited and were looking for who to cast from here.
But I guess when once, twice, thrice you are shot down, then you accept the situation and work with what you have. So keeping the hopes high were for the first few times… But we are talking about seven-eight years ago. Now we have all grown up and understood the ways of the world.
How much of the Indian content do you see?
Personally, I am more of a Hollywood binge watcher. But the whole of Pakistan has been raised on Bollywood, from our grandparents to us, we know Madhubala, Kareena Kapoor stuff to now Deepika. We have seen all the generations. We have literally grown-up consuming Bollywood, the song, the dance, the culture, the way they eat, the way they do pooja. Hum sab jaante hai Indian mein kya hota hai (We know what happens in India).
But India doesn’t know what happens in Pakistan. Kuch bhi nahi pata, hum log kis tarah daal chawal khaate hai, woh andaaz alag hota hai (Indian’s don’t know how we eat, how we are). The way we wear salwar kameez, tie our hair, there are these small differences. We know the difference between what an Indian choti (braid) is, but I don’t think India knows what the Pakistani choti is like. These small nuances are there. When ZEE Zindagi launched, then India saw, ‘Oh this is how they wear their clothes, this is how they interact’, how independent women are here also. That was interesting to see.
Where does the Pakistani industry stand today? There is Maula Jatt, Joyland, Ali Sethi is topping music charts…
There are always ups and downs, but I think we are on a high right now. Pakistani artistes are being celebrated and recognised, whether it is Arooj Aftab, who has been nominated for her second Grammy, Ali Sethi’s Pasoori with Shae Gill, Joyland’s Oscar journey and Maula Jatt– that’s a lot of Pakistani globally making waves. We are definitely thriving and booming. Drama is at its peak, music wise Coke Studio will be entering its 15th year, a lot of web series are happening. It is thriving for sure.
It is an amazing experience. The amount of love and respect you get from public, the number of opportunities there are… We are spoilt for choice, if we should do films, TV or web series. The sheer love and adoration that you get from public, I think that has kept all of us alive and going. Unlike Bollywood, we are not unattainable film stars. We are in their house, every day, in their living rooms, with their families. We are part of their families. There is a very deep connection that the public has with us artistes, because of the intimacy of the connection thanks to the drama industry.