Few actresses are as committed to their craft as Saba Qamar. Her passion for her work is almost tangible as she talks about her desire to take on roles that challenge her. “I am tired of the typical fare,” she remarks. “There is more to life than saas bahu issues with women being portrayed as petty characters and their own worst enemies. I would love to do something different…” She is pensive for a moment and then says she finds it disturbing how actresses start out great but then sometimes go into a downward spiral due to the negative way society perceives them. “It’s very sad and this needs to change,” she says quietly. “I’m dying to act in a production that can change mindsets.”
But for now, this tall and pretty brunette has to be content with the projects she has in hand. Fans of Pakistani dramas are familiar with most of Saba Qamar’s work: the recently concluded Na Kaho Tum Mere Nahin earned rave reviews and Kaash Aisa Ho is also garnering positive response. She has bagged the spotlight yet again with the lead role in Ullo Bara-i-Farokht, a big-budget production broadcast on Hum TV, and Madam Noor Jehan’s role in the soon-to-be-aired drama, Mein Manto. Penned by playwright Shahid Nadeem, the ambitious drama serial based on the life and times of Saadat Hasan Manto features an ensemble cast, including Sarmad Khoosat in the title role and Sania Saeed as Manto’s wife.
Was she nervous about portraying Malika-i-Tarannum (Queen of Melody), revered for her colossal contribution to Pakistan’s music industry? “Honestly speaking, I was. But my director (Sarmad Khoosat) has full confidence in me and said ‘Yeh role aap se aacha koi nahin kar sakta’.” So will we be privy to a beautiful wardrobe and exquisite French chiffon saris? “Yes,” she smiles. “I worked particularly hard on getting the wardrobe right.”
The charming and straightforward Saba is easy to talk to. Born on April 5 in Hyderabad, she moved to her mother’s hometown of Gujranwala after the early demise of her father. Then she made her home in Lahore to attend college for a Bachelor’s degree and it was then when she was first approached for a role in PTV’s home production, Mein Aurat Hoon. “My sister’s friend saw potential in me, and insisted that I had the looks and talent to make it in showbiz. In my family, women rarely go out with their heads uncovered, so there was considerable opposition regarding my choice of career.”
Mein Aurat Hoon was the turning point in Saba’s life. The year was 2004; blink and it’s 2013 and Saba Qamar is now considered one of the most bankable female TV actors in the industry. She has spent the last nine years carving a niche for herself as a thinking man’s actor. She has appeared in lead roles in countless TV serials, the most prominent being Jinnah Ke Naam, Yahan Pyar Nahin Hai, Shehryar Shehzadi, Dastaan, Pani Jaisa Pyar, Tinkay, Tera Pyar Nahin Bhoole, Jo Chalay To Jaan Se Guzar Gaye, Thakan, Mein Chand Si, Kanpur Se Katas Tak, Shikwa Na Shikayat and Maat.
Her acting prowess has been recognised time and time again with prestigious awards, including Tamgha-i-Imtiaz (2012). She bagged the Best TV Actress trophy for her role as Suraiya in Dastaan at the first Pakistan Media Awards (2010), and was also the recipient of the Best TV Actress trophy in both the public and jury choice categories at the 16th annual PTV Awards (2011). She followed it up with yet another Best Actress Award at the 17th Annual PTV Awards (2012) for her role in Tera Pyar Nahin Bhoole. There are also numerous other awards she has been nominated for at prestigious forums, including the LSAs.
“It feels great to get nominations and awards,” she admits. “It makes all the hard work worthwhile.” Most people, of course, know her as the long-standing host of the political satire, Hum Sub Umeed Say Hain. Although she took a hiatus from the show for a while, she is back now with her knack for comic timing.
I am curious to know if there has ever been any negative feedback regarding the script. “Never,” she says firmly. “Everyone takes it lightly and finds the sitcom hilarious. It’s all in good fun.”
She adds on a serious note, “Let me tell you, comedy requires a lot of energy. The camera is no one’s friend — you have to leave your problems at home and make people laugh. That’s never an easy thing to do.” I ask her about her favourite drama to date and she mentions her role as Sarwat in Shehryar Shehzadi. “It was a Sufiana character — I guess many people did not understand it which is why it did not become very popular. Jinnah Ke Naam was also good. And of course I also loved the fantastic response to Maat.”
Her role as Saman in Maat was tinged with negativity. “You know, I got a lot of Saman’s mannerisms from my memory of certain girls from my college days,” she says. “I improvised quite a bit as there were a few lines in the drama that were not there in the script.
“I think a good director makes all the difference,” she muses. “Sarmad Khoosat has a flair for direction and he is humble. He respects his cast and crew and goes out of the way to make them comfortable. I personally think this is why he has been blessed with fame and success at such a young age.”
Saba says she has been approached for A-list, big banner Indian films several times, but she is reluctant to say yes unless the role is substantial. She doesn’t rule out the possibility totally, however, elaborating that she might consider the offer if the role is to her liking. “It all depends on the script,” she points out.
I ask her if she thinks she will be able to keep up the momentum: like most Aries, she has an infectious energy. “I’m hyperactive when it comes to work. I actually have a hard time dealing with holidays because I’m always dying to get back to work.”
Saba also admits to being a voracious reader, “Bano Qudsia and Ashfaque Ahmed are among my all-time favourites. I just finished Umera Ahmed’s Peer-i- Ka’amil and it had a profound, life-changing influence on me.
“You know, I have started living in the moment,” Saba Qamar confides. “Now I don’t worry about the future, I just want to enjoy what I have at present. Life is a beautiful gift and I don’t want to waste even a moment.”