Atif Siddique began acting in 2004, and has since acted in numerous theatrical productions as well as in Parchi, a Pakistani film that released earlier this year.

He is also a writer and director in the performing arts. Dawn sat down with him to talk about his work.

Q: How did you get started as an actor?

A: Back in 2004, my sister was an interior designer and she was approached by this theatre company that wanted her to do the set for a play. Before that, I had never considered [acting], but I had a flair for accents and I could mimic different actors and everything. My sister told me they were looking for people who could pull off a Chicago gangster-type accent and that I should give it a shot.

The director told me I had the part as soon as I started my audition. Rehearsals started and I had no idea how the whole process would be. The play was called Oscar and I had the first line. I remember my knees were shaking and it was crazy. But I walked on stage, delivered my lines and the audience laughed. And it was like time just stopped for me right there. My knees stopped shaking and I just did my lines, came offstage and I knew I was hooked.

Q: Is there a difference between theatre acting and acting in film?

A: I have done over 20 plays now and about three or four onscreen projects. It is very different. In the beginning, I used to think theatre is a little exaggerated and film is not. But it is actually not that. The voice configuration is different for theatre. Other than that, your expressions, how you carry yourself, how you are in your character is not exaggerated. It is actually very subtle, very deep rooted.

I had some trouble adjusting to the different [voice configuration]. In the beginning, I had the whole theatre voice programme and the sound guys would tell me to keep it down. They would have to adjust the distance of mics from me. Other than that, I do not find it very different.

In essence, the skill is the same, the experience is very different. With an audience in theatre you, right there and then, have this exchange of energy. When you have worked on a character for a few months and you go onstage, you are carrying all of that, it’s in your aura. When you project that aura onto all those people, they respond. So, there is an exchange.

And film does not have that. It is just a camera, or just the director, crew and other actors. I feel it is a little intimate, which makes it fun, but in theatre, there is a lot more room to play in variation.

Q: How has your experience onstage translated to your work in film?

A: I think it makes the director’s job easier if the actor has theatre experience. They do not have to explain what being in character means. In theatre, you are so well-trained to maintain being in character that it is a dream come true for a film director.

I have not done extensive film work, just some short roles in a couple of movies, but I found the experience to be like a closed box and your performance is entirely dependent on the director.

In theatre, the director’s work is done the moment you are on stage. In film, the director can constantly tell you to try different things while they are shooting. That gives you the added benefit of digressing in your performance as you are doing it.

Q: How did you get started as a writer in the performing arts?

A: I wrote my first play in 2007, which was out of my comfort zone but the director trusted me, and it worked. It somehow came very naturally to me.

I have performed very diversified roles as an actor which gave me a feel for how different characters work, how they interact on stage and how storylines work.

My first theatre play was called Bombay Dreams and it was done by Sharabeel. I wrote that and it did have a lot of flaws as it was my first project, but it was very encouraging for me. I started my second project, Addams Family soon after.

Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2018

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