Photography & styling: Yasser Sadiq | Grooming: Ilyas Salon | Outfits: Emraan Rajput | Coordination: Umer Mushtaq | Special thanks to Alchemist
Photography & styling: Yasser Sadiq | Grooming: Ilyas Salon | Outfits: Emraan Rajput | Coordination: Umer Mushtaq | Special thanks to Alchemist

Success often comes down to chance — coupled with talent, hard work and perseverance.

In the time that I have known actor Asad Siddiqui, I have observed him to largely rely on the latter three. He has honed his talent. He has worked hard and he has persevered, even while facing a deluge of repetitive, cookie-cutter acting roles. And he has waited for his chance.

Watching him recently in the drama Tumhare Husn Ke Naam (THKN) on the fledgling channel Green Entertainment, I could sense lady luck finally deigning to smile down on Asad.

As the antagonist Atif in the drama, Asad portrayed Saba Qamar’s abusive husband to the hilt. He seethed and fumed, screamed and shoved and stalked about arrogantly. He was the man that the audience was supposed to hate but, at the same time, his scenes were markedly different from the poetic, romantic narrative that was the drama’s focal point. You never knew what his character would do next, which made it all the more interesting.

Fourteen years into his career, often biding his time by playing the conventional ‘good brother’ in the story, it was high time that producers and directors gave Asad Siddiqui the opportunity to shine in a role that had more meat.

In real life, actor Asad Siddiqui is nothing like the toxic husband he is seen playing on television these days. But he is also bored of the goody-goody side roles that he was previously typecast with. After 14 years of persevering in the industry, does he think the tide is turning for him finally?

“I really enjoyed playing Atif in Tumhare Husn Ke Naam,” Asad tells Icon. “The director Saqib Khan had such a command over the script. He discussed the character with me before we began shooting and then he let me do whatever I wanted.

“We came up with a back story as to why Atif was the way he was. No one in the world is completely good or completely bad but Atif was purely evil and we needed to understand why he was that way.”

Would he have rather played the hero — a very romantic role, played by Imran Abbas — rather than the malicious, evil husband?

“No,” Asad replies promptly. “Romantic heroes, main leads, the typical happy ending — these are all narratives that used to work in the past. I feel that stories, around the world, have evolved. The audience’s tastes have changed. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, very few people realise this.”

He continues, gesticulating with his hands. “There is this one character, going down a straight road throughout. And then there’s this other one who gets to play with emotions, go up and down, hit highs and lows. I would rather play the latter, even if it’s a negative character. At least I’ll have something to do, there will be arcs to explore. I have never liked monotonous characters.”

He certainly isn’t monotonous in THKN. Was he not apprehensive that he might receive a backlash for playing a character who is so utterly hateful? “Only momentarily,” he admits. “Audiences do tend to get confused between fact and fiction sometimes, but I was ultimately playing a character. There are certainly men like Atif in the world. He wasn’t unique.”

I am curious: were the scenes in which he hits Saba Qamar faked? “Yes, and I would hesitate there,” Asad says. “I wanted the scene to look authentic but, at the same time, I didn’t want to accidentally end up hitting her. Otherwise, the screaming and taunting was fine.” He grins.

The problem with being ‘good’

Before we saw him on screen as the diabolical Atif, Asad’s recent work had been more generic. Seeing him on screen, I had often felt that he was trying to make do with roles in which he didn’t have much to do. Drama-makers, notorious for their lack of imagination, had seemed to have sequestered him firmly into the role of the unfailing good brother or good friend.

“There have been recent roles where I have had nothing to do,” he agrees. He mentions his project last year with 7th Sky Entertainment. “In Ae Musht-i-Khaak, I was playing the good brother, supportive of my sister, taking stands for her but, then, that was it! I would have long discussions with my director Aehsun Talish about how this guy needed to be doing something more, but even he was at a loss. He told me that this was just how the character was supposed to be.”

Then what did he do? “I tried to improvise as much as I could. If the actor opposite me [Feroze Khan] was livid with anger and shouting, I would stare him down and stay silent. A lot of people actually told me that they enjoyed the contrast that I depicted through my character. I just did what I could with the role,” he shrugs.

Does he feel that, for a while there, he got typecast playing good-but-boring supporting characters in dramas? “Yes, for a while,” he agrees. “But then, an actor has to realise for himself that he is on the verge of getting typecast and start refusing work that doesn’t excite him. There have been many times when I have sat out three or four months at home, waiting for the right roles to come my way. Every actor needs to do this sometimes, if they can financially afford to do so.”

The long wait for the right role

I am curious: what does he do when he has three or four months free at home?

“It’s important to not become negative. I may feel down for a bit but I know that it is imperative that I shake myself out of it,” he says. “I start preparing myself for whatever role will come to me next. I’ll work out, perhaps I’ll reinvent my looks by changing my hair or wardrobe. I haven’t taken any acting classes and my learnings have all been from the content that I see from around the world. I watch movies and series extensively and I note certain nuances to a character or an expression that I could later add to whatever role that I am playing.”

An actor has to realise for himself that he is on the verge of getting typecast and start refusing work that doesn’t excite him. There have been many times when I have sat out three or four months at home, waiting for the right roles to come my way. Every actor needs to do this sometimes, if they can financially afford to do so.”

But then, after watching diverse content from around the world, does he feel disillusioned by the lack of experimentation within Pakistan’s entertainment industry, with the same kinds of stories and characters repeated again and again in dramas?

“It can get upsetting,” he concedes, “because you feel that you are capable of doing the same kind of work as these actors abroad, but you don’t have the option. The channels and the producers decide what kind of content they want to invest in, and you just have to follow their decisions. It’s their money after all. They know what clicks with the audience, what is likely to bring in ratings.”

However, he asserts: “At any point in time, though, we have a choice to refuse a script that we don’t believe in. It’s unethical to sign on to a drama, take money for it and then criticise it. No one forced you at gunpoint to play the character. You did it for yourself, to earn money, to be visible on screen and so, you owe it to the producer that you give your 100 percent to the role.”

Asad continues: “I do feel, though, that you can never tell what will be a hit with the audience. An unconventional drama could become a success. In my own experience, I may pour my heart into a scene and the audience won’t notice it. And then, I may have just randomly enacted a role that wins acclaim.”

Would he be willing to work in films?

“Of course I would, but someone has to offer me a role for me to play it,” he smiles wryly. “Over here, people who make movies end up casting themselves in them. I think I’ll have to eventually produce my own movie in order to make my cinematic debut!”

Coming back to dramas, has waiting for the right roles worked for him? Asad smiles. “I think it has. I am acting in two very interesting dramas right now. I can’t discuss them because of contractual obligations, but I am really enjoying myself. There are some really good roles coming soon.” He gestures towards himself, “This is the look that I am supposed to have for one of the characters that I am playing.”

I’ll describe his ‘look’ at this point; he’s grown his hair, tossing his curls in a side-parting, has a slight stubble and a light moustache and is wearing a casual suit. You enjoy changing your looks, I observe.

“Absolutely,” he says. “I see so many actors looking the same way in five consecutive dramas. That must get really boring for the audience. Girls have more options to experiment, changing their hair and make-up. But men can at least make changes to their beards or their hair.”

Family ties

Did he always want to be an actor? “Yes, always!” he replies. “As children, we would see our mamoon [maternal uncle] going to shoots and I really just wanted to be the same way. Acting brings a joy of its own and, then, the fame it brings with it brings joy and, also, the money you earn from it.”

His mamoon is, of course, veteran actor Adnan Siddiqui. Has he availed any benefits from being related to such a seasoned industry professional? “I don’t think I have availed any benefits as such. All the work that I have done is the result of my own hard work and merit,” he says.

“For me, he’s my mamoon, not actor Adnan Siddiqui. Zara, mamoon and I do have very enjoyable conversations,” he says referring to his wife, actress Zara Noor Abbas Siddiqui. “We discuss work-related projects and he tells us about the new work that he is doing.”

Asad continues, “Zara and I are lucky that we have so many veterans in our family. There’s Zara’s mother Asma Abbas, her aunt Bushra Ansari, my uncle Adnan Siddiqui and, then, Zara and myself. That’s five people within one family, working in the same industry. I hope that, one day, both Zara and I manage to reach the same heights of success as our elders.”

Is marriage to an actor working in the same industry difficult, considering the unconventional timings, the frequent long work-trips and the constant scrutiny of social media? Asad’s answer is one that I have come to expect from most people in his fraternity.

“Marriage can be tricky, overall, regardless of what profession you’re in. Both the husband and wife have to compromise and make an effort towards making it work. If you find a good companion, then marriage is a very good thing. I enjoy the fact that Zara and I are both from the same industry. We don’t talk too much about work but, still, we’re on the same page when we’re discussing different experiences. We are also very harsh critics of each other’s work — sometimes too harsh, but we always know that the other person means well!”

Can the social media scrutiny sometimes be a bit too much? For instance, recently, there were widespread rumours on social media of him and Zara having gone their separate ways.

“I saw the news on Instagram and I was completely shocked,” he says. “But then, I decided, who cares? Who are these people anyway? They are not my friends or my relatives and I am not answerable to them. Why should I even bother to give them a clarification, especially since none of them verified the news with me before putting it out?”

Perhaps a statement issued by him or Zara could have cleared the air, I suggest. “But we didn’t need to, especially for a group of people that we didn’t even know,” he says. “If I had released a statement, it would have led to them creating more headlines out of it. I couldn’t care less, nor could my family.”

Asad adds: “Social media is just such a useless thing, and we give it too much importance. There is an increasing tendency of casting social media influencers in roles because they have huge followings and will boost ratings. But where’s their body of work? What’s the criteria of casting them in major projects, shoulder to shoulder with an actor who has given his sweat and blood to the profession for 50 years? That’s just so unfair.

“If something is utilised in a balanced way, then it can be beneficial. But our obsession with social media is a bit too much. Some of Hollywood’s biggest stars don’t have Instagram accounts. In Pakistan, though, it is considered imperative that a person is active on social media. There are many actors here who are brilliant at what they do, but no one — social media pages or channels — give them much importance because they are low-profile, don’t post too much, don’t move in the crowd that is considered ‘in’.”

He adds, “I am not very active on social media. I just can’t be. I enjoy posting about my work but I wouldn’t want every little part of my life to be broadcasted to the world.”

I tentatively broach a recent painful episode in his personal life — one I am not sure he’ll answer, considering that it has nothing to do with his profession — when he and Zara lost their newborn baby. Zara has subsequently discussed the mental pain that she had endured in numerous interviews. Are they both now apprehensive about trying to have another child?

Asad does answer. “We are not. We were in a lot of pain — Zara, much more than me, since she had actually given birth to the baby — but what happened was God’s will. For five, six months, Zara was in a really bad state. Her pain was so much that it distracted me from my own sense of loss. But we both knew that God meant for this to happen. And we will get what is meant for us, when He wills it.”

Does he apply the same faith to his professional journey? “Absolutely, and it has kept me mentally strong,” he says.

“If a role that was discussed with me gets given to someone else, then it wasn’t meant for me in the first place. If someone is getting more opportunities than me, even though I feel that I could have done a better job, that’s just his or her destiny. It’s very important to stay focused on your own work rather than wallow in self-pity or delve into comparisons. The revenue, the fame, the work that is meant for me, will come to me.”

It’s a powerful philosophy to live by and I hope that Asad keeps believing in it as he navigates his personal and professional journey. The Pakistani entertainment industry and its fixation with typical, toxic tropes and repetitive, ratings-oriented storylines can be unexciting and frustrating for actors wanting to push boundaries.

But a hyperventilating, jealous husband called Atif is an indication the tide is turning for Asad Siddiqui. Maybe, very soon, we’ll see him soaring high with more performances that are not the usual cookie-cutter ones.

Published in Dawn, ICON, December 3rd, 2023

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