Bridging the gap

Humayun Saeed is a Pakistani actor who has gained notoriety on both sides of the border, being a big player in both Lollywood and Bollywood alike.

By Asim Qureshi

Published: Sun 31 Jan 2010, 9:17 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 2:09 AM

Here he tells City Times of his rise to stardom and his upcoming feature to be shot in Dubai

The story of one of Pakistan’s leading super stars, vastly admired on cinema and TV, is one that appears to defy conventional wisdom. At 18 he gave up his dream of going abroad to enroll in higher education and eventually go on to a career in engineering. Major losses suffered by his family business meant he had to remain in his homeland and complete his Bachelor’s degree.

After graduation he entered working life with a teaching job but later took up an assistant’s job at a garment factory. Although not being strictly qualified for the role, through hard work and his magnetic personality Humayun managed to make it up the ladder to become a Production Manager in just three years.

As a result of his observed ability to befriend people with ease a colleague recommended an opportunity to act on television. His family objected at first and initially so did he as he already had a stable job. However, the thought of taking the opportunity would not leave him. After convincing his family he attended the audition on the condition that this would be his one and only attempt at showbiz. It proved a successful turn and since then Humayun has not only lived out his dream to see the world but also made it as one of the highest paid and finest actors the Pakistan film industry has seen in years.

When did you realise that acting would become your forte?

The credit must be shared among producers who believed in me starting from my debut with Tasleem Aslam of PTV who had the eye to cast me in the popular series Yeh Jehan. This was at the end of 1995 and back then I could never imagine giving up my stable job. However, fate kept on knocking at my door and so came the television film Zehar by Yasir Akhtar, which made me an overnight star. The morning after, I had people pointing at me on the streets and the industry congratulating me for one of my best performances to date. In fact many of my fans still remember me from Zehar and it has a special place in my heart.

From there on big TV directors like Kazim Pasha, Sultana Siddiqui, and Mehreen Jabbar started casting me and suddenly I found myself among the cream of the industry. I remember while shooting for Mehreen Jabbar’s tele- film how I cried for the first time in a scene opposite Khalida Riyasat and this was the moment when I realised that acting comes naturally to me. From that day onwards I have never looked back and knew that I was born to act. In fact my conviction along with managerial experience led me to produce therefore giving birth to Humayun Saeed Productions in 1998.

You broke an unwritten film industry rule by marrying early in your career, how did this happen?

I met Samina through my family and we clicked instantly, so much that my own plans for staying single and enjoying life started to fade away. Samina was vocal about her insecurities with showbiz so I decided to take her to the shootings with me. It was then that she got firsthand experience of what was around me at work. She was pleased to meet Sania Saeed, Marina Khan and Mehreen Jabbar, all girls from educated and good family backgrounds. To this day we made good friendships so eventually she let her guard down and agreed to my choice of acting as a career. It’s also true that I was conscious of the myth of not getting married at such an early stage of your career in showbiz. But, I was so madly in love with Samina that nothing else mattered to me. We got married in 1996 before my debut on cinema. Her support helped tremendously in my family’s acceptance of my choice of career.

Then came Inteha in 1998, your cinema debut and a movie that gave Lollywood its first anti-hero. Was this planned unlike your debut on television?

I had never thought of doing cinema because my wife was totally against it. The prevailing image of Lollywood didn’t help either. But it so happened that one fine day Samina Peerzada one of our leading TV actresses and directors called me to discuss her debut film and you just don’t say no to her. I had detailed sessions on the script and lived the character for a long time. The role was challenging as it brought into the limelight a negative type of hero. The director’s confidence in me helped in making my decision and I started convincing my wife. I know you will laugh at this but I promised her as well that this would be my one and only attempt at cinema.

I remember my first day of shooting with Peerzada who handled me like a true professional. She coached me on the format being different in terms of movement and techniques for an actor coming from television. This was a remarkable learning experience, which helped me evolve as an artist. Of course, I drew inspiration from Amitabh Bachchan since I have always been a fan but my performance was dependent on me and my director. I cannot explain my feelings when I arrived to see the first show of Inteha; I had never been so tense. To witness the public response and their approval was indeed the most satisfying moment of my career.

From a romantic lead on television to the obsessive anti-hero on the silver screen, your fan base from Lollywood to Bollywood has accepted you as a complete actor. How do you manage the two extremes of your image?

It was always a conscious effort on my part to differentiate my style when I transferred from television to cinema. My last film Jashan was released last year and the producer Mahesh Bhatt had asked me earlier if I would be comfortable doing a negative but central role for my debut in Bollywood. I told him that not only did I trust his choice of role for me but actually preferred it as it allows the variety of my performances to flourish.

I have always defied convention to make space for myself and when it came to launching my Bollywood debut I relied on my natural instinct to go for the negative character. I was more concerned with the response and it pleased me immensely to read the reviews of India’s well-known critics who both singled me out as a good addition and a complete actor. As for my fans around the world, I am thankful to them for so much of their love and encouragement.

So what are your future plans?

As you know I am also in the business of producing so my hands are full with home productions, which are mostly dramas. However, at the moment I am shooting for Nache Le a mega dancing reality show by ARY Digital, which will start airing in December. It’s my first experience as a judge on such shows and I am really looking forward to the audience response on this one. Other than that I am very excited about my next Bollywood movie with Mahesh Bhatt titled Balaa. Talent will be used from both India and Pakistan and filming will take place in Pakistan and Dubai.

Inputs by David Light

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