Soniya Hussain ventured into showbiz with no plans of becoming an actor, but in just five years she has done commercials, has a long list of TV plays to her credit and has proved herself in Jami’s film Moor with her short yet powerful role as the female lead. Soniya spoke to Images on Sunday about where her career will be heading after this turning point.
“I was still at university studying physiology and wanted to be a news anchor. I had rather idealistic views about media bringing the truth to people, but when they auditioned me, they told me that I did not look mature enough on the screen and should come back after doing my Masters.”
Sometime later at another audition, she was then spotted by director Ali Saeed who offered her the lead in drama serial Don’t Jealous.
“At first, I refused but my father encouraged me to accept the role. A few more plays followed but I couldn’t do too much work, as my classes at the university took a lot of my time. It has only been since the last two years that I have started to increase my workload on TV.”
What were the initial days of acting like? “I had no clue about acting and needed a lot of guidance and training. I would watch classic films to learn acting and the work of senior actors like Badar Khalil, Faisal Quraishi and Qazi Wajid. I watched Khuda ki Basti, Toba Tek Singh. Now I feel I could not have been in any other field.”
About her fellow stars, Soniya says, “Since they belong to a different era, the seniors are very well groomed and polished in their work. A lot of educated, young people from good families are coming into this field now, but compared to the seniors, we are more into competition. All the new lot is amazingly talented and sometimes I feel that they are all coming out of an academy or something, they are so good! Especially, considering how clueless I was when I started acting,” she smiled.
She has worked with several well-reputed directors and nearly always bagged the female lead — Mere Humrahi, Mujhe Sandal Kardo, Mere Harjai, Shikwa, Shareek-i-Hayat, Mein Hari Piya, Marasim, the list goes on, but Dareecha remains a personal favourite of hers.
“In Dareecha, I played the role of a girl who works and brings money home yet her father has issues with her in the role of a working woman. Even though I never had those problems in my life, yet I could relate to the issues of thousands of in our society girls who belong to a conservative set up and confront the chauvinistic attitudes in a male-dominated society.”
Talking about the roles that she is now beginning to turn down, she said, “Nowadays, there is a trend of rehashing one successful story into as many serials as possible. When I’m offered a play, there are two things that I want to know straight away before making a commitment — the storyline and the director."
"I’m not in the favour of showing that women in our society are weak and that they should be locked up in the house. We need to educate society to improve it, not take it back to the Stone Age."
"In the beginning I would just look for an interesting character to play," Sonia continues. "But I have learnt that however good a story line may be, a bad director can ruin it. But now I can tell a director’s calibre through his vision and approach in just working with him for a couple of days. Senior directors know their work well; they know what shot to take, which angle to use, and how they are going to use the shot. Their work is streamlined. Others can just tire you with extra shots and also waste everyone’s time.”
What kind of storyline does she like? “I’m not in the favour of showing that women in our society are weak and that they should be locked up in the house due to society constraints and dogma. We need to educate society to improve it, not take it back to the Stone Age. It is our job to cleanse the society of various practices that are evil. If we keep showing them, they will never cease to exist.”
She is already experimenting with her roles and presently has two serials on air with what she feels are meaningful roles. “I am being a bit choosy. I don’t want to play the same kind of rehashed character of a victimised pretty girl, caught in a bad relationship or marriage. I am looking for slightly different roles from the usual. In Nazo, which is on air these days, I play a very challenging role of a special girl. My hair is a mess; there is hardly any make up and no glamourous outfits to wear. I have to express myself by expressions and sounds. I had to spend time with special children to learn their gestures and behaviour. I’m also enjoying Farwa ki ABC, which is a light play focusing on the importance of education.”
Her film experience was amazing. “There is more exposure in films, compared to television. The work was totally different from what is expected from us on TV,” she said. “Jami bhai told me that since you come from a different medium, you will have to use facial expressions in a different way. In a film, a slight smile will be enough but on the mini-screen, a little more expression is required. So I had to be careful as my face is very expressive. If I am angry or sad or happy, it shows on my face instantly.”
Just like her entry into showbiz, her film audition also had a surprise in store for her. “When I was called for the audition for Jami bhai’s film, I knew I would be so happy even if I got a five-minute appearance. Later, I found out that I was to play the female lead opposite Shaz Khan. The shoot started way back, at a time when no films were being produced and if I mentioned the film to anyone, people would laugh and think it was a tele film at the most or one that was being made for an event or something.”
And what was it like to be directed by Jami? “On TV, when we work and we shoot a depressing scene, then cut! We quickly change for a happy scene and vice versa. For Moor, it was different. We would more easily go deep into emotion because Jami bhai would build a depressing ambiance around us. He would make assure that no actors are walking around there chatting or rehearsing their lines, there would be pin drop silence. You would be immersed in emotion."
"Acting is only one half of what comes across the screen, the other half is done by the director," Soniya added. "Sometimes there would be so many retakes until he would be satisfied. Not just with me but with everyone. Once, a whole day went by, but that was to do with technical stuff like light and camera angles. He is a tough director to please! Even if I wasn’t starring in the film, I would still be immensely grateful to him for making a film on such a different dimension. Although I am happy that all kinds of films are being produced so we have a variety for all kinds of audiences.”
Soniya is gung-ho about Bollywood films being shown along with desi films. “Why not? I don’t understand why people want Bollywood films to be banned here. It is all good for healthy competition. How else will people know that we can make better films?”
After working in Moor, Sonia feels there is a greater burden on her as an actor. “There is more responsibility on me now to do better work because people’s expectations have increased. They ask me what kind of work will I be doing now, and will I increase my charges. Unn ko lagta hai ke mein ab paisay barha doongi,” she laughed. “I know that I will have to take things more seriously, will be sifting my work more and looking at the intricacies of a role more carefully. I’m actually thinking of doing some acting courses from abroad to improve my skill. Karen to acha kaam karen, warna na karein.”
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, September 20th, 2015