“Mere Paas Tum Ho has put its entire team in a dilemma,” muses Adnan Siddiqui. “Once it ends, will we ever be able to work on a project that is as phenomenally successful?”
This does not mean that Adnan regrets signing on to the drama, which has skyrocketed into becoming one of Pakistani TV’s biggest hits ever.
With each successive episode, the ratings are shooting high and the YouTube views are multiplying. There are memes and videos inspired by the drama floating on the Internet and Adnan and his co-actors are commonly referred to by the names of their on-screen characters: Humayun Saaed is Danish, Ayeza Khan is his selfish, cheating wife (now ex-wife) Mehwish and Adnan is Shahwar, the suave, rich charmer who lures her away.
I am meeting Adnan at a time when he is revelling in the hype surrounding the drama. We have a heavy duty breakfast as we discuss his current career graph. There are times when we veer off-topic — like when I ask him how he’s avoided weight gain and wrinkles over time.
“I eat everything, as you can see,” he gestures at the grand breakfast laid out before us. “But I exercise regularly every day. And I have great genes,” he twinkles.
There’s more, though, to why Adnan Siddiqui is being called one of Pakistan’s best-looking actors right now: there’s the glow of success around him.
He’s basking in critical and commercial acclaim and receiving frequent offers, from playing celebrity showstopper to being the celebrity guest at a high-end wedding. His inbox is cluttered with enthusiastic messages from fans around the world and his Instagram is on a roll as he quips dialogues and scenes, often accompanied by the many famous people around him — Atif Aslam, Shahid Afridi and his costar Humayun Saeed.
His other TV drama, Yeh Dil Mera, alongside Ahad Raza Mir and Sajal Aly, is also on air and its first few episodes have generated positive reviews.
But we focus first on the massive popularity of Mere Paas Tum Ho and how he has “never seen anything like it.”
Adnan observes, “From the direction to the production, acting and even the soundtrack, this drama is so well-packaged. It’s hard to find technical faults in it. It’s amazing how audiences are reacting to certain scenes and dialogues. And it’s being watched by people all over the world. I feel like such a hero,” he smirks.
But you’ve always been a well-loved hero, I point out. “The responses have never been so prompt and so extensive. I think it’s also because we are now living in the age of social media and it’s become easier to assess audience reviews,” he says.
“My first big hit was the drama Uroosa, which was also the first episodic serial that I acted in. Suddenly, I was a big favourite. But back then, my fans were mainly young college girls. Now, the fans are varied; from young girls to older women to men! Did you know that, according to surveys, men comprise 55% of Mere Paas Tum Ho’s audience?”
No, I did not know this — but I ask him if this could possibly be because the drama has obviously been written from a masculine perspective?
In a recent online interview, the drama’s writer Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar was openly misogynistic, making some very offensive remarks and stating that a woman who was unfaithful was “not a woman at all” in his eyes.
The drama echoes his views in some of the dialogues and while Adnan may be the no-good wife-stealer, Ayeza’s character is the all-out vamp as the woman who chooses to live with her lover and deserts her husband as well as her child. Doesn’t Adnan feel that the script is more inclined towards discrediting women?
“It is a very well-told story about something that truly does happen in Pakistani society,” he points out.
“That’s how it needs to be looked at. Ayeza may be the villain, but Hira Mani’s character is depicted in a positive light as an independent woman with strong values. Every TV drama has a story to tell and a lesson to give. I don’t think that the drama has been written specifically for men or for women — it is for the Pakistani audience, overall, and they are connecting well to it.”
Still, does he agree with Khalilur Rehman Qamar’s statements? “I wouldn’t have said what he said but that’s just the kind of person he is. He has his opinions and he’s unafraid to say them out loud. But look at the title song that he’s written. How effective his wordplay is. That’s what needs to be appreciated!”
His appreciation of Qamar’s dialogues is quite evident, especially since he has been making plenty of jokes about one very viral dialogue from the drama, where Humayun, spurned by Ayeza, calls her “do takay ki”.
“The dialogue isn’t offensive because of the situation in which it is said. And yes, even though it is Humayun’s dialogue, I have been having a lot of fun with it,” Adnan smiles. “My social media following is very organic. I don’t have any PR agent and I just post whatever I find funny or interesting. But I think I am pretty good as my personal PR manager!”
Did he worry initially that he was going to be playing the anti-hero in the story and that he may be slammed at large by audiences? Many female actors, for instance, refused to sign up for the role ultimately played by Ayeza Khan because they feared being hated.
“I don’t think so childishly,” says Adnan. “The drama is so beautifully written that anyone would have wanted to be in it. I did joke to Humayun that as always he was going to be playing the hero while I had been cast as the villain.”
“My last project with Humayun was about 20 years ago and we have a great working relationship. During the initial years of our careers, we were often cast together but then I began noticing that he would often get the main role while I would be playing the second lead. That’s when I backed out. I realised that I would be better off finding my way on my own.”
We turn to the topic of Yeh Dil Mera, his other drama that is currently airing. It’s only into its initial episodes but it’s quite obvious that his character has some very complicated shades.
“Yes, people keep telling me this!” says Adnan. “They say that my character in the drama has multiple personalities. But, really, I wasn’t thinking like that when I played the role.”
“I did very carefully plan out my character’s appearance. I play Sajal’s father and I wanted to have pepper-grey hair, a moustache and a beard. I don’t mind looking old or dabbling with changes in my looks.”
Could it be because he’s always been one of Pakistan’s best-looking actors, I tease him. He laughs. “It’s because I want to bring something new to every role.”
The pepper-grey hair suits him and it’s quite obvious that his character is pivotal to the story. Why was he not as visible in the initial promotions, though?
“I wasn’t very visible in Mere Paas Tum Ho’s initial teasers also. I found it strange although I later realised that the producers wanted to unveil my character as a surprise element. With Yeh Dil Mera, again, the producers must have their reasons. I’d just like to say that it’s good that channels promote their younger heroes and heroines but they should also not forget the veterans that are loyal to them.”
I doubt that he is quite so forgotten: he is currently ruling the roost in two very popular dramas and he is also a mainstay at awards ceremonies — especially the Hum Awards, which have staged their last two editions at international locations and, due to budgetary concerns, ended up hurting quite a few egos by inviting a select list who are flown and put up in hotels by the channel. Adnan’s a regular attendee.
“I like awards — when they take place abroad,” he smiles. “It’s a great chance to have fun and to spend time with my fraternity. I often don’t attend other awards ceremonies, especially those that I feel are not fair.”
Is he thinking about awards nominations with his current popularity high? “I am just enjoying the feedback. And the great thing is that when Mere Paas Tum Ho ends, Yeh Dil Mera will still be airing. Otherwise, you know what they say: out of sight, out of mind!”
And yet, there are long inevitable gaps in actors’ careers when they don’t have work and are waiting for the right scripts to come in. Does he dread a time in the future when none of his projects will be airing on TV?
“No. I think I managed to get self-actualised at a very early age, thanks to my father,” says Adnan. “I know what my worth is. I know that I want to do quality work. And I have been clever. Even when I am not busy with acting, I am focusing on my other businesses, the Get Smart men’s salon, my outdoor advertising company and my just-announced debut into film production.”
His first film, Dam Mastam, has Imran Ashraf Awan and Amar Khan as the main leads. What made him opt for actors who haven’t yet ventured into film?
“They’re very good actors. That’s what matters. I’d rather try my luck with actors making their cinematic debuts rather than take on the pressure of a veteran who has done well earlier and may or may not be able to do the same in my movie. I have great faith in my director, Ehteshamuddin, and the music is beautiful.”
We proceed to listen to the soundtrack, much of which has been composed and sung by a relatively new musician that Adnan has decided to support. “I want to give a chance to newcomers and make my own way, rather than do what others are doing,” he says. And then, he proceeds to recite a verse penned by his father, which compares a river to the sea:
“Hadd say na guzar (Stay within your limits)
Sailab na bunn (Don’t become a flood)
Chakkar mein na phans (Don’t get lost in a whirlpool)
Gardab na bunn (Don’t become dirty water)
Bann halki mauj magar aisi jiss mauj pe darya naaz karay (Be a light current but the sort of current that makes the river proud)”
“I consider myself to be just like water, finding my own way, paving my own path,” he adds. If that’s the case, the water current is running strong right now, I comment. “Yes, well,” he grins. “Wait and see.”
There’s more to look forward to in both his dramas, and he’s already thought up some new witticisms for his Instagram page. His movie has just begun shooting and he’s come on board as a celebrity showstopper in the upcoming Hum Bridal Couture Week.
Yes. The water’s just thundering away.