2019 was the year of quality television and quality acting.
Even though a lot of dramas took to the air near the end of the year (like Meray Paas Tum Ho, Ruswai, Ehd-e-Wafa and Ye Dil Mera), our list below features actors who blew us away with their performances earlier in the year.
Here’s a list of celebs we loved watching in 2019 and who, in 2020, we continue to have high, high hopes from.
Iqra Aziz in Ranjha Ranjha Kardi
2019 was definitely the year of Iqra Aziz: from the sassy and funny Jiya in Suno Chanda to Ranjha Ranjha Kardi’s down-and-out Noori, in every role she took on, Iqra Aziz displayed an incredible mastery over her line delivery, facial expressions, comedic timing and body language in a seriously unprecedented way.
“The journey from Suno Chanda to Ranjha Ranjha Kardi has been difficult but undoubtedly a very adventurous one. The beauty of both characters [gave] me something precious that will remain with me for the rest of my life,” Iqra Aziz told me recently.
“If choosing from the two, I would have to say Ranjha Ranjha Kardi’s Noori has been my favourite to play... she was such a challenging, complex and intriguing character. Playing her truly showed me where my strengths and abilities lie.”
So, there you have it, folks. The harder the role, the more Iqra Aziz is there for it. Don’t let that doe-eyed innocence and petiteness fool you because I predict Iqra Aziz is only just getting started.
Saba Qamar as Mannat in Cheekh
Saba Qamar as Mannat was proof that the woman is the quintessentially fully-loaded package: brains, beauty and badass acting abilities.
Even though she doesn’t need prove a damn thing to any of us (because, frankly, at this point, she could pick up a phone book, read it to us for an hour and we’d happily hand over all the awards), Cheekh was a great reminder of how lucky we are to have Saba in our industry.
When she was asked what drew her to Cheekh (especially since she had only recently wrapped up Baaghi, another serial featuring a force of nature, powerhouse-type of female lead), Saba Qamar’s response is matter-of-fact. According to her, we need to be talking about these sorts of issues because we are facing them in our daily lives and if we aren’t the ones to talk about the tough things, who will?
Saba Qamar goes onto say that she put her heart and soul into Mannat. And, man oh man, does it ever show.
Indeed, so raw and unfiltered was her portrayal of Mannat that, more than once, I was moved to tears because of the stunning way she communicates Mannat’s rage and determination to avenge her friend’s murder (and then her mother’s death, husband’s death, etc.).
To quote her fan and friend Sarmad Khoosat: “Aik hi piece hai aisa. Koi aur shaakh nahi hai inki.” (She’s one of a kind and has no branches).
Sajal Aly as Chammi in Aangan
The last few years have been major for Sajal Aly. She made an impressive Bollywood debut, found love with Pakistan’s current crush, Ahad Raza Mir, blew us away with her singing and dancing skills and, on the small-screen, everything she touched turned to gold.
Regardless of how you felt about the loud-mouthed firecracker that was Chammi’s character, you couldn’t resist watching the seemingly effortless way Sajal Aly carried herself on screen with a fluid, old world charm, with mannerisms so reminiscent of olden day actresses and feistiness that was equal parts impressive and alienating. Did or could such women exist in those days? I wish I knew.
Sajal Aly is confident in her work ethic, saying she aims to improve herself with every role she takes on. She’s also quick to point out that with every role, she becomes her own competition.
Sajal is also not shy about her ambitions, saying she wants to take Pakistani television to greater heights, in a new direction.
Well, wherever you are headed, Sajal, please take us with you.
Bilal Abbas Khan as Wajih in Cheekh
This was the year of some seriously deranged and exceptionally well-executed villains — think Imran Ashraf as Rehan in Inkaar, Asad Siddiqui as Jawad in Surkh Chandni and Imran Ashraf as Shahvaiz in Dar Khuda Say.
With so many on-screen villains who made being bad look so damn good, it left me wondering: are villains having all the fun?
I posed this question to everyone’s favourite sociopath, Bilal Abbas Khan’s Wajih Taseer from Cheekh, and it turns out that playing the bad guy can really be as fun as it seems.
According to Bilal Abbas, “playing a negative role was very difficult, very different, but I thoroughly enjoyed it because it gives you a lot of liberty as an actor.”
Makes sense, considering Wajih was not only convincingly disarming with his devil-may-care attitude, he also had some of the best facial expressions and epic dialogues in a show that was already loaded with great dialogue and acting.
Imran Ashraf as Bhola in Ranjha Ranjha Kardi
At the risk of aging myself, there are some characters — like Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump — who just stay with you for life because of how sweet, earnest and real they are. And, after this year’s successful drama series Ranjha Ranjha Kardi, I feel like Pakistan finally has its own Forrest Gump-equivalent in the form of the sweet, honest and loyal to a fault Bhola.
Played to perfection by Pakistan’s national treasure, Imran Ashraf, Bhola’s character makes this list because of the jaw-dropping way Imran Ashraf embodied Bhola.
When I recently asked Imran Ashraf how he prepared for this role, he told me that since he’s been a conscientious observer of his surroundings his whole life, he was able to embody the character with the necessary sensitivity and humility thanks to a lifetime spent picking up cues purely by people-watching.
Imran Ashraf’s Bhola not only left us all floored and frequently laughing, he also helped humanize mentally disabled people for many Pakistanis.
And for that alone, he belongs on this list.
Zahid Ahmed in Ishq Zahe Naseeb
Zahid Ahmed as Sameer/Sameera, a character with dissociative identity disorder, is one of those once-in-a-lifetime roles that any actor would willingly give up a kidney to be able to play. But very few actors could have played the part to such perfection as Zahid Ahmed.
I recently asked Zahid Ahmed how he plans to outdo himself after the role of a lifetime.
After all, how do you outperform yourself after pouring your all into one of the most physically demanding roles we’ve seen on Pakistani television, from living day in, day out in the hair and makeup of Sameer and then Sameera to role-switching between a doting husband and his more manipulative, cunning female alter ego?
Zahid told me this is a question he’s been asking himself since the start of Ishq Zahe Naseeb.
“When I took on Sameer/Sameera, the only responsibility I felt was to do [it] with finesse, such that both personas would seem convincing, entertaining and not comical in any way. I'll leave it to the audience to decide how I fared,” Zahid Ahmed said to me, while adding that he has a wishlist of characters he’d love to play but because he’s a believer in an uncertain universe, he’s content to leave it to God to determine way the wind blows while promising us all that he’ll do his best.
It’s safe to say we are willing to wait. With bated breath.