Her name may be synonymous with quality dramas and meaningful plays, but there is more to Sultana Siddiqui than meets the eye. The veteran director began her career with television in the 1970s, graduated to directing dramas in the 1990s and as we enter the end of the year 2020, she is considered the ‘Sultana’ of the entertainment industry. With evergreen dramas like Marvi, Doosri Dunya and Zindagi Gulzar Hai to her credit as a director and HUM TV Network as her ‘most cherished product’, Sultana Siddiqui has come a long way.
HIP IN PAKISTAN had a chat with the ‘most successful woman’ in Pakistan’s entertainment industry and found out what she had to say about her channel's trendsetting dramas, how she stays relevant, and the importance of creating a ‘safe’ environment so that females with aspirations to join the entertainment industry have no problems from their families.
How does it feel to be the only woman in a man’s world where every other channel is run by someone who is either appointed by the owner or handpicked by the Government?
It does add more responsibility on my shoulders because a) it is a man’s world as you said and b) I am also the only ‘female’ Chairperson of a Media Group who began at the grass-root level. One small step in the wrong direction would seem like a giant one because it was taken by a woman, but thankfully, I managed to avoid the wrong steps. When one comes through the proper channel, he or she understands the duty given to them and that’s how they achieve their goals, one step at a time. Whatever I am today is because of my elders, my colleagues, and my kids who supported me all the way. That's why at HUM TV we try to create a safe and healthy environment, especially for females who want to join the entertainment industry and use their talents to reach the top.
How is it that when one talks about meaningful plays, HUM TV’s name tops the list. Was that a conscious decision or it became your modus operandi as the network progressed?
When we started HUM TV, the viewers were watching Indian dramas that were neither our culture nor there’s. In order to make the audience switch to our kind of dramas, HUM TV began producing and airing quality plays. We knew that if we showed the audience plays that had some message, some meaning, some purpose, they would return to Pakistani dramas, and that’s exactly what happened. People still remember and imitate many of the plays that we aired nearly a decade back, and had we not done that who knows where we might have been in terms of TV dramas.
You are one of the most experienced ‘active’ directors around; why don’t you direct TV dramas now, especially after giving hits like Marvi, Doosri Duniya, and Zindagi Gulzar Hai?
For someone who has been around for as long as myself, it’s now our duty to hand over the reins to upcoming talented individuals and guide them with whatever we have learned during our days. I might be the most experienced ‘active’ director around, as you say, but I am also wearing other hats like heading a major TV network that deals with News, Dramas, and Food. That adds extra responsibility on my shoulders and that’s why I now want to concentrate more on the administrative side and leave the execution to the new entrants, who are talented as well as have the will to conquer the world. Since I was once like them, I like to mentor and monitor them now and that leaves less time for direction.
Do you agree with the ban culture that exists in our country, be it through PEMRA or other institutions?
Whenever you put a stop to something creative, both the mind and the pen suffer. Until and unless you show the evils in society on screen, it will not come into the public eye. Thankfully, we started the trend of new breed of writers with HUM TV who brought in the required change and helped our drama industry stand on its two feet. People might refer to them as digest writers but look at the number of hits they have delivered; if I am getting the message across the world with these writers, I would certainly continue with them. As for the ban culture, all I can say is in order to put across the message into the audience’s heart, one has to take the route that might appear distasteful but actually isn’t. We know that most of our dramas are watched collectively by families so we can’t show something that is vulgar and disgusting. If the drama is executed well and gets the message across, it should be applauded, not banned. PEMRA and other institutions have a job to do, but they should listen to both sides before coming to an educated decision.
HUM TV became a household name thanks to the many musical shows it aired during its initial days; why doesn’t your channel or for that matter any channel promote music like that anymore?
When we started HUM TV some 15 years back, we did the unthinkable by recording and airing private mehfils where upcoming singers used to perform and get appreciated by a private gathering. Since I had done countless musical shows on national television, I knew its importance and it became very popular with viewers from all walks of life. But now with the advent of different platforms, music is now mostly beyond the reach of common audience that enjoyed it not saw it to pass the time. It needs our constant support because it is not just an integral part of our culture but also paints a colourful picture of our country abroad. It hurts to say this but the way we have destroyed our city, we have destroyed our music as well.
Finally something about the awards you have been conferred upon by your first institution Pakistan Television and the Government of Pakistan; does it come as a surprise now that you are managing your own TV network?
I am glad that the Government of Pakistan named me as a recipient of Sitara-e-Imtiaz this year after being conferred with the Pride of Performance earlier. However, it neither comes as a surprise nor was it something that I was expecting; when you have worked hard all your life without specifically doing it for an award, acknowledgement like this does raise your morale. I am thankful to Allah for all the recognition and believe that good things come to those who work hard, and feel that everyone should make it their objective - do good work first, awards will follow later.