Sultana Siddiqui, director and producer, in profile.
First published in January-February 2005
Yet another new TV channel has hit an already ebullient media scene. This time headed by a woman with a few very strong ideas and not inconsiderable experience in the field.
Sultana Siddiqui is not your average woman. She cannot be put into one neat little box. She is different and well aware of it. In many an interview, which I read to prepare for my meeting with her, Sultana comes off sounding harsh and severe, like a ruthlessly hardcore feminist. In my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth.
That she is concerned about the plight of women in Pakistan and their portrayal in the media is true beyond a doubt. That she would foist her strong ideas on others through her work, is not only completely false, but also a gross misrepresentation of what she has tried to achieve via her long career as producer and director at PTV, and what she hopes to accomplish with the launch of her new channel, Hum TV.
Sultana’s firm handshake and introduction belied the soft-spoken person that emerged just five minutes after we met. Starting her career of choice early in life, and staying with it throughout has made Sultana the seasoned professional she is today.
She clearly enjoys reminiscing about her career and talks fondly of her initial foray into the world of Pakistani television.
“I initially started working with PTV in 1974, when I played the lead role in two drama serials.”
But watching herself in front of the camera proved to be too odd for Sultana, who much preferred to be behind it. In spite of being camera shy, she continued to present a programme on social issues for PTV, and proudly asserts that she was responsible for deciding which guests to invite and the topics for discussion.
At the same time, the channel was looking to hire new producers and assistant producers. Sultana jumped at the opportunity to experience life from behind the camera and immediately applied for the job. After the requisite rounds of interviews and tests, Sultana, along with several others, was put through 14 months of comprehensive training, after which the results of a grand test selected five producers. Sultana was one of them.
Her initial projects for PTV-centred around musical and children’s shows. In spite of her eternal desire to direct dramas, her devotion to her own children prevented her from taking on the greater commitment, she felt, dramas required. However, her dedication to maintaining a strong family life did nothing to detract from her work. And the results are obvious by the number of awards that sit on her shelf. With an award for 25 years of Best Productions for Children and one for Best Director of Musical Programmes, Sultana has a lot to be proud of.
Even though she was tremendously successful, Sultana’s lifelong passion of directing dramas still lay dormant. As soon as her children were older, she decided to actively pursue dramas and produced ‘Marvi’, which became a massive hit and won her yet another award. It was also the first drama to touch upon the sensitive issue of karo-kari in Sindhi society and served as an effective precursor of the direction Sultana would take in future productions.
Over the years, Sultana’s active involvement in a number of forums (the Arts Council, Business and Professional Women, Sindh Graduates Association) has strengthened her resolve to bring women into the limelight. “It’s a man world,” says Sultana pragmatically, “women have to work doubly hard to move forward.” In her quest to promote women, she has hired several young women at Hum and provided them with opportunities to experiment with soap operas. “Not only does this allow them to get some exposure but it also increases the pool of trained women in the country.”
As her involvement in drama continued to grow, Sultana decided to set up her own production company. In 1996, Momal Productions was born. Even though there was a trend of many PTV producers secretly initiating private production companies, Sultana says Momal was a transparent project from the word go.
“There was a rule in place at the time that any PTV producer who was involved in private work would have 33% deducted from his/her earnings and I was happy to follow that rule,” Sultana states guilelessly.
Beginning with Yeh Zindagi, as work picked up pace at Momal Productions, Sultana felt the need to immerse herself in the company on a full-time basis. So she quit PTV in 2000 and pursued her primary objective, “to produce quality work.”
In spite of achieving tremendous success in television production, Sultana was still looking for something different and challenging, something that would set her apart from the rest. The solution came from her son Duraid, who had recently completed his studies and suggested that his mother consider setting up her own television channel.
The idea clicked with Sultana who had already been looking for a medium, not just to accurately portray the women of Pakistan in a positive light, but also to give them a source of entertainment.
After three years of intense planning, Hum TV was launched recently. The lion’s share of the channel’s planning aspect went into programming.
“We conducted focus groups, consisting of women from different segments of society, to ascertain what types of programmes they would want to watch. We are an entertainment channel; there will be business programmes, but they will be presented in an entertaining manner.”
With so many entertainment-based channels out there, how will Hum TV compete?
Sultana relishes the challenge, saying, “The competition is definitely very strong but the best kind of success is doing well in a competitive environment. We’ve got specialists for everything and that combined with my own experience will prove to people what happens when a channel is run by professionals.”
This, however, does not mean that Sultana is averse to hiring new blood. In fact she realises that there is a scarcity of women and trained human resource in the media.
“The electronic media has suddenly boomed in Pakistan and people can no longer treat it as a hobby. New people need proper training and guidance.”
For Sultana, the solution to the problem is simple; to team up the professionals with the amateurs, not only to train young people, but also to pick their minds for fresh ideas.
Over the years, Sultana’s active involvement in a number of forums (the Arts Council, Business and Professional Women, Sindh Graduates Association) has strengthened her resolve to bring women into the limelight.
“It’s a man's world,” says Sultana pragmatically, “women have to work doubly hard to move forward.”
In her quest to promote women, she has hired several young women at Hum and provided them with opportunities to experiment with soap operas.
“Not only does this allow them to get some exposure but it also increases the pool of trained women in the country.”
Sultana’s strong belief in exposing Pakistani women to outside sources has led to an active involvement with the Media Women Publishers and Journalists Organisation, which recently organised the Women in Media Seminar for South Asian women. Whether or not the seminar has any practical benefit in the future, in Sultana’s opinion, one thing is certain. “There was a lot of interaction and networking, which has helped us to understand each other’s issues as women of the world.”
Truer words were never spoken, for with her sensitivity towards women’s issues and her avid need to provide opportunities in an area where few exist, Sultana truly is a woman of the world.