If you have not heard of Mere Paas Tum Ho (MPTH), you have probably been living in a cave. The blockbuster drama, which ended earlier this year, centred on a cheating wife who dumps her humble husband for a richer and more dashing man (Shahwar) played by Adnan Siddiqui.
“Shahwar’s character was ‘grey’ and that appealed to me,” says Siddiqui, as we settle into conversation. His parrot, Munnu, flutters around impatiently and only after he finds a comfortable spot on Siddiqui’s arm does he settle down as well.
Choosing to play Shahwar is in many ways in line with Siddiqui’s work philosophy – since his debut in Uroosa in 1994 he has dabbled in roles other than the typical ‘hero’. “I have always been slightly different from other actors. When I say different, I don’t mean that my hair is green or anything like that… I’m different but with class.”
I am not entirely sure what he means by this, but suffice it to say that Siddiqui is polished and articulate and with a body of work to his credit that is both impressive and diverse. In many instances, he has played negative or weak characters and even supporting roles (Meray Qatil Meray Dildar and Doraha).
Siddiqui gives the reasoning behind this by quoting veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah. “Koi role bara ya chota nahi hota. Actor bara ya chota hota hai." [No role is big or small; actors are big or small].” I don’t know if I am pulling off his kind of acting, but I do follow what he said.”
Siddiqui seems quite self aware. He says that he could never be a director, because he is a perfectionist and lacks the patience. Instead, he has become a producer and recently established Cereal Entertainment, a production house which has several dramas to its credit.
His other business ventures include Billboards Inc., an outdoor agency he co-established in 1997 and which is still running. At around the same time, he opened Clipper’s (a hair salon) and later Get Smart. “Unlike other actors who introduced clothing lines, I went into grooming,” he says.
Perhaps he did so in his quest to be ‘different’. And while on the topic of grooming, he points out that what also makes him different is that he is comfortable with his greying hair, unlike many of his contemporaries who want the ‘jet-black hair look’. At this point, I can’t resist asking why he took on the (in)famous Moltyfoam commercial in which he played Mahira Khan’s father. His reply? “I wanted to see what I would look like when I was older; besides, they paid me an arm and a leg.”
Despite his accomplishments, Siddiqui is down to earth and credits this to his upbringing. When he decided to be an actor (after a successful modelling stint), his father gave him some sound advice to the effect of: “Today you are playing the hero; tomorrow, you will be playing his brother, father and then grandfather. Your looks will fade; the one thing that will stay with you is your humility, so be nice to people. Aim to be the best… but stay grounded.”
Siddiqui also quotes a line of poetry his father read to him, which serves “as his legacy”. “Urooj-e-bakht mubarak. Magar dihan rahe inhi dino ke ta’aqub main hain zawal ke din.” (Congratulations on your success. But remember, your downfall is not far.)
What may have also contributed to his being down to earth is the fact that he began working as a sales rep for Colliers Encyclopaedia as a teenager because he wanted to experience the “flavour of earning”. Later, in college, he had a tendency to be late for class (a habit that still lingers as he was almost an hour late for our meeting, albeit then apologising profusely), so he asked his father to buy him a motorbike. When his father refused he found another way.
“During family weddings, I gave my family members a letter which said: ‘If you want me to become a successful man, please donate Rs 10 towards a motorbike so that I can reach college on time and attend my lectures.’” Two years later, he was able to buy his bike.
Siddiqui is one of the few (if not the only) Pakistani actors to have worked in both Hollywood and Bollywood – for A Mighty Heart (2007) and Mom (2017). Talking about his recollections of the time, rather than gush over Angelina Jolie or Sridevi, he seems more smitten by the professionalism he saw there. “They were beautiful experiences; in Hollywood they work for eight hours and never on the weekend – they are very professional, which is also the case in Bollywood.”
Despite his work as an actor, his production house and outdoor agency, Siddiqui is not a workaholic. He has three children, Maryam, Dania and Zayd, and is married to Palwasha Khan. His hobbies are varied and he recently took an interest in shair-o-shairi (he quotes a couplet every now and then) and plays the flute and harmonium. He terms these ‘creative expressions’ for which he did not receive any formal training; rather, they are “God given gifts”.
On the subject of MPTH, I ask him what he thought about the misogynistic dialogues in the drama, and the derogatory comments Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar, the scriptwriter, made on television about women recently. Siddiqui’s response is measured. “They are his thoughts and even if they are misogynistic, they cannot take away from his beautiful dialogues or his abilities as a writer. On a personal level, there were some problematic dialogues, but at the end of the day, a drama is a drama.” He adds that: “My one grouse with women is that despite the many dramas that have portrayed men in a negative manner, no man has threatened to file a case [against the producers], which is what happened with MPTH. I think people need to be a little more tolerant.”
It is pertinent to mention here that in January, he took to Instagram and said: “I understand the dialogues [in MPTH] had some problematic leanings, and sometimes went a little far in painting women with a single brushstroke... [at] Cereal Entertainment I am giving women writers the chance and space to create good content.”
Siddiqui has kept his word and his forthcoming film Dam Mastam was written by Amar Khan who also plays the female lead. About the film, he says it has a bit of everything – drama, comedy and masala. In all probability it will be ‘different’ from other Pakistani films released of late – it is after all his subtle trademark.