A GREAT body of work provides compelling evidence that Adnan Siddiqui is one of the finest Pakistani actors of all time.
The versatile star came to prominence with 1994 drama serial Uroosa and since delighted cross-generational audiences with performances across a wide range of genres through characters that have left a permanent mark. Apart from raising the acting bar in his country, he has also inspired a generation to follow in his giant footsteps with work that has included iconic drama serials, along with films with international names like Angelina Jolie and Sridevi. Recently, he connected himself to a whole new generation by becoming a popular meme on social media.
Eastern Eye caught up with the Pakistani acting giant to discuss his glittering career, art of giving a perfect performance, inspirations, and key life lessons.
How do you look back on your journey as an actor?
So far so good! I’m enjoying it and started in 1991 with my first independent play Khwabon Ki Zanjeer. Since then, I have not looked back. God has been kind and for almost three decades I’m still surviving. That means I’m doing something good.
Is there any one project that’s closest to your heart?
As the saying goes, the credit will always go to the person who has invented the tyre, not a bicycle. So, my claim to fame is Uroosa and will always be Uroosa. My first ever serial and the fame I received through that! I think because of that I’m still surviving.
Which role challenged you most?
I think every role has to be a challenge in front of me. If it’s not a challenge I don’t do it. So, I take every role very seriously. I think every role I do is a big challenge and I have to clear that challenge.
You’ve worked with some incredible talent globally, but is there one that stands out for you?
I’ve been lucky with projects I’ve got, including in Hollywood and Bollywood. All have been amazing in some way and has a different kind of value. But working with Angelina Jolie (A Mighty Heart), a top actress of Hollywood, and late Sridevi (Mom), a top actress of Bollywood, stand out. I’ve been lucky, but I enjoyed Mom more than A Mighty Heart because the language and culture between the two countries are similar.
Does the fact you are admired as an actor and all the success put pressure on you?
See the pressure is always there, every time when you do something. It’s a challenge not only in terms of what I’ve done, but also if people will accept this role or not. Luckily, people have encouraged me in all the projects I’ve done. It is always a big challenge because I have to prove my mettle every time. Secondly, I have to do something different from before with my next project, which means I have to work a little harder. That’s the reason it’s been almost three years since I have accepted a single script, because they haven’t been close to my heart.
For me, more than being a big star you’re a great actor. What’s the secret of a good performance?
I’m not a method actor and haven’t studied acting. It’s more of a natural process. Every time when I do a scene, it is different from before. I just think it is a tough job. My secret is I’m a director’s actor. I will give my input but end of the day it is the director’s call. Whatever the director thinks is good for the character, for me and the project, I will go with that.
Tell us more?
If you talk more about secrets, then once I read an autobiography of Marlon Brando. He says, if I have to judge an actor – from out of 100, how would I mark him? So, 95 per cent, he considered the look. When I say the look, that doesn’t just mean, how am I looking. It includes your tone, dialogue delivery, dressing sense, character you are in, voice control and everything. Four per cent is your luck and one per cent is your acting skills. Thank God, it is like this! (Laughs) Had it been 95 per cent acting, I would have been surviving only as a starving actor.
Do other actors get intimidated by you on set because if I was working opposite you, I’d be petrified?
I believe acting is not about one person. It’s about teamwork. When you talk about teamwork, I learned it the hard way. In my (early) days when I was acting, I was pressurised by my seniors. Not only did they pressurise me, but I used to take this pressure for no reason. Now, I fall in that age bracket where I get along with my youngsters and seniors. So, I fall somewhere in the middle, where I can see-saw between the two. Now when I’m working with my juniors, I have to make that person very comfortable. I don’t make them think this is Adnan Siddiqui, so be careful. It’s not like this! It’s always teamwork. If that person is doing something wrong, it means the entire scene is going wrong. If I’m doing something wrong that means I am basically not doing justice with the person in front of me.
What does a project need to have, for you to say yes?
I’ve always believed that it has to touch my heart and soul. If it’s really good I will not even go for the monetary reasons and just grab it. I am just looking for something out of the box, which should have a class of difference.
Is there a forthcoming project you are excited about?
Would you believe that I don’t have anything in my hand right now? After three years, I just did an independent tele-film and it was a very unique role, where I was not looking as Adnan Siddiqui. See, I don’t want to look like myself, but as a character. A character needs some kind of magic, if I want to do that role. This is the role of a serial killer. It’s a tele-film with only two characters in it. It’s just the interrogation room. That’s about it! So that was a little challenging for me. I just did that and am looking forward to how it’s going to turn out.
Do you have a dream role?
A dream role only comes with passion and passion comes with professionalism. Like I have said earlier, whatever I will do, I will do it with my heart and make it as a dream role. I don’t plan a role or any character. I just see what’s touching me, my soul and heart. Then I will make it a dream role.
What’s the biggest life lesson lockdown has taught you?
How to survive without money! That is the big lesson I’ve learned. I believe that you know when you’re in this situation where this bug is hitting all over the world, it makes things quite challenging in terms of like not only surviving, but in terms of thanking God for giving this life, which is very precious and only for once.
What inspires you creatively?
Like I said, my inspiration is good work. My inspiration is hard work and what touches my soul. My inspiration is whatever comes to me, I should do justice with that.
How do you feel about being a popular meme? The memes inspired by your photo are hilarious and I can’t stop laughing at some of them.
(Laughs) I’m doing the same! Trust me, it has done some wonders for me. See, when I say God is kind, God is kind in a lot of ways for me. For actors, they often say, out of sight out of mind and I’ve been out of sight for almost three years. Then this meme came and brought me right on the top again. So, somehow it is good for me. Somehow, I learned something about memes and what they are. Not only that, I am now thinking of taking this thing to NFT. So, it’s good.
A lot of youngsters look up to you. What key advice would you give those starting on their journey and following your footsteps?
See everything has become so fast. People think doing things like TikTok videos and memes can create opportunities in acting; trust me it is not like this. Acting is a very serious thing. In my days, I was lucky and there was only one channel. Now the competition is really high. I believe that if they are really interested and can afford it, they should study acting and take it seriously. There are no shortcuts in life.
Would you like to give a message to your fans?
I just simply want to say, first of all, thank you to everyone. Thanks to those creating memes, social media people and those who have appreciated my work across the years. Keep liking me. That keeps me alive. Keep being the honest critic, whether it is the good, bad, or ugly. Just bring it on to me. I will try to make up to it and keep trying to improve each time.