Sanam Saeed and Sanam Jung – Double Act

At their best, Pakistani Drama serials offer some of the most compelling viewing on TV. They combine deeply nuanced storylines and dialogue, skilled direction and some truly superb acting. With storylines tackling issues such as child marriage, domestic violence, extra-marital affairs and dowry as well as more light-hearted romances and comedies, Pakistani TV has undergone a renaissance in recent years. For every good serial there is a stereotypical drama that falls far short of the mark, but the television industry as whole has undergone a renaissance that is attracting some very talented actors.

Sanam Saeed and Sanam Jang - Pakistani TV actresses
Ingenue Jung prefers the spontaneity of hosting and finds constant retakes a chore. Saeed, in contrast, is more passionate about acting in all its forms and likes rehearsing so that she can add layers of complexity to her characters.
Sanam Saeed
Sanam Saeed excels at difficult roles

At a glance, the dark dusky Sanam Saeed and the doe-eyed, girl-next-door Sanam Jung may have little in common. But the fact that both these young actresses have managed to carve out a space for themselves with the Pakistani audience says a lot about the evolution of local viewership.

Sanam Jung
Sanam Jung was an instant hit

The viewers are now more accepting of nuanced storylines that do not neatly stack characters in black and white, and allow room for a more realistic portrayal of characters. This has also allowed female leads like Jung and Saeed to experiment with a greater range of roles, instead of flitting between being the vindictive vixen or the damsel that needs to be saved. While these stereotypical roles may always exist, female characters today are in any case more finely drawn and allow for shades of grey that a talented actress can really make the most of.

In an exclusive interview for the Express Tribune I caught up with these two leading ladies to learn more about their experiences, goals and how it feels to be a catalyst in their own right.

Sanam  Saeed

Sanam Saeed
Sanam Saeed in HUM TV’s Talkhiyan

The 29-year-old Saeed is an accomplished actress who has won critical acclaim for her work in theatre, film and on television. She started modeling when she was 16, following up with several commercials. She has also been a background singer on Coke Studio and has starred in several Made for Stage musical theatre productions including Chicago, Mamma Mia and more recently Grease. She was also impressive on stage in Carnage and Dhaani. Saeed recently won a Best Supporting Actress award for her debut film performance in Dil Mera Dharkan Teri. On television, Saeed has become known for her portrayal of progressive characters, receiving both public and critical acclaim.

Q. What’s your family like?

Sanam SaeedI am one of four siblings; I have two brothers and a sister. My mother is a teacher and my father is a retired interior designer. Both my father and my taaya (uncle) are closet comedians and great mimics and I think I get my comic timing from them.

My parents have both been very supportive of my career. We moved back from England where I was born when I was six or seven and I have been attracted to the stage and performing arts from a young age. They have always understood that I am passionate about acting and have encouraged me throughout my career. 

Q. What is the hardest part of acting on television?

The most challenging part of acting for television is the lack of rehearsals. I am used to layering up a character for film or stage and I like to think about how my character would show emotion — happiness, sorrow or anger. Each character’s responses are different from each other and from my own.

The schedule is too hectic in television to allow time for rehearsal so I like to ask for the script beforehand. Even then, it would be wonderful to have more time to go through the scenes with your co-star and bounce ideas off each other.

Q. Which is your favourite role of the ones you have played on TV?

I think the public has liked Kashaf in Zindagi Gulzar Hai but my personal favourite is Zoya in Talkhiyan because it was such a challenging role. Talkhiyan was a remake of The God of Small Things in which I played a Syrian Christian single mother. It was a dream role for me and a project that I was proud to be part of.

Q. How do you feel the public reacts to you after your on-screen performances?

I am incredibly thankful for the love and acclaim I have received from the public. I think that seeing actresses in their living rooms week after week helps people feel comfortable with them, but it’s difficult for the public in general to differentiate between the character and the person. People constantly come up to me and invariably call me by one of my on-screen names. I sometimes find myself changing the way I dress for public appearances based on what I feel my fan base expects, even though I want to maintain my own identity.

Sanam Saeed with FAwad Khan - Zindagi Gulzar Hai
Sanam Saeed with Fawad Khan in Zindagi Gulzar Hai
Sanam Saeed
Sanam Saeed

Q. You are known for playing unconventional roles. Is this a conscious choice or are these the roles that are offered to you?

Theatre and films are my passion because they offer greater scope for intense character exploration. However, Pakistani television today is tackling some very difficult issues and offers excellent writing and direction. Television also has a very wide outreach in society and offers the opportunity to be socially responsible through the characters I play.

I have generally played very strong women on a mission, who are not afraid to stand up for what they believe in. The only exception is my anti-heroine in Kadoorat. I chose to do that role to challenge myself as an actor and to remind myself that I can be versatile.

Q. What’s you biggest weakness as an actress?

I’ve never been particularly careful about my on-screen appearance. With better lighting, close-ups and better production in general I’ve realised that it’s important to pay attention to your looks. Grooming and styling can make a huge difference to the way you look on-screen and I’ve realised that this is as important as your acting performance. I’m now being more particular about my hair and makeup and about the way I dress.

Sanam Saeed
Sanam Saeed

Q. What excites you about TV serials?

I relish the opportunity to be a role model for young girls, particularly middle class girls fighting repressive fathers, brothers and society in general. I like my serials to have some sort of moral or message and I like my characters to question societal injustices. Change happens incrementally and by taking difficult issues into people’s living rooms, it’s possible to spark debate and subtly shift mindsets.

Q. Where do you see yourself in the future?

I would like the opportunity to continue to grow as an actress. I hope that I will continue to be offered challenging roles no matter what the medium; whether it is theatre, film or television.

Sanam  Jung

Sanam Jung in HUM TV's Mohabat Subh Ka Sitara Hai.
Sanam Jung in HUM TV’s Mohabat Subh Ka Sitara Hai.

The 26-year-old Jung started off as a VJ on AAG TV and never wanted to act, although she received repeated offers from various production houses. She dabbled in a telefilm for HUM TV but when AAG TV closed down, she decided to take the plunge with her first serial. She was an instant success as Sila in Dil e Muztar and has legions of fans who fell in love with her sweet on-screen persona. Along with several serials, she also has multiple brand endorsements and commercials under her belt.

Sanam Jung
Fresh-faced Jung is popular and talented

Q. What’s your family like?

I am the eldest of four sisters. We have a lot of fun but we also fight like crazy; I love them to bits and couldn’t do without them. My parents are very supportive although my father was initially concerned that I should complete my BBA since I started my VJ career during my second year at college. I actually completed my degree while hosting so I’m grateful to him for encouraging me to continue with my studies.

Q. What is the hardest part of acting on television?
I found the romantic scenes very difficult at first. I am a shy person and that’s one of the reasons I would blush when making on-screen declarations of love. I guess I’m lucky the shyness suited my role. Crying on-screen was also an issue to begin with and I used a lot of glycerin but now I am learning how to tap into my own emotions.
Sanam Jung
Bright and bubbly Jung is a popular host

Q. You are a TV host as well as an actress. Which do you prefer?

Hosting, any day! It is much more fun. I can be myself and I can be spontaneous. I don’t have to dress up like someone else. In live shows mistakes are glossed over, gone in a minute. There is a lot more work involved in drama serials. There are endless retakes if you make a mistake and you have to become someone else which takes a lot of effort.

Q. How do you feel the public reacts to you after your on-screen performances?

I am blessed to have received a very positive response from the audience. People I meet tend to think that I am like my characters. Aunties will call me by my on-screen name and tell me, “You should speak up, don’t be afraid!” After five minutes with me they realise that I am not at all like my timid on-screen character.

Sanam Jung

Q. You are shooting your third serial and you’ve played a good, innocent heroine in each. Do you think it’s time to try something different?

I consciously chose not to do negative roles when I was starting out because I feel the public always associates you with your first role. Also, I am still a novice actress and I wanted to start with roles that I could relate to. That said, I have been offered a lot of similar roles after Dil e Muztar. I don’t want to fall into a stereotype and I also am wary of overexposing myself, especially since I’m still in my learning phase. However, I do eventually want to attempt different characters.

Q. What excites you about TV serials?

The most important things are a good writer and a good director. It’s great if you work with an established production house because the production quality is that much better. In terms of the types of serials, I personally like love stories because they are fun and sweet.

Sanam Jung
Sanam Jung

Q. What’s your biggest weakness as an actress?

I can’t remember dialogues at all and I’ve ruined countless takes because I’ve mixed up my lines. There was one scene in Dil e Muztar where I had to sweep a floor and then deliver a dialogue. I kept forgetting the lines and had to redo the scene seven or eight times because the director was adamant that we wouldn’t take a cut before the dialogue. You could have eaten off that floor by the time I was done with that scene!

Q. Where do you see yourself in the future?

I am confused because I’m not sure what I want to do in the long term. I want to pick and choose my projects and I want to grow as an actor. I may continue acting in the future or I may be doing something else. I feel it’s too early in my career to be able to say.

 The Audience speaks:

“I love story lines where they address important issues in the society — black magic, female children (as opposed to male), multiple marriages and the feudal lifestyle (especially how it uses and abuses women). What I don’t like is the women’s desperation to get married in many stories, but I guess that’s still a very strong negative in our society. There should be more faces though — it seems that every drama looks the same because the actors are the same.” Nezihe Hussain

“There has been a change in the way women are portrayed. The days of women being the mazloom bechari are over.” Mashkoor ul Hasan

“I like that the Pakistani drama scene has shifted from the repetitive conservative story lines to much more controversial but definitely more worldly issues.” Ayesha Sheikh

“Loving the more liberal take on female outlook and also getting closer to gender equality. Still too far, yet closer than before.” Fatima Afridi

A version of this article appeared in the Express Tribune T magazine on March 9th 2014

Copyright 2015 Karachista. All rights reserved
Salima Feerasta
Salima Feerasta
Salima Feerasta is chief editor of and one of Pakistan's top fashion and lifestyle journalists.

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