Sultana Siddiqui is one of the most respected personalities in the entertainment industry of Pakistan. With TV dramas like “Marvi”, “Doosri Dunya” and “Zindagi Gulzar Hai” to her credit, she is also the president of Hum TV network.
Despite being super busy with the preparations for Hum Awards (the interview was conducted before the recent HUM awards) and raising funds for the flood affectees under her social foundation “HUMDard”, she gave us time for an interview and we got an opportunity to find out her views on building the Hum TV network, the changing media landscape and the challenges she had to face.
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(Q) How does it feel to be the head of the biggest entertainment platform of Pakistan?
Ans: It does feel good. I am a very positive person and I like to see people prospering and growing. That’s why I thank the Almighty Allah a lot when I see that HUM has been the source of building so many careers. I take great pride in the fact that Alhumdullilah, God has bestowed me with a position and resources to empower people.
(Q) You have received many prestigious local and international awards including “Pride of Performance”. Do you think awards are important?
Ans: I do believe awards are important as they act as an encouragement for artists to do better. Alhumdullilah, I am very humbled to be the recipient of all these prestigious awards. I was the happiest when I received the “Sitara-e-Imtiaz” because there is no greater feeling than being acknowledged by the people of your own land.
(Q) You are one of the first women of South Asia to “own” a television channel. It must have taken a lot of hard work, but do you agree that luck plays a pivotal role aswell?
Ans: I am a firm believer of hard work. Even today, I strive every day to be better than the last day. I believe more than luck it is the consistency, which matters. You need to be consistent towards your goals. I believe every obstacle is an opportunity, it is just that you need to have right mindset and a fighting spirit.
(Q) Nevertheless, weren’t you fearful when starting out this journey? That what if things don’t work out?
Ans: “Action” cures “fear”. Postponement or delay cultivates “fear”. The only way to get better is doing work. Therefore, I believe in “doing” as I place “doers” above the critics.
(Q) You have your two family members, Mr.Duraid Qureshi and Ms. Momina, as a part of your team. How does it feel to work with your family?
Ans: The secret behind the success of our channel is that I love working with my family. I am so greatful that they are part of my team. “Trust” is the fundamental key of working with a family. I believe the ‘niyat’ (intention) should be pure. I have one of the greatest “daughter-in-laws” in the world and I have no qualms in saying that they are my backbone. Momina and Duraid, both had ambitions to have their careers in the corporate sector. However, they decided to be with me and I am truly greatful for that. Duraid was the one who suggested that we should open a private TV channel. Duraid has the magical quality of “thinking big”. I always have been a “risk-taker” and love to take up challenges. It was his vision to make HUM the first “public listed” channel as he wanted to keep all the workings of the channel “transparent”. As I said before, we had a good ‘niyat’ and Alhumdullilah, we were rewarded for it.
(Q) How important are “challenges” in life?
Ans: The crux of life, which I have analyzed after all my experiences, is that until you do not get “challenges”, you do not realize your abilities. Especially for women, because most of us are dependent upon our family members. When you are independent and self-sufficient, your “self-respect” increases. Moreover, I had a great family support. My parents and siblings were my lifelines during the struggling phase of my life. They always encouraged me to push my boundaries.
(Q) You even acted in two plays in a leading role. Why didn’t you continue acting?
Ans: I did not continue acting because I realized that was not my calling. However, I did enjoy being a Sindhi talk show host. I opted to be a part of regional programming because they used to be completed quickly as compared to Urdu language programs. Therefore, I was properly able to give time to my kids and their responsibilities.
(Q) Back in time, we used to have strict quality controls in our TV channels. I even heard that an “aptitude test” used to be taken of aspiring writer and directors. Is it true?
Ans: Yes, it is and even I attempted that test. I always had an aptitude for writing, debates and direction. Everyone used to push me that I should attempt the test. Alhumdullilah, I was selected among the likes of Shoaib Mansoor, Haider Imam and Ghazanfar Ali. We had an extensive one-year training. After that, we had a viva, in which out of 35 students, only four were selected and I was one of them.
(Q) HUM literally “re-invented” Pakistani drama back in 2004 when our nation was obsessed with Indian content. How did that come along?
Ans: Back in those times, people were addicted with Indian soaps. The rating of Pakistani dramas were all time low. The quality of storytelling in local dramas had also dipped. I took upon myself to bring back the glory of Pakistani dramas and aimed to make them watched all over the world. We decided that instead of looking for inspiration from the outer world, we should pick up stories from our own society. This idea became successful. We even picked up those topics, which were considered taboo like the ones in “Udaari” and “Kankar”. However, we delivered those stories in a very responsible way while neither glorifying them nor sensationalizing them. That is why our serials can be watched by an entire family.
(Q) How important it is to stay “relevant”?
Ans: Very important. In fact, I daily try to find something “new” to do. I am not a believer of looking behind. The only thing I strive do is to stay “relevant”. In today’s “digital” age, if you do not stay updated with latest trends and how technology is shaping up the media landscape, you will be left behind.
(Q) In your point of view, how much has “storytelling” evolved in the last few years? With the advent of YouTube, social media and OTT platforms?
Ans: Storytelling has certainly “evolved”. As you said, there are multiple sources of stories now. The audience now has easy access to global storytelling. I find these times were “interesting” because I think this will open avenues for more unique stories. I take immense pride in the fact that HUM is known for bringing out the unique Pakistani stories to the world and I believe that we now have more freedom to tell stories with the digital revolution. It is exciting.
(Q) Talking about digital, Zee group has recently re-introduced “Zindagi” on their digital platforms. They chose “Zindagi Gulzar Hai” as their flagship program. The show is still popular globally after all these years, how does it feel?
Ans: As we discussed earlier, it is the power of “story”. “Zindagi Gulzar Hai” had a simple yet compelling story of a young girl that it resonated with viewers across the globe. I am very proud of the work we did with that show. Although it was my return to direction after many years, but I am happy, that it struck a chord with the audiences. Umera Ahmed wrote a fantastic script with Fawad and Sanam playing their parts well. I am happy that it was chosen by “Zee” as their flagship program. This is the beauty of “art”; it can act as a bridge between two countries even in such hostile environment.
(Q) HUM is known for launching actors who became global stars. Whether it is Ahad Raza Mir, Fawad Khan, and Mahira Khan… The list is endless. How does it feel to be a launching platform for new talent?
Ans: No one is more proud than I am when I see our stars going global. The world has seen how talented our stars are. They are even better than the “best”. We always had talent; it is just that they needed a platform to shine. The reason why we take “HUM Awards” globally is because we want our stars to be represented on international stage. The love and respect, which they get, is tremendous.
(Q) HUM Films has also contributed greatly in the revival of cinema in Pakistan by giving hits like “Bin Roye”, “Parwaaz Hai Junnon” and “Superstar”. What are your plans for “HUM Films?
Ans: We are immensely proud of the work we have done under the banner of “HUM Films”. I believe “theatrical” is a medium, which will never fade out, even with the presence of OTT and digital. Due to Covid, the theatrical industry suffered a lot. However, now as things are quite normalized, we intent to revive film production and have some very exciting plans in the pipeline. I even developed “Karachi Film Society” to display the work of young talented filmmakers. I think this is the least I can do to return to the society. I also have an ambition to open an academy to give a chance to deserving talented youngsters.
(Q) Don’t you think that movie going has become very expensive these days? With tickets in some multiplexes even costing around Rs.1000 to Rs.1600.
Ans: That is a very good point. Entertainment should be accessible to all. The ticket prices, which you mentioned, are too much. How can a middle class family go to the cinema at these price points? I strongly believe that we should reduce the ticket prices so that we can give access to more families to the cinema.
(Q) You are also greatly involved in philanthropic work. You have established a social foundation “HUMdard” and are also the head of “Sultana Siddiqui Foundation”. Please tell us about that.
Ans: I believe education helps people become better citizens, get a better future and most importantly enabling them to differentiate between good and bad. It makes us realize the importance of hard work, and, at the same time, it helps us grow and develop. Thus, we are able to shape a better society to live in by knowing and respecting rights, laws and regulations. I established “Sultana Siddiqui Foundation” with the same vision. Here at “Sultana Siddiqui Institute”, we aim to spread innovative education coupled with a passion for serving underprivileged communities. With its state of the art school, SSI hopes to provide the highest quality of education to deserving students. Similarly, “HumDard” has been established for helping deserving people for social causes. Recently, “HUMDard” was involved in setting up camps to collect items for flood affectees in Karachi.
(Q) Any parting message, which you like to give?
Ans: Please be thankful to Allah. Always pay your gratitude when you wake up. Also, believe in the power of “prayer”.