Savera Nadeem is a brilliant actress, one of Pakistan’s very best, with a career glittering with countless diverse roles. But while the characters she plays are varied, audiences may have preconceived notions about her — as I realised I did, when I met her.

You expect a dominating woman with a steely gaze, firm opinions and a strict, unswerving demeanor. It’s an opinion formed in the mind subconsciously, simply because some of her most memorable roles have been of women who are strong-headed, vocal and, quite often, evil.

The real Savera Nadeem sitting across me, though, on a sweltering Karachi morning, is peering into her phone, booking tickets for the cinema for her family, rather than plotting murder.

Away from the shackles of the intimidating matriarchs that she often plays on TV, she’s set aside the heavy duty shalwar qameezes and jewellery, wearing a much more weather-friendly lightweight shirt with pants. She discusses her more than two-decades-long acting career quite as easily as she laments over how hot it was on Eid-ul-Azha this year, and the skyrocketing charges for children’s tuitions.

Actress Savera Nadeem says she always searches for complex roles and characters that have different facets to them. It mirrors the multiple aspects of own real life and personality, which she balances with consummate ease and with her head firmly on her shoulders

And she’s spent her morning picking and dropping her two sons from their summer classes before arriving, very promptly, to meet me for this interview. Savera tells me that she and her husband plan their days extensively in order to manage their respective schedules with those of their boys.

“We have lists, charts, excel sheets …” she counts off on her fingers.

This is Savera Nadeem. But that woman we see on TV is also her. Like the most exceptional of actors, she has the chameleon-like ability to transform into characters that may be completely different from how she is in reality.

TV’s favourite evil stepmother

I am curious: how are people reacting to her these days, since she’s just very believably played the role of a malevolent stepmother in the ARY Digital hit Jaan-i-Jahan?

“I feel that sometimes they are in a bit of awe and a lot of times they get flustered,” she responds. “I didn’t expect people to connect with my character quite so much, considering how nasty she was, but they seem to have really appreciated her and maybe even understood her.

I didn’t expect people to connect with my character quite so much, considering how nasty she was, but they seem to have really appreciated her and maybe even understood her.”

“I’ve done so many other roles but, right now, random people meet me, calling me by my character’s name instead of my own. It has been a wonderful experience,” she smiles.

Did she herself have any doubts prior to playing the character?

“Not at all,” she says. “I loved how there were shades to her. And I loved that set. The director, Qasim Ali Mureed, was wonderful to work with. The cast got along so well. I had a lot of scenes with my ‘clan’ in the haveli and we would have a great time together. There was this one comfortable sofa that everyone would have their eyes on but, when I was on set, it would belong solely to me!”

She continues: “They had recreated a location in Karachi so that the interiors were like a haveli and it had an aura of its own. We were all in our element. There were two or three accidents that did happen — once, there was a fire and, another time, all the lights blew off and, of course, people tend to start saying that something supernatural is there!” She laughs. “There wasn’t, of course. Although there were a lot of cats…”

This throws our conversation on to a completely different tangent. Are there truly some sets that are haunted? “People get superstitious,” she says. “There is this one really old location in Karachi, near Guru Mandir, where a lot of shootings take place. The windows of the uppermost floor are all hammered shut with nails and people say that there’s something there.

“We were once shooting at that location and water splashed out on to the floor and we couldn’t understand where it was coming from. I am sure there was a reasonable, natural explanation for it, though. There always is.”

Is there, really? She smiles. “I don’t get scared easily.”

Nevertheless, this is spooky stuff. I turn the conversation back to the non-supernatural — and therefore, more palatable — scary character that she played in Jaan-i-Jahan. She’s done so many exemplary roles and yet, right now, this one is all the rage. Could it possibly be because the drama itself was heavily promoted and featured a cast consisting of some very popular actors?

“People tend to relate more with whatever drama is on air but, of course, the cast made a huge difference,” replies Savera with consummate logic. “People saw the drama more. Also, a lot depends on when the drama is aired, what channel it is aired on, the entire landscape at that point in time. Promotions definitely help, but I don’t think that I am the kind of actress who can guarantee mass viewership with every role that she takes on.”

For the love of the craft

So, for her, the roles that she enacts have to do justice to her craft rather than simply rake in ratings? “It’s always great when a lot of people are seeing you perform, as is in the case of top-rated dramas,” she agrees, “but I would still not want to take on a typical character who has nothing to do in the story, simply for the sake of ratings.

“I know that I am capable of bringing a lot to screen and, so, I want to play characters who have shades to them. I don’t mind playing a mother as long as there is more to her identity than just being a mother. There must be other facets to her life while she also happens to be a mother.”

But she must start getting offered the same kind of roles once a character that she has played becomes a hit? She nods.

“That’s inevitable. If you play one character well, suddenly people start offering you similar roles, because they feel that it will be able to click with the audience. I try to resist stereotyping as much as I can. I know that I have a strong presence on screen, which is why I am usually asked to play strong women. But I want every character to have some sort of difference from the previous one, rather than the same personality and, sometimes, even the same dialogues!

“For instance, in my new drama Safaid Khoon, which is just about to air, I am playing a very dominating woman but she has so many shades to her that you won’t really be able to identify her as just negative. The cast includes myself, Naumaan Ijaz, Saad Qureshi, Hareem Farooq and Behroze Sabzwari among others, and while it’s not a very unique story, director Aehsun Talish has a strong hold on aesthetics and I feel that he’s told it very well.”

There was another not-very-unique story that Savera was part of three-odd years ago, the mega-hit Meray Paas Tum Ho in which she played a small but significant role as a philandering Adnan Siddiqui’s wife. Was she surprised when her character became the stuff of viral social media memes?

“Yes, I never thought that it would get so much attention!” she says. “It was meant to be just a guest appearance. The drama’s director, Nadeem Baig, had asked me to come in for just a day to shoot the scenes. The day those scenes aired, though, I was told that I was ruling the internet!

“There were so many memes on social media, it was really funny! Then, Nadeem told me that the drama’s scriptwriter, Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar, had written a few more scenes for my character and we shot those.”

She observes, “It’s really funny that people still remember that role. All my life, I have worked so hard, looked out for unique roles and, yet, the one role that people remember — especially the younger generation — is this one!”

It’s the power of being part of a popular, top-rated drama, I point out. “Yes, absolutely,” she agrees.

What role of her own is her favourite? “Qaid-i-Tanhai,” she answers promptly. “I didn’t have to think much about the character that I was playing. It all came naturally to me, but there was so much depth to her. Faysal Quraishi and I shared a great chemistry and Umera [Ahmed] had written the drama. Babar Javed was directing and I had initially asked him why he was sequestering me into the character of an older woman. He told me to trust him and I did and it was the best decision.

“There was a bland façade maintained by the woman that I played, but there were so many emotions just beneath the surface. So many women later told me that they had related to the loneliness and sense of abandonment that my character had endured.

“It’s one of the main reasons why the drama is close to my heart. I really grew as an actor. Someone recently told me that the drama was being used in an acting academy in India to demonstrate how acting could be done without words and how silence can be used to depict emotions. Also, I felt that Faysal Quraishi and I shared a great chemistry.”

Have there been times when she has felt intimidated by her co-actors? “I am told that I can be intimidating on set!” she laughs. “I don’t do it on purpose, but I can get irritable when I feel that the people around me aren’t focused and their hearts are not in the job.”

She adds: “I directed for a bit and there was this one time that I was directing Baddo Apa [Badar Khalil] and Rubina Ashraf, and I felt that it was a huge privilege. Baddo Aapa has acted in all these classic, iconic dramas and Rubina is such a fine actress, and here I was, connecting with them and even giving them directions. It felt good, but also a bit scary.”

Why did she not continue with direction? “I was planning to, but then I got offered a morning show which I really enjoyed doing. And around the time the morning show wrapped up, Babar Javed and Asif Raza Mir had just launched A&B Entertainment and I acted in their initial four, five plays. I just got really busy with acting.”

She continues to be busy despite trying to pick and choose and wait for the roles that appeal to her. Does this wait mean that she ends up losing out on earning more money? “Yes, I do,” she says. “Of course, everyone works for money, but I want my career to survive for a very long time, and for that, I have to make smart decisions.”

She adds, “I would definitely like to be on screen much more, as long as I bring something fresh and exciting every time. Things just happen the way they are supposed to happen and you have to believe that, ultimately, it’s all in God’s hands.

“Luckily, I no longer get offered uni-dimensional, typical roles,” she reveals, “and when such an offer does come my way, I have no qualms in explaining why I don’t want to agree to it. If the drama makers mind, that is not my responsibility, but I feel that I owe it to them to explain that I am refusing not because I don’t have available dates but because I want my character to have more facets to her.

“And then there have also been times when I have really liked a role but had to refuse it because there were long work hours involved or it was being shot out of the city.”

So she doesn’t agree to work in dramas that are being filmed outside her home base in Karachi? “Often, I can’t manage it,” she says. “An eight to 10 days’ shooting schedule outside of Karachi is still something that I can work with, but I find it too stressful to be away from home for longer than that.

“When a woman has a home, a family, a husband, in-laws — especially in our set-up — she inevitably becomes the centre of the household. Everything ends up revolving around her. If I am away for 20-25 days, things tend to go haywire, regardless of how much planning I have done.”

The work-life balance

Savera’s family obviously plays a pivotal role in her life and yet, not much is known about them. There are no pictures of her sons floating about on social media and no pictures from her wedding uploaded on her Instagram. Is this deliberate?

“Absolutely. And I wouldn’t want to put my wedding pictures up for public viewership, although I looked really nice!” she laughs. “Pictures from my valima have occasionally been used in dramas though.

“My relationship with my mother, husband, kids — it belongs to a completely different sphere from my professional life. Of course, because my father belongs to the entertainment industry [writer Shahid Nadeem], people know about him and we have often given interviews together. But even though I grew up in the spotlight, it was a different kind of spotlight back then, more down-to-earth.

“I started off my career with theatre when I was just 15 and the stage doesn’t have the flamboyance of TV and cinema. Our experiences, our laughter, the scoldings we got, everything stayed there, within our close-knit theatre circle. Now, of course, there are cameras everywhere and everyone is making videos with their phones. I don’t want my family to be part of that.”

Acting has been an intrinsic part of her life for a very long time. Was she apprehensive that her career may end up taking a backseat when she got married 15-odd years ago? “Yes, I did have apprehensions, but my husband had assured me that I would be able to do whatever I wanted to do.

“He told me that I may have to be a little patient and diplomatic and compromise a little but, ultimately, I would be able to achieve everything. He has supported me throughout and my career actually really took off after my marriage.”

She may be reaping the fruits of employing patience and diplomacy and, of course, staying true to her craft, but does she not have any regrets regarding the work that she may have lost along the way?

“No,” she says, matter-of-factly. “Just this morning, I was waiting in my car for half an hour. My sons were in a summer class and there was no point in going back home since they would be out in a while and I started thinking to myself, what was I doing here, waiting in a car?

“And then I thought about how happy they would be when they came out of the class, all the new things they would have learnt. You have to search out for the good things in life and be appreciative of them and my life is pretty awesome.”

From an actress making magic on screen, Savera shape-shifts effortlessly into the mom enduring pick-and-drop duty. She is the woman who frowns imperiously on TV and makes grand declarations and, also, the woman waiting in the car for half an hour for her boys to get off class.

This is Savera Nadeem, that is also Savera Nadeem; her life yo-yos from the glamour of a TV drama set to the tangible requirements of daily life. In her own words, it’s “pretty awesome.”

Published in Dawn, ICON, June 30TH, 2024

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *