Shama Magazine’s Question & Answer session with Saima.

Saima – “the Perfect Advertisement for Pure Multani Ghee!”

Saima has been around for quite a few years…in fact she was discovered when Sultan Rahi was still going strong. Yet it’s has been the last couple of years that have seen her burst into prominence and assume the mantle of being the country’s top most actress. The turning point has been the record-breaking success of Syed Noor’s directed Choorian – a film that breathed life into an industry considered fatally diseased.

Saima was discovered ages ago by sleaze merchant director Akram Khan who saw her in some gathering or the other and was immediately struck by her statuesque beauty. He approached her on the spot and stunned her by asking her to star in his upcoming production Khatarnaak. Saima, in a state of shock at being asked, responded in the affirmative and within days she was in front of the camera. Akram Khan felt he had discovered something special and felt that Saima was akin to a raw diamond that only needed a little care and some polish before it could be displayed to dazzle the world. With just a little effort, Khan contended, this girl could be a world beater and sure enough he was to be proved right as with time Saima has steadily ascended the ladder of success and at this point in time reigns as the current Queen of Lollywood, commanding a higher price than any of her competitors and enjoying some serious adulation among the masses.

However, one thing about Saima that has remained unchanged is her silent demeanour. She always was and still remains very much the silent one, hardly ever uttering a work and answering questions with the shortest possible answer. She just isn’t into conversing and usually inhabits her own world where no outsider is allowed to enter. She keeps herself at a distance and is clearly very reserved. However, when that camera switches on and the cry of action rings out, it’s another matter altogether.

Saima’s career started with a resounding Box Office flop in Akram Khan’s Khatarnaak and the buzz around the industry was that the girl had no future. However, after all these years she stands at the very summit of her profession though detractors will always contend that her success is largely due to her association with Syed Noor. Insiders in the industry have said that when Saima started working with Noor it became quite evident that they were getting on very well and were becoming more and more intimate with one another until Syed Noor actually married Saima despite already being married and living with Rukhsana Noor.

Saima started out in Lollywood at a time when Anjuman absolutely dominated the scene. Anjuman had become so busy that some producers started becoming increasingly frustrated at their progress being slowed due to the fact that the lady couldn’t supply dates. They decided to search for an alternative and this is where Saima started making her initial inroads. It was thought that Saima had the necessary height and curves to suit Sultan Rahi, who was in effect the ONLY viable hero in movies at that time.

Another reason for looking for a sub for Anjuman was that apparently Sultan Rahi could shoot for 20 hours a day (says a lot for the “quality” of his work) while Anjuman could only manage 8 hours. So, in the thriving late 80’s, producers needed another siren to accompany the great Rahi. Saima’s curves would hold her in good stead as she was drafted in as second fiddle to Anjuman – the actress who picked up on all the roles that Anjuman couldn’t take on due to her crowded schedule. Saima had also gone into some heavy training and emerged with mighty efficient “thumkas” and all the right moves as far as Lollywood dancing was concerned.

Saima had hardly been in the industry for a week when her fortunes took another drastic turn. Anjuman got married to Mobeen Malik and quit signing any new films. Then the thunderbolt that stunned the industry – the murder of Sultan Rahi. Lollywood went into mourning and Punjabi film production ground to a complete halt. The industry was saved from complete destruction due to the Urdu films that still remained in production.

However even Urdu films were in a rut as renowned director Sangeeta was at home tending to her spawn. Javaid Faisal was pursued by producers but nothing came of it and meanwhile Nazrul Islam expired dealing another massive blow to an industry already reeling. Thus, the path was cleared for an ambitious Syed Noor to step up and try to fill the directorial vacuum. Then came Choorian, ironically a Punjabi film, and the rest is history. Choorian is still running in regular shows in Lahore at the time of writing two years after its release – a quite amazing fact.

Saima was suddenly considered an essential commodity of any film and jacked up her price (on Syed Noor’s advice) from Rs. 3 lacs to Rs. 5 lacs, way above those of her competitors. Then a similar cycle started with producers becoming frustrated at not being able to secure dates from the super busy Saima and they began to search for an alternative just as they had done when Anjuman was in her prime.

It was Reema who mentioned a prospective challenger or substitute in the shape of youthful, nubile Sana. Experts felt she had the similar lanky physique that Saima possessed and would soon make waves in the industry. More competition arrived in the shape of the unexpected comeback by Anjuman. Industry wallah’s especially Parvaiz Rana famously exclaimed that now the real battle was going to begin, not between Saima and Sana but between Anjuman and Saima. Ironically Anjuman’s comeback feature “Chaudrani” also starred Saima in the lead romantic role.

Anjuman’s return was greeted with fanfare and initially she was welcomed back with open arms as producers were desperate to sign on a viable alternative to Saima. Rana signed Anjuman for Jag Mahi and a few days later Kaifi also signed her up for his Ek Dhee Punjab Di. She also signed Jatti Da Veer and Peengan in the following days.

Shama magazine’s interviewer managed to catch up with the silent and elusive Saima on the set of Syed Noor’s Mehndi Walay Hath and managed to ask her some questions.

Q – since Choorian’s success you have had about 15 releases of which only one or two have done reasonably well. Do you accept any role that is offered to you and there is a rumour in the industry that several producers have been devastated by the flopping of your films and have incurred crippling losses?

Saima didn’t appear to mind being asked this question and offered that she had refused numerous films offered to her after Choorian and couldn’t care less about being No.1. She said she was interested only in turning in a quality performance.

Q – What do you have to say about Parvaiz Rana’s statement about the upcoming Muqabala (showdown) between Anjuman and yourself?

Saima – You can’t stop people saying what they like. Anjuman is my senior and I pray that god grants her every success in her return to the industry. Can I ask you if you have ever heard me asking about any competition with Reema, Meera, Resham or Sana? They will get what is in their fortune, as I shall get what is written in my fate.

Q – Have you ever felt that your association with Syed Noor is ruining your reputation and people refer to both of you disparagingly as they did with Javed Shaikh and Neeli during their association.

Saima smiled before answering with a question of her own: How often do you go to Syed Noor Sahib’s house? To which the interviewer responded that he visits fairly often. Then Saima continued: How many times have you seen me at his house? At which point the journalist wisely decided not to pursue this line of questioning as Saima looked visibly uncomfortable.

Q – Are you an actress or a machine?

Saima – I am Saima the actress and may I inform you that before I sign any film, I have my role described to me in detail before I decide to act in the film or not. The interviewer was stunned momentarily when Saima declared: I have decided not to work in any more films with Syed Noor (the Sahib was missing this time around) and shall concentrate on working with directors like Altaf Hussain, Masood Butt and Sangeeta.

Q – Are you ready to work with Parvaiz Rana, the man who was backing Anjuman in her comeback most vociferously?

This question remained unanswered as Syed Noor’s voice called out for Saima, as he was ready to shoot the next take. Following the shooting there was a break for lunch. The interview was continued after lunch.

Q – It is said that you are most unprofessional and unpunctual at the sets and outdoor locations and have been the cause of massive losses to producers with this slack attitude.

A – I don’t think there is anyone who cooperates with the producers as much as myself. Life however does become pretty intolerable when shootings are cancelled and nobody is informed. Last week I showed up on schedule at 10 am to shoot a song picturization only to be told after two hours of waiting that the session had been cancelled! This kind of thing happens all too frequently.

Q – Why do our heroines despise each other to the extent that they do? It is known that Resham and Meera have both refused to work in any film that involves Reema and that they can’t stand the sight of each other.

A – I can only speak for myself and as you know I have been happy to accept films alongside any of the other heroines.

Soon after this question the call of “pack up” resounded and Saima prepared to depart for home. She was very gracious and thanked the interviewer before zipping off (without Syed Noor) homewards after yet another day at work. To her credit she maintained a dignity in her answers and her characteristic aloofness to the sniping that is endemic of life in Lollywood.