I want to work on daydreaming: Sadiya Siddiquiby Aparajita Krishna December 15 2021, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 25 mins, 28 secs
Aparajita Krishna has a long extensive conversation with Sadiya Siddiqui, whose journey is full of stories to tell.
Sadiya Siddiqui carries in her petite, fragile frame an imposing talent that has seen her walk parts and roles on stage, television and film-screen since her schoolgirl days. Her talent carries many roles of substance. She has also featured in the prestigious Emmy Award function. Yet one gets a sense that this always young looking and pretty actress has not got her due. Many roles have materialized and many have not. We evaluate her journey so far. It is gratifying to connect with actors who have not been over-hyped and are a fount of discovery.
Her crystal-clear voice-recording carried commendable diction and lilt and that made the task of transcribing worth the effort. “I am actually preparing for a new play. That is why all my time is being taken up in that. So I will send you the recordings.”
Sadiya’s talk herein speak professional and the personal with grace, candour and humour. She had an actor’s mind of her own even as a schoolgirl when she had got approached to play Shah Rukh Khan’s sister in the film Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa (1994).
While surfing the internet I chanced upon a lovely film-still of Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa (1994) with Shah Rukh Khan and you in the center and others like Naseer, Satish Shah, Tiku Talsania in the group. How do you recall the film, your role as Nikki and working with SRK?
I was already doing the television serial Humrahi for Doordarshan. I was in school. For the film Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, my name was recommended by the cameraman of the serial who knew Kundan Shah. Kundan met me and selected me immediately. Fauji had already appeared on TV. I had watched that series and I was head over heels in love with Shah Rukh Khan.
When Kundan selected me for the part of Shah Rukh’s sister’s role I was not happy. I was in love with Shah Rukh Khan as my boyfriend! I remember telling Kundan that I will not be doing this role because I don’t have sisterly feelings for Shah Rukh and therefore I will not do justice to the role.
I am now surprised that at that age in school I was so frank to tell the director that I don’t want to do the film (laughs). ‘No, you can see the emotions in my eyes. I don’t have any brotherly feelings for him.’ Kundan laughed. He said ‘Okay, its fine but you are playing the sister.’ I said ‘No, want to play his heroine.’ Kundan said, ‘But you are too young to play his heroine’. I said ‘Okay, I will come tomorrow to meet you.’
Next day when I went to meet Kundan I wore a dress, curled my hair, did full make-up and wore heels. I was very conscious of my height. I said to Kundan, ‘Now what do you think?’ He said ‘No, You are playing the sister and you are playing the part. I am not going to take a ‘no’ from you.’
So that is how the film happened. I cherish each and every moment of working in that film. Especially because I was so close to Shah Rukh. Kundan was very loving as a director. I was a child and he was so sweet to me. He was like a father on the set. Everybody else in the film like Naseeruddin Shah, Anjan Shrivastav - who played my father, Shashi Sahaye - who played my mother; everybody was very loving. Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa is very special. My first film.
How do you evaluate your actor’s journey so far?
As an actor I feel I have not got the opportunity to showcase my talent fully. I would also blame myself because I am not very proactive in going out and getting to the goal. I am not that pushy. I am also shy, a little introvert. In fact being a girl, without any support in this field, can be scary at times. I did not want to take risks. Still I got to do many parts, which were appreciated. Along the path I made very good friends and it’s nice to know when directors, writers, actors say ‘I would love to work with you’. I feel good.
Now to rewind back to your beginnings as an actor.
I never thought of becoming an actor, but became an actor. I was very young. My parents got divorced. My mother was a single parent and she was bringing us up. So there were hurdles. This little job of acting happened and I realized that I can earn money from this and support my family. I enjoyed playing different characters. Then I came to college and took part in college theatre. Someone suggested my name and Makarand Deshpande met me and instantly liked me and gave me a part in his play, which was very experimental. I was not playing a human character but emotions. I had to play different emotions - of anger, love, jealousy, desire. I had a lot of freedom to play it as I imagined. That was an awesome experience. I remember in one of the entries I would take a big leap from the wings, jump and stand on the armrest of a wheelchair, which was placed in the middle door of Prithvi stage. Quite a distance. I would jump and stand on the hand-rest of the chair, start speaking, then come down, roll up on the stage, stand up - all that! So I said to myself ‘Wow I like this!’
I also enjoyed acting because I was a very scared child. Acting gave me a chance to express myself. I remember my mother telling that even when I would be hungry as a child I would not say it. I would just stand and wait that maybe my mother will look at my face, understand, and give me milk or food. I would go to sleep waiting. I think acting gave me the opportunity to express and that’s why I enjoyed it more.
I loved being on stage and doing weird, different kind of parts. But I always wanted to finish my studies. Even after I started acting in school and college, I wanted to become a psychologist. My mother was and is still my ideal. I wanted to be like her and study and practice like a doctor. I wanted to be a detective at one point. I would read a lot of detective novels. I enjoyed the thrill! I used to read a lot of James Hadley Chase. Of course that did not happen and I became an actor.
In Humrahi serial you played a child bride. Was this your first serial? What struck you about the role?
I got Humrahi when I was in school. They saw me with my mother when we had gone to see a play. Mr Kunwar Sinha, the director and Jyoti Sinha are a couple and beautiful people. They asked my mother and me to come and audition. I failed in the audition. My audition was: I am supposed to come running from the door telling them about the wedding I had attended last evening. I remember I used to come running towards them and not speak a word. I tried this many times and then said, ‘Sorry I can’t do it.’ And I left. They still selected me. I did the part. It was very difficult. I used to speak my lines very fast. I wanted to just get over with it. They used to ask me to speak slowly, take a pause, look at the person. They guided me for a week and after that I took things in my hand. I did the part and people loved me.
It was the first time I got to play serious scenes where I am crying. I felt there is another way of performing these scenes. I started understanding the language of acting and got more interested in it. After many years I did the series Balika Vadhu and I played a teacher who stops child marriage. When they offered me the role I said Humrahi has come a full circle in few years. I had played the character who is a child, gets married and dies and now I am playing a character who stops child marriage. It was beautiful for me.
For Humrahi I was called for the Emmy Awards. This was the first time I was travelling to America. I had seen American films and I was kind of scared of America. There were other people traveling with me like Himani Shivpuri, the writer, director Mr Kunwar Sinha. In America we were staying in a 7 star hotel. I remember my room was a beautiful one with glass wall looking out to this beautiful America at night. I sat down on the chair looking through the glass into the city and I started crying. I was feeling so alone and I was anyway a scared child.
We were invited for the Emmy on the stage! I remember they showed my scene on the big screen. Then we were invited to the parties. Bold and Beautiful and Santa Barbara were really big series at that time. I got to dance with the heartthrob actors of those series! (Laughs). I wore a saree for the first time. I remember wearing it and dancing. It was a great experience. Donna Hughes actually felicitated me.
Then we came back. I was still studying in college. Then my character Angoori dies in Humrahi during childbirth. At that time there was no social media, but I used to get sacks filled with fan mail. The producer would also get sacks full of letters. People would share their own stories, call up. My mother got a little scared. They found our landline number. ‘Angoori marr gayi, angoori mar gayi!’ My mother would tell, ‘No no, Sadiya ko kuch nahi hua hai. Meri beti theek hai.’ So I have seen that phase. I was always in touch with reality. It never got into my head. So that was Humrahi for me.
Sadiya went on to do roles on television and also revitalized her theatre association. Banegi Apni Baat (1994 - 1998) had an ensemble of young actors. The serial focused on college life, family, young romance, complications. It starred actors who went on to get great repute in years to come. Irrfan Khan, R.Madhavan, Shefali Shah, Divya Seth, Achint Kaur, Varun Badola, Rituraj, Sadhiya, to name the main ones. Producer-director Deeya Singh is quoted saying that for the sultry Priya they wanted a taller girl, but locked Sadiya when she nailed the part during the audition. The role travelled years from being a college girl, to a young woman. Sadiya went on to play Richa Asthana in Sanjivani (2002), Angie in Guns & Roses (2005), Radha in Sapna Babul Ka, Bidai (2007), Gayatri in Saat Phere, Saloni Ka Safar (2007), Nanda in Tu Suraj Main Sanjh Piyaji (2017).
She recalls, “When I had started, television was quite a rich medium. It told stories that were real, of social problems affecting people in the country. I enjoyed doing TV at that time. One of the parts was Gayatri, who was a child widow and how she falls in love with a man who is a driver in the house. He is educated but Gayatri is not educated. He gets books for her. She starts reading and falling in love with this guy. It was all silent. I had no dialogues, but I had to express with my eyes, body. It was a very different acting language I was learning. It was beautiful. I was also learning dance in which you do not speak, but you convey the story.”
It was for your role as Sandhya in Balika Vadhu (2008 - 2013) that you won the ITA award as best actress in supporting role.
As an actor’s journey I did Humrahi as a child bride and in Balika Vadhu I stop child marriage. Gayatri happened before Balika Vadhu. She was grown up but lost her husband and became a widow. Child marriage is a big problem. It still exists in our society. Sandhya in Balika Vadhu was really nice. This part Purnendu Shekhar wrote for me, and Goldie (Sidharth Sengupta) directed. It was for 15 episodes. Beautifully written and directed. I loved doing it. I was given the award for it too. The girl who was playing Balika, Avika, was very talented, bright. She also reminded me of myself when I was in Humrahi.
Then followed Sasural Genda Phool (2010 - 2012) in which you played Radha and latest in Barrister Babu (2021) you are Thaku Maa. You have been acting through years of television.
Sasural Genda Phool is very special because it was directed by Ravi Ojha. I had worked with him much earlier in episodic serials. Ravi Ojha, Kundan Shah are very much alike. Mitali, Ravi Ojha’s wife was writing and Zama Habib was also a writer. So I met this gang of beautiful, talented people. That is the time I met Supriya Pilgaonkar and till today we are very good friends. She is a beautiful person. It was like family. Beautiful chemistry. Till today, even after so many years we meet, do zoom meetings.
Your theatre acts became professional…
My professional theatre beginnings happened with Makarand Deshpande. I did many plays with Makarand and thoroughly enjoyed working. Makarand as a teacher really evokes your imagination. He wants you to come up with ideas. If I say I want to hang from the ceiling and land on the stage he will say ‘Okay, let us try. Let’s see how it happens.’ He makes your imagination rich. Then I went on to work with Manav Kaul in many plays.
I never knew the art of designing my career and I never had any helping hand or a background. Nothing. I just kept going with the flow. I definitely wanted to work with good people. I am an introvert so it takes me time to become friends. I remember that walking into a room full of people used to be such a stress for me. Till today if I am invited to a party then three days before the party I will start getting panic attacks. By the evening of the party I may message that I am not well. I have actually fallen sick. Walking into a space full of people is very scary for me. And yet I love being on stage. On stage I don’t try to see the audience. I go have fun and come out. It is strange. I am always swaying in this contradiction. But I have managed it somehow. People still love me (laughs).
You have had your fair share of films. Little Buddha directed by Bernardo Bertolucci was way back in 1993.
Little Buddha happened when I was very young. I didn’t know how big a star Keanu Reeves was! I was told so I took a photo with him. I may have lost the photo. It was great fun working with director Bernardo Bertolucci. Great production. One day we had only make-up rehearsal. One day only costume and hair rehearsal. One day they just dressed us actors and took us to the location, asked us to make the location our own. It was almost like the rehearsals we do in theatre. I was in Ladakh for almost two months for just a small part. The entire team was there. It was an amazing experience.
When I think of being a director I get a lot of reference from my experience on Little Buddha. There was a scene with lots of wind and young girls get covered by leaves. In Ladakh it was cold. I had to lie down for a very long time. I was lying on the right side so the left side froze. I could not move. I remember Storaro, the DOP, who is a very big star, picked me up, took me inside the room. They all came, fed me hot milk, salad, covered me with blankets. I like that about international films. I have done foreign collaborations. So much they care. They treat everyone as equal.
Films like Drohkaal (1994), City Lights, Kali Salwaar (2002), Raghu Romeo (2003), Shabd (2005), Just Married (2007), Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi (2021) are significant ones. How do you look back at your roles in each of these?
In Drohkaal the terrorist is trying to lure this little girl. It was a difficult scene, but I was playing Naseeruddin Shah’s daughter so that was very exciting.
Shabd is also special because Leena Yadav (director) is a friend. She had taken my first video interview. That is how we connected. I remember my first scene with Sanjay Dutt. I had read my scene. He came on the set and was sitting in a corner. I went up to him and said ‘Would you like to do the lines?’ He looked at me, then looked at Leena. He called Leena and said something in her ear. Leena said to me ‘You do your lines on your own because he is saying that he is not used to rehearsing scenes with co-actors.’ (laughs). I did my lines. It was fun. We were in Goa. Small part. Beautiful film. Beautifully shot. I remember seeing Aishwarya Rai for the first time. She was standing talking to Leena. She was not in costume or make-up. I said to myself, ‘My God she does look like a pari! Fairy!. Bahut sundar! Very professional!’ She had read her script a few times. She knew everything. That impressed me.
Just Married was a very nice and good experience. I always wanted to work with Gulzar Saheb. I had worked with him in Kirdaar (serial). Now Meghna was making a film and when she called I was thrilled. I had also met Gulzar Saheb a couple of times earlier – I would just go to his office, listen to stories, to poetry. We shot the film in Ooty.
Raghu Romeo is one of my favourite films. After Raghu Romeo I did the play ‘C for Clown’ with Rajat Kapoor. Sheeba Chaddha was pregnant and she could not do the shows. There is a scene where she has to fall off the chair. Rajat asked me to do the role. I had no idea how I would do it. I had never spoken gibberish. Never done clowning in my life. Sheeba is Sheeba! I had only 12 days to prepare. I would start crying in my house and get anxiety attacks. Speaking gibberish was like speaking Arabic (Laughs). I used to play French movies on my computer and not look at the screen. Just hear the sound. I don’t understand French. Playing different languages and listening to the sound was how I got gibberish. Then dropping the hat, falling off the chair…
I just kept practicing alone. I had only two full rehearsals. Somehow I managed it. Rajat worked very hard. I did my first show. There was this person who had seen the earlier shows many times with original cast and he saw my show and came backstage and said, ‘It was very nice. Of course Sheeba is Sheeba, But you did it very well.’ That was a real compliment. All the other actors were very supportive. I did six shows of that play. That was one of my biggest nightmares and biggest achievement.
Ramprasad ki Tehravin! Seema Pahwaji ke saath maine bahut pehle Star Bestsellers ka episode kiya tha. I remember going to Seemaji’s house. Manoj Pahwa was always very happy to feed everyone. When Seemaji was writing this film she phoned me. ‘You are in the first list. It is not a great role but make it your own.’ It was a theatre type of process. I appreciated that Seema ji ensured all the actors, including those having just one scene, were put up in the same hotel. She wanted everyone to bond - there should be no hierarchy. The film required a sense of a family. Seemaji would explain the scene to the DOP and then go to the kitchen and make amrood ki sabzi for all of us. Scenes would happen on their own. Great experience.
Kali Salwar (2002) directed by Fareeda Mehta is based on Saadat Hasan Manto’s classic story and also incorporates other short stories that take place in the underbelly of Bombay. The interior of the film was painted by the reputed painter Bhupen Khakhar. It had you in the lead along with Irrfan Khan, Kay Kay Menon, Vrajesh Hirjee. Share with us its relevance in your career.
Kali Salwar is super special for me. I got a call for the audition. So I read the story again. Went for the audition, which was very creatively designed. Fareeda Mehta is a very beautiful person to work with. I enjoyed the audition. When my audition got over, Sheeba Chaddha walked into the studio. I had already seen Sheeba on stage. I was her fan. I thought to myself that I am not going to get this part. Sheeba is going to get it. But I had so much fun in the audition that I felt it does not matter if I don’t get the film. Sheeba was being tested for another character. Sheeba got the film and I also got the film.
Fareeda is a very intelligent and a super sensitive director. We had great tuning. I shot for a month for this film from start to end. I remember the last day. From the next day I was not to go for the shoot. By the evening I started panicking. I could not get out of the character. I started saying at home ‘This is not my house. Where is my house?’ My mother had to call Fareeda and ask her to meet me. Fareeda came for the next few days to meet me so that I could just ease out and get to my real life. I never had this kind of experience with any other film. Mere andar ki jo intensity hai wo bhi jaag gayi thi shayad.
I was working with Irrfan Khan. That was great fun. While watching Irrfan enact the scenes, as a character I would start watching him as a performer. He was so beautiful. Jeetuji (Shastri) ke saath kitne saare scenes hain. He gives you so much. Such actors are rare. Now actors take away your lines also. Fareeda loves her actors. I am so happy we are still friends.
The film had a very short release and it was after a gap of a few years that it did an international circuit release. But the country it was made in it did not get a release. I am very happy that I did that film. Even today when I see its poster I feel very happy.
In 2015 you produced the play ‘Song of the Swan’ in English and Hindi. Tell us about it and your production house.
Around say 2014-15 theatre was thriving. People had formed theatre groups, doing productions. I could not see myself in the kind of plays that were happening. I thought if one has to do work that one likes to, then you have to produce it yourself. Theatre does not require too much money. This friend had a story of a real incident. Another friend wrote the script. They approached me to produce it. It was a very beautiful story. That is how it happened.
It was not entirely done by my own production house. It was under another banner. We had many shows. Song of the Swan was a mixed experience for me. After three years I decided to make a proper production house along with a friend, Padma Damodaran; also a very experienced actor-director. As partners we opened Red Earth Stories. We produced our first play ‘The Unexpected Man’, written by Yasmina Reza. It is a French play adapted in English. Padma directed it. I did not act in the play. Padma acted in the play. I handled the production.
We had our first show in 2018 in NCPA. This production house is for anything we want to do. The logo was designed by my bhabhi Sophia Siddiqui. She is American-German and a very beautiful painter. We have done only one play but 15 shows. We were planning more but lockdown happened. Let’s see what we will do now when everything opens up.
From what I gather you are a single woman, living independently and travelling life. I suppose this would be your choice. I admire it. Tell us how easy or difficult it is?
Actually I did not plan to be a single woman. I remember as a child, or, when I was growing up, I saw my parents separating and not getting along. It was a very tuff childhood for me. Being the eldest I was witness to all the turmoil between them. It was pretty dramatic and intense. I always dreamt of a perfect family of my own. A husband, children, home! I did not have one. I wanted to work at it. There was another side of my mind doubting that it exists.
I do believe in the institution of marriage especially if one is planning to have kids. Parenting is a very responsible job. If the child is brought up on solid grounds then he/she will make good changes in society. At one point I also felt that whenever anybody gets married it should be compulsory for them to go through some kind of a workshop or a crash course in good parenting. Do the workshop first and then get registered for marriage. (Laughs). Else don’t have kids if you cannot fulfil the responsibility.
In my case it was very complicated. I did fall in love, but it did not work out. After that I was too shy to trust anyone. Maybe I grew up not really trusting men. Though my father was a very good man. He in fact fell in love with my mother. He ran away from his hometown Saharanpur because my grandfather’s family is very religious. Woh maulana theh. My daddy wanted to explore life. He was the eldest. He ran away from home and came to Bombay and worked to build a bookshop. Urdu ki kitabein wahan milti thi. My mother is still an avid reader. She is a scholar of Urdu language and a writer and a psychologist today. She would go to that shop. She would wear a burqa. Burque mein toh naqab hote theh. With two layers of naqab one cannot see the face behind it. When she used to come to the shop she used to put one veil up so that she could read. She was very fair. You could see the glimpse of the face. My dad liked the look. In one of the books he put a letter for her, which she opened when she went home. She was very young. She straightaway gave the letter to her Abba. Her Abba asked her to call over the man. My Nana had many kids. My mother had seven brothers and two sisters. My Nana was also a scholar of Urdu, English, Arabic and Farsi. He had a printing press where books would get published in different languages. They were not rich. My mother was the eldest among daughters.
So, the marriage got solemnized. I don’t know what went wrong. My father was from a small town. He must have had other kinds of expectations. My mother wanted to pursue her studies, be someone, write. She is still a woman full of life. She has more energy than me. She takes more chances with life than me. It was some kind of a mismatch. But they had three children by the time she was only nineteen years old.
As for me I did want marriage, but after one bad experience I did not have the courage to know another person. If this dream comes true fine if not then also fine. I will just keep working. It is not that I am closed to love. If something happens I will be very happy. I would love to share my life with someone, share my mind, my dreams. I love daydreaming. There was a time I used to daydream all the time. It has reduced now. If I meet someone with whom I match and if we can make each other better people, then definitely I would go for it. But I am happy in my zone. I am working, reading, travelling. I would love to travel with someone, but I am not desperate. I don’t want to fall into a ditch again. I am too fragile.
Still, your work and your dreams are your own…
At this point there is lots to do. I am excited about things to do. I feel if one gets stuck emotionally or mentally that’s the time one gets old. I refuse to grow old. I would like to be open-minded. I would like to be receiving, listening to people, their ideas. Let the story come from them. I have always done charity. Guiding people. I want to solidify that. It is time to give back to society. I would want to work with the community. Maybe through theatre - educate them. My travelling, acting, photography, making short films will continue. I will keep exploring. That keeps me going. I want to work on daydreaming. I have almost stopped daydreaming. I want to get back to that. It gives you a lot of courage to move on, keep moving ahead. That I will try and get back.