“When a new day begins, dare to smile gratefully, when there is darkness, dare to be the first to shine a light. When there is injustice, dare to be the first to condemn it, when something seems difficult, dare to do it anyway. When life seems to beat you down, dare to fight back, when there seems to be no hope, dare to find some. When times are tough, dare to be tougher. When the day has ended, dare to feel as you’ve done your best. Dare to be the best you can — At all times, Dare to be!?  
These lines from Steve Maraboli, a life-changing speaker, bestselling author and behavioural scientist, sum up all too well the chronicles of Sultana Siddiqui, the producer and flag bearer of the Pakistani television drama since Seventies. 
Sultana Apa (Sultana means empress; Apa is an honorific for elder sister) to most, she is a woman of substance; a philanthropist, who placed Pakistan on the cultural map of the world, and a recipient of several awards, including the coveted “Pride of Performance” in 2008. 
As a public speaker, Sultana has spoken on many local and international platforms, including the 2013 US Islamic World Forum in Doha. Community sat down with her to run the gamut of a rich four-decade journey in the Pakistani entertainment industry.

You’re still reckoned to be the only woman in South Asia to have made her own TV channel? What do you make of this unique distinction?
It is unique but this is not the reason why I started my own channel and production house. I never wanted it to look unique in this society — a woman running her channel and contributing to this society in the form of quality art. I like it more when Pakistani women shine worldwide. It gives me pride. It’s more about projecting Pakistani women, how they can excel and come forward. 

Single mother, producer and being part of Pakistan’s entertainment industry for this long. What challenges did you face? What was the driving force?
In our society, whenever a woman steps out of her place for work, she faces a lot of challenges and she has to work hard to prove herself. As a single mother, I have had a lot of responsibilities just because I never wanted society to look at me questioningly — is she raising her children well or not? It’s not because I wanted myself to be recognised as a good mother; I just wanted to convey this to the society that a woman can do anything. 

Forty years into the Pakistan entertainment industry; what has changed?
I used to be a producer back in 1975 at (the state-run) Pakistan Television. There used to be a lot of professionalism back then; taking work very seriously. Also, there used to be proper training for producers back in the days at PTV, but we don’t have anything of the sort now.

Tell us something about your education. Heard you had the opportunity to perform before Queen Elizabeth and Duke of Edinburgh as a student?
I have done honours in Comparative Religion because I wanted to go for Civil Services, but I couldn’t actually do CSS (a Central Superior Services exam that provides high-scoring candidates with a chance to serve in prestigious government offices), but to tell you the truth, I used to be a very talented student back in the college days — the all-rounder kind of a student. I used to dance quite well. When Queen Elizabeth and Duke of Edinburg came to Pakistan, I actually qualified to perform in front of them. They took students from all over the country and fortunately, I was one of them. 

Where many would credit you for introducing a versatile singer like Abida Parveen, over the past few years there has been no decent addition to the industry. What do you say?
I’ve introduced a whole new batch of actors that you see on television today. The only thing that’s halting us is that we don’t have any professional acting school in Pakistan. I changed the image of the media by hiring people on the spot. Even when I happen to be at the weddings and see someone that can go with my potential productions, I pick them up. 

The fledgling Pakistani film industry may not compare with its Indian counterpart, but is there anything we are better at or on par with?
We have strong content. Bollywood is a 100 years old industry, so of course, it will take time to get there, but even if you look at our (TV) fare, when our content crossed borders, people loved it and were always looking forward to more.
Despite Pakistani actors making their mark in Bollywood in the last few years, there is no real initiative for joint ventures. Who – or what – do you think holds back the movers and shakers?
It’s the political situation that’s preventing us from collaborating on a better level. Although entertainment has no boundaries but the present political situation is setting us back. People of both the countries accept each other with open arms, except a few.

Talking of films, what’s next for you as a director or producer?
I did Zindagi Gulzaar Hai after 13 years and now Momina, my daughter-in-law, insists that I do direction, but I need a strong script and a message to send across. So, I’m just looking forward to a strong script.

What’s it like taking responsibility to project the soft image of your country?
Well, I try to project the soft image of Pakistan with all the fashion shows, drama and content, but try to direct most of my projects on social issues concerning Pakistan today, and create awareness. I have been recently involved with plays to create awareness about minority issues, education, health, justice, child abuse, domestic violence and a lot more. So I think it’s more important to create peace and a sense of security in this land. I receive a lot of notices on airing the kind of content I do, but that doesn’t stop me from creating awareness because I know it will bring a change.

Any message for the readers?
All I would like to say is — “Educate the child and promote the talent of your daughter or son while caring beyond any boundaries”.

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