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Spotlight: Sultana Siddiqui

Veteran producer and recipient of a large number of awards, and the only woman in South Asia to be the president of a television channel, Sultana Siddiqui loves to listen to semi-classical music and ghazals. Says she “I love music with melody.”

Among her favourite singers are Abida Parveen, Mehdi Hasan, Roshan Ara Begum, Noor Jehan, Reshma and Farida Khanum, Madan Mohan and Punkaj Mallick. Says Siddiqui, “The riaz, beauty and expertise you find in their renditions you don’t find among the younger lot these days.”

However, when Siddiqui is alone and listens to music, she prefers to listen to Pathanay Khan or Lata Mangeshkar or Asha Bhoslay. She also enjoys “the new music” created by younger musicians and finds Fuzon, Fakhir, Shehzad Roy and Strings produce “excellent melody”. Siddiqui speaks highly of Haddiqa Kiani too, and says “She is the only Pakistani female pop singer today to boast of, although a few are entering the field now and they do have potential.

But Hadiqa has a style that is very different and original, and so does Tina Sani. Every time you hear them sing, you feel there is a new variation in their voice and that is not easy to achieve.” On a reflective note, Siddiqui adds, “Perhaps I am just fond of husky and clear voices.”

Her favourite composer from those dominating the scene today is A.R. Rehman. Says she, “Today there is no composer in the Subcontinent that makes better music than A.R. Rehman, and his blending and musical arrangement is so natural and beautiful that he has no parallel. I am a great fan of his and listen to him a lot.”

Siddiqui listens to music normally when she is in her car and says, “I don’t get time otherwise, so prefer to hear it when commuting. I rarely turn on music before going to bed — my audio system is mostly out-of-order anyway!”

Among Siddiqui’s favourite songs is Pathanay Khan’s Mera Ishq Bhi Tu, Mera Pyar Bhi Tu. Says she, “I don’t think any song deals with sufiism as much as this one does.” She is also very fond of Mein ramda jogi from the Indian film Taal. As for English music, Siddiqi says she rarely hears it and it is mostly confined to whatever happens to be on offer on FM 89 when she is tuned to it while in the car in the afternoons.

An avid reader in her school and college days, Siddiqui says, “I would abandon my studies and read a lot of novels by Ismat Chughtai and Razia Butt. However, now I hardly get any time to do reading for pleasure. But, if I do pick up a book even now, it is always fiction, and that which projects social issues. I recently read Umera’s novel, Peer-e-Kamil and found it to be a very interesting book. I think to write in such a way about Islam must have been a difficult task.”

According to Sddiqui, she doesn’t select her reading material on the basis of who the writer is. Rather, she just goes for good stories, especially from the point of view of converting them into TV plays. Says she, “These days I read a lot of plays and prefer Pakistani plays to Indian. I love those scripted by Noor-ul-Huda Shah and Fasih Bari, the former because they reflect life and society as it is, and the latter for its humour and blend of the old and the new.

I also like the plays by Umera — in fact, I used her Lahasil for a serial on my channel — and those penned by Mohammed Ahmed, Haseena Moin and Agha Rafiq. The latter has written Malika and Chehray, both screened by us. Another new playwright who has a lot of promise is Riffat Siraj.”

The producer in Sultana Siddiqui has not only been responsible for the change in her reading habits but has also affected the way she looks at movies. Says she, “I enjoy watching movies but when I see a movie, I watch it from my own point of view. Unlike most people who are concentrating on the storyline, I am looking at the gelling of the various themes, the background music, lighting, acting and overall impact.”

Surprisingly, although Siddiqui has no memory for the titles of books she has enjoyed reading, she has a razor sharp memory of movies she cherishes. From among the Hollywood flicks she rattles off names of vintage hits such as Moment to Moment, Say Hello To Yesterday, Sunflower, Come September and Dr Zhivago. About the last she says, “Some of the shots in that movie I can never forget.”

From the relatively newer lot of movies, Siddiqui says she loves Pretty Woman and says, “I am very fond of Julia Robert’s movies.” As for her favourite actors from the films of yesteryear, she names Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor.

About Pakistani movies says the veteran producer, “There is no film industry to boast of, although lately the attempts made by Jawed Sheikh, Samina Peerzada and Mussarat Misbah are commendable and a definite improvement on the lot that was being churned out over the years. I feel if people like these enter the film industry, they can definitely bring about a change. I find it very sad that educated artistes don’t join our film industry the way they do the television industry.”

From vintage Pakistani films Siddiqui recalls Saheli, Anjuman and Aina as being particularly impressive, and says, “Our movies of yore were very good and then we had a dark period. Now, I feel we will improve with educated people coming into the industry.”

From the old Indian movies, she recalls Tarana in particular. As for the current lot of Indian movies, Siddiqui ranks Taal, 1942 — Bombay, Dil Say and Devdas among her favourites. Says she, “Aside from their music, the storyline of all these movies was very strong. The old Devdas was very good too, but I feel that the new one, keeping in mind the requirements of the time was excellent, what with its glamorous sets and excellent lighting. Normally remakes tend to be disappointing, but not this one. However, my all-time favourite is Taal.”

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