Wajeeha Tahir Talks About ‘Sitara’ And What It Meant To Her
Around 2008, when our television industry still had some sense of what is aesthetically satisfying rather than commercially profitable, HUM TV aired a series by the name of “Taj Classics”. This series was based on Imtiaz Ali Taj’s radio plays dramatized for the small screen and was supervised by Taj Sahib’s descendants, making it an authentic and legally sourced piece of literary art. One of the plays from “Taj Classics” was ‘Sitara’, directed by the writer’s grandson, Ali Tahir, and produced by Ali Tahir’s wife, Wajeeha Tahir. ‘Sitara’, apparently a romantic play based on an elderly man and a young girl’s love relation, stood out as a story tackling issues which a common man eschews by calling them taboo, and which writers avoid owing to the psychological complexities they entail.
‘Sitara’ managed to go for the issues using highly sophisticated Urdu language, making the Pakistani viewers realize that their language incorporates all the poetic devices needed to creatively handle sensitive topics such as socially constructed patterns, cultural limitations, lonely lives of apparently happily married people and the bitter realities of coquettish girls’ lives. I interviewed Wajeeha Tahir, who played the titular character opposite Yousaf Shakeel along with other greats like Naeem Tahir, Yasmin Tahir, and Qavi Khan, and asked her a few questions which she was kind of enough to answer:
From all the stories of “Taj Classics”, why did you choose ‘Sitara’ for production?
I did not choose it myself for production. I was offered to do so and I agreed.
Although subtly handled through the usage of sophisticated Urdu language, ‘Sitara’ is quite a bold story. Did you readily accept the offer to enact the character of Sitara?
It was not a very long thought-process, to be honest. When I work, I take care that the story touches my heart. It is only then that I go for it. ‘Sitara’ was one such script which I felt was very special. Its story does not simply revolve around a couple’s predilection for each other. It is a multi-layered tale that touches upon various themes including emotionality, societal constructs, and cultural boundaries. I felt that such a story direly needs to be told.
The character of Sitara is quite a whimsical one, demanding both comic and serious acting. How difficult was it for you, considering that you had to perform before a senior actor like Yousaf Shakeel?
It was quite challenging. I had to completely internalize the character of Sitara to present all the aspects of her personality on screen. As far as acting opposite Shakeel sahib is concerned, it wasn’t much of an issue. I did not take him as an actor, but as the very Shakeel uncle who often comes to our place to live. I have always felt comfortable around Shakeel sahib, as he is a very good family friend. So, no such thing as a reservation before a senior stepped in, but the love, respect, and friendship I have for Qavi Khan and Yousaf Shakeel prevailed.
Which side of Sitara appeals to you; the coquettish one or the tragic one?
Both! A personality comes forward as complete with all of its sides, not only one. Similarly, if I were to admire one aspect of Sitara’s personality, that would be an injustice to her, for Sitara does not remain a whole if you choose one facet of hers to focus on. To understand her, I had to sympathize with both of her faces, the real one as well as the flirtatious one which she assumes to avoid her deprivations.
Is there any favourite scene of yours from the play?
There are two scenes which I admire; one in which Iftikhar comes to pick Sitara from her place but she is down and does not feel like going on a drive, and the other in which she receives a letter from Iftikhar, telling her that all her secrets have been disclosed before him.
Before ‘Sitara’, you acted in many serials such as “Pataal”, “Monsoon”, “Shashlik”, “Teen Bata Teen”, “Kaun”, “Pooray Chaand Ki Raat” and “Junoon Mein Jitni Bhi Guzri” but did not appear much after it. Is it because Sitara’s character left a strong impact on you?
No, it’s not that I wasn’t able to snap out of Sitara’s character. I deliberately decided not to work a lot, as I had other responsibilities to fulfill as well, most of them related to my household. And since I do not consider myself a person who can do multitasking easily, I didn’t move out much to work.
Your husband, Ali Tahir, directed the play. Did both of you ever have a clash at any point during the shoot?
No! The entire working environment was very friendly. We never fought, but a lot of discussions would take place between us, to which each of us would show a considerate approach. For instance, while shooting for the forest scene, I insisted that it would add to the aura if I lay my head on Shakeel sahib’s laps. Ali agreed and we did it that way. A detailed discussion also took place on the letter-reading scene.
You produced ‘Sitara’ and you performed in it. How did you manage everything?
I took a lot of pressure. Apart from managing the production and rehearsing for my scenes, I also had to take care of Shakeel sahib. His son whom he loves was leaving Pakistan in those days, and Shakeel sahib had grown quite sensitive. He would feel everything deeply, which I believe is one of the reasons he was so engrossed in a sad story like ‘Sitara’. Also, the only Subway sandwich he likes is the one which I get fixed for him. So, I had to run to get that as well for him at times. All of these things were part and parcel of ‘Sitara’. I was functioning 24/7. I did receive a lot of help from my team members, but as a producer, it’s natural that you take a lot of work pressure.
What kind of response did ‘Sitara’ receive?
It was positive, and at times, so positive that I would wonder if it was really too good a production. Its specific audiences included the educated class yearning for something classy and aesthetically pleasing and the radio fans of ‘Sitara’ who were extremely excited about its dramatization for the small screen.
“I can talk about ‘Sitara’ a hundred times,” says Wajeeha Tahir. Such is her attachment to the play. “Stories like ‘Sitara’ which have multi-layered characters should be told. They give a margin to all kinds of viewers to relate to the story in their respective ways. I still watch it at times, whenever I feel the need to have a dose of something soft-toned and artistic. I wish we make more and more plays like ‘Sitara’.