A gifted actor and director, Omair Rana started his career in the theater and, after working in a number of critically acclaimed plays, made a successful transition to television and cinema. The talented performer made his mark as an actor by delivering powerful performances in Maan, Sang-E-Mar Mar, Piya Bedardi, and O Rangreza and will soon be seen in one of television’s most anticipated dramas, Aangan.
In this exclusive conversation with Ally Adnan for Pakistan Today, Rana talks about the upcoming television serial and his role in it.
1) You play an important role in the upcoming television serial Aangan. What drew you to the project?
Khadija Mastoor’s story, Mustafa Afridi’s screenplay, and the cast and crew of the serial. The Aangan team is wonderfully talented, dedicated and passionate. I am fortunate to have been a member of the team. The director, Mohammed Ehteshamuddin, and the director of photography, Khizer Gul, in particular, are gifted individuals and it was an honour to work with them.
2) Aangan is based on Khadija Mastoor’s 1962 novel of the same name. Had you read the novel before taking on the project?
No, I had not. In fact, I had not even heard of the novel until the serial was offered to me. However, since then I have read quite a bit of the book and fallen in love with its story, setting and characters. It is a stellar piece of literature.
3) The story of Aangan is set in the period between 1934 and 1948 and deals with emotional, political, cultural, social, and moral sensibilities of the time. Do you believe that these are applicable today?
To a very large extent, yes. The emotions, feelings and sentiments of the characters of the story are universal; they cannot be tied to any one period. The historical setting makes them interesting but does not take anything away from their relevance and importance.
We should also be aware that our nation did not experience partition in 1947 only but also in 1971, nine years after Aangan was published. The pain, sorrow and suffering of partition is etched – deeply and indelibly – in our national psyche. We will never forget them and stories, such Aangan, will always pique our interest and attention.
4. What do you think of Mustafa Afridi’s adaptation of Aangan?
Mustafa Afridi has adapted Khadija Mastoor’s seminal novel with great care, intelligence and responsibility. He has, very remarkably, given the narrative a twenty-first century sensibility while ensuring fidelity to the source material. This is a tremendous achievement in itself. I am in awe of the flow and structure of the screenplay, the richness and depth of the characters, the language and meaning of the dialogues, and a few brilliant moments, which capture the psychological, moral and emotional tension in a way that has rarely been done in television plays.
Mustafa’s screenplay places a lot of emphasis on the relationships between the male and female characters, and explores them – in all their complexity, contradiction and inscrutability – with masterly skill.
5. The novel Aangan is told from a female perspective. Has the writer reinterpreted the novel and created stronger male characters than the ones in the book?
The focus of the television serial, like the novel, is the inner lives of women. Mustafa has not changed that but, in my opinion, has reinvented some of the male characters and given them more nuance and depth.
6. What role are you playing in the serial?
I play the role of Mazhar Chacha, a family man who loves his wife and dotes over his two daughters, Aaliya (Mawra Hocane) and Tehmina (Hira Mani). A conscientious civil servant, he harbours a great hatred for the British and, in a particularly powerful sequence, allows the hatred to get the better of him, irreversibly changing the lives of all those around him.
7. Mustafa Afridi wrote the wonderful character of Saifullah Khan – arguably the best one in your career as an actor – for you in the widely acclaimed 2016 serial Sang-E-Mar Mar. Does the role of Mazhar Chacha offer you a similar scope to perform well as an actor?
No, it offers me much greater scope than Sang-E-Mar Mar, in terms of screen time, importance to the narrative, and breadth of the character. Like Saifullah, Mazhar Chacha has a very clearly defined set of values, a solid core, and a unique way of dealing with life’s challenges. Mazhar Chacha’s demeanor is mild but his actions belie the grit, strength and fierceness of his character. It is one of the best roles of my career.
8. Aangan has a ensemble cast that includes you, Abid Ali, Ahsan Khan, Hira Mani, Mawra Hocane, Sajal Aly, Ahad Raza Mir and Sonya Hussain. Are you concerned that you will be lost amongst the star-studded cast of the serial?
Not at all. I never worry about such things and subscribe to the Stanislavski doctrine which states: ‘There are no small parts, only small actors.’ As long as I do justice to the character of Mazhar Chacha, people will notice.
As American actor Dabbs Greer famously once said, “Every character actor, in their own little sphere, is the lead”, and I have played Mazhar Chacha like I do all my roles – as the lead.
9. You have worked with director Ehteshamuddin, both as an actor and as a director. How is your equation like with him?
He is principally the same but functionally different in the two roles. And he is great company in both.
He likes to discuss his projects – the story, screenplay and characters – at length, in both capacities. He works very hard both as an actor and as a director. He also gets very close to his acting and directorial projects and allows them to take over his life for extended periods of time.
I have found Mohammed Ehteshamuddin to be more relaxed, forgiving and flexible as an actor. In the role of a director, he is fully in control and runs a tight ship, never compromising and doing his best to deliver work of high quality and merit.
10. Aangan is a period drama. What challenges did the historical setting of the serial create?
I had to make sure that I embodied the sense and style of the middle of the twentieth century while playing the role of Mazhar Chacha. This entailed more than just getting my clothes and hair right. I had to make sure that I totally inhabit the character and get his mannerisms, deportment and essence right.
In addition, I had to work hard to get the vernacular and colloquialisms of the time right and make sure that my diction, speech and dialogue delivery reflected the style of a civil officer in British India. Playing Mazhar Chacha’s character was professionally rewarding and to tell you the truth, a lot of fun as well. In fact, all the challenges were opportunities for me to shine as an actor.
11. What are the strengths of Aangan?
To begin with Aangan, tells a great story and tells it well. The characters are interesting, relatable and appealing. The serial has been well-adapted for television and the art direction, music and cinematography are excellent. All the actors have delivered great performances and, more than everything else, Mohammed Ehteshamuddin has done an outstanding job as a director. I expect Aangan to do very well both critically and commercially.
12. A recent historical period drama, Sarmad Khoosat’s Mor Mahal, failed to do well both commercially and critically. Do you expect Aangan to fare better?
Yes, I do; much, much better.
Making a historical period drama is a tall order. The team of Mor Mahal worked very hard to make a powerful serial and I feel that it succeeded to a great extent. I was sad to see it fare poorly. I believe that people will feel greater affinity to the characters of Aangan than they did towards those of Mor Mahal and find its story, themes and subject more familiar and relatable. To be honest, I’ll be quite surprised if Aangan does not do well.