By Sonya Rehman
Unconventionally beautiful, perceptive and talented, Arjumand Rahim emanates a certain kind of gentle grace, an elegance and warm sensitivity which are qualities vital for an artist of her caliber.
In a special interview for Women’s Own, Arjumand talks about her passion for dance and her journey throughout the years as an actor and producer.
What is your educational background?
After completing my O’levels from St.Michael’s Convent School, I went on to Defence College for Women from where I completed my Bachelor’s in Liberal Arts. At that point I was pretty confident I’d go onto studying Psychology and eventually end up as a therapist but obviously life had other things in store for me. While in college, I’d started training with Nighat Chaudhry and my passion for Kathak only grew as I learnt more. I postponed my decision to pursue a master’s degree (much to my parents’ chagrin!)and continued to train in dance seriously and occasionally perform within the country in festivals and carefully selected venues. I also attended workshops with Nahid Siddiqui who then selected me to perform in a piece for her titled ‘Homage to Freedom’. Later I went to Delhi and trained in dance specialization under the tutelage of Pandit Birju Maharaj. Simultaneously, while I’d been training in dance in Karachi, I had also started dabbling in theatre and performed as the female lead in productions such as ‘Barefoot in the Park’, ‘Wait Until Dark’ and the international ‘Shakespeare Drama Festival’. These were ‘Karachi Drama Circle Productions’ and all of them were directed for the stage by Sohail Malik.
The reason why I’m mentioning all this is because in the absence of institutions, all my initial experiences became valued teachers. After the diploma in dance specialization, I discovered an actor’s training course in theatre and film acting in Delhi which I signed up for. It was a rewarding experience to say the least and has equipped me to perform in the most taxing situations and environments. After returning from India, I produced my first telefilm titled ‘Khwab Kinara’ which was aired on PTV World. The film was well executed but I felt hampered by my lack of technical knowledge and craftsmanship in the art of filmmaking. Within 3 months of being back from India, I enrolled for a filmmaking diploma at the New York Film Academy and took off once again to acquire the right skills so that no one could ever fool me in Pakistan! Ever since, it’s been pretty darn good being back in Pakistan!
What was it like initially? Did you encounter any hardships with regard to jealousy from your peers and uncouth directors?
Initially, I’d never really contemplated acting for TV. As it happened, one of my theatre performances had gone off very well and received positive feedback in the press. At the time Tahira Wasti had just written her first telefilm script and asked me to play the supporting lead. I believe the telefilm was aired on NTM and because those were less competitive times, I was noticed immediately and other offers started pouring in. I always kept my dance training at a high priority level and only accepted those offers that didn’t require me for more than a few days of work and so I never really thought of myself as an actor till much later.
I did sometimes encounter petty jealousies from my peers in the initial period but it was so petty and short-lived that thankfully one has never been engaged in any controversies! As for uncouth and sleazy directors, there weren’t half as many in my initial phase as there are now. I sometimes feel rather sad for the new girls who aren’t getting to work with as many educated and sensitive directors from whom there’s so much to learn.
What is your take on the media industry of the yesteryears and the media industry of today?
In the yesteryears, it was a very elite class of people who made it to the A-list in terms of directors, producers and actors. It made people work harder and remain humbler for longer. Today, there’s a role reversal. There are far more jobs in the media industry than people to fill those slots. It’s great that we have so many channels but the side effect of ample opportunity is that due to heavy demand our standards have dropped. Nevertheless, it’s not like new talent isn’t being generated as there is tremendous potential out there. One just needs more patience perhaps.
Which production did you most enjoy doing and why?
I loved acting in a telefilm directed by Iqbal Ansari which was also incidentally Bushra Ansari’s first script. I played her daughter and it was a very conventional character, quite unlike me in real life! Since the script was fantastic coupled with Iqbal Sahib’s direction (which was so sensitive and educational), I will always remember that experience.
We’ve started producing a lot of dramas and soaps that seem to mimic Indian productions. It just doesn’t feel ‘realistic’ and simple anymore. What’s your take on this?
It is but natural for the majority in any field or environment to follow ‘existing’ trends. That is the safe way out in business. Unfortunately, those who ‘matter’ (such as the various channels and independent producers) don’t realize that this will eventually backfire and go against our own selves. Pakistan has been known to produce trendsetting ‘drama’ some of which is even shown as an example of great acting or direction in film and theatre schools in India. Having lived in Bombay and due to my extensive exposure to media bigwigs there I felt so proud each time someone commented that they have never been able to match our scripts or our natural style of acting in the 70’s and 80’s.
As for our new actors, I think they start out just right with tremendous passion but the environment they’re working in is so commercially driven that they lose perspective and are drawn into ‘look’ and ‘glamour’ as opposed to focusing on real things which will sustain their careers in the long-run.
When did you launch your company, Art Republik? What does it function as?
Art Republik became operational in July 2005. It’s a fully equipped production house with its own creative team that works on flagship productions for the major independent channels. We also sometimes work with directors who aren’t necessarily putting in full time at the company.
How many plays have you done so far?
The body of work would probably pale in comparison to several peers of mine who pursued their acting careers with far more single-minded focus. Nevertheless, I’ve probably acted in about 20 odd telefilms, 7-9 single plays and 8-10 serials.
Is it imperative for an individual to get a degree in filmmaking and/or acting to establish a successful career? Or is it really all about experience and working with trained professionals to know the ropes?
I don’t think it’s imperative at all. There are several highly acclaimed people in the industry internationally who’ve never studied the craft in an academic environment and yet, are where they are today.
However, it is highly recommended that one learn the necessary skills before venturing into this area professionally. Having studied something academically arms you not only with knowledge but also the discipline and ethics one must apply.
What kind of a man does the 21st century woman need?
I can’t speak for all 21st century women but I guess I could be vocal about the kind of man I’m drawn to… I’m drawn to intelligence, humour, a generous spirit and honesty!
What advice would you like to give to those just starting out in the field of media?
It takes a while before u become a household name and thus a star so please don’t lose your head overnight after a couple of success stories behind u! Humility and good naturedness goes a long way. Hard work eventually does pay off and u will be respected for longer incase you’re looking at a long term career!