Adnan Siddiqui With Sridevi in te film
Usman Ghafoor in Lahore (MID-DAY; July 23, 2017)

A few years ago, when Adnan Siddiqui opted out of Yash Raj Films’s Mardani because the part that was originally offered to him was changed at the last minute, he thought Bollywood would never have any meaty parts for him. Then, Boney Kapoor’s Mom came along. Today, post the film’s successful release, this well-known Pakistani actor of hit serials such as Maat, Mere Qatil Mere Dildar and Doraha, some of which were also aired on Zindagi, has been lapping up accolades after acting with Sridevi, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Akshaye Khanna.

A Sridevi fan, Siddiqui says Mom meant acting alongside the veteran actress, especially playing Sridevi’s husband. “Real life mein nah sahi, screen pe hi sahi,” he chuckles.

Mom isn’t his first international acting assignment. Earlier, Siddiqui did a cameo in a Hollywood film, A Mighty Heart (2007), alongside Angelina Jolie. Back home, he has just released his first feature, Yalghaar. It is touted to be the most expensive film in Pakistan’s history.

Clearly, Siddiqui is on a roll. Yalghaar and Mom have scored big at the box office. My first question to him is obviously about his experience with the Bollywood crew and, particularly, Sridevi. “I’d be insane if I said I didn’t love the experience. And, honestly, I would’ve said so if I hadn’t loved it, I am that crazy!” Our conversation is briefly interrupted by a phone call. “It’s Boney sahib,” Siddiqui murmers, before he rushes to answer the call. He returns shortly, and begins to relate how he enjoys a “great rapport” with the producer. “We’re on the same page; we’re always exchanging notes on the film.”

Interestingly, Mom’s director (Ravi Udyawar) is a debutant, and so is Sajal Ali, another Pak import. Siddiqui attributes it to his producer. “You’ve to hand it to Boney sahib for trusting so many newcomers with his film.” Excerpts from an interview.

How did Mom come your way?
India se mujhe pehle bhi offers aa chukhein hain, but nothing excited me. I was approached for Mardaani (2014), for the villain’s part. Later, I was asked to play the cop instead. So, I refused. Last year, when the makers of Mom approached me, my instinctive response was, “I hope I am not wasted in the role.” I was concerned because I have worked hard, over the past 27 years, to get where I am. I didn’t want it to go down the drain.

You finally accepted the role, despite its length?
Roles aren’t big or small, but the actors are. I was convinced that I wasn’t looking at the length of the character as much as its significance to the plot. When I was told that it was Boney Kapoor’s film, and that I’d be playing Sri ma’m’s husband, I jumped with joy. I have always admired her work, her range as an actor, and her beauty. If you take her film Mr India (1987), for instance. She is a seductress in one song, a comedienne in another. She also makes you cry in that particular scene when she learns that the children are starving. Similarly, she had amazed me in Sadma (1983). I am proud of my Pakistani co-star Sajal’s performance also. I think it’s a great achievement for her that she got the chance to debut in a film that stars Sridevi, and yet she could hold her own.

Were you concerned that your role might be slashed at the editing table, especially after relations between India and Pakistan got worse in September last year?
Never. I had full faith in Boney sahib.

It was reported that you and Sajal weren’t going to return to India for the remaining shoot, because you were concerned about your safety?
That was pure assumption. In fact, we got our visas despite tension at the borders. Boney sahib is a well connected person. He didn’t want us or his team to get into any awkward situation, and so decided to shift the shooting location to Bangkok. It must’ve been a tough choice, financially also, since he had to fly the cast and crew from India and us, from Pakistan. Earlier, the part in the film which is supposed to be Kashmir was shot in Georgia because being Pakistanis, we would not be allowed there. I often told Boney sahib that it was because of us that the film’s budget had gone up, and he’d comfort me by saying, “Arrey yaar, we are professionals, we don’t think that way!” It was a big thing for me.

You weren’t required for dubbing?
No, because Mom was shot in sync sound.

Where did the shooting locations take you in India? In an April 16, 2016 tweet, you said, “My stay at one of the most beautiful palaces in Jaipur, ‘Jai Mahal Palace’ was nothing less than royal.”
We shot in Delhi and Mumbai. But, you know, Boney sahib pampers his actors a lot. There was a gap of 10 days between our two shooting spells, so he planned trips for us in India. He told us visit Agra and Jaipur at his expense. He could’ve told us to hang in in our hotel rooms, but he wanted us to enjoy our time. He took care of everything for us, from our travels to our food. He had arranged a special cook for me, named Afzal, who would make sure I get halal meat.

Did you get any other offers during your stay in India?
I was called to audition for Mira Nair’s Broadway musical, which is loosely based on her own film, Monsoon Wedding (2001). It was for the role of Lalit, played by Naseeruddin Shah. As I was shooting for Mom in India, I had to give it a miss.

Adnan Siddiqui with Boney Kapoor on the set