There are a few people in Pakistan’s television industry who have literally gone out and dedicated their lives to the small screen and its development and Rubina Ashraf’s name is without the slightest shred of doubt right there at the top of that list. Having captivated her audiences with potent depictions of women from just about every sect of the social order for twenty seven long years, the woman now stands at a point where she can actually claim to have seen, done and acted it all; from a tough, unswerving police officer in Pas-e-Aaina and a despondent divorcee in Kasak to a stubborn yet worn-out middle aged nurse trying to hold on to the severing threads of her once perfect family and life in Kaanch.
Rubina Ashraf has had a career rich of stand-out roles because she knows how to bring depth and dignity to her characters. She is the kind of woman you would want to sit down and have a proper conversation with despite the faint indication of inadvertent and thus forgivable condescension that’s crept into her demeanor over the years. Absolutely no non-sense and probably a pain when sitting on the director’s chair because she is in her own unabashed words “a perfectionist” who doesn’t please easy; Rubina’s insatiability as a director and producer may be a major contributing factor to her colleagues’ anxiety on her sets, but it is a small price to pay because her work almost always gathers significant acclaim and virtually every projects she lends her name and expertise to turns out to be an instantaneous hit, proving over and again that she does in fact hail from a fading breed of artistes who originally contributed to Pakistani drama its extraordinary charm and uniqueness.
Rubina’s able work has been a source of immense pride, comfort and inspiration for her female fans around the globe and she dutifully continues to contribute greatly to what has now become a way of life for this prolific actor. I was able to get hold of her for a quick conversation despite a horrendously busy schedule and her profound determination to avoid all kinds of publicity because she is, she humbly believes, “extremely under confident and someone who doesn’t need to be heard at all!”
Do you ever feel that you’ve been stereotyped as an actor?
I started my acting career in 1980 and have worked non-stop since. I can’t possibly have acted the same character for 27 years!
What’s your comfort zone? What sort of roles do you absolutely love doing?
There’s no such thing as a comfort zone in acting. You can’t be comfortable in a certain character and get away with doing the same routine all your life! Your variety and challenge is your real comfort zone, and if you don’t get challenging roles, then that means you’re a failure as an actor and you should probably back out….
In an industry where people are no longer taking things as seriously as they used to, who do you appreciate and revere the most? Both in terms of their work and otherwise.
Talat Hussain; without doubt! He’s a great actor and a wonderful human being. He has put life into the most insipid characters imaginable and made them incredibly interesting with his acting. That’s a quality only a few actors can claim to have! Actors like Firdous Jamal and Abid Ali can also act out scenes that have a tendency to stand out from the rest of the play!
What do you think is the main reason why Pakistani drama is losing its charm and appeal? Why the obvious deterioration of quality?
I think that just like any other industry, our television industry fell victim to the rapid boost that caused by a horde of new incoming channels that wanted tons of work and offered good money for it, so everybody who was anybody decided to become an actor—which was fine because we didn’t have another option. We weren’t equipped to handle the sudden inflow of work because we don’t have any training institutes etc. and everybody had to learn to do their work on the job.
Another reason why most of the work has gone stagnant or boring or monotonous is because we still don’t have as many actors to play all the characters. We’re asking ordinary boys and girls to do these roles and they’re just speeding their lines and moving on! We don’t have directors who can teach them how to put life into their roles like we had when we first started working.
What’s your take on the Indianization of drama? Do you think the damage is reversible?
Things aren’t as bad as they look…or maybe I’m being too optimistic? We were in a process of evolution and what happened was bound to happen. We made a whole lot of bad replicas of Indian soaps and unfortunately that phase has stretched a bit too long. Ten years ago, the director, producer, actors all used to work together with the writer to craft a perfect script because two people can almost never decipher one character in exactly the same way as each other. We had to cater to a diverse audience and because of that, writers like Haseena Moin literally had to be worked with! Now there’s constant pressure of time and writers are coming up with two scripts every week! The institutions that are responsible for making a drama what it is are the channels, and I think the 4-5 channels that are leading the way right now will have to take the responsibility to stir drama back in the right direction soon. I’m sure they must be working on it.
Don’t you think the directors are equally to be blamed?
Absolutely! A director’s job is the MOST important of all!
You have been directing for a while now as well. How has that experience been for you so far?
It’s been wonderful and very fulfilling, but I still don’t rate myself very highly as a director at all! Everything I know I’ve learned on the job, and I don’t think I have gotten anywhere as a director, really, but I’m committed and honest and it makes me believe I can and will do better…and that’s probably why you can see the yearning to go ahead and perform better in my work.
And how is that different from production for you personally?
Production is slavery, hard work and a challenge! It’s not fun at all! Sadly enough, there are very few people who can be called good producers in Pakistan. I myself have only done 4-5 productions till now, so yes; I obviously have a long way to go before I can call myself an able producer.
You come off as a very independent, strong-willed woman. How similar is the Rubina we see on television to the one in real life?
I am! I’m very independent and strong-willed even thought I’ve done many characters of docile and dejected women, but it hasn’t stopped me from maintaining this integrity of a woman because I honestly believe that a woman is the most powerful being on the face of the earth! Take the working women from our industry for instance. I can’t identify the same yearning and passion in men’s work as I can in all the women’s work; may it be Misbah Khalid, Marina Khan or Angeline Malik. I feel that the women are generally more passionate about everything as compared to men…Obviously we do have proficient men in the industry too, I’m not saying we don’t, but they all need to work harder. Ahson Talish and Anjum Shahzad are the two people I rate and feel will do some good work in the future.
Have you or do you plan to give writing a shot?
No! I should not be writing! I should only be acting because that is something I have found out after a long investigation that I can actually do. I would prefer to just perfect myself there instead of becoming a bad writer or doing something I’m not good at!
So today, after all this time and hard work, you’re confident that you have fulfilled your responsibility as an actor and done every role to your credit justice?
Yes, absolutely! It’s an actor’s job to breathe life into his or her characters no matter how dull or insipid they may seem and I have been very true to myself and my work.