Actor and film producer Sheheryar Munawar is a thorough professional. His big break came in Ho Mann Jahan, and he won over the audience with his talent, good looks, style sense, and joie de vivre. Not one to rest on his laurels, he followed this up with seamless performances in Saat din Mohabbat In and Parey Hut Love, where you can see a visceral energy swimming through the frames.
Sheheryar is like a gradually unfolding story. There are crests and troughs and at the end of it all, like a swashbuckling prince in a fairy tale, he gets the girl and runs away with the movie. The Best Actor awards he has won locally and internationally second that. He makes charming look easy, and can make you tear up with his performance.
Currently he is working with ace director Anjum Shahzad for his eagerly-awaited comeback on TV, Pehli se Mohabbat.
Syra Yousuf is one of Pakistan’s prettiest and most talented actresses, and has an impressive repertoire of work to her credit. She is best known for her roles in Mera Naseeb, Bilquees Kaur, and Tanhaiyan Naye Silsilay.
In this day of social media where fame only lasts for 15 minutes, Syra has endured, by dint of her resilience, oodles of talent, grace and sheer hard work.
Syra is one of the most hard working women in the business, and truly deserves all her success. Her performances are believable and convincing, and you know that a spark like a light has been switched on when you see her emote for the camera. Very few actors read their lines and internalise them. She is one of them.
Syra, you have become a social media sensation. The public sympathy is with you post your new single status, and brands and corporates want you to endorse their products. How does it feel? Is it overwhelming?
Syra Yousuf: Despite the age of social media, meaning that there are sensations coming about everyday, it’s very humbling for an actor to be representing such well-known brands. I feel great pride in the body of work I’ve been able to accomplish. But at the same time, regardless of any of the brands that I’ve worked with, my fans have been with me throughout, and if anything, their love has meant as much, if not more, to me than any brand I have had the honour to work with.
Sheheryar, you are a style icon. Brands and corporates want you to endorse their products. How does it feel? Is it overwhelming?
Sheheryar Munawar: To be honest I’ve always enjoyed dressing up. Even when I was younger I would go through style magazines and read articles on styling. My father has been a huge influence as well; he has always been a sharply dressed man.
To be able to do something you love for a living is a dream come true (for anyone), so I can’t really complain. However, yes it can get a little overwhelming as you’re always on the radar.
At a recent chat show both of you spoke about self-development and looking inwards. You also spoke about positivity during the pandemic. Please explain.
SY: This pandemic has been an extremely challenging time in so many ways but also a wonderful opportunity for us to sit back and simply reflect. I clearly remember when the lockdown began in March, there was a great sense of uncertainty which for most people translated into fear of the unknown. I remember saying, “What is it that we have been chasing all along for? What have we been running towards? What’s at the finish line? Is there even a finish line anymore?”
And here’s the thing – most of us as it is, without realising, work from a place of fear; fear of not being successful, fear of failure, fear of simply missing out in life, and that’s an unhealthy state to be in 24/7. This pandemic gave me the time to look at my life differently, change my perspective, and understand myself. And most of all, it has further strengthened my faith in my God.
SM: I’ve always been a very ambitious and hard working individual. I am goal-oriented, however the funny thing was that whenever someone would ask me what my long-term goals in life were, I would always be baffled.
That’s because for the past seven-eight years (my professional career so far), I’ve just been chasing one thing after the other – always rushing, always jumping from highlight to highlight.
The pandemic forced us to slow down. Initially it was really scary because I wasn’t used to life at such a slow pace; especially because operating at such a slow pace allows you to observe yourself and those around you more.
Looking inwards can be scary at the beginning. To cut a long story short, I was able to first deconstruct myself, and now I’m in the process of reconstructing myself with the wisdom this experience has allowed me.
I know now that I don’t know much at all, and that knowledge has allowed me to be more open to learning and accepting new ideas, concepts, and as the old saying goes, tricks. I’ve learned to ground myself with people and things that are essential, and let go of those that aren’t.
Most importantly, do I know where I see myself in 10 years? [Laughs] Yes. I will always be on a journey of self-improvement, and a better version of myself compared to now.
There is an uncertainty during this pandemic as to when work will resume and when films will be released. How do you feel? What was your routine like during the lockdown?
SY: I feel it will all eventually work out. It might take some time but it’ll all fall into place. At this point all we can do is be patient and hope for the best. It took some time adjusting to the changes that the pandemic brought along. Initially it was all about letting go and lazing around, spending lots of time with family, but then the feeling of redundancy kicks in and that comes with its own struggles. I decided to create a routine for myself and my daughter. Although my day was filled with lots of kid activities, there was still so much time. I decided to use it to further help myself with meditating, working out, cycling, writing and sometimes cooking. Physical and mental health go hand in hand.
SM: What I’m feeling right now is… how are these questions even related to each other? [Laughs].
Yes, films and cinema have suffered. As has tourism, hospitality, and many other industries. It’s just one of those things that no one planned for or saw coming. Emotionally, I’m dealing with it as I would deal with any calamity or unforeseen event; reminding myself that this too shall pass and that I must evolve.
Syra, you recently worked on a web series. How was acting in a web series different from acting in TV and films? Were you skeptical about doing something for the web? How was it working with Asim Azhar and Haroon Shahid? We hear Asim has the biggest crush on you so he was on cloud nine, getting a chance to share the screen with you?
SY: Honestly, I feel web series’ are treated like films. For the simple reason that it’s not being made for television per se, it doesn’t have to be treated in a basic standard way, one can experiment more. Even in terms of the story line, one has the liberty to be more creative, which is what I love. I wasn’t skeptical at all. It had such a cool/youthful vibe to it, with a wonderful cast and an extremely understanding director. Waiting on set with Asim, Haroon and Hamza was never boring and acting was even more fun. We all gave each other the space to play our characters authentically and there was a great sense of teamwork on set at all times.
Haha, Asim is a sweetheart and his crush on me is old news. We have worked together multiple times before so I don’t know about cloud nine.
Sheheryar, out of your leading ladies – Mahira Khan, Mira Sethi, Maya Ali, and Amna Ilyas – who do you share a greater chemistry and work rapport with? Describe your work experiences with each of them.
SM: And why would I tell you that? [Laughs] No, on a more serious note I don’t think I can say who I shared better chemistry with. It was different chemistry with each of them, if there is such a thing.
Both of you have great chemistry with one another but we haven’t seen you guys together after Project Ghazi. How was it working together? Are you guys friends off-screen too?
SY: Sheheryar has been a part of some of my most prominent work, beginning with Tanhaiyan Naye Silsilay and then Project Ghazi. And it’s been an absolute pleasure working with him each time. Everyone brings their own unique energy on set; Sheheryar comes in with a lot of focus and dedication, which I appreciate. Yes, we’re friends off screen too. That’s the thing about working together so often and getting along while doing so, you end up developing friendships.
SM: Working with Syra has always been a lot of fun. She can be a total goofball and she brings out the goofball in me. I would definitely want to work with her on a longer project, I don’t know why we haven’t, though. Maybe it’s just one of those things that hasn’t happened for no particular reason.
Tell us about your future projects. Do you want to get into television dramas now that films are on hold for the time being?
SY: I think films are still happening, even then, I would love to do a drama serial with a solid script and a good character to play. I do struggle with most of the content that’s being put out there; very few dramas actually end up having a great, impactful storyline with a positive message to take away from it. As for my future projects, I’m going through a couple of interesting scripts and I’m thrilled to be reading some remarkable stuff.
SM: I have taken up a project for television. It’s a little scary as I’m going to be doing television after six years. The serial is called Pehli Si Mohabbat and will be aired on ARY digital. To be honest, it’s not because films aren’t happening now that I’m doing TV. I have wanted to do TV for a long time but I just didn’t have the time.
Sheheryar, you have done four films in a short span of time. Which directors are on your wish list and why?
SM: I’ve been lucky enough to work with people I am supremely fond of. I’ve learned so much from each and every one of them.
Asim is a complete perfectionist and I’ve learned how to be extremely disciplined, and never to compromise when it comes to work.
Meenu and Farhad are extremely soft spoken and love having a very homely environment on set.
Moving forward, some of the directors I would like to work with include Nadeem Baig, Haseeb Hassan, Ehtesham and Kamal Khan because I feel all four of them have a very defined/individual style that I could learn a lot from.
Syra, we have heard rumours that you were supposed to start a film opposite Humayun Saeed. Tell us about it.
SY: Yes I was, but that was before Covid. And the pandemic kind of threw everyone’s pace and plans off. As of now, I don’t know much about it.
How is it being a single mother? How do you connect with Nooreh? Is it similar to your connection with your parents while you were growing up? Is it a full-time job and how do you plan on taking out time for work?
SY: I think being a parent altogether is just tough and challenging, single or not. As challenging as parenthood can be, it is also the most enlightening journey to take on. You can learn and discover so much about yourself through taking on the responsibility of raising your child authentically, letting them grow into the people they are meant to be, without imposing your own beliefs/views/judgements of life on them and letting them take the road they want to whilst being nothing but a source of constant support.
Parenting nowadays is a lot more evolved. This generation of parents is more involved and so our way of catering to our children’s needs is different – I don’t think previously it was bad or incorrect, it’s just different now. Connecting with your child is all about being present with them in whatever it is that you do together. I have a great support system at home for me to be able to manage between work and Nooreh, and I consider myself lucky for that.
You are both very strong individuals and are very clear about what roles you want to take, what clothes you want to wear, and how you want to look. How does so much clarity come about? How do you always know what you want to do?
SY: We don’t realise how helpful our bodies can be in something as testing as decision making. If we pay attention to how our body responds to certain questions or incidents, we would know exactly what to do. I go with my gut feeling. If something doesn’t settle with me or my values, I choose not to make myself uncomfortable. And along with that what helps is drawing up boundaries for ourselves and working within those.
SM: Well to be honest, it wasn’t always that easy. I have always been very sure of what my likes and dislikes are, who I am and who I want to be. However, in my younger days I used to struggle with being a people pleaser.
I had a need to always be liked and would struggle with the fear of not being accepted. It was just something that I had to work on as I grew older.
Who is your ideal man/woman? What are the things you expect from the person you are in a relationship with? Are there any prerequisites?
SY: I’d like to leave that to time and my journey in life to reveal it to me. I would rather remain curious and clueless for now. And I believe by telling ourselves who and what it is that we want in a certain someone, we end up creating blocks and limitations within ourselves.
SM: My mother! [Laughs]. I just earned brownie points with a whole lot of people – kids, watch and learn!
No, on a more serious note, the women in my family – from my mother, my sister, to my aunts – have always inspired me. They are all success stories and have managed to bring me, my siblings and my cousins up with the right kind of values.
The most important thing I look for is a kind heart. A beautiful face but a lack of warmth is a complete deal breaker for me. Having said that, some of the values I really appreciate are honesty, loyalty, confidence, ambition, discipline and a good sense of humour. Of course, good looks are a huge plus!
Who are you? What’s your value system and what drives you?
SY: I’m a free flowing soul. I prefer not to create barriers around myself by identifying too much with my job or any of what is on the outside of my being.
Could value systems equate to accountability? For me, it’s Allah. I believe we are all sent here by a Higher Source and we have a destination ahead. I don’t believe that we just landed here out of nowhere; I find that oblivion to be quite ignorant. This life is our journey to that destination and based on the mechanism that God has created within us, we can take this journey forth from a place of pure goodness, compassion and love.
SM: I am Sheheryar. Tough on the outside but jello – or like putty on the inside. A man of principles. Liberal in points of view, yet old school at heart. Tall for a short guy, short for a tall guy, and smarter than the average bear. I need to love and be loved to survive. Son of two of the most beautiful individuals I know. Sibling to a very strong woman who knows what she wants, yet has the most polite way of speaking, and also brother to a handsome, charming young banker. Friend to some of the weirdest yet coolest people who exist, and boss to the most spoilt but competent team in the business. Integrity, honesty, loyalty and trust are some of the virtues that are most important to me.
I believe there is one Supreme Being, greater than anything we can imagine, and He speaks multiple languages. I am spiritual and religious, however, I think humanity is the greatest religion (a point of view that is supported by the religion I practice and by the God I bow down to).
What drives me is a constant need to improve myself and become a better version of myself (hopefully a better human being).
The last text you sent?
SM: To my brother (Mickey) confirming our vacation dates (In sha Allah).
Hashtag that describes your life?
One social media account that we have to follow?
One app we should download?
SM: Chrono24 (if you’re a watch buff).
TV show you love right now?
SM: It’s an old one but I’ve been binging on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Last book you read?
SM: Sapiens and New Kings of the World by Fatima Bhutto.
Who would play you in the movie of your life?
SM: Ryan Gosling (I mean, why not?).
Favourite fictional character?
SM: Tyler Durden (from Fight Club) and Driver (from Drive).
What’s your karaoke song?
SM: Cocaine (Eric Clapton).
Last movie you saw?
SM: Tenet by Nolan.
Last holiday destination?
Last thing you bought?
SM: A new remote control plane kit to build.
Best thing you can cook?
SM: Pasta (I try).
Favourite sandwich filling?
SM: Lobster (yum).
Favourite pizza topping?
SM: Cheese, meat sauce, tomatoes, onions and mushrooms.
Dream dinner party guest?
SM: Sheikh Rasheed… I mean, he would be entertaining with his stories.
Star style icon?
SM: My dad! He’s such a baller.
Your biggest fear?
Celebrity dream date?
SM: Ana de Armas (except she’s taken).
Best gift you ever received?
SM: A watch I had wanted.
SM: How about three? Live and let live. Life’s too short. Let it go!
Word or phrase you say the most?
SM: “Basically”, “honestly” and “essentially”.
Favourite male co-stars?
SM: Ahmed Ali Butt and Adeel Hussain – I enjoyed working with both of them.
Favourite Bollywood actors?
SM: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Pankaj Tripathi and Ranbir Kapoor.
INTERVIEW, STYLING & CO-ORDINATION: RAO ALI KHAN
PHOTOGRAPHY: RIZWAN UL HAQ
MAKE-UP: ARSHAD KHAN
SYRA’S HAIR: ARSHAD KHAN
SHEHERYAR’S HAIR: JAWED SALON