Sufism and stardom

Writer, singer, TV host, model and actor Hina Dilpazir has starred in some of the most successful serials on Pakistani television. In an exclusive interview for the Friday Times, she talks to Ally Adnan about her life, career, spirituality, music and the perils of ...

Sufism and stardom
You are often seen at classical music concerts. What interest do you have in classical music?

I have great interest in classical music. In fact, it is the one thing that I value very dearly in life. I cannot live without music. Our entire universe has a rhythm and runs at a certain tempo: music keeps my life in sync with the rhythm. At its surface, music keeps me calm and relaxed but, at a deeper level, it keeps me connected to the Creator.

What singers do you listen to?

I love the ghazals of Akhtari Bai Faizabadi. I am a huge fan of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan of the Patiala gharana and Roshan Ara Begum of the Kirana gharana. I am moved by the music of Ustad Salamat Ali Khan. I enjoy Hussain Bakhsh Gullu’s singing. I think Ustads Ghulam Hassan Shaggan and Fateh Ali Khan, both from the Gwalior gharana, are great musicians. Amongst contemporary singers, I am most fond of Abida Parveen. Her music has an ethereal quality.
All I had ever wanted to do was to experience the lives of others by playing different characters

Do you have an understanding of classical music?

I have some understanding of raag and taal; however, I do not use it when listening to music. I do not think it is right to determine a song’s merit by evaluating it on the basis of the grammar and theory of music. I feel that music which touches one’s heart and soul is good music and that which does not affect the spirit is not good.

You have worked on radio, television and in theatre. How are the three media different?

Acting on radio is like reading a book to the listeners. A performance is good when it helps listeners fully visualise and experience the play that is being performed on radio. A successful radio play immerses listeners in its world and keeps them engaged through its entire duration.

Television is a more static medium. It is like still water in which actors need to create waves. The work of actors, along with that of an entire team, is needed to create good television plays.

Theatre, in my opinion, is the most potent and powerful medium for actors and for viewers. It is also the most challenging and dangerous. A performance on stage is not limited to the histrionics of the actor; everyone present in the theatre contributes to it. Actors, crew members, audiences and everyone else present in the hall bring their own unique intellect, experience and person to theatre. The goal of the actor is to combine the positive energy of everyone to create a performance that is entertaining for everyone and represents a unique truth for all. This truth is different for different people but is the truth nonetheless. A successful stage performance multiples the individual energies of everyone who is present, instead of simply adding them, in order to create magic. I find theatre magical. It is the medium that I like the most.

Ally Adnan and Hina Dilpazir - Photographs by Junaid Khan & Yaseen Lakhani
Ally Adnan and Hina Dilpazir - Photographs by Junaid Khan & Yaseen Lakhani

You moved to Pakistan around ten years ago and, in just a few years, became one of Pakistan’s most highly regarded comedic actors. People like Moeen Akhtar, Anwar Maqsood and Bushra Ansari worked for decades to achieve the fame that you found in just a few years. What do you think is the reason for your quick ascent in the world of show business? 

Before I answer your question, I must say that I do not belong to the same category of actors as Moeen Akhtar, Anwar Maqsood and Bushra Ansari. Those people are great performers and true legends. I do not even come close to them.

The answer to your question is simple. The Creator has been kind to me and rewarded me with success and fame that I probably do not deserve. I had started acting on a whim with little, if any, expectation of success and popularity. All I had ever wanted to do was to experience the lives of others by playing different characters. I was rewarded with success, fame and fortune quite unexpectedly.

You were very close to your father, who is no longer alive.

Yes, we were friends and confidantes.

My father was a very simple, kind and unassuming person. He was a man of few words but the little he said was golden. He had a successful career in Dubai but was loathe to exploiting it to give himself and his family a life full of luxury. I remember that we used to have a dilapidated and rundown car when I was a toddler. The car’s doors did not latch and we had to hold on to them to prevent them from flying away. Yet, when he was offered an opportunity to own a Toyota Corolla in exchange for some favors, he threw the keys of the new car away in fury and anger. My siblings and I led very austere, but reasonably comfortable lives as children. My father is the one who taught us the virtues of simplicity and austerity. We always lived well within our means and never desired luxury. The entire family was content with what he had. That was his achievement.

He is also the one who introduced you to spiritualism.


When I was barely in my teens, he took me to the shrine of Bari Imam in Noorpur Shahan, a small village near Islamabad. Once there, he took me to a well, looked into the void and said, “I have brought her here”. A fakir who was sitting next to the well drew three pails of water from the well and poured them over me. Drenched in water, I was confused but happy. I did not realise then that I had just been initiated into Sufism by my father.

Has time healed the wound of his death?

There really was never a wound to heal. I do not think he ever left me. I believe that death is just a transition from one world to another. We are afraid of it but I am certain that those who pass on find relief, peace and happiness in death. I feel that my father watches over me and is always around. He will be with me forever.

Hina Dilpazir
Hina Dilpazir

What is your relationship with your twenty-one year old son like?

Well, he argues a lot with me.

One a serious note, he is a very loving and sensitive young man. He is studying classical music with Javed Bashir. Abida Parveen, who is very close to me, oversees his education in music. He plays the sarangi and composes good music.

You don’t look like the mother of a twenty-one year old young man. Did you get married in your teens?

Thank you. You are very kind.

I got married at the age of eighteen. The marriage lasted six years. My husband and I divorced when I was twenty-four years old.

Now that you make a decent amount of money, do you splurge and spend a lot on your son?

My son has very few needs. He is interested only in musical instruments and recording equipment. I am happy to indulge his interest.
I got married at the age of eighteen. The marriage lasted six years

You played a total of twenty-two characters on the incredibly successful Quddusi Sahib Ki Bewah, which had a run of more than one hundred and fifty episodes. That must have been tough.

It was tough but a lot of fun. The play was written by Fasi Bari Khan and directed by Syed Mazhar Moin. The three of us are very good friends and enjoy working with each other a great deal. I had great time while working in Quddusi Sahib Ki Bewah. I think the serial was tougher on my co-stars than on me because they had to wait for me as I got dressed and put on make-up to play the roles of various characters.

Your twenty-two characters in Quddusi Sahib Ki Bewah were all written with great care, attention and intelligence. They were neither positive nor negative. It must have taken a lot of insight into the human psyche to successfully play the intricately written and very robust characters. You were raised in Dubai. How did you learn so much about lower middle class Pakistanis and their lives while living outside of Pakistan?

It is true that we lived in Dubai but our connection to Pakistan was always very strong. All our holidays were spent in Pakistan. Swissair used to operate a direct flight from Dubai to Karachi at the time and they used to sell standby tickets for just one hundred and fifteen dollars. We used to spend hours at the airport, hoping to secure confirmed seats virtually every other month. Trips to Pakistan were frequent.  I, therefore, had ample opportunities to observe Pakistanis from all walks of life and from various classes. I am a student of psychology and have good observational skills. I think these helped me prepare well for my roles. As far as languages go, I grew up in a multilingual home because my mother was from Muradabad in Uttar Pradesh and my father was from Abbotabad, Hazara. I understood several languages even as a child. I have always found it easy to pick up new dialects and languages. That helped prepare for my roles. Moreover, Fasi, Moin and I used to discuss each and every character in great detail before we brought it to screen. We only started shooting when all of us fully understood and agreed on the make-up of a character.

Bari Imam Shrine
Bari Imam Shrine

How did you feel when Quddusi Sahib Ki Bewah ended its extraordinary run?

I felt very sad. It was as if twenty-two close friends had abandond me. I still get wistful when I think about Quddusi Sahib Ki Bewah.

Do you have friends other than Fasi and Moin?

Yes, I do.

I am very close to Abida Parveen. She and I have a spiritual connection. We talk about Sufism whenever we get together. She is a woman of great wisdom.

Maqsood Hassan who played my husband in Quddusi Sahib Ki Bewah was very close. In fact I used to think of him as my younger brother.

I am not sure that I can call her a friend, but I feel very close to Bano Qudsia. A few years ago, I visited her in Lahore and asked her for a gift that would change my life. She gave me a dua to remember as that gift.

What was that dua?

“Dear God, please enlighten me with the method, decorum and tenor of leading life properly. Amen.”

The supplication was the greatest gift anyone could have ever given me. I have since made the dua and integral part of my prayer regimen. It has brought peace, calm and contentment to my life.

You are known to be very humble and down-to-earth. Do you never feel like throwing tantrums?

No, I don’t. I think tantrums are unbecoming of actors. They show a lack of class, good upbringing and proper manners. I am embarrassed for other actors when I see them misbehaving and throwing tantrums.

Having a huge ego is not good for anyone but it is especially hazardous for actors. A huge ego prevents an actor from giving up his own persona in order to play another character. This can kill a performance.

Ego also makes it very difficult to handle fame, fortune and success.

Is fame, fortune and success difficult to handle?

Incredibly. Add ego to the mix and the consequences can be disastrous. One then forgets his true worth and starts acting with pride, arrogance and egotism.

The truth is that all of us are going to end up six feet under, one day. Forgetting that fact is dangerous. It makes one susceptible to vanity, selfishness, cruelty, pride and conceit. God does not like to see these attributes in His people.

Has fame, fortune and success not affected you in any way?

It has provided some material comforts that I enjoy. It has allowed me to travel, which I enjoy. And it has allowed me to take care of my son all on my own.

Fame has also forced me to conduct myself with dignity, class and propriety in public. Since I am a Pakistani and relatively well-known, I have to make sure that I represent my country in the best possible way whenever I am out of Pakistan. I can never do anything that would cause embarrassment to Pakistan.

Ally Adnan lives in Dallas and writes about culture, history and the arts. He tweets @allyadnan and can be reached at