Omair Rana is one of the mature actors of Pakistan, with a number of drama serials to his name such as O Rang Reza, Qurban, Do Saal Ki Aurat, Teen Bata Teen, Sang-e-Marmar to name a few. He has also worked in some of the Pakistani films made as a contribution to the revival of Pakistani cinema, including Tamanna, Dukhtar and Chambeli. However, a conversation with him acquainted me with the fact that his personal favourite film happens to be Toba Tek Singh released in 2005, based on Manto’s short story of the same name. Omair Rana played the major role in it under Afia Nathaniel’s direction.
Omair, besides being an actor, has also been a teacher of drama and a debating coach at various schools in Lahore. Regarding this profession of his, I put forward a few questions, which are as follow with his responses.
Teaching is a profession that demands certain limitations and an unobtrusive reservation. How do you deal with students who recognise you as an actor and become your fans?
It has happened that students have been able to recognise me, but it wears away. And that is the beauty of the fact that by the end of the day, you turn out to be a simple, ordinary human being like everyone else. Secondly, it depends on whether we are careful about our position or not. While teaching, I should know my duty and I should be aware that I am here for a different cause. I am not an actor here, but a teacher.
Are you the sort of teacher who keeps to his own or do you welcome your students to share their personal problems and queries with you?
I do want to care about my students and help them grow. I do sometimes know their personal stories. But the educational structure has not always given me that margin to be so much open with students and spend a lot of time with them. Still, I would like to act as a consultant with my students.
Besides teaching them a certain literary genre i.e. drama, do you make efforts to make your students well-read and cultured in a way that literature may seem to be properly imbibed by them?
I would love to do that, but in a country like Pakistan, it is very challenging to teach students about literature and culture, because parents wish to send their children in practical fields, only for finding the perfect job and perfect girl. Mannerisms, culture and humane values have no importance and we are trained to think like machines. Literature, I believe, is everything because it makes you human and teaches you much about life in an entertaining manner. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee has all of it which I would want my child to learn. Even animated movies have wisdom in them.
What is the real purpose of debates, rhetoric or finding solutions to problems? In what direction do you train your students?
Traditionally, a sense of competition is associated with it and its purpose is thought of as dragging the votes of audience to your side and convincing people into believing that your stance is right. But in my view, it should serve a noble cause, and that is to help the audience reach the best possible solution of any problem, and to decide what is best. It should teach you to be patient and to tolerate views which do not necessarily have to be compatible with yours. But yes, present arguments and defend your point.
On language and colonialism
Considering the current confused situation of Pakistanis, in which they are curious to adopt a western culture but hate their colonial past all the same, Omair Rana was asked what sort of reactions he has received after staging English plays like Life of Galileo and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Omair Rana has turned out to be a positive thinker with the opinion that this area of land what we call Lahore is lucky to have been bombarded by so many cultures and languages.
Colonialism, according to him, is an essential period of our history and it has to be accepted. If it had had bad impacts, there are certainly some positive aspects attached to it. The beauty of the fact is that we can talk to the British in English, to the Sikhs in Punjabi and to the Hindus in Urdu. And that is what makes us better from the colonial masters. We have embraced their language which they have not been able to do. We have conquered English and contributed to it, which is something to be proud of.
"There are so many words which we have given to the language of English."
He says that being able to think in a particular language and communicate effectively in it is a success on our part.
"Even religion asks us to travel to China in order to attain education, where there are no Arabic speaking people or Urdu speaking Muslims. Language does not come as a restraint when it comes to attaining education. English is a part of our heritage and culture like Hinduism and Sikhism. That we have been rendered multi-cultured is a matter of pride for us."
On friendship with Ali Tahir
Ali Tahir and Omair Rana have often been seen working together. Some of these projects include Mujhe Jeene Do, Chambeli, Samjhota Express and Taj Classics. Omair Rana has to say that in Chambeli and Mujhe Jeene Do, they just happened to be together. Whereas their presence in somewhat similar plays like earlier sitcoms is concerned, it was the result of Ali Tahir rejecting some roles and those roles being given to Omair Rana . Vice versa, what Omair Rana did not want to do would be given to Ali Tahir. Apart from all this, Omair Rana tells that he and Ali Tahir click, are very good friends and get along well. In fact, for him, they are "two bodies, one soul".
"Being on the set all day is quite exhausting and hectic. But when Ali Tahir and I are together, we keep the environment light and do not allow boredom to overpower us. Ali Tahir’s sense of humour is remarkable! I really like Ali’s company."