Since the days of Kasak when she played a struggling single mother created by Haseena Moin and presented on PTV by Sahira Kazmi, Rubina Ashraf has appeared in countless drama serials, telefilms and series. Pas-e-Aina, Aurat Ka Ghar Kaunsa, Seerhiyan, Tapish, Iltija, Dehleez, Sath Nibhana Hai, Abhi Door Hai Kinara, Aakhri Barish and Mera Naseeb are just a few of them.

Characteristic of Rubina Ashraf’s acting is her conveyance of feelings through the eyes. Even during moments on the screen when she is quiet, her eyes speak the unsaid, bringing her forward as an actress who performs naturally.

Be it the greats from the classical era of Pakistani drama such as Haseena Moin and Noor-ul-Huda Shah, the progressives from the days when the drama industry was facing a downfall such as Syed Mohammed Ahmed and Seema Ghazal and wise writers from the modern times lacking intelligent content such as Saji Gul, Rubina Ashraf has worked for every respectable dramatist and has presented herself as someone who always has something to offer no matter what the conditions in the industry are.

However, it must be known that Rubina Ashraf’s talents are not confined to acting alone. She has served the drama industry as a director as well, with works the quality of which in terms of both production and content is unparalleled. Peela Jora, Rehne Do, Tere Siwa, Phir Youn Love Hua, Vanee and Aik Adh Hafta are some of Rubina Ashraf’s directorial projects which are characterised by top-notch actors, a clean and fresh look and progressive themes. I asked her a few questions related to this director’s hat which she wears, which are as follows with their answers:

Which was your first drama serial as a director?

It was Peela Jora written by Mohammed Ahmed released around 1992 or 1993. Pas-e-Aina and Peela Jora ran on air simultaneously.

What inclined you to move towards direction when previously you had been acting only?

It happened in the days when we had initially ventured into private productions and things had changed entirely for Pakistani drama industry. The quantity of productions had increased and a lot of new, young people had stepped in. I would like to call that era as marking the end of directors, for the new directors which came were not interactive at all with the cast and crew and were very possessive about their superiority despite being young in age from senior actors.

We who had worked at PTV and with PTV directors had formed an understanding of the director’s work because the people we had been working with would take input from everyone on the set, even the novices. Even my very first drama serial Hazaron Raste directed by Rashid Dar was an interactive project. As a result of having worked with creative, interactive and broad-minded people, I realised that I knew a lot more than the new directors who had stepped in. It was a time to make a decision. I had to choose among fighting with every director, surrendering to their egoism like some of my peers had done, and telling them that I can do something better. I opted for the third option and went into direction.

Most of the dramas which you directed have been written by Mohammed Ahmed such as Peela Jora, Tere Siwa and Rehne Do. Is it coincidental or was it a deliberate collaboration?

This was by choice. I was not alone who was disillusioned at what was happening. It was a whole bunch of progressive and creative people. In these times, Mohammed Ahmed turned out to be compatible with the likes of me and fortunately, was available for us as well. He was equally enthusiastic. A lot of actors and I were heart-broken at the kind of scripts which were coming our way. Collaboration with Mohammed Ahmed was a deliberate decision at the point in time which aimed at bringing something new and innovative.

After consistently directing Mohammed Ahmed’s scripts, you went for a Seema Ghazal drama which was Phir Youn Love Hua. What difference did you feel?

Yes, no doubt that Seema Ghazal’s genre, her style of writing, her characters and the art of characterization were totally different from Mohammed Ahmed. All the same, Seema Ghazal is a writer I am a huge fan of. She is that woman who single-handedly saved the drama industry from collapsing when countless productions were being made and our writers had started to grow nervous. No one has been able to come up to the pace with which Seema Ghazal wrote in those times. She would write a complete episode over-night and even in a script written with such alacrity, we would hardly find any mistakes.

Tell something about Vanee and Aik Adh Hafta.

I directed Vanee around 2007 or 2008. It went on air on Geo TV and was written by Zafar Mairaj - probably one of his best scripts. While I was working on it, Ali Moeen approached me with a director friend of his with the script of Aik Adh Hafta. They had come to me to offer me a role in it. When I read the script, I comprehended its worth and asked the two men to take it back from ARY, which was their earlier decision, and send it to HUM TV’s telefilm festival. I was sure it would win the festival. Since Ali Moeen and Naeem Khan did not have the required production money, I produced it myself and also co-directed it, choosing Badar Khalil for the role of the mother, for I knew no one could do it better than her.

Why didn’t you direct anything after Aik Adh Hafta?

I did not completely abandon direction. I did direct works for other people, one of which was a long play written by Noor-ul-Huda Shah for HUM TV titled Tarazoo and the other one a drama serial titled Shikwa for ARY. Yes, I do not come up with my own productions now because I believe that the purpose with which I had started it has been achieved, which was to tell the modern directors that they cannot always hold me subordinate to them. I believe that I have established myself as a capable director and in my projects which I take up as an actor now, I do not feel the need to assert myself as a person who knows the art of acting and directing.

However, Rubina Ashraf is not satisfied with the kind of roles she is given.

"I have been playing an evil mother-in-law for the past ten years, which is no less than a cruelty perpetrated on a lot of capable actors of our drama industry. Throughout the world, senior or old-aged actors who wish to perform are given their due in the way that roles which they want to do and which suit them the best are specially written for them."

Still, Rubina Ashraf has not given up and continues to serve the drama industry with all that she has.

"Even with such monotonous roles, my peers and I try to give our best and perform with complete sincerity. I keep trying to enrich my characters with small gestures and movements, the addition of which can give life to the characters to a large extent, making them interesting and realistic."