We deal with most sensitive topics in most insensitive ways: Iqbal Azad

- March 26, 2024
| By : Rana Siddiqui Zaman |

Noted television actor Iqbal Azad says daily soaps do not invest enough in perfection and provide no space to improve skills

SEASONED ACTORS: Iqbal has acted with veteran actor Tanvi Azmi in Vani Rani

Good looks always mattered in the world of television, until there came a revolution of sorts when web series opened vistas for actors with skills irrespective of looks.

Those with looks, language and acting skills, however, never had to make a beeline at producers’; in fact, it was vice versa for them. Model, theatre and television actor Iqbal Azad hails from this category. 

Deft at acting thanks to experience in theatre and with gifted looks, Iqbal climbed the ladder of success on small screen rather smoothly

But he kept a low profile; never hooked on to the medium of quick social popularity — the Instagram. A writer, poet and a comedian at heart, Iqbal has a creative world of his own, a production house he is busy with, when not acting. 

FITTING THE BILL: Iqbal Azad did not have to struggle for roles in TV serials because he had looks and acting skills

What sets Iqbal apart from several of his contemporaries is his incidental consonance with his second name, Azad, meaning free. Accordingly, he speaks freely on topics he should be diplomatic on especially since he is a part of the industry that nit-picks at slightest provocation. For instance, he wouldn’t mince words when it comes to sharing the worst of the industry he is in. 

“We deal with most sensitive issues in our serials in most insensitive ways. It’s a practical world. Also, daily soaps are not a space for improving skills, thinking through details of a character one is playing. We are asked to act in just one go, give no retakes. It doesn’t believe in perfection. Jaise taise kaam chal jata hai (we are just making do with it) but that’s a life people call successful and consider us lucky to be its part.”

The glam journey

Born in Patna, having lived in Gujarat and Delhi and now established in Mumbai, Iqbal’s journey from theatre to the advertisement world and then to television is a tale of balance – abundant struggle leading to a life many of his contemporaries would feel envious of. 

He “got work at a time when his contemporaries like Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Pankaj Tripathi” and his senior Sanjay Mishra “were struggling to be visible”. 

This is because they did not meet the conventional beauty standards of our glamour industry, he said. 

“I remember not a single producer would cast them for even a single episode of a serial,” he says. 

His life in tele-serials, however, moved like a hot knife through butter.  

“But these actors (mentioned above) relentlessly focussed on films and today they make us feel proud of where they are,” Iqbal says adding when they all meet, they recall old days, hard work and success with immense gratitude.

VERSATILE: Iqbal Azad has played a variety of roles in TV serials and has also acted in advertisements

The sun shone on Iqbal because of his skills and achievements in theatre that include a play titled All the Best, which holds Guinness Book of World Record for holding maximum shows, and also due to hundreds of prestigious advertisements he did in his 20s and 30s, “as the main model”. 

These advertisements were of Rin detergent, Coldarin, McDowell Premium Whisky, Videocon, Maruti Car, Britannia biscuits, Colgate toothpaste, Goodnight, Melody Chocolate among others, and they made him a household name in the mid-80s and 90s. 

Added to his repertoire are teleserials like Vansh, Bepanah, Adalat, Pinjara Khubsurti Ka, Kumkum – Ek Pyara sa Bandhan, episodes of Crime Patrol and Savdhan India, which all count among his popular ones. 

He has 30 plays and 100 serials to his credit and is still counting.

Baghin (Tigress) on Star Bharat and as a web series on Atrangi, the OTT platform, is the latest. Baghin is about a tigress coming back to avenge a family Iqbal is the head of. The serial is being telecast on two platforms together – the first of such experiments. The Mirage is another web series that will be telecast soon.

“I am very selective about my roles. For two years the television had typecast me by giving me father’s role of the female protagonist where I was just supposed to smile or cry and bless my daughter during her wedding. I stopped accepting all such roles. Then came Baghin, in which thankfully, I am playing a politician who would do anything to get a ticket.” 

For the first time in Indian television serial, a tigress is created with VFX, like in Life of Pi. Baghin sounds like popular serials on Nagin but Iqbal quips laughing, “Haan! ab Nagin nahi to Baghin bana diya (Now there is no Nagin, so they’ve made Baghin).”

Kaise mujhe tum mil gayee (on air Zee TV) is another serial in which a middle-aged Iqbal falls in love with a happening teenage girl younger than his own (filmi) daughter and chooses to live-in with her, while being at the cross-roads for the love of his parents and family. 

Incidentally, the girl (Diksha) who is playing his love interest is also the daughter of his friend and used to call him uncle in her childhood days. 

“So, off-set she still calls me uncle and on-screen she is my love interest. It used to feel very awkward.”

Laughing he adds, “Main pehli baar itna zaleel sa role kar raha hoon (I am doing such a wicked role for the first time), in which my whole (filmi) family is humiliating me. Similarly, I had played the husband of some actresses who were much older to me, such as Sushmita Mukherjee in Kabhi Saas Kabhi Bahu, among the longest running serials on Doordarshan, Tanvi Azmi Vani in Rani Vani on Zee and Sudha Chandran in an upcoming web series The Mirage. Actresses like Surabhi and Jenifer Winget, who are not much younger to me have played/are playing my daughters in some serials.”

Balancing all these roles is challenging, he says. 

FOR THE ALBUM: Iqbal Azad with members of his family

“Playing a dominating husband to such senior actresses, father to less younger ladies and a lover to a girl of my daughter’s age – such roles come with their own difficulties.  But that’s the fun and the challenge an actor has to face. One needs to zoom out of the comfort zone and do the balancing act.”

Is television industry a cruel space to work in?

Television industry is often mired in controversies over unjust way of working — over-work, no time schedules, late or no payments, cut-throat politics and so on. Iqbal doesn’t deny the accusations, adding such schedules were a part of working only at Balaji and a few mega production houses. 

“They used to push actors beyond their capacity. But now it has nearly come to end. Rules and regulations made by several associations of actors, lightmen, camera-persons, producers, directors and others, which jointly come under a federation of television, help the sufferers. As for remuneration, for senior actors, it comes three months later, after the channel has paid the production houses. But small workers get their dues on time. There are other petty problems such as Vanity Van war for the actors according to their stature in the industry,” he talks about the distresses, which are too many to count. 

According to him, the most beautiful thing about television industry is that it ushers you into a “fantastical world, bestows you with fame and fortune you don’t often deserve and its ugliest turn is that it brings you spirally down in no time in most insensitive ways.”

Delhi runs in my veins 

Mention Delhi and Iqbal brightens up. His Delhi connection is “deep and personal”. 

Main dilli ki rug-rug se waqif hoon. Dilli wale dilli ko itna nahi jante honge, jitna main janta hoon (I know Delhi’s each nook and cranny, Delhiwalas wouldn’t be knowing the city as much I do),” he claims with a sense of pride.

“When my father Yaqoob Azad had come to Delhi to buy a factory at GT Karnal Road, he used to take me along. We used to stay at an old Delhi guest-house located close to Lal Qila (Red Fort). We would feast on paya and nahari early morning after fajr (morning prayer), dine at Kareem’s Hotel each time we visited the Capital. I loved to roam around streets of old Delhi.” 

It’s interesting to know why Delhi is special for him till date. 

“Once my father went to his factory and I stayed back at the guest house which was right opposite the Red Fort.  I decided to spend time at the fort. There was some strong connection I would feel with it. As I entered the fort, and started reading the descriptions of the glory of the Mughals, the throne, queen’s palace, its secret alleys, kings’ army and so on, my mind was blown away. 

“All of 15, I clearly remember how I started seeing myself as the Mughal baadshah (emperor) with a crown on my head, surrounded by the darbaris (courtiers), the army and so on. It felt like I had a responsibility to take care of the fort, the well-being of my people.  Like a wanderer I kept on roaming inside each and every space in the fort while reading every detail which would transport me to the era. I was magnificent, over-powering and emotionally over-whelming. Tears rolled down my eyes as I felt I was born in that era and lived there. I stayed there till I was jolted by a guard to come back to reality and vacate the fort as it was time to close. I realised I was there from sunset to sundown.” 

“My father met my mother in Delhi itself, at GT Karnal Road. I also met my wife at Delhi’s Zakir Nagar,” is another tie he has with the Capital.  

Now director too

As lucky as it could get, Iqbal has made his debut at short film. Namely, IDelete, the 19-minute film is edgy crime thriller that has been released on Shorted, OTT platform and has been conceptualised, written, designed and directed by him. Garnering views faster, it has already done rounds at several national festivals and also an international one.