Salman Saqib Sheikh, affectionately known as Mani, possesses an extraordinary gift that not only lights up the screen but also creates an immediate and profound connection with the viewers. His relatability shines through, making him incredibly appealing to people from all walks of life.
With his genuine and down-to-earth demeanor, Mani effortlessly bridges the gap between the audience and himself, forging an instant bond that draws viewers in and keeps them captivated. His ability to connect on a personal level is truly remarkable, making him an irresistible presence on the screen.
A few days ago, I had the pleasure of conversing with Mani about his remarkable journey in the Pakistani media industry. A renowned actor, anchor, show host, and an exceptional comedian, he boasts an impressive array of accomplishments under his belt. With multiple feathers in his cap, Mani’s talent and versatility know no bounds. Now without further ado, let us walk you through Mani ki kahani, Mani ki zubani!
Me: Let’s begin with the inception of your journey. So, please share with me, what initially sparked your passion for acting?
Mani: Well, it all started with my sister, Aisha, who was heavily involved in theatre. One day, I had the opportunity to attend one of her performances, and I was completely captivated by the enchanting atmosphere I witnessed there. The energy, the creativity, and the sheer magic of the theatrical environment left a lasting impression on me. That experience ignited a fire within me, inspiring me to explore the world of acting and embark on a path that would forever shape my life.
My initial fascination deepened when I had the chance to make a minor appearance with the esteemed theatre group Katha, alongside luminaries such as Sania Saeed and Nadia Jamil.
Me: You have also excelled as a host, captivating audiences with your road shows, game shows, and corporate events. How did you venture into hosting, and what valuable insights did you gain from those experiences?
Mani: Hosting came as a natural progression in my career, as I always had a knack for connecting with people and creating an engaging atmosphere. It began with road shows like Streets which aired on Indus Vision in 2001, and gradually expanded to shows like Road Romeo and Sarak Chaap, which aired on ATV and Geo TV respectively, and corporate events. Each opportunity taught me invaluable lessons about the art of hosting. I learned the importance of spontaneity, adaptability, and the ability to think on my feet. Interacting with diverse audiences enriched my understanding of human nature and the power of effective communication. Hosting also allowed me to refine my comedic timing and improvisational skills, which have been instrumental in my journey as a performer. Overall, it has been an incredible learning experience that has shaped me both personally and professionally.
Me: Which show became a turning point in your career among the ones you mentioned?
Mani: My 2001 road show, Streets was a turning point in my career. It became famous quickly. We changed the style of questioning and the way we interacted with people. At that time, such candid discussions were not common, but our goal was to show the truth to the audience. The show became an instant hit, and it was the first of its kind. As a writer for PTV, I had worked on various shows and dramas, but many of them didn’t last long due to their bold and reality-based nature. However, the Streets set a trend and opened doors for me.
Me: How was your experience working on Sub Set Hai, a show that broke previous trends and became a superhit?
Mani: It marked the initial phases of my journey, coinciding with the advent of Indus Music. This was a sitcom, featuring me, Tipu, and Salma. Directed by Azfar Ali, this drama became a trendsetter and the most successful drama in the 2000s. It also served as a launching pad for other modern sitcoms in Pakistan’s history.
Me: You mentioned being a part of the first talk show, “Mannism” on Indus Music. Can you tell us more about that experience?
Mani: Yes, Mannism was Indus Music’s first talk show. The show introduced the concept of trolling, targeting politics, sports, and other trending topics of the week. We even improvised some episodes, which was unusual at the time. Our efforts paid off, and the audience loved it. During that time, we witnessed the rise of the trolling culture and tensions between singers and actors regarding who would be featured next.
Me: What hidden gems did the Azfar Mani Show uncover, leaving audiences amazed and wanting more?
Mani: In the dynamic world of theater, my acting was often praised for its natural and effortless style. However, when I ventured into PTV shows, they attempted to mold and change that very essence. It felt like a creative straitjacket, stifling my individuality. But instead of conforming, Azfar and I decided to break free from the shackles and blaze our own trail.
We embarked on an audacious journey, defying conventions and tearing down the walls of traditionalism. Critics whispered their doubts, but we were fueled by an unyielding passion to showcase something extraordinary. The birth of the Azfar-Mani Show was our defiant response to the norms that confined us.
Together, we shattered the established rules and embraced a fresh and unorthodox approach. We injected our performances with a rebellious spirit, infusing each episode with a touch of unpredictability. The show became a swirling vortex of innovation, daring improvisations, and audacious storytelling.
Me: Were you ever daunted by the prospect of facing trolling and criticism due to your involvement in daring and bold shows?
Mani: “Maine jitni bhi acting ki hai wo kisi bhi dar kay bagair ki. Ek confidence ye tha kay mjhe content create karna ata hai.” [Every performance I have delivered has been devoid of fear. I possessed a resolute confidence in my ability to create compelling content]. Our endeavor was to ensure that our show stood apart, unlike anything seen before. Therefore, we strived to make it incredibly distinct from the norm.
Me: Have you ever encountered any funny moments on the set?
Mani: I have had many funny and memorable moments on sets and engaging discussions during talk shows. We received letters from PEMRA (Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority) and faced challenges with political parties like MQM. We even had a radio show on FM 96, but it got discontinued when some boys approached us to take over the show.
Me: Among the numerous roles you’ve portrayed, which ones hold a special place in your heart?
Mani: (smiling mischievously): Ah, choosing favorites is always a delightful challenge! However, if I must narrow it down, I would say Bobby from Sub Set Hai, Meeno from Zeros, and the unforgettable G.A Mahajir from Money Back Guarantee (MBG) have garnered immense love and admiration. These roles have truly left an indelible mark on both the audience and myself.
Me: You have worked with Hira on many projects. How was your experience working with her? Did you enjoy the banter and chemistry between your characters?
Mani: Ah, working with Hira has been an adventure in itself! Our chemistry on screen is electric, and the banter between our characters always adds that extra spice to the scenes. We share a unique connection that translates beautifully on camera. Off-screen, we’re like two peas in a pod, constantly cracking jokes, teasing each other, and creating a playful atmosphere on set.
Hira is not just a talented co-star or a wife; she’s also a dear friend. We’ve gone through thick and thin together, facing the highs and lows of the industry. Seeing her transformation from our early days to now, where she’s rubbing shoulders with the biggest names and delivering phenomenal performances, fills me with immense pride.
Our collaborations have been a rollercoaster ride of laughter, unity, and shared dreams. We push each other to bring out our best, and the synergy we have is palpable. It’s moments like these that remind me why I love this industry so much—because it not only allows us to create magic on screen but also form deep connections that last a lifetime.
Me: Which actors have influenced your own approach to acting?
Mani: Many! Take Talat Hussain Sahab, for example. He has this incredible ability to captivate audiences with his scene-stealing performances. One thing I’ve learned from him is the power of pauses. Talat Sahab knows how to create those magical moments of silence, where the weight of his words lingers in the air, leaving the audience hanging on to every syllable.
When it comes to dialogue delivery, Talat Sahab’s mastery lies in his impeccable timing. He knows exactly when to emphasize certain words, when to let a line breathe, and when to deliver it with utmost conviction. Watching him on screen is like witnessing a masterclass in acting.
Me: You had the opportunity to work on the film “Money Back Guarantee” (MBG). How was your experience working on that project?
Mani: Oh, it was truly a fantastic experience! Firstly, I must express my gratitude to Faisal Qureshi for offering me the role of G.A Mahajir in MBG. It was an honor to be a part of such a talented and accomplished cast. The entire ensemble was phenomenal, and everyone brought their A-game to the table.
The camaraderie among the cast members was remarkable. We formed a close bond, and that chemistry translated seamlessly on-screen. Each actor brought their unique flair and talent, resulting in a powerful and captivating performance.
What I truly loved about working on MBG was the effortless nature of the performances. It felt like we were all in sync, understanding our characters inside out. There was a beautiful balance of humour, emotions, and storytelling that made the film truly enjoyable to work on.
Overall, it was a remarkable experience, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of MBG and collaborate with such an incredible cast.
Me: Have you received any offers from India?
Mani: Yeah, but unfortunately, by the time Hira and I started getting offers, Covid happened. Consequently, the offers and opportunities that came our way were met with unforeseen challenges, causing many of them to fall through and not materialize as we had hoped.
Me: How do you manage the demanding roles of both a father and an actor?
Mani: It’s like performing a high-wire act without a safety net, but with a touch of magic. I’ve mastered the art of managing my time like a maestro conducts an orchestra. When it comes to my children, I ensure they receive the education and opportunities they desire, while also giving them the freedom to explore their passions.
As an actor, I bring the same dedication and commitment to my craft. I’m constantly walking the tightrope of balancing family and work, gracefully maneuvering through scenes and parenting dilemmas alike. It’s a thrilling challenge that keeps me on my toes, and I embrace it with open arms. After all, life is a grand performance, and I aim to shine both on and off the stage.
Me: You also seem to have great taste in TV shows. What are your favourite shows?
Mani: I love Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. From the morally complex journey of Walter White in Breaking Bad to the brilliant evolution of Jimmy McGill into Saul Goodman in Better Call Saul, these shows keep you on the edge of your seat with their suspenseful plots and unforgettable performances.
Me: I know you have a huge fan following internationally. Can you share any details about your upcoming tours?
Mani: Absolutely! Hira and I are thrilled to announce that we’ll be embarking on a whirlwind tour in the coming months, taking our energetic and entertaining shows to England and America. We have received immense love and support from our fans in these regions, and we cannot wait to meet them in person and create unforgettable memories together.
Me: Hira-Mani fans are always excited to know about your upcoming projects. Can you share any details about your upcoming ventures?
Mani: Absolutely! We have two exciting projects in the pipeline that we’re really looking forward to. Firstly, there’s Sajan Mehr directed by the talented Nabeel Qureshi, which is scheduled to release on Bakra Eid. It’s a film that promises to entertain and engage the audience with its unique storyline and compelling performances.
Secondly, there’s Babylicious which is being produced by Coconut Entertainment, a company founded by Hira, myself, and our friend Essa. It’s a project very close to our hearts, and we can’t wait to share more about it as it progresses. The concept of Babylicious is intriguing, and we believe it will bring a fresh and enjoyable experience to the viewers.
I’m always looking to engage in new partnerships and sponsorship opportunities. So, if anybody is interested, you can reach out to me via direct message on my Instagram account (@manipakistani).
Me: What advice would you like to give to young actors?
Mani: To all the young actors out there, I must say that you are already doing a fantastic job. It’s incredible to witness the talent and passion that is flourishing in the industry, with actors like Wahaj Ali, Tabish Hashmi, and many others making their mark. I genuinely feel proud and elated for their achievements.
If there’s one piece of advice I would like to offer, it would be to give your best between “action” and “cut.” When you step into a scene, immerse yourself completely in your character, bringing them to life with authenticity and conviction.
Fizza Abbas is a Google-verified writer, freelance journalist, and a published poet, with bylines in Beltway Poetry Quarterly, London Grip, Dawn, News International, and Express Tribune, to name a few. She can be reached out at firstname.lastname@example.org.