By: Hafsah Sarfraz / Azam Khan
ISLAMABAD: In a deeply-conservative society where women have yet to be allowed the very basic right to drive on roads, there are some who are defying outdated traditions and challenging gender stereotypes. Sameera Aziz is one such woman.
A multifaceted person — an intellectual, journalist known for her professionalism, competence and integrity, a filmmaker, director, script writer, radio presenter, novelist, orator, social worker and activist – Aziz believes in promoting art and culture.
With a diverse background, she wants to use her cultural diversity for the betterment of the region. Her ancestors migrated from Lucknow to Karachi after independence in 1947. Later her parents moved to Saudi Arabia where she was born, got married. A Saudi national Aziz is fluent in Arabic, Urdu and English.
“Religion and politics have reduced the space for a peaceful society,” she told The Express Tribune in an exclusive interview. Aziz says she is striving hard to reclaim that space and promote peace through the medium of journalism and entertainment. The purpose of her hashtag smile campaign “#smile” is to bring smiles on the faces of Saudi citizens.
According to her life of a Saudi woman is much different then it is usually perceived. In one of her films she would tell about life of Saudi women at home. Arabic music with traditional belly dance is also part of the film featuring a Moroccan actor who plays the heroin speaks fluent Hindi.
Aziz received her training from Hollywood filmmakers before entering the field.
Her live radio show ‘Marhaba with Sameera Aziz’, aired on a UK-based Asian Radio brought her fame. She has also served as president of the Asian Information Agency (AIA).
However, the one of the most remarkable aspects of Aziz diverse interests is the fact that she owns “Sana Solkar Production” in Bollywood, the first Saudi production house in India.
“Through my movies and filmmaking skills, I want to highlight [the importance of] women [in a society]. I want to change the perception of [the] people about Saudi women because I believe they have immense potential and brilliance,” she says.
Aziz came to Karachi to study international relations and journalism at the postgraduate level. “I was always interested in journalism because it is one field that helps you voice your opinion and make a mark as an individual,” she said.
“For the last 15 years, I have been involved with print media and now I am venturing into entertainment because it is a very powerful medium,” Aziz said. “My primary concern is cultural integration between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia,” she stressed.
“I plan to start my production house in Karachi once I complete the Bollywood project. I am aiming for cultural integration by getting Pakistani dramas aired in Saudi Arabia and vice versa,” Aziz said.
“I want to stress on media exchange,” she added. Aziz also plans to host a Saudi Film Festival where nine documentaries will be screened.
She is passionate about working for youth, which is precisely the reason behind her initiative Pak-Saudi Youth Forum that aims at bringing Saudi students to Pakistan and vice versa for media internships.
“The youth in Saudi Arabia is not exposed to hardships of life as in Pakistan, which is precisely why cultural integration will increase their exposure and outlook towards life,” Aziz said.
My aim is to get Saudi girls go out in the world and gain experience because I have personally noted that girls who are not given the opportunity or suppressed particularly excel when given a goal, aim or task. She cited her own experiences: “I worked harder whenever I felt my creative expression or talent was suppressed, which is why I am here today”, said Aziz.
“While my main aim is cultural integration, its consequences are far reaching as such integrations will also have positive impacts on Pakistani economy increasing educational and job opportunities for the locals,” she said.
“We cannot deny the role of Pakistani engineers and doctors in the development of Saudi Arabia and we must give credit where it is due,” she said.
Speaking about her trip to Pakistan, she mentioned that even though it has been extremely busy and hectic, coming here always feels like coming home. “I travelled on train from Lahore to Islamabad and experienced such genuine emotions by other travellers.”
Aziz also works as a consultant to various international organisations for social development and human rights like National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), We – The Youth and Society for International Peace, a think-tank initiated to serve the humanity.
A mother of two, Aziz has won many awards including ‘The Woman of Today Humanity Award’, ‘Pride of the Nation’, ‘First Urdu Novelist’, ‘Youth Ambassador’, and ‘Best Indo-Pak Friendship Icon Award’. She has recently been nominated for the ‘Best Saudi Female Journalist and Media Person Award’.