There is something about Sidra Iqbal. She has the looks of a movie star and the intellect of an academic. And currently she sits boldly in the coveted 'morning show host' category on television. With giants like Nadia Khan, Shaista Lodhi and Nida Yasir on air at the same time, could Sidra be the breath of fresh air that day time television in Pakistan needs?
Sidra is no stranger to fame. Having won the English Speaking Union's International Public Speaking Championship at the age of 15, she catapulted into the spotlight and never really outgrew it. With her father being a Senior Producer at PTV, it was only natural that Sidra found her spot on the television screen. But that's not all she is - a talking head.
As we caught up over coffee on a cosy winter afternoon in Karachi, Sidra seemed more sure of path than ever before, of course, with her signature wit and contained humour. 'I was trying to figure out life,' she said of her break from television before joining Aaj TV some three years ago. Growing increasing with the kind of political conversations on television at the time, she felt increasing alienated as a current affairs host who wanted to maintain some semblance of balance, order and integrity. So she took on a project to explore what else was possible. During the time she launched a public diplomacy initiative collaboration with Serena Hotels, 'Raabta.' While she agrees that she loves her political commentary, I get the feeling that Sidra may no longer want to do a current affairs show anymore. And the morning show on Aaj TV, seems to have given her that soft spot of being to have more input into her show - one that combines lifestyle and current affairs conversations.
Day time television in Pakistan often gets a lot of flack, and not without reason, for being shallow and really just catering to the lowest common denominator. So, where does a woman like Sidra find herself in this slot? 'Morning shows asume the woman audience, the home-makers to be an unintelligent audience.' Sidra makes an effort to put together an inclusive show that goes beyond gender stereotypes and politics. When asked if day time television in Pakistan was now being produced by and for the 'female gaze,' Sidra was pretty sure that it was not the case. She was cognizant of the growing polarization in society - between the so-called liberals and conservatives. She sees her show as a space to strike that balance between these groups and contribute to an inclusive, diverse narrative.
But what is it that Sidra wants for herself? With a career ranging from public relations to television, one thing is certain, whatever Sidra chooses to do, she wants to do it well. And she is not going to fit herself into the mould of finding fame in Pakistan. Sidra wants to redefine what it means to be a star in Pakistan – neither is she the hyper-feminine lifestyle host nor the angry journalist. ‘I had to create my own box and it took me 10 years, and I am the only one in it!’ To be fair, it is true. There is no one like Sidra Iqbal in the entertainment sphere in Pakistan. So, what’s next for Sidra Iqbal? For now she is staying on course for staying true to herself no matter what comes her way.