From PTV director to South Asia’s first woman to set up a Television Network

In several ways, Sultana Siddiqui’s life has had various unique events. She was once part of a tableau performed to welcome the late Shah of Iran’s wife Farah Diba on a royal visit to Pakistan. Then in 1961, she was part of a performance to welcome Queen Elizabeth and Duke of Edinburgh on their visit to Pakistan. Her association with the arts, then, dates back to her school days.

As a student at Karachi University in the early 70s, Siddiqui was part of many extra-curricular activities too, taking part in debates, singing and dance competitions. During this time, she also hosted a programme for Pakistan television. Sometime later, in 1974, there were job openings at PTV and the organisation encouraged her to apply. There was a test requirement and a viva followed by over a year of training to come into the media profession back then. She took the test, was selected to come in as a director/producer – which were not separate roles at the time. Among her peers was Shoaib Mansoor, the director who brought Bol, Khuda Kay Liyain and Verna.

Sultana Siddiqui, more popularly known as Sultana Apa, was a single mother when she started working at PTV, so she took projects that were part of regional programming so they could finish at 5 pm and she could make it home in time to her residence in North Nazimabad to help her children with homework. Her eldest son Shunaid Qureshi was nearly six and Duraid Qureshi, who is her CEO now, nearly two years old.

As her children grew up, she started with drama production. Her directorial debut gave Pakistan one of its most popular drama serials ‘Marvi’, a television adaptation of the Sindhi folktale Umar Marvi, which launched prominent actors including Mahnoor Baloch, who went to become one of the country’s most loved stars.

Fast forward from a single, working mother of three, Siddiqui today has the place of being the first woman in South Asia to establish a television network. Her first venture as a media entrepreneur was a production house under the name of Moomal Productions in 1996. Her daughter-in-law that the production house is named after mainly runs the company, while Momina Duraid, also her daughter-in-law, is a producer and director as well as a creative head for HUM.  

HUM TV was launched in 2005 and it was the first 24-hour entertainment channel in Pakistan. Over the years it has proved to be fundamental in reviving the drama industry that had nearly collapsed. Sultana Siddiqui and her team may be solely responsible for introducing new stars in the television drama industry, just as she had in PTV, where she introduced Abida Parveen, Tina Sani, Junoon and countless actors and musicians to the mini screen.

Her directorial comeback “Zindagi Gulzar Hai”, featuring Fawad Khan and Sanam Saeed, was amongst the highest viewed television dramas in Pakistan and later in India as well. In 2008, she was conferred the president award of “pride of performance”.

Today, HUM also owns the magazine Newsline as well as a news channel called HUM News. HUM’s other television ventures include Masala TV and Hum Sitaray. Its content has made its way to Netflix and it still remains the only media company listed on the Pakistan Stock Exchange.

Listen to one of Pakistan’s highest achievers and Pride of Performance recipient on how she came into the media (00:46); her days at PTV and life as a single mother (01:55); and how she brought in the ‘stars’ (03:36). 

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