Mariam Sultan during an interview with Tabloid! Image Credit: Oliver Clarke/Gulf News

When actress Mariam Sultan first stepped across the boards of a theatre, more than three decades ago, she had no clue the first thing she would learn would be to grow.

Not in height, weight or build, but in attitude.

"When you're young, you want everything quickly," said the veteran Emirati actress on the sidelines of the ongoing Gulf Film Festival (GFF) in Dubai. "I remember watching famous actors and actresses on television and declaring ‘I want to be famous just like them.'

It's such an oversight. Young people today believe getting to Hollywood is the dream. They think these famous faces they see have just got lucky, read some lines and are in front of a camera. But there is no true grounding in that."

Mariam first made a name for herself when she wowed audiences with her performance in Haroon Al Rashid more than 30 years ago in 1976.

As one of the founding members of the Sharjah National Theatre, with theatrical experience spanning over four decades, she is often fondly referred to as the Mother of Emirati theatre artists.

"The best advice I can give to young actors and actresses would be to go out and chase your passion of the arts," she said pausing. "But, and this is a big but, the passion must be fuelled by a need for theatre and acting rather than fame.

"Being famous will never make you good at what you do. It cannot be about that, or the money."


Considered the epitome of theatre actors in the region, Mariam is being honoured at this year's GFF with a much-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award. The Emirati, originally from Sharjah, starred in Al Muftah, a film which was screened at GFF 2009.

"To make it in this business you need stamina, patience and a good grounding," she said. "It's about being willing to learn, having respect for those around you and being on time. Punctuality is the key to almost everything in life," she added with a big smile.

Mariam's credits include television series Ajeeb Khareeb, Umm Al Saif, Thal Al Yasmin, Haz ya Naseeb, Salfa Wa Salfa, Jannat Maryam, the local show Hayer Tayer and the short film The Key by Ahmad Al Zain.

When Mariam speaks of her career as an actress she smiles. When she talks of life treading the boards of a theatre, she absolutely beams.

"Television is fun but theatre will always be my first love. Film is about delivering a script to a camera. Theatre is a school. An institution. A world where we learn. There are no restrictions. It's a space which is yours to explore the emotional side of life. It's all yours."

Masoud Amr Allah Al Ali, GFF Director, said Mariam was selected for the award because of her tireless efforts within the industry. "We wanted to shine a light on those who have worked behind the scenes for decades to pave the way for today's successes," he said.

Mariam is currently working on a project commissioned by the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Community Development to collect, archive and preserve old theatrical works from the region.