Television has remained one of the most powerful mediums in Pakistan for years. Starting from the 70s, our dramas have had mass appeal and are known internationally for their realistic portrayals and storylines. Sadly, what we see on television today has nothing in common with what it used to be in the 80s; television was a lot more progressive back then.
Some of the most notable drama serials of that period were modern in their approach, having little or no regression; Ankahi, Tanhaiyaan, Kiran Kahani, Dhoop Kinaray, Aahat, and Shehzori are just some names among many others.
There was one dominant name behind successful drama serials of yesteryear – Haseena Moin – who penned down the scripts of all the aforementioned dramas and left a strong mark on viewers who remember her work even today. After waiting for almost a month, I recently managed to meet the legendary writer in her office at the Arts Council, upon her return from Scotland where she was called to write the script for an upcoming film called Sacch.
“The story and dialogues are mine while the screenplay has been done in India,” she shared, as our conversation began. “It’s about familial ties; about the relationship between parents and their sons.”
While we were discussing films that have been made in the last couple of years, she recalled one of the films she had watched recently. “I watched a film in which the guy and the girl kept running from one place to another throughout the film and towards the end I realized I had wasted three hours of my life.”
She said that the content in our films is very weak and heavily inspired from Bollywood, which makes them meaningless and predictable. “I don’t know what they are thinking and why don’t they understand that the audience won’t digest such things. We’re not even good at copying ideas.”
Haseena jee continued the discussion on lack of original content in films, adding that, “Filmmakers can have original ideas and scripts if they take experienced people on board and are willing to pay well. They ask their relatives or friends to write for them so that they can save money. Screenplay is a very important and challenging task; if they don’t invest in it at this point, it’ll be difficult to pay attention to it at a later stage. Whether it’s a love story, comedy or a serious script, there should be some message as well as a climax to it which should be resolved by the end. There’s no such thing in our films, the story ends abruptly without leaving anything behind for viewers to think about.”
While our films are being criticized for weak scripts and dialogues, stories that are making way to the small screen, too, are full of regression these days. There was a time when TV plays were fewer compared to now but those few stories had an impact on viewers. They not only entertained viewers but also made an attempt to inform them about different cultures.
“I feel very bad that whatever I wrote at that time, around 40 years ago, becomes ineffective now,” Moin noted. “Instead of progressing and becoming better, we’re going backwards. Dramas that are being made today portray women as weak, helpless individuals who’re always weeping. I’m surprised to see that all the channels, which are apparently so advanced, are quite regressive in their portrayal of women. They’re conveying that it’s so easy to disrespect women; you can slap her, kick her out of the house whenever you want. This doesn’t happen in our society, at least not in decent families. Why are they showing extra-marital affairs openly onscreen? Even if this is happening around us, they’re encouraging it by presenting it and then not even providing a solution for it. Once something appears on television, it is no longer considered taboo. People who are not very strong minded will indulge in such affairs, thinking that they can easily get away with them. Even comedy plays have become too vulgar these days to watch with families. And this is because there’s no script editor at any channel to see if there’s something wrong with the script. We used to have them at PTV in the early days.”
While conversing with her I felt that she had distanced herself from current TV plays. She had not watched even the most popular and successful series such as Udaari, Mann Mayal or Dillagi, generalizing all current content to being substandard and offensive.
“I fail to understand how a woman tolerates disrespect,” she expressed her disgust over the way women were being demeaned onscreen. “I always tried to portray bold and courageous women who would never tolerate anyone’s nonsense because I believe women should be like that. I was the kind of girl that I portrayed in most of my plays. The environment I grew up in taught me that women have their own individual identity and a distinct personality that should be highlighted.”
Moin stopped writing due to health issues and other personal engagements however she plans to write more now. In addition to writing script for Sacch, she is also working on a small screen project with Sajid Hassan which has been delayed for some reason. An autobiography is also in the pipeline.
Coming back to her scripts, Moin spoke about the way she paid particular attention to characters and their development, something which is rare in dramas that are being aired nowadays. Her characters used to be believable and easy to relate to.
“I always emphasized on character development in my plays and gave life to my characters,” she asserted, reminiscing the infamous Kutbuddin ‘Kabacha’ that Behroze Sabzwari played in Tanhaiyaan.
“Behroze always says, ‘Haseena bi abhi tak main kabacha se nikal nahi paya hun’. To create a character, you have to put in a lot of effort and think on those lines that how will he talk, how will he walk, etc. We used to invest a lot of time in these things; people today want to get things done quickly and easily.”
Haseena Moin’s writings are not only acknowledged in Pakistan but have also inspired many across the border. Bollywood director Anubhav Sinha took inspiration from Moin’s serials for the screenplay of his films Tum Bin (2001) and Tum Bin 2 (2016). She has also written quite a few scripts for Indian dramas and was also approached for a serial for Sony TV lately but she refused to avoid any controversy. She was even asked for the remake of Ankahi to which she said no, since the play is very close to her heart and she thinks that the story loses its essence when it’s remade. It’s something she experienced when her hit TV serial of the 80s, Tanhaiyaan, was re-written by someone else and was turned into something she would never want to associate herself with.
“I wrote a few episodes for the sequel, Tanhaiyan Naye Silsilay, and told them (Marina Khan and others who were a part of it) I will complete it once I return from a trip,” Moin recalled the incident that upset her. “They didn’t wait for me to return and asked someone else to write it, Marina [Khan] did the direction herself and the casting was also not up to the mark. The story wasn’t good, there was no essence in it which is why it didn’t succeed. I was very upset with this. I asked them to remove my name from it but Marina came to me and requested to not do that since it was her first venture as a director and she didn’t want any controversy. She didn’t want to detach my name either because she had sold it to the sponsor with my name. People even questioned me on lending my script to them. I did it out of courtesy since I was on very good terms with Marina and we had worked together for a long time. But what she did was very upsetting and my relationship with her is no longer the same.”
As the conversation shifted towards the influence of sponsors on the quality of a project, Moin opined that they dictate each and everything about a play – from casting to direction.
“This is very wrong since they don’t have the aesthetics to take such decisions,” Moin asserted. “How would they know what’s good literature and what’s bad? It’s all commercial these days; there’s no intellect involved.”
As our discussion came to a close, Moin said that the influence of sponsors and channels should be lessened so that stories don’t suffer. She also suggested that instead of hundreds of drama serials airing on around 80-90 channels these days, there should be one or two dramas each day on every channel like the past. Viewers cannot watch every drama and perhaps this is the reason we don’t even know about so many of them that go unnoticed without leaving a mark.
All said and done, it has to be reiterated that Pakistan’s television landscape is not the same as it used to be and producers should be open to connecting with the stalwarts of the past to ensure an equally groundbreaking future for Pakistani dramas.