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Life of the mind

Novelist and script writer Farhat Ishtiaq talks about her writing journey through the years, working on tough subjects and striking the balance between film and TV scripts

Life of the mind

 Instep

Script writing is an art not many have mastered but for novelist Farhat Ishtiaq, it comes naturally. She’s the award winning mastermind behind Humsafar, Mata e Jaan Hai Tu, Diyar-e-Dil and most recently Udaari, amongst some of the most prolific TV productions of recent times. Many of her novels have been adapted into TV plays, including the ever popular love tale Humsafar (starring Fawad Khan and Mahira Khan) and Bin Roye Ansoo that later converged into a film, titled Bin Roye.

Did she always want to be a novelist?

“No, I had never thought of pursuing writing as my profession,” Farhat Ishtiaq, who is a civil engineer by profession, spoke to Instep in this exclusive conversation. “I was very fond of writing since childhood and used to create stories and characters but I always did that for fun with no intention of getting them published. At that time (around 10 years ago), our industry was not very welcoming towards writers and one cannot earn a living solely on the basis of print medium. Now the situation is different as the industry is growing and I enjoy what I do.”

So how did it all start?

Born in Karachi, Ishtiaq got her schooling in Tokyo and then studied civil engineering from NED University of Engineering and Technology. When she was in the final year of her education, she participated in a story writing competition for Khawateen Digest and her story got published. This encouraged her to write more and this is how it all started. However it took her 10 years to quit her job as a civil engineer and turn to writing full time.

“After completing my studies I had started working in the relevant field and took writing as a hobby,” she reminisced. “I did not think of leaving my job even after my first book got published in 2003. This went on for almost 10 years until I was approached by MD Productions for Humsafar in 2010 – a script that was earlier rejected twice. I did not stop after that. I completely sidelined civil engineering and have been writing since then.”

Back_2While her novels earned her acclaim and popularity and introduced her to a larger audience via the electronic medium of television, they also brought her the opportunity to become a script writer for TV as well as films. Her first original script, which was not an adaptation, was for a social issue based drama serial Rehaai that dealt with the subject of child marriage. It was this play that gave her an opportunity to diversify as a writer and explore other genres aside from romance.

“It [Rehaai] was an entirely unique experience for me and I feel I hadn’t discovered myself since then,” Ishtiaq admits. “I used to think that I can only write romantic tales. When I was approached for Rehaai I found it very challenging since it was based on the issue of child marriage. But after doing that I realized I can pull off such scripts too.”

Ishtiaq shot to fame with Humsafar, which was very popular among masses, but she didn’t receive as much appreciation at that time as she did for drama serial Udaari, her most recent contribution to the small screen.

Udaari tackled the subject of child molestation, tying it with the theme of music in a manner that was never done on television before. It did exceptionally well critically and commercially and helped change many lives. Talking about the risks associated with tackling such sensitive scripts (on a subject that is considered taboo in Pakistan), Ishtiaq shared, “The topic of Udaari was even more difficult to deal with. I felt that I had put my dignity at stake and I might lose all the respect I’ve gained in all these years as a writer. I wasn’t sure how the audience was going to react to it; I didn’t want to hurt the sentiments of my fans. But I was completely overwhelmed by the kind of response we received on Udaari. I never came across any negative remarks for the play on social media or in person.”

It is heartening to see such strong narratives making way to our television screens that aim to entertain and educate viewers simultaneously and have the power to bring social change. “TV is a very powerful medium to spread awareness among masses and enlighten them. I believe Udaari has had a huge impact on our audience who earlier shied away from speaking up on such issues and considered them a taboo.”

Udaari stood up and addressed a bold issue at a time when television was dominated by a number of clichéd plays and recurrent themes. However, it seems that everybody has taken inspiration from Udaari (or the success of Udaari) and started making plays that talk about social issues (Khuda Mera Bhi Hai, Mera Kya Qasoor Tha).

Sharing her thoughts on the subject, Ishtiaq stated, “If everybody starts taking up social issues, the impact will not be the same. It will lose the essence as they may not be able to maintain the sensitivity and may end up sensationalizing the issue. But it is good to see them taking a break from saas bahu serials and making an effort to create awareness.”

Ishtiaq also noted that we keep feeding our audience with similar stories and characters and then we blame them for not accepting anything different. “There are a lot of other themes to explore, such as legal dramas, suspense thrillers as well as plays based on medical themes,” she stated. “One of the scripts that I plan to come up with for television is that of a medical drama which will also be based on my novel.”

Having written original scripts for drama serials Rehaai and Udaari, both of which tackled tough subjects of child marriage and child abuse respectively, Ishtiaq is now gearing up for her first script intended for the big screen. Though she gave the script for the film Bin Roye, it was an adaptation of her novel, Bin Roye Ansoo, and not an original one.

She has written the script for Osman Khalid Butt-Hamza Ali Abbasi starrer Parwaaz Hai Junoon that revolves around the theme of patriotism. Reflecting on how writing for films is completely different from writing a TV play, Ishtiaq asserted, “It’s no easy feat to come up with script for a film. It is way too difficult than writing for television. You’ve to squeeze the narrative to two hours without affecting the quality and you have to be very selective with the scenes. I have written the script but I am not sure how it will appear on the big screen and what impact it will have.”

Given the fact that most of the films released in 2016 were criticized for not having a strong script, there’s a dire need to train script writers to improve the quality of our films, a view shared by Ishtiaq. “Screenplay is the key element when it comes to making films,” she maintained. “Our writers need to be properly trained for screenplays. I attended a lot of workshops before beginning to write for my film and I learnt that we never pay attention to the small details that are essential to a strong script.”

Talking about the state of writing in Pakistan, Ishtiaq noted that we have so many talented people who are eager to learn and write. There are a lot of young, aspiring writers who wish to make a career in script writing and are working on improving their language skills. “If we keep going on the right track and train our people to write for films, our films will be as successful as our TV plays,” she concluded optimistically.

Buraq Shabbir

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