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DAWN - Features; May 22, 2008

May 22, 2008


Indian soaps are a fashion parade —Haseena Moin

By Naseer Ahmad

Haseena Moin nurtures the hope that TV audiences will once again turn to their local entertainment channel and sit down to watch all the 22 episodes of her new play serial she is writing these days when it goes on air in a month or so.

Of course, she does not expect to attract the kind of audiences her play serials, and some others, did in the seventies and eighties. That was the golden era of Pakistani dramas, appreciated even in India.

Comedy is Haseena’s trademark. Humour and wit comes naturally to her. She began writing caricatures of her classmates and teachers in her college days. She was still an intermediate student when an opportunity came her way and she wrote a play, Patriyan, for radio. Produced by Agha Nasir, the hilarious play was so successful that it won her an award also. Though her serious plays and serials, such as Parchhaeyan, were also appreciated by the viewers, few people remember them. On the other hand, numerous people have fond memories of the serials such as Shahzori, Kiran Kahani, Uncle Urfi, Ankahi, Tanhaeyan, Dhoop Kinaray, Aangan Tehra,…… Countless people watched them when they were aired, or their repeat telecasts years later, or through CDs, which are still in great demand.

“Quality humour is in short supply on our TV channels. People having myriad problems, personal, national and international, starve for moments of joy. If somebody can bring a ripple of smile to their weary, tense faces, he or she may be doing a great service to his fellow beings, though this may be no substitute for the wheat flour or rice, whose prices are rocketing and without which survival is not possible,” says Haseena.

Her new serial, being produced by a private production house, seems to be a combination of seriousness and humour. Highlighting women-specific issues, it revolves round three women -- a model, a TV producer and a housewife, who is confined to the four walls of her home. The women, who are friends from student days, are brought together by fate after many years. They share their problems and try to help out one another. For the first time, Sania Saeed will be playing a comic role in the serial. Haseena has already written 13 of the serial’s 22 episodes.

“All my life I have been satisfying producers and directors’ demands. After three successful comedy serials, a director asked me to write a serious one, which I did.

“I never write on my own and present to producers whatever I write. Naturally, credit for what I have written for TV channels may be apportioned to those who made me write and contributed their bit to the serials.”

Now there is pressure on her from her admirers to have her serials published in book form. She has begun thinking along those lines also. She, however, plans to write a novel when she is over with the commitments she has made to a couple of producers.

“Indian ‘dramas’ do not fall in the category of drama. They have so many flaws that one wonders how people tolerate them. They are a sort of a fashion parade, with people admiring the dresses, jewellery and furniture rather than following the storyline,” says Haseena. She, however, admires Indian movies and says they are superb.

In the Indian context, she says she wrote the dialogues for Hina on Rajkapoor’s request; scripted a 46-episode serial for the Star-Plus channel when it was launched, and Kashmakash, a serial that was run on the Indian national network Doordarshan. “And that was a matter of pride for me as a Pakistani.”

She agrees that there has been no serial on the so many Pakistani channels about which people might be talking these days. But what exasperates her most is our channels’ loss of identity. “I sometimes mistake plays on our channels for Indian plays as now there is no distinction between Indian plays and Pakistani ones.”

What she depicts in her plays and serials has a reflection of her own family. “We were many siblings. Our father was very loving and encouraged us in our pursuits, though mother was a strict disciplinarian. I was a naughty sort of girl and in my college and university, teachers cautioned one anther, saying: ‘Keep a watch on her. She is a very dangerous girl.”

About the success of her earlier plays and serials, she says her opinion was given weight in the selection of the cast. As she conceived the characters, she was the best judge to select appropriate persons for them. But later some directors did not seek her opinion and accommodated people on various considerations, other than professional. The result was naturally not good.

Haseen Apa attributes the success of her earlier dramas to a spirit of team work. The actors also performed superbly, and some of the characters such as Mamoon (played by Salim Nasir) and Kabacha (Behroze Sabzwari) gave people easy nicknames to slap on people in their own surroundings.

She remembers TV producers such as Mohsin Ali, Shahzad Khalil, Saira Kazmi, Shirin Khan, Shoaib Mansur, etc, and says it was a great joy to work with such magnificent teams. “People in those days worked with dedication. Their efforts were geared to the success of the serial, without caring much for who might be given credit for it. And the money we were paid was insignificant,” she reminisces.

“But now the directors want all the credit for themselves besides reaping monetary benefits. And the artistes dash from channel to channel to grab money minting opportunities, little caring for the quality of the product.”

Haseena Moin was born in the Indian city of Kanpur, where she began her initial schooling before partition. Her father was transferred to Rawalpindi and later to Lahore, where she completed her high school education (‘matriculation’, though the Oxford dictionary doesn’t use the word in this sense). His transfer to Karachi gave Haseena an opportunity to do her BA from the government women’s college, Frere Road, and her master’s from Karachi University, where she was a student of history.

Besides the Pride of Performance Award that she won in 1988, each of her serials clinched PTV awards for her.