Haseena Moin looks frail and thin. Her long-drawn, though triumphant, battle against the big C has left her weak but that hasn’t stopped her from travelling.

Earlier this year she went to Scotland on a month’s visit on the invitation of Tasleema Shaikh, the half Pakistani-half Scottish TV serials director. Shaikh is making her debut as a film producer and had invited her to write the dialogue for Sach, which is based on Haseena’s own story. The screenplay, however, has been penned by Kumud Chaudhary, an Indian film writer. Haseena has since then been participating in literature festivals and book launches in Islamabad and Lahore, apart from Karachi, of course.

When I meet the November 1941-born Haseena Moin in her office at the Arts Council, Karachi, I remind the playwright about her memoirs which she is reported to have been writing. “Look, you have a treasure trove of memories, your interaction with some of the most exciting people and indeed your achievements as a highly successful writer of television plays and serials need to be written soon,” I told her. “Time is running out. People with lesser memories to recall have penned theirs much more quickly.”

In years gone by, roads actually became deserted when her serials went on air. Despite her output having dwindled, Haseena Moin still remains the touchstone of television rom-coms

Haseena laughs as she says, “You have answered your own question. Since they have less to recall they can do the job quickly.” She then adds on a serious note, “I started writing quite zealously but, as bad luck would have it, I was struck by a dreadful disease, which stalled my progress. Also, I had writing commitments to fulfil. But don’t worry, very soon I shall pick up my pen again.”

Haseena was in her teens when she started writing a column for the popular children’s monthly Bhaijan. When she was in her 20s she wrote skits for the popular weekly radio programme Studio Number Nau. But it was the new audio-visual medium of TV which brought the best out of her.

She made her debut with a light comedy Happy Eid Mubarak which featured Neelofer Aleem and Shakeel. The ‘long play’ proved to be an immense success. Neelofer then played the title role in the serial Shehzori, which was Haseena’s adaptation of Azeem Beg Chughtai’s novel with the same name.

Those were the days when PTV did not have much confidence in Pakistani writers’ ability to pen serials based on original stories. She was, however, encouraged to write what became Kiran Kahani. Iftikhar Arif, the script editor, had a good look at the script and backed her to the hilt. To say that the serial was a grand success is to state the obvious.

Her serials that followed — Zer Zabar Pesh, Ankahi, Dhoop Kinaray, Aahat, Uncle Urfi, Parchhaiyan and Tanhaiyan, to name a few, though not necessarily in the same order — were widely successful. She wrote plays and serials for producers across the Wagah border also, winning no less applause.

I ask her to comment on the critique that some of her characters are flat, or shall we say, caricatures — such as Qabacha in Tanhaiyan and Jamshaid Ansari’s character in Uncle Urfi and his repetition of the silly line “Chaaqoo hai mere paas”, as he brandishes a small knife, meant for sharpening pencils. Haseena responds with a furrowed forehead: “What’s wrong with flat characters? Even a novelist such as Charles Dickens created what you call caricatures. Back to my plays, these characters don’t halt the movement of the plot. I think your criticism is unfair.”

Having done serials and individual plays, which does she find more challenging to script? Is it like writing short stories and novels? Which is more difficult to execute?”

“Well, their grammars are different,” says Moin. “In one you have to encapsulate your story in a brief form and in the other you have to be skilful enough to know where to end a particular episode. You have to make it exciting enough to make your viewer wait for the next episode.”

I ask her why she kicked up a row when Marina Khan made the sequel to Tanhaiyan. “Well as you know, sequels, almost always, prove disappointing. Tanhaiyan was a mega-hit because it was produced and directed by Shahzad Khaleel,” says Moin. “Now where do you find a director of his calibre? With all my affection for Marina Khan and admiration for her acting abilities, I must say that she is no match to the late Shahzad Sahib.”

Those were the days when PTV did not have much confidence in Pakistani writers’ ability to pen serials based on original stories. She was, however, encouraged to write what became Kiran Kahani. Iftikhar Arif, the script editor, had a good look at the script and backed her to the hilt. To say that the serial was a grand success is to state the obvious.

Having done her Master’s in history, why didn’t she write a historical play?

“How would a viewer accept a king donning a crown made of cardboard?” she asks. “With meagre resources at their disposal TV producers or even our filmmakers will not be able to do justice to my script.” But Haseena is nostalgic for what are commonly referred to as the golden era of television.

“You might as well write how much I enjoyed writing for TV producers/directors like Mohsin Ali, Shireen Khan, Shahzad Khaleel, Rana Shaikh and Zaheer Khan,” she says. “They were stimulating in their own ways. Do you know that when we were doing Tanhaiyan for PTV, I was working with Shireen and Mohsin at the same time? If I was writing the script of an episode for one of them, the other was recording the episode I had given him or her in the preceding week.”

Were there undercurrents of rivalry or jealousy between them?

“Far from it, there was complete mutual underst­anding between them,” Haseena replies.

A point she insists that I write about is that her female characters were all confident and could take a stand when they sensed injustice. Recently, she told a reporter that her heroines were in one way or the other a portrayal of her younger days.

All her heroines were romantic. Did they represent romance in her life?

“Well, I was and still am romantic,” she smiles. “There is romance in many things. There is, for instance, romance in natural beauty. I know what you are trying to extract from me. Well, I did have a soft corner for someone but that was all. Looking back, I feel quite happy that it didn’t lead to matrimony.”

When I ask why she doesn’t write plays as frequently as she did in the past, she laments, “Now it’s just crass commercialism. The directors are forced by the financiers of serials to do hurried jobs. Merit and quality are no more considered highly important. But once in a while I do pen serials and plays when I come across like-minded people.”

Going back to the ’70s when she established herself as a playwright of distinction, Haseena Moin often gave advice to the PTV producers. For instance, when she was doing Parchhaiyan, which was based on Henry James’ immortal novel The Portrait of a Lady, she insisted that Sahira and Rahat Kazmi be harnessed to play the leading roles. Aslam Azhar, the big boss at the PTV head office and Agha Nasir in charge of programmes gave their approvals. The serial, directed by Mohsin Ali and Shoaib Mansoor attracted a huge viewership.

“When you were assigned the dialogues for Henna, you convinced Raj Kapoor to replace Rajiv Kapoor with his older brother Rishi Kapoor because you thought that Rishi had more verve and vivacity. Also you recommended Zeba Bakhtiar to play the title role in the movie. Is this true?”

“Very much so,” Haseena answers with a smile. My interaction with the great showman Raj Kapoor is worth writing about. But that will appear in my memoirs. Daer ayad durust ayad [better late than never].

Published in Dawn, EOS, September 24th, 2017

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