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With more than 20 years of experience in the fields of theatre, film, television and radio, Rehan Sheikh’s career has been on the rise. Deemed the best supporting actor in the television series Sadqay Tumharay, Mr Sheikh has also worked in the films Manto, Actor-in-Law and Chupan Chupai. Dawn sat down with Mr Sheikh in Islamabad to talk to him about his work as an actor and his upcoming directorial debut.

Q: As a director, what do you think you offer to the moviegoers that your contemporaries do not?

A: I am not only the director of the film Azad but the writer as well. It’s a two hour film, and the first half is a comedy drama. After the interval the film takes a serious turn.

It’s a story about a radio jockey who goes by the pseudonym Azad who is fighting to come out of his past. It’s different from the rest because it’s not a masala film. It’s a serious film about relationships.

Q: Television dramas seem to be based on similar stories; plots derived from fictional novels based on love stories and domestic feuds – do you think there is a dearth of good scriptwriters in the industry?

A: I do not blame scriptwriters for the deteriorating quality of plays that we see today. Times have changed, and now scripts are being driven by marketing and the commercial people sitting at the channels. They dictate selling points to the scriptwriters. It is all about money now and not the substance. Whatever sells becomes the norm for the industry.

Q: How long do you think it will take the film industry to be at par with the television industry?

A: The Pakistani film industry can only flourish if it has support from the state. Unless and until the government comes to its rescue, the film industry will neither flourish nor survive because to begin with, financially it cannot stand on its own feet.

We need a comprehensive and detailed strategy. State owned academies, start-up funds, tax discounts and long term solutions with strategy and vision is what will help the film industry come out of the red, and this can only be done with government support.

The 60s and early 70s did see stability in the film industry, but the downfall from their own left producers and cinema owners in a depressing state.

Q: Why has the private television medium flourished while film is still trying to make its space in the entertainment industry?

A: Our forte is drama, and so is our redemption. Television is a mass medium. The acceptance comes from different strata of society belonging to all income groups, so there is something for everyone.

On the other hand, films are for a select audience who can go to cinema and spend money to entertain themselves.

Secondly, the television entertainment industry is female-driven. Morning shows discussing marriages, divorces and palmistry focus on housewives. On the other hand, in films we are still looking up to the hero to propose a marriage, kill 20 people in a fight, run over his enemy in a car chase or release a mazloom aurat from enemies.

Q: You were part of the serial Udaari, which was based on child sexual abuse. Now with the recent incident in Kasur, the artists’ community has come forward to raise a voice against child sexual abuse. Do you think the artist fraternity has finally realised their role as socially responsible citizens?

A: Our social order has been silent on these issues for very long. Now, with social media taking the lead, there is hope. The artist fraternity too is part of this generation and they can play a very important role in bringing to light the epidemics in our society destroying its fabric.

Plays like Sammi or Udaari are indeed an eye-openers and trendsetters for other scriptwriters and channels to follow. During gatherings amongst friends, I was asked why I was part of this serial as it highlights a very sensitive subject which has been termed a taboo. The silver lining here is that it has started to be brought to the public at last.

Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2018