LAHORE: Speakers at a panel discussion on ‘Drama Now: Who Wears the Crown’ couldn’t really come up with a consensus response on the topic -- because maybe there isn’t one.

The talk was held on the third and concluding day of the 2018 Faiz International Festival on Sunday. It was moderated by Tauseeq Haider and featured head of Hum TV Network, Sultana Siddiqui, writers Asghar Nadeem Syed and Amina Mufti and director Kashif Nisar.

Haider opened the session by stating that around 50 fresh drama serials episodes were aired on around a dozen entertainment channels, followed by a video montage of classic dramas over the decades. Ms Siddiqui believed the reason the dramas of today weren’t remembered as fondly as those from the PTV era was that earlier there was only one channel and topics were limited. “Now we’ve moved ahead and can even talk about taboo topics,” she said.

Mr Syed said the industry had become consumer-oriented now, making it a challenging task to write freely. He said the viewers drove the content now and channels were out there to earn business. Women were educated and empowered now and questioned when they didn’t get representation on TV, he said, declaring the crown was with the sponsors.

Ms Siddiqui, however, interjected, saying creativity had increased now and the channels should create a balance among creativity, sponsor’s concerns and producer’s word.

Talking about the content and what sells on TV, Mufti on the other hand stated that a writer didn’t consider sponsor or producer, they wrote what they wanted to, yet there wasn’t much freedom to write these days. “And this censorship is imposed by viewers; they’ve decided on what they want to see and eventually ratings drive topics. Humsafars are preferred over Zann Mureeds” she said.

Mr Nisar was of the opinion that TV drama was introduced in the first place to forward state narrative and peddled the ruling elite. He said the genre helped legitimise Ayub’s martial law and promoted Bhutto’s vision as well.

At the end, while talking about the economics of drama, Ms Siddiqui mentioned the tough times the media was going through and how the industry needed the government support and facilitation through reduced taxes.

In a separate session, playwright Asghar Nadeem Syed talked to Dr Taqi Abedi, an Indian-Canadian surgeon, about his upcoming book on Faiz. Dr Abedi in his book, said he had not only reproduced original documents related to the poet’s life, but also illustrated them.

Both Dr Abedi and Mr Syed mentioned Faiz’s editorials for the Pakistan Times and how he would procrastinate writing these till the last moment, and wrote in one go once he started writing. “His thought process was working during that procrastination,” they agreed.

Later, at the start of a session on Muhammad Hanif’s writing and his journalism career, the writer asked the audience to enlighten him about two panelists being barred from speaking in a scheduled session earlier in the day and how such censorship was creeping in. But generally, the session was replete with humour, politics, puns. It was moderated by poet and columnist Harris Khalique.

The moderator asked Hanif how he juggled writing both fiction and politics. Hanif started by talking about his time in fashion journalism at the beginning of his career. “Politics, of course, is depressing and one feels like escaping it sometimes through writing fiction. But, now even in fiction, one ends up writing about real-life, distressing situations. The lines between fact and fiction are blurring.”

Being a journalist since the ‘90s’, Hanif was asked how reporting had changed since then. He paid tribute to his editor at Newsline magazine, Razia Bhatti, who meticulously checked commas and full stops even, saying now nobody cared about fact-checking, punctuation, sentence formation etc.

Hanif said the teenagers in the field were never sure what to write about or what could be published. “But back then, the risks we took were worth taking,” he added.

At the end, Hanif read out his Urdu column that had been refused publication by editors of a newspaper citing “security risks”.

Meanwhile, in a session on parallel politics, scheduled speakers Dr Taimur Rehman and Dr Ammar Ali Jan were removed from the panel allegedly under pressure from certain quarters.

Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2018