Actress Shahnaz Sheikh makes a point during her discussion on the topic ‘Depicting Women in Literature and Drama’. Writers Haseena Moin and Asghar Nadeem Syed look on.
Actress Shahnaz Sheikh makes a point during her discussion on the topic ‘Depicting Women in Literature and Drama’. Writers Haseena Moin and Asghar Nadeem Syed look on.

Speakers at a session titled ‘Depicting Women in Literature and Drama’ on the last day of the Islamabad Literature Festival on Sunday said that the television drama, an important and sensitive medium used to shape society has been commercialised and turned into a money-making business, which is destroying the industry.

They criticised sponsors and directors for dictating storylines to writers and depicting women as weak and submissive, born to bear pain and violence.

The discussion kicked off with renowned writer Haseena Moin, who, recalling her earlier days, said that dramas were a team effort where the writer, director and actors were given equal credit for the success or failure of a project.

“The script was considered the king at that time and script editors and the censor board were doing an excellent job where competent people were present to control the quality of the content. No matter how big a writer was, if the content was not up to the mark, they were asked to change it and if someone refused, they were asked to leave,” she said.

Asghar Nadeem Syed said the drama industry was now in the hands of those who only know marketing and, in the race to make money had forgotten about the ethics of the industry.

“They show women crying, bearing torture but not leaving the husband’s house as good women, where at the end husband realises his mistake and they live happily ever after. If a woman is shown liberal and bold, who speaks for her rights, she is shown wearing jeans and modern clothing,” he said.

He added that the real issues facing women are not addressed.

“The main issues of a woman in dramas are shown to be love, marriage, not having kids or a bad mother-in-law who has made her life miserable. There is no presentation of today’s woman, who wants a career, independent life and self respect.”

Mr Syed also remarked that most shows have more or less the same script, and one could make an entire episode by just picking out a scene from each episode running on various channels and putting them together.

When renowned actress Shahnaz Sheikh was asked what kind of role could bring her back to the screen, she took a pause and said: ‘I am thinking whether I want to come back on screen or not.”

She revealed that she receives many calls from directors asking her what kind of role she wants and offering to have their writers write for her.

She said: “I was astonished that they will create a role of my choice for me whether it fits in the play or not. When we were working, the role of director, writer and actor was very important in bringing out a complete picture.”

She praised the new talent in the field of acting and writing, saying they were more professional than she and her colleagues used to be and ask about the signing amount and work hours before signing up to a project.

‘Whereas we were paid less and asked to work day and night, we were not insured, no wardrobes, no food and if you wanted an appropriate dress and you didn’t have it, you were free to borrow that from your friends. We are a nation that does best at its worst, so the only channel at that time exploited artists but there was no compromise on the project,” she said.

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2019

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