Haseena Moin spent 40 years in the Pakistani television industry, penning blockbuster television series such asUnkahi, Dhoop Kinarayand Tanhayian that redefined the power of women. Working with some of the industry’s top directors, Ms Moin became a household name and a beacon of hope for many because of her message to fight and persevere through the most difficult circumstances. Dawn sat down with Ms Moin in Islamabad to talk about the industry today.

Q. What is the television industry like today, as far as writing television serials is concerned?

A.The principles of the industry have changed drastically. Producers now hire one senior script writer and four junior writers who have been contributing stories in local Urdu digests.

These young girls are tasked with writing serials of 20 to 25 episodes. Their supervisor, a relatively senior digest writer, edits them and moulds the script as per the producer’s requirement. Script writing has become a script factory, churning out play after play, serial after serial, as per the demand.

This is how it is done because it is very cost effective, and it appeals to housewives who can relate to the setting. Most of these stories are focused on women’s domestic issues, relationships and betrayal. The depiction of women has taken a leap downward.

Q. Why have you stopped writing for the television industry?

A. I wrote my first play for Pakistan Television (PTV) when I was a college student and once it aired, there was no looking back. My second play was Shahzori.

I gave 40 years of my life to the television industry. It was a team [effort] back then. The writer used to be a part of the project until the last episode – cast selection, shooting locations, situation changes, writers’ input was an integral part of the project; these little things carried a lot of weight. There were times that, without mincing a word, I rewrote lines as per the suggestion of the director, or the situation changed.

Times have changed. Now everyone attached to a drama serial wants to take individual credit for its success. The writer says ‘I am the reason’, the actor claims ‘It’s me who is getting the highest rating’, and the producer and director do not want to fall behind in this game of credits either.

Sadly, ethics, values and norms do not exist anymore in the media industry of today. So I do not feel the urge to write anymore in this scenario.

Q. Who has replaced writers like Ashfaq Ahmad, Fatima Surriya Bajia and Dr Enver Sajjad, and other legends?

A. Sadly, no one. The writers who have been mentioned were not just dramatists or playwrights. They were intellectuals, scholars and academics in their own right with a treasure trove of knowledge, values and morals. Their plays always carried a message for society. All age groups could relate to their dramas in their individual capacity. They taught the audience through their plays, and yet they were trendsetters too.

Today’s dramas are driven by divorces, extramarital affairs and the portrayal of downtrodden, helpless women. So what is the message going to the audience, especially girls watching at home?

Q. Have you considered writing for PTV?

A. PTV has retired if you are talking about their dramas. They are not doing the job they were best at in the past. My dramas of yesteryear are being sold to Arab countries, with Arabic adaptations and subtitles. I still have intellectual property rights over the plays that I wrote because there was no mention in my contracts that these plays would also be resold in foreign countries. I am not being paid any royalties.

Q. Why are actors and marketers becoming directors and producers?

A. This is the biggest dilemma in the television industry now. I am not saying that all dramas are badly produced. There are some very quality serials from time to time. But producers and directors used to be very well read, as well as well trained. They had studied drama; they even had an eye for good and bad actors.

Today’s dramas are running on set formulas, so you do not need the experience and training to be a good director. When a producer starts dictating script lines and scenes, the writer’s job is finished then and there. Like I said earlier, the media industry is market driven and the financer is the deciding factor for the script writer, the actors and even the director.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2019

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