Photo: Whitestar
Photo: Whitestar

The news of Haseena Moin’s demise came as a shock to all those who grew up watching her plays, following her philosophy and her modern approach to life. She always essayed the smiling mother everyone wanted, the caring elder sister they never had or the best friend who was always there no matter what.

With pen in hand, she could make the audience laugh with her plays such as Kiran Kahani and Uncle Urfi in the ‘70s, and Ankahi, Tanhaiyaan and Dhoop Kinaray in the ‘80s, or pen serious dramas such as Aahat and Tansen in the early 1990s.

The playwright was considered way ahead of her times because of the way she both entertained and educated the audience, all at the same time. Being an educationist was a part of her personality, but being a playwright was something she excelled at. Her heroines stood shoulder-to-shoulder to men, she was her own master who knew how to get the job done and mostly ended up in happily-ever-after endings (except for in Uncle Urfi). Like Fatima Surayya Bajiya, every actress wanted to play her heroine; but unlike Bajiya, she leaned more towards comedy than serious issues.

At a time when Pakistani Television was into adaptations and dramatisations, Haseena Moin was the first one to opt for an original script with Kiran Kahani. In the 1980s, when dramas revolved round feudalism, she chose to pen Ankahi and Tanhaiyaan, showing the audience the lighter side of life. In the ‘90s, with satellite television taking over, Haseena Apa crossed the border to write dialogues for Raj Kapoor’s film Henna, and also penned two serials, Kashmakash and Tanha.

In a world of male writers who were either good at serious writing or comedy plays, Haseena Moin — who passed away March 26 — was a master of both. Friends and colleagues remember the writer who created memorable characters that are still part of Pakistan’s pop culture decades later… and the person who touched everyone’s heart

Most people know Sahira Kazmi as the director of Dhoop Kinaray, but she has been more than that to Haseena Moin. Not only did they become friends with the passage of time, but she is also the only person to have been both a Haseena Moin heroine and then a Haseena Moin director in different eras. She was the lead in PTV’s first colour drama Parchhaiyaan — Moin’s adaptation of Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady — and later directed Dhoop Kinaray and Aahat, besides a couple of single plays.

Ankahi
Ankahi

She terms Haseena Moin as the only playwright of her era who could excel at romantic comedies, long before they became a fashion. “Haseena and I went a long way back and, before becoming her director, I was also her heroine. Be it Sangsaar and Parchhaiyaan as an actress in the 1970s, or Chhoti Chhoti Baatein, Dhoop Kinaray and Aahat as director, we had fun at whatever we did, because she excelled at writing comedies, and I loved comedies. I consider myself lucky that when she adapted Parchhaiyaan, I was selected to play the title character, where I was the girl pursued by three dashing men — Rahat Kazmi, Shakeel and Talat Hussain.

“We never cared if the project would be popular or not once it aired,” says Sahira. “We just had fun creating characters that would stay with the audience and put a smile on their faces. That’s why our projects were loved not only in Pakistan, but they were popular all over the world. Even today, people show these dramas to their children and grandchildren, and tell them that they grew up watching such classic dramas. We will miss her presence in our lives.”

One more reason why Haseena’s work is remembered today is that she chose to back actors who were just starting out, making them into stars and then moving on to create more. Veteran actor Jawed Sheikh feels proud to have worked with Haseena Moin as an actor, and later also as a film director, and says he owes his success to her.

Uncle Urfi
Uncle Urfi

“Her death is a huge loss to all of us,” he says. “She was not just a brilliant writer but an amazing person. It was her play and her lines in Ankahi that made an ordinary Sheikh Jawed Iqbal into Jawed Sheikh, the star. Later, I had the honour to direct the film Kahin Pyar Na Ho Jaye, in the ‘90s, which was also written by her. I learned a lot from her, especially about patience, humility and calmness, and that’s what made her so loveable to all of us who became her family.”

In a world of male writers who were either good at serious writing or comedy plays, Haseena was a master of both. She excelled at creating characters out of nothing and then making the audience relate to them through their mannerisms. Apart from her heroines, around whom most of her dramas revolved, she created memorable characters that are still part of pop culture after so many years.

Who can forget the weird Safdar Sahab or Hasnat Bhai in Kiran Kahani and Uncle Urfi, who thought of themselves as the most intelligent person in the room, when they were clearly the ones with the lowest IQ. Then there was Mamoon in Ankahi who was both the trouble and trouble-shooter at the same time. Qutubuddin and Buqrat made a dream team in Tanhaiyaan while Dr Irfan in Dhoop Kinaray spread smiles in the lives of Dr Ahmer and Dr Zoya, even if it meant going against Dr Sheena.

Tanhaiyaan
Tanhaiyaan

Veteran actor Sajid Hasan, who played Dr Irfan, remembers Haseena as a gentle soul who had a huge influence over his career. “Haseena Apa was family to me. I can’t stop my tears knowing I will not meet her again. She had a humongous influence over my career because most people only know me through her play Dhoop Kinaray. I found her to be a very innocent and an extremely humble soul, who never raised her voice, or was angry or derogatory to anyone.”

We never cared if the project would be popular or not once it aired,” says Sahira. “We just had fun creating characters that would stay with the audience and put a smile on their faces. That’s why our projects were loved not only in Pakistan, but they were popular all over the world.”

He adds that Haseena was always well-dressed, always smiling and the last they met was at the Karachi Arts Council elections. “She was tired but still participated, never ever did she complain about the cancer she suffered from for years and years,” he remembers. “She was always lively, and was the best friend anyone could ever have. Like all good Pakistanis, she was worried about what was happening to the world of writing that she adored, but now all her worries have ended. With her, we have lost perhaps the most amazing, miraculous writer who I will miss till my end.”

Growing up on her dramas was like spending time with your favourite aunt, who loved to tell you stories with happy endings, and knew which parts to censor. In her world, there was more good than bad, there was more life than death, and after every sadness came happiness. Veteran actor Behroz Sabzwari, who played Mobi in Ankahi and Qabacha in Tanhaiyaan, remembers her as a friend who was a team player, and who became friends with whoever she met.

Dhoop Kinaray
Dhoop Kinaray

“Although Ankahi was my first Haseena Moin play, I knew her back from the 1970s, when Khuda Ki Basti and Uncle Urfi were being shot simultaneously at PTV Karachi. Her child-like persona made her a friend to whoever met her or interacted with her,” he says. “She knew how to deliver a joke, and take one at the same time and, despite my teasing her for being single, she would always smile innocently. She was not just a wonderful writer but also had a dynamic personality that was gentle, kind, and loving. She was patient with everyone she worked with and, even though her directors changed her scripts from time to time, she never had any objections, and that’s what made her a great team player!”

Marina Khan, who debuted with Haseena Moin’s Tanhaiyaan, and went on to play the lead in Dhoop Kinaray, Kohar and Parrosi, had the honour of working with her across the border as well. Along with Sajid Hasan, she was part of Tanha, Haseena Moin’s Star Plus serial in the late ‘90s, which also featured Indian actors Sushma Seth, Aasif Sheikh, Atul Agnihotri besides Milind Soman and Vivek Mushran.

The veteran actress credits Haseena Moin and the late director Shehzad Khalil for her success, and feels that Haseena Moin was a beacon for all women through her female characters.

“As the days pass by, it has increasingly started to dawn on me just how massive a part of my life she had been. My career, as well as my personality, has become what it has become, in great part due to the influence of two great souls — Haseena Apa and the great Shehzad Khalil. She was a beacon for all women through her female characters, which were always shown in a positive light. They were bold, courageous and fun-loving. They had a mind of their own, they answered to no one. They were an inspiration to generations of women in Pakistan and abroad.

Sacch with director Zulfiqar Sheikh
Sacch with director Zulfiqar Sheikh

“These characters helped us recognise the value of our own personal independence, without compromising on traditional family and cultural values. That’s a tough balance to convey, and Haseena Apa did it better than anyone else. Her humour was subtle, and yet so effective and relatable. Her writing gave actors room to improvise and make these characters their own through their execution. This kind of material is every actor’s dream, to portray strong characters and themes but still have room to shine through your craft.

“She was the queen of romance. Every girl, for decades, has wanted to be a Haseena Moin heroine. But now there will only be a longing…for she is no more. We have lost a national treasure, a brilliant writer, and a great woman. Rest in peace, Haseena Apa. This world is so much poorer now without you.”

Haseena Moin’s magic wasn’t just limited to TV; she was handpicked by Bollywood legend Raj Kapoor to write the dialogues of his home production Henna. She not only agreed but also helped RK Films find Henna in the form of Zeba Bakhtiar. While the film was completed by his eldest son Randhir Kapoor after his demise, it was sent to the Academy Awards as India’s official entry to the Oscars.

Zeba Bakhtiar remembers Haseena Moin as a friend, mentor, and the person responsible for bringing a huge social change through her plays. “I had already signed Tansen for Haseena Moin when she spoke to Randhir Kapoor about me. It wasn’t until her name came up that my ‘very principled’ father agreed, as it was prohibited for girls from conservative families to act. It was huge hearing ‘yes’ from him and it meant a lot to me. I’m proud of the fact that I was able to work with her, but really wish she was with us today as there was still so much to learn from her.”

The Henna girl recalls that Haseena Moin was a forever-young person who enjoyed life to the fullest. “I remember the time when we were shooting Henna, her biggest thrill would be to go to the local bazaar and buy chaandi ki choorrian [glass bangles], baaliaan [earrings], and paazaib [anklets] after pack-up. She was like a young college girl having fun, eating chaat, and going out. That innocence didn’t stop her from creating amazing characters from the heart, and writing meaningful dialogues for the audience, and making me marvel at her.”

Besides Henna, Haseena Moin’s innings in filmdom comprised Syed Kamal’s Yahan Se Wahan Tak that also featured Waheed Murad and Syed Kamal together. She also wrote the dialogues of Nazdeekiyan that paired Usman Peerzada and Samina Peerzada together. Her last film, Sacch, was a Zulfikar Sheikh production that was released in 2019, and introduced the daughter of her frequent collaborators Tasmina and Zulfikar Sheikh.

With changing trends, the loss of quality actors and directors, she wasn’t able to deliver high-impact hits in later years but she stayed relevant by mentoring youngsters, discovering the ‘Haseena Moin girl’, in her own way, like the old days. Actress Hiba Bukhari feels proud that she was one such Haseena Moin discovery and, although she didn’t get to work with the legendary playwright, being a ‘Haseena Moin girl’ would always remain with her!

“Had it not been for Haseena Apa, I wouldn’t have been an actress at all,” she recalls. “One fine day, while my mum and I were attending a festival at the Karachi Arts Council, Haseena Apa asked my mother if I would be interested in acting. My mother refused before I could answer, but Haseena Apa gave me the push and, after a few months, I was doing what she wanted me to do.”

The Deewangi actress regretted not working with the legendary playwright, but stayed in touch with her mentor. “While I was busy on TV, Haseena Apa kept recommending me for her projects [a theatrical version of Shehzori was one of them]. However, it couldn’t materialise. I last met her during the Karachi Arts Council elections, where she seemed so full of life. I regret not doing a Haseena Moin play, but as long as I’m acting, I will always remain a Haseena Moin heroine!”

“Zindagi ik muamma hai, jiska hal kahien kho chuka hai’ [Life is a mystery, the solution of which has been lost somewhere].” The line penned by Haseena Moin for Jamshed Ansari’s Buqrat in Tanhaiyaan describes the master playwright perfectly. Even through comedy characters, she would deliver her brand of philosophy and amuse audiences in her own, special way.

With her demise the mystery has deepened: those who grew up watching her plays would now never find the answer to what it was that made her so close to their hearts.

Published in Dawn, ICON, April 4th, 2021

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