LAHORE: The household name of 1980s, the iconic TV actor Shehnaz Sheikh – known for her roles as Sana Murad of Ankahi and Zara of Tanhaiyan – does not watch TV serials now.

“I don’t watch TV serials for the simple reason that I can’t follow these serials having so many episodes; sometimes a serial has 26 or 27 episodes. To me, this kind of work has become quite easy, times have changed a lot. But I won’t say that all serials or plays are not doing well, some good work is also being done,” says Ms Sheikh who is admired not only in Pakistan but almost in every such country where Urdu is spoken or understood for her magnificent acting skills.

In a recent interview with Dawn, she speaks her heart out on art and culture and the present-day television plays being telecast on private TV channels.

When asked further about the standard of TV drama, Shehnaz Sheikh says, “To me, television plays generally have lost the standard. When we used to do plays at the PTV, we had educated producers or directors who knew well what the casting was all about, they knew the difference between a good or a bad script. The PTV used to bear all the expenses of the plays and artistes. I would say with great sadness that the PTV has been systematically destroyed to give a boost to private channels and ‘the brands’ that sponsor private channels in the current times. Now brands decide the script and the tone of the production. The horrible part played in all this fiasco was the political appointments at the PTV”.

Shehnaz Sheikh says that the quality of acting, if compared with the past, has experienced some decline, which has reasons. However, she is happy that at least something is being done, good or bad.

Says now brands decide the script; PTV was systematically destroyed to boost private channels

To the question as to why the cultural institutions such as art councils give space to commercial productions like commercial theatre, she explains that performing arts need sponsorships and patronage and theatre, actors and dancers have to be patronised.

“But who is patronising them in the current times, the commercial folks and not the government because it’s expensive. I would feel ashamed if I would say that the government should patronise the arts as the government in this country has not patronised health, children, or education, what to talk about the patronage of art.”

However; there are always the institutions which provide opportunities to the artistes, she says, adding that we have one institution of acting, National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA), in Karachi. “I think the best thing for the upcoming artistes is being done by such educational institutions where performing or visual arts are being taught”.

When asked whether the government should establish national level institutions to produce and cater to young artistes, Shehnaz Sheikh asked a counter-question, saying who would head such an institution. “Not an artiste at least, some bureaucrat would be appointed as its head and what will happen to that institution then, a nosedive? In this country, the government would never appoint an artiste as the head of a performing arts institution for the simple reason that we, the artistes, who are the most relevant folks for this kind of job ironically do not qualify for this kind of slot. They would ask if you have a degree, oh your age limit is over, but they would not consider one’s experience in one’s field”.

Regarding the current lot of characters, she considers some of them doing extremely well such as Sania Saeed, Sanam Saeed and Iqra Aziz.

When asked about her activities these days and her life she says: “I have been teaching acting for the last many years. I have taught theatre at the Aitchison College for the last about 14 years while for over a decade now I have been teaching acting at the Lahore Grammar School (LGS) and recently I have joined National College of Arts (NCA), my alma mater, to teach theatre where I am teaching a six-month diploma course in acting. I hope we shall stage a theatrical performance at the end of the diploma course somewhere in October this year”.

Published in Dawn, August 22nd, 2022

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