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Profile: The allure of the idiot box

November 04, 2012

The ’70s and ’80s are often referred to as the golden days of PTV, especially when it comes to drama. With the production of new plays new artists were being discovered, some of whom made a few appearances and then were not seen again, while some made a name and career for themselves and continued for decades.

One such name which appeared on TV during the late ’60s and stayed there is Masooma Lateef (previously Masooma Shah). The veteran artist was introduced to the screen in the late 1960s by Amir Imam in Channar ke Saiy and since then has appeared in so many; some of them famous serials, that she thinks it’s not possible to remember them all.

Hailing from Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) she, along with her family, migrated to Pakistan well before the fall of Dhaka and made Karachi her home after spending some time in Lahore. Bangladesh has left deep impressions on Lateef, which is evident in two things: her love for music — though she could not become a singer, music is still her weakness; and her adoption of sari as her dress of choice — girls as young as 12-13 years wear sari in Bangladesh and while living there she also started following the trend.

The girl who grew up playing with dolls like most girls of her age at that time was a very normal girl and had a smooth carefree childhood, naughty but not to the extent of causing harm to anyone. Besides dolls her interest lay in badminton which she played a lot as a child.

Lateef is the first one from her family to enter showbiz. Her decision to come on the screen created a lot of opposition as people at that time were not appreciative of this field. “Times have changed and now it has become very acceptable, to the extent that people take pride that someone from the family is in this field,” she says.

She faced opposition but made a name for herself due to her own talent but her children are lucky in that they have it in their blood (among her kids Dino is a popular VJ/RJ and Mustafa is seeking re-entry in the world of fashion and modelling). Her husband Lateef Charlie was a successful film artist and the son of Noor Mohammed Charlie, a very famous comedian of the 1940s in undivided India. She had met Charlie when the cast for the film Salgirah was being selected. Strangely, though she didn’t get to work in the film and Charlie got the work — he was the villain — they kept on seeing each other and finally got married. Later she introduced Charlie to PTV.

The person who spent her life acting wanted to be a singer which she could not become but instead became an artist. Her entry in the world of showbiz is ‘accidental’ as she had never thought of entering this field. “I knew people like Amir Imam and when they asked me to join PTV I did so. And once you come on the screen it becomes a sort of addiction and you feel like doing it again and again,” she says.

Having worked in a large number of plays from Channar kay Saiy and Ghora Ghas Khata Hay to Aik Muhabbat Sau Afsanay, Shama, Taabir, Jangloos, and many more, she got a chance to work with Talat Hussain who was the first hero she was cast against, Munawwar Saeed and later Qazi Wajid, Jumshed Ansari and many more.

When it comes to the roles she played she did not always get what she wanted. She wanted something new, something different and unusual but was mostly cast in glamorous roles as producers told her that since she looked, talked and acted like an educated person they couldn’t give her the role of a village girl/woman. “I considered it unfair and was at odds with producers on this count.” She played the role of a Hindu woman in Taabir and that of a Sikh woman in Jangloos and enjoyed doing them a lot. She earned a lot of fame as Veera (Shama’s Hindu friend) in Shama, which got her an award as well.

However, Lateef was not satisfied. She wanted diversity and when the negative roles came her way she took them as a challenge, which turned out to be very good. She was as much appreciated as in positive roles. Then a time came when it seemed as if she was tagged for negative roles; whenever there was a role of a tawaif she would be the person of choice to play it. She didn’t consider it fair that one should be sterotyped for some specific type of roles, as then no one wants to give them anything else.

Having spent a lifetime in the field, from the days of black and white to colour transmission, Lateef feels that now work has become very easy as a lot of technology is involved. Whereas in the past doing a play on TV meant you had to spend five-six days only on rehearsals, then camera rehearsal and then recording would start; to add to this you had to remember the script which was not easy.

Now it is easy as it is all done on film technique; as you just call the artist, give the role and come on the set because everything is done on film technique. “Of course, newcomers do find it difficult, though it is easy for experienced people,” she laughs, adding that newcomers also have the problem as there is no one to train them.

Some very good people have been introduced but more are needed as the same faces are seen on all the channels. The artists should also take care how much they are working as their work may suffer this way. It is true that they are cashing in on their popularity but the downfall also comes the same way. Viewers, too, want to see new faces.

Lateef took a break from work while her husband was ill and now as so often happens in our society that whoever takes a sabbatical goes into oblivion; it seems she has been forgotten by the industry. She finds it difficult to go to youngsters to ask for work. “One’s dignity is hurt when after doing so much work one is ignored,” she laments.

However, she has kept herself busy. For many years she has been managing an events management company which is doing a lot of work, arranging fashion shows, musical programmes, classical dance, etc. Almost all the singers besides the new rock ones have performed in these programmes.