Where did the voice of the writers go?

Playwrights and actors decry state of Urdu in film and television

Our Correspondent December 10, 2015
Talat Hussain suggested that local TV channels should take cue from their international counterparts, such as BBC. PHOTOS: PUBLICITY


The ongoing eighth International Urdu Conference at the Arts Council in Karachi is bringing all things Urdu under the microscope and attempting to investigate what exactly brought the national language to its current marginalised state.

Mooting Urdu drama and film at the conference on Wednesday, veteran playwrights and actors huddled together in a panel discussion. At the start of his keynote address, TV producer Muhammad Iqbal Lateef summed up the topic with an interesting question, “Have TV dramas contributed to Urdu literature or have they actually taken away from it?”

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Lateef noted the main reason behind the decline in the quality of content is increasing commercialisation of the audio-visual medium, which has forced the script writer to take the back seat. “The old PTV dramas weren’t famous because they had a monopoly but because the people involved with the projects were the likes of Iftikhar Arif. People used to spend four to five days just rehearsing for the serials,” he added.

With stalwarts of yore, such as Noorul Huda Shah, Haseena Moin, Mustafa Qureshi and Talat Hussain, on stage and interestingly, zero representation of today’s film and drama, comparisons were drawn between the golden age of Pakistani entertainment programming and what is consumed by the people today.

With the PTV era now a thing of the past, panel moderator Asghar Nadeem Syed believed the continued absence of writers of Haseena apa’s stature naturally means local content will suffer.

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Noorul Huda, who is still somewhat active in the industry, made an interesting observation, noting how producers have taken the steering wheel across most TV and film productions. While the discourse over creative elements between writers and producers in the past led to a more refined end product, today’s producers veto the input of writers. “Writers nowadays are more concerned with keeping the stove burning so they generally give in to the demands of the executives.”

Quoting an incident from her time at a private TV channel, maintained the current lot of scriptwriters has little idea of classics. “I met a content writer who had never read the works of literary geniuses such as Saadat Hasan Manto, Rajinder Singh Bedi and Krishan Chander.”

Although the panel boasted seasoned artists and veteran media personalities, it was not short of its moments. Introducing Talat, Asghar impersonated the actor, making the entire hall burst into laughter and even making the stern-looking thespian smile.

Addressing the attendees, Talat suggested that local TV channels should take cue from their international counterparts, such as BBC and Voice of America. “In England, if you want to watch commercial content, you have to pay around £20 to £25 per month. They have done this in order to protect their programming and cultural heritage from people who want to make money off just about everything,” he stated. “Similarly, until the arrival of private TV in Pakistan, the quality of content was better.”

Although the panel refrained from talking about what the future holds for the language, they shared ideas for improving the situation. Haseena said actors, producers and directors will have to play their part. “One thing I can say with confidence is that in our plays,  there were no language mistakes. Even if the director used to rework a dialogue we would make sure that it was not grammatically incorrect. Directors, producers and writers — all of them have to be on the same page.”

Published in The Express Tribune, December 11th,  2015.

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