Prolific actor, writer, and now director, Mohammed Ehteshamuddin is a man of many talents. What’s better is that he isn’t afraid to branch out and test his abilities.
With Superstar and critically acclaimed serials like Aseerzadi, Sadqay Tumhare, and Aangan under his belt, he has much to be proud of. Having come a long way since his days as a 9-5 employee at a local gas supply company and his early breakthrough in theatre via Tehrik-e-Niswan, Ehteshamuddin has a keen way of looking at things, especially the industry.
In conversation with filmmaker/host Rafay Rashdi on his talk show Behind the Curtain with Rafay Rashdi, the Superstar director had much to say about the current situation of our industry and the need for good content. “Content is king and if we don’t work on that, things will cease up,” he said, signaling the need for a more open medium. “It is very difficult in Pakistan to change the content. What stories will you tell? Will you be able to tell a story that you really want to tell?” he asked, going on to explain how hard it is to change narratives when the atmosphere is not so safe for free speech.
“We have a lot of things to say but how do we say those things? This is also why television primarily runs saas bahu content… what will our channels show apart from that? Can our channels run content like Churails?” he questioned. Interestingly, or rather eerily, the digital series was recently taken off from Zee5 for Pakistani viewers, just a couple of days after Ehteshamuddin’s comment. It is now back on the streaming platform.
“This is exactly what I’m telling you. Whenever we exercise our right to freedom of speech and try to tell a story, our narrative will either clash with some group, or the state and establishment,” he said, adding how people ask why Pakistan doesn’t produce content like Ertugrul. “That’s because we make what we can!”
Ehteshamuddin believes the more doable thing would be to modify the same content perhaps and make it better. He also had quite the advice for our TV channels as well, which form the bulk of entertainment content that is marketed and sold. According to the Aangan director, channels improving their systems from within would do more to produce quality content. “Channels need to better their systems as well by giving fair rights. There should be fair ownership of one’s work, which will ensure better work as well,” he said.
“There’s a concept of ownership the world over and that changes a lot of things. For example, if you write a series for BBC, even your kids will get royalties from it if they were to use it later,” explained the artist. “A drama is made for the channel, run by the channel, it's then uploaded to YouTube, and then, maybe sold to another platform. This use of intellectual property needs to be addressed!”
According to Ehteshamuddin, “TV is a writers’ medium” and our entertainment industry needs to follow a fair system to ensure quality. “You will have to give them (writers) their rights. Content is a writers' intellectual property and they should be paid for it. If you’re running their content on different mediums and platforms, they should get their rightful share of the royalties,” he reiterated.
The Yaqeen ka Safar actor also added that perhaps the biggest change would be seen once the youth is given more opportunities to exercise its creative liberties. “I believe the biggest change that we want to see will be brought by the youth who we don’t pay much heed to and cast aside. We say, ‘The work we did in our time was great and the new generation can’t do that,’ but that’s the wrong approach. These new kids will be the ones who bring the change and we will have to accept it,” he said.
Ehteshamuddin’s upcoming directorial venture Dum Mastam, starring Imran Ashraf and Amar Khan, is currently stuck in a limbo due to the coronavirus pandemic. “Many big productions have been halted due to Covid, be it Hollywood or Bollywood. Pakistan is very small as compared to all of them,” he said, addressing the situation.
He also had some words of wisdom to impart, not just for the youth but for everyone at larger. “Think before you speak, don’t judge others, and don’t blame others for the darkness around. Instead, light a candle. There will be light, and when there’s light, it will help everybody.”
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