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Stories that need to be told

Known for artistic, bold, quirky and realistic work on TV, Mazhar Moin has been dishing out drama for over two decades

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PUBLISHED December 04, 2022

In a social climate where censorship is on the surge, and films are being banned for touching upon sensitive topics, the best way to take creative content to audiences is to put it up on digital platforms. Available anywhere, anytime, this is possibly the best option to put out the word on controversial topics that the society majorly frowns on. This is probably the reason why bold and tendentious subjects rarely make it to the silver screen or the idiot box.

One such endeavour in short films has been by producer and director Mazhar Moin. His latest venture Meem Kahani, a YouTube channel targets mature audiences from different walks of life. Meem Kahani consists of 15 different stories on topics that are supposedly unsuitable for TV audiences. “The stories are 10-18 minute short plays with topics that are expected to face backlash or censorship especially on TV,” says Moin, the director of Meem Kahani. “I chose YouTube to narrate these stories on homosexuality, transgender and other taboo topics because I cannot work with these on television.”

A couple of decades ago in his early days, Moin was known as the ‘new wave’ director, for his artistic plays that focused on low-middle class themes sans artifice. His critically acclaimed works include Burns Road Ki Nilofer, Saraye Ghat Ki Farzana, Qudoosi Sahib Ki Bewa, Mithoo Aur Apa, Haiwaan, Piyari Bitto, MeherPosh and Iltija to name a few. A meticulous workaholic, he speaks fast as though there is little time and tons to do.

With an aim to cater to a bigger audience and viewers who can absorb the awareness such topics bring in, Moin has left a disclaimer even in the short film teasers that the content is meant for a mentally mature audience. “This does not mean that I have used foul language or profanities to just unnecessarily add spice to my stories. I have simply tried to portray the misery certain people go through in our society to adjust themselves or to be accommodated, which can only be understood by an open-minded and mentally mature viewer. For that matter, age doesn’t count because some people become mentally mature at a younger age while some don’t even mature in old age,” he explains.

Representing the diverse communities that live in Karachi, where every person has a story of his own, whether he/she is a Christian or a Hindu, Meem Kahani explores various aspects of their lives, which the majority of people are not aware of. “I have tried to make Meem Kahani a platform where people from minorities and marginal communities can voice their concerns,” says Moin, emphasising that the stories of the diverse communities of Karachiites need to be told. “Through these stories we can portray what they face in their lives. I have specifically picked serious topics but at times I have also tried to illustrate the issues in a lighter vein because stories are stories and they can belong to everyone and anyone.”

The concept for Moin’s YouTube channel came rather spontaneously and suddenly to him, one day, as he sat chatting with his friends over cups of tea. The channel was named by Seemin Raheel, one of Moin’s dear friends, where the Urdu alphabet meem in Meem Kahani stands for the meem in Mazhar’s name.

“Every frame is organic,” he says, “Each and every story is real and comes through in an uncontrived manner. The audiences will be able to relate to the characters and happenings because these things happen with people in reality.”

They stories will connect to the audiences because these are not forced stories but very much from around us. “These are emotional dramas based on realistic characters,” says Moin. “Each story revolves around the main character supported by other characters but none of it is fiction. The inspiration comes from real-life people and their struggle in life,” he says emphasising that the characters shown are not right or wrong, good or bad, they are people and every person has good and bad in him according to circumstances.

The first short play to be launched in Meem Kahani is titled Babar and is about a transgender who hides his reality from people. The story depicts the difficulties transgenders face in everyday life in society, how society treats them, deprives them of their rights, and provokes them for wrongdoings.

“Adil Hussain, the actor who has played Babar has touched the character so purely,” says Moin. “One has to understand that the character is just a character and you can't play a role when you make fun of it because the journey you have to depict is painful. I can’t bear the idea of exploiting the journey of my character as the topic is very sensitive.”

Sharing his point of view on the backlash that he might face for covering bold topics given the recent controversy over banning a film for ‘questionable’ content, Moin says that when one creates such content, one has to be strong enough to fight for the content and stand by it. “One should have a fighting spirit because differences of opinions can be there and you can’t make everyone happy,” says Moin. “But I have not used or promoted anything to sabotage something. I have only depicted a good story around a character.”

Moin plans to release the 15 short plays of his current project from the beginning of December, followed by one story every week. Another similar project will start in January 2023 with different topics but the same basic idea. All the stories are in Urdu with English subtitles as the target audience is Pakistani. “The reason for keeping the plays short is that the attention span in people has shrunk to very little so anything prolonged gets boring and people lose interest,” he says.

Sharing a few stories which are to be released in the first phase, Moin says that after Babar, there is one titled Mummy Jee, which is a story of a one-unit family where a mother, her son, and her daughter-in-law reside together but the mother has a mental condition because of which the son and daughter-in-law face difficulties. It also touches several other aspects such as partner support, bonding, and the positive impact that comes after hardships.

Another similar play is Amma, where the title role is played by Samina Ahmed. It depicts how a mother sacrifices so much for her children, but her life becomes difficult later when none of her children care for her, and also later in life when parents get older, they start to fear their children.

Another short play titled Anjum ki Larki, with Hina Dilpazir in a main role, tackles the common issue of self-medication in our society. The story is about how harmful self-medication can be and its consequences on mental health. Other stories deal with topics such as ego, double standards, and guilt in life where you hide something wrong that you did previously, and how it affects several other aspects of your personality. This particular story titled Naseem is mainly portrayed by Yasra Rizvi.

Meem Kahani doesn’t just offer serious taboo topics, but there is also comedy and lighthearted content for viewers of all ages and groups. One story in the comedy genre is Kanastar, where things from a house keep disappearing while the family keeps blaming the maid, but most of the time it is not the maid but someone in the family is the culprit. “It is about who is who in a house,” Moin explains. “Rashid Farooqi, Hina Dilpazir, and Saife Hassan are playing roles in this play titled Akoo Chacha where everyone is worried about things disappearing from the house.” Another light-hearted play is based on fears that people have in life, and what someone who fears darkness has to deal with.

When Meem Kahani hits the web, Moin says he is prepared for all kinds of reactions to his work. “I am excited to put up my work that people may love or hate, but I’m ready for anything that will come my way,” he reels off and then pauses. On a more serious note, he adds, “But if my work is appreciated for the progressive thought behind it, I suppose I Meem Kahani will have served its purpose.”