“Pakistan Television used to be an excellent platform for artists…Unfortunately it all changed under Zia’s dictatorial regime,” TV artist Seemi Raheel said on Friday.
She was speaking at the second day of Qissa Khawani organised at Faiz Ghar by Citizens Archive of Pakistan. The theme for the day was the early years of PTV and Radio Pakistan. The session was moderated by Adeel Hashmi and Alizeh Khalid.
Raheel recalled that she had started acting when she was a teenager studying at the National College of Arts (NCA).
“PTV used to be extremely safe for girls…I used to work at night,” she said.
“Artists had so much freedom to express themselves,” she added.
Theatre and TV artist Naveed Shahzad said Naeem Tahir, Yasmeen Tahir, Shoaib Hashmi, Salima Hashmi and herself used to perform – the arts council – established at the residence of Tara Singh, in 1949.
“We used to have performing arts camps then where singers like Farida Khanum and Mehdi Hassan performed,” she said.
“This developed a sense of the arts and helped us to learn about appreciate our cultural heritage,” said Shahzad.
She said TV artists today were not as educated. “Acting was not our sole source of income,” she added. Shahzad said there was no gender discrimination at PTV and the staff was protective of women.
“Any country that cannot preserve its cultural heritage will die a premature death…In our time the script and character were important for an actor but today money has replaced everything,” she said. Theatre and TV artist Salman Shahid said, “We were provided complete freedom and an open environment to act freely.”
Shahid recalled working in his first play for PTV, Jawan Fikr – a show for the youth – and how he polished his skills by performing live for six to 10 minutes in the plays.
“Zia’s era was the worst for television, radio and theatre. He censored everything…that’s when everything was ruined. PTV failed to technically upgrade itself after that,” said Shahid.
Ayub Khawar, a poet and radio and TV director, narrated his story. He said radio and TV provided had provided him an opportunity to meet artists and intellectuals.
“Zia’s era…ruined TV and Radio as unprofessional people joined PTV…today there are no archives of the works of people like Abdul Rehman Chughtai, Talat Hussain and Yawar Hussain,” he said.
The theme for the third day is Evolution of the Cities.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 22nd, 2013.