Before his films, particularly, Main Hoon Shahid Afridi, Vasay Chaudhry was known for being the 25-minute-sitcom guy. He created interesting stories and plot lines ranging from Jutt and Bond, based on a stage play he had created, to Rubberband, a detective-comedy about inspector Khoji, and then a political-satire show Yes Sir, which was an adaptation of the British show, Yes Prime Minister (he deems this as his best effort as writer, in terms of research and comedy).
“I was brought up in the type of family where I was not allowed to watch Hollywood films. It was only Indian films and Pakistan television for me. However, the added advantage that I had was that I got to see Pakistani cinema for free, which I think had a major influence on me,” says Chaudhry.
He had a strong underlying vision that whatever work he did had to be original. It was for this reason that he avoided the Government College theatre scene and focused on creating an independent one.
Similarly, in the case of Jutt and Bond, he humbly approached Dr Younis Butt through his friend Zain Ahmed and asked him to write the serial.Butt refused and told him that if he wants to do something he’ll have to do it himself. That is how he ended up writing it on his own.
“So, then I sat down to make the decision and thought about all the terrible dramas I have seen in my life. I thought about how bad could my writing really be, decided to give it a shot and wrote Jutt and Bond. Over the years, you learn by writing a lot of screenplays. It’s a complete cycle one has to go through as a writer,” says Chaudhry.
While the global economic meltdown had various impacts on television across the globe, it meant a different sort of shift in Pakistan, from Lahore to Karachi. Karachi-based media houses started favouring a different trend, in which the 25-minute sitcoms did not factor. Therefore, for the first time, Chaudhry hit a dry-spell after seven years of prolific work.
“What had happened was that the market had moved to Karachi and people stopped buying content from Lahore. That one year in between was very tough; I was unemployed, Lahore was only making 25-minute-programming primarily and they weren’t buying our content,” recalls the writer.
“It had become our trademark that we did good comedy in Lahore, but people also felt I was just a 25-minute writer and could not handle longer formats,” he added.
His career was at crossroads until his good friends and directors Nadeem Baig and Marina Khan approached him to write for Kis Ki Ayegi Baraat, a Pakistani television drama. The writer of Azar Ki Ayegi Barat, Mohammed Ahmed was tied up with other projects and therefore, Chaudhry was approached to co-write the sequel with Bushra Ansari. By the time he reached Karachi, he discovered that five episodes had already been written.
“This is the first time I am telling this to anyone. They had told me that five episodes had been written but they were incomplete, so I will have to write them. I tried to write for two days and injected whatever life I could in them, but I didn’t think it was good enough. At that point, I went to the co-director (Marina Khan), asked her to give me one chance to write my own version of it and told her that if she doesn’t like it, I will go back to fixing the original script,” said Chaudhry.
Being a writer is inherently difficult, reminds Chaudhry. His own work in building an independent scene, out of which he bred his television projects, has a unique following. But today he is treading new ground as a screenplay writer for films. He is completing the script for one film and will possibly be on board for another film, to follow-up the success of MHSA. He says that his intent is to provide entertainment through his writing.
“I think nothing beats the feeling of 500 people, packed in the cinema house, cheering and clapping. That is what I have grown up watching. Nothing can beat that adrenaline rush and that’s something only cinema can provide,” commented Chaudhry.
“My target has always been to entertain people; I am not into art as far as my work is concerned, at least not now. Even when I was doing theatre, I wasn’t into it. I suppose it’s because I am influenced by entertainment films of the 80s and 90s,” he concluded.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2014.