A Tribute: Pakistan’s Haseena Moin’s matchless legacy of Television Dramas
In mid-1970s a convent educated Sukrita Khanna admonished the darkening silhouette of Dhauladhar snow peaks cautioning -‘No wind maangtaa (want) – for the next hour, Ok!’ She paced the cozy room reciting ‘alif, bey, pe …’ alongside praying the winds wouldn’t alter the angle of the tall antenna. The fireplace was flickering flames, under a dressed mantelpiece, she finally dropped in her favourite sofa chair, pulled over the home-spun crochet shawl; holding pen to paper. From her Japanese Television set Akai –popped PTV’s (Pakistan Television) signature tune and a blackboard appeared. Sukrita’s husband Kirti Chand (KC) Khanna was on rounds of his famed 1939, built colonial-style hotel ‘Aroma N Claire’s’ in Dalhousie, India. Sukrita made notes from the televised Urdu teaching program, revising and drilling the words to her memory.
PTV neatly conquered Indian audiences at the height of 1970-meters in upper hills. And it was Haseena Moin’s TV serials that captured the Indian imagination and mind. The visually delighted, TV- empowered Indian was lucky albeit by a quirk of fate, located in the line of PTV signals, bang on the banks of the international borderline of two nations; or, positioned in the latitude of PTV airwaves, located in the upper reaches of the mountain range.
Though in first line of fire, Indian border residents momentarily forgot three wars, their plight and numerous border conflicts, and instead enjoyed moments of wholesome local and ‘foreign’ fare churned out by PTV. India’s state-run Doordarshan channel arrived late and proved to be insipid and clichéd with movies, Chitrahaars, and a stray agriculture programme. In a way, PTV actually rendered our townships, border villages to become prized summer holiday destinations and the envy of cousins in capital Delhi and the rest of the mainland. They craved trips to Amritsar or Jammu or Dalhousie, precisely to enjoy matchless evenings of TV time.
Though my aunt Sukrita’s delight was in learning a language of poetic fame, her prime triumph laid her ability to read the ‘actual names’ of the title star cast of dramas running on PTV. The names weren’t announced, rather rushed on screen in the ‘incomprehensible’ Urdu script. When visiting our home, her maika, in Amritsar, considered twin city of Pakistan’s Lahore – of pre-partition times, Sukrita, casually names-dropped the real identity of enchanting characters of iconic Moin plays and won admirers. “Dr Zoya Ali Khan’ is Marina Khan; Dr Ahmer Ansari is Rahat – the charming couple of cult classic ‘Dhoop Kinare’.” Gradually, names of popular PTV characters from Moin’s plays started emerging in birth certificates of newborns. I have named my daughter Sana, Shaheen or Zoya or Zara was the oft-repeated social circle talk in Colonial Clubs, over card games of rummy, flash and poker tables as also at the Tennis courts, leftover, and popularized by the British.
Less than two decades post-partition, among the 60s and 70s born Indian generation, the Urdu-educated elders or grandparents suddenly became more sought-after than the convent or Hindi educated parents. Many an Urdu dialect and dialogue from Moin’s plays entered an essentially Sikh and Hindu home and became amusing fill-ups among children- Gustakhi, mausiki, khasoosi, shaukeen. We had dialogues like – ‘Zill-e-Illahi ko khasoosi bhojan paroosa jai!’; ‘Ye jhumlebaazi band kar, Gustaakh!’ Significantly, the word ‘mazloom’ or helpless was never seen used for women in Moin’s plays, whose protagonists were strong, feisty, spirited and humorous women.
Haseena Moin – a trailblazing, celebrated dramatist, playwright, scriptwriter, Pride of Performance awardee of Pakistan and of numerous international awards, passed away on 26th March 2021, in Karachi following a cardiac arrest. However, her legacy lives on among Indians across borders and the elders of her ancestral country. She elevated the Pakistani woman in Indian eyes and inspired the female gender cross-border too. In her lifetime, Moin succeeded in bridging hearts between her twin homes divided by the infamous Radcliff line. She was born in Kanpur, India in 1942, and left for Pakistan with her family in 1947.
Her plays were adored, as Sarabjot Mallik a classmate in Amritsar, now an artist, recalls –“Moin’s serials had an ease of manner, were identifiable, decent and replete with comic moments”. Men equally enjoyed the series and closed down business concerns synchronizing with serial timings.
During my first visit to Pakistan In 2005, five years post the Indo-Pak Kargil war, – My father fondly asked me to bring CDs of Moin’s plays, popular shows, and serials of PTV. I found pirated copies freely sold at Hall Road, in Lahore’s labyrinthine Androon Shehr or the old city. The CDs were much in demand by the new flock of Indians following a free flow of people to people contact under the aegis of CBMs (Confidence Building Measures) between the two warring neighbours. CD sellers told me –“Moin’s serials are in serious shortage often, much as they are in demand by Indians and of other Muslim countries”.
It fascinated me that these serial CDs got reinvigorated with the free flow of people to people contact through Indo-Pak border and posed stiff competition to the Made-in-India Hindi films, sitting cosily and sharing neighbourly racks with Indian film CDs- adored in turn by Pakistanis. It felt interesting to assess, grudgingly though; that India had to concede this once in no uncertain terms- ‘What wars couldn’t achieve, the virtual waves of Moin’s serials did to win strategic depth with Indians’. PTV serials especially Moin’s ideas, were rational, grounding intelligent, decent and real-time and with cine treatment far superior, compared to Indian TV Channel programmes.
Alternately, it was exciting for me to watch the utter craze for Indian films. It was widespread, abundant, free flowing especially in Lahore the capital of West Punjab, Pakistan. Melodies of Indian movies were played everywhere- in buses, taxis, homes – A violin player unabashedly churned out song after Indian Bollywood song at the famous Gawalmandi, Food Street of Lahore, adding a melodious and aromatic Indian tempering to delicious Lahori cuisine, during my delightful invite to dinner. That’s what Indian films meant to Pakistani public, banned as they were, from watching them in Pak cinemas; apparently to elevate Pakistan’s hobbling unrefined film industry popularly referred as Lollywood. The country that produced lacklustre film ideas had an undisputable aptitude to create and produce wholesome content on state-run television channel, beating its own film industry with ideas, subjects, treatment and sensibilities, was ironical. Moin’s serials were a big contributor to this success story.
That same year, Indian Television dramas were much discussed in Pakistan – The mother of my dear friend Neelma Durrani- SSP Lahore, who loved watching Indian TV serials of the mid-90s on cable in Pakistan–‘Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’ and the likes of Kamolika as vamps, mischievously enquired “Ek baat batao beta, -Do Indian women sleep in extravagant Sarees, and loud make-up and lengthy sindoor lines, every night?” She twinkled. “Do they want to impress their husbands?” eliciting a belly laugh from me-“We are just like you Amma (addressed her lovingly),” I hugged her shaking with laughter. ‘Ye Indian drame bhi Na, bas drame hi hain, haqeekat nahi’ (Indian TV dramas are just dramas not anywhere near reality) I lamely justified.
In the same era of the 70s, TV signals from Pakistan were hazy in Kashmir. So, Kashmir, famed for its haseen vaadiya (charming valleys) couldn’t see these Haseen – Haseena Moin’s serials in real-time. Anita Mehta, owner of –‘The original Photoshop’ – the legendary ‘Mahattas’ of Srinagar-Delhi, since 1915, recollects, – “Entry of popular Moin plays and others came as pirated copies in seedy Kashmiri CD parlours in the mid-80s. Kashmir too was mesmerised just like the mainland, by Moin’s serials”. Since Kashmir-Amritsar enjoyed socio-economic umbilical cord. Kashmiris returning in summers told their brethren in Kashmir about Pak serials.
A distinguished TV producer and former general manager of PTV in addition to being from an exalted lineage as the daughter of illustrious Urdu –Punjabi Poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Alys Faiz- Moneeza Hashmi, while speaking to Kashmir Images in India gushed –“Moin and I had a fastidious friendship. We connected through PTV- the lone channel of the 70s. Distance didn’t deter us from keeping an enduring friendship of 40 years, the same number of years we both were in Television, she, the dramatist and I, the producer. I was stationed in Lahore and Moin in Karachi, but being frequent travellers we met often.”
A Moin serial meant – rich fare of diverse plots, amazing direction, eagerly and equally craved in India and Pakistan. Language, shared culture, became robust bonding and meeting points between two Punjabs and Jammu’s counterparts in Sialkot and Mirpur. Jammu too turned crazy over Moin’s serials; the Sialkot booster stationed in Pakistan ensured clear signals to this erstwhile princely state that was part of the bone of contention between the two countries and over which three wars were fought.
Ravinder Kaul, renowned global theatre critic reminisces how Jammu was glued to PTV. The animosity of wars replaced timeline of endearing relatable stories of our generation, when streets remained empty. Many Pakistani actors and singers became stars and legends. Jammu’s former Deputy Commissioner, a Punjabi short story writer admired in collective Punjabs on either side of the border, for books published in both Shahmukhi and Gurmukhi scripts, Khalid Hussain, remembers people making wild guesses and hurrying back from work on Fridays to watch the twists and turns in Moin’s serials.
Taru Bhatia Peshawaria a schoolmate became much sought after the following news -Rahat and Sahira Kazmi of Pakistan were staying at her place in Green Avenue, Amritsar. As word spread – Taru recalls –“It was a near riot of fan craze! People climbed over boundary walls and neighbouring trees for a glimpse of Pak duo. Then, Rahat was considered the Amitabh Bachchan of Pakistan! Amritsaris screamed, waved from the streets when I sat with Rahat- Sahira in a car. I honestly felt like a queen! We were headed for an interactive session of Pakistani stars with students of SR Government College for Women, Amritsar. In the college auditorium, crazy girls let out catcalls, hysterically recited popular dialogues of the actors and screamed and yelled. The multi-storied college building swung, rocked and frolicked with the infectious aura of adulation,” Taru gleamed recalling that unforgettable day.
Unlike Indian Ekta Kapoor serials presumably abhorred by men, Moin’s serials had an overall endearing quality that drew men to watch. Amritsar based artist, writer, businessman Arvinder Singh Chamak felt, Moin’s characters were stamped on our minds in our childhood days. In Moin’s plays, Pakistani women were spirited, carrying bob-cut hairstyles which were metamorphic for me. My mother was from Gujranwala Pakistan and we, who had been fed with tales of purdah and burqas, were dazed to watch gutsy, lively, modern female characters of her serials, coping and dealing with the vicissitudes of life. To say her characters were inspiring would be an understatement”, said Chamak who went on to do three international theatre pieces in Lahore in 2005-2006 and 2007 with Neeta Mohindra and MK Raina troupe- Rang Toli. Chamak had the opportunity of meeting Moin whose literary legacy is precious, during his visit to Lahore in 2006. “To discuss progressive writers of the time and the way the city-twins Amritsar-Lahore resonate culturally with her was delightful,” he recalls.
Dr Zoya of Dhoop Kinare – a Moin serial, assumed a fashion icon status in India, recollects Mrs Amar Singh, a pioneer in the beauty business in Amritsar with the first beauty parlour- Figurette. “What was unforgettable was the slicked-back bob-cut hairstyle of the young doctor that became a craze with girls here. Natural make-up, special looks on Eid, weddings and other occasions flowed in congruence with the script line. Moin’s serials got us hooked to their styling, clothes, words, gestures, body language, mannerisms, unpretentious make-up and left us deeply impressed,” adds, Amar.
In a televised interview Shahnaz Sheikh – a craze as Sana Murad in much-acclaimed Moin serial – Ankahi, gave wings to a strong, delightful, humorous female character that even Pakistani men, otherwise conservative, relished. Shahnaz, at the panel discussion with Moin remembered how during military dictator–Pakistan’s President Zia-ul-Haq’s rule, indoctrinated Islamisation, plunging a new, emerging, modern Pakistan, back to the dark ages. He ordered-Television producers to show all hero and heroic characters in traditional Salwar Kameez, signifying the virtuous, alternately, all dark, dicey and negative characters were to be shown wearing western outfits of pant shirts.” Shahnaz chuckles, remembering- “In 6th episode of the popular serial Ankahi, suddenly, the good men donned the Salwar Kameez and the devious ones wore trousers and shirts”. It was ordered that all women be seen in head-dupattas or veil. So, a woman stepping out of water or washroom or upon waking up or while cooking, had dupattas stuck to their heads. Orders to keep a distance of four feet between men and women also followed. “So, leave alone holding hands, a page of a book was expected to be read via a bionic vision from four feet away!” she added.
Even Sarees stamped as Hindu traditional wear, faced a ban. Perhaps legendary Pakistani singer Noor Jahan was the last and only privileged woman to don the Saree during her television appearances. “Women wearing Saree in Pakistan evokes stares and double-takes and the inevitable question –“Are you Indian?” writes Saba Imtiaz in her comprehensive article ‘Borders’ published in “FiftyTwodotIn”. The impression came alive on meeting Zareena Saeed in the year 2011, while leading an all-woman delegation to Pakistan, made possible by my dearest friend Shahnaz Hussain. Zareena Saeed, English Professor, Punjab University, Lahore Pakistan, a visibly die-hard Saree fan claimed she wore only Sarees; it was on the tip of my tongue to ask Zareena, if she had an India connect, we were so conditioned to see women characters in Pak serials in Salwar Suits, never in a Saree. Shahnaz my friend too loves to wear Sarees to special events.
Meantime, in the same discussion, Moin mocked at popular Pakistani play Humsafar that became hugely popular in 2000, showing a beautiful top Pakistani TV actress- Mahira Khan, as a helpless, tearful woman looking for a male messiah to save her. “The strong dignified peppy woman of Pakistan that we took 40-years to create onscreen as an inspiration to the subdued gender of our nation, vanished in the four years that I fought with cancer and couldn’t write dramas and scripts,” she commented. Moin brushed aside comments on her serials labelled as “Lighty Flighty”- opposed to serious dramas, at the same panel and lamented –“My tough woman was replaced with helpless, weepy, timid, tearful female character; and I was accused of spoiling girls – that my girls were bold – but I shot back –‘they weren’t disrespectful!’ Women should be daring and know-how to cope and command respect, this will remain my stand, forever,” Moin hand-stamped her preference in no uncertain terms, at the discussion.
In year 2016, I visited Lahore again. A friend Faisal Satti’s friend Annie Quratlain a producer in PTV offered a visit to PTV studios. I jumped at the chance even as my astonished daughter on her first visit to Pakistan was stunned by my childlike thrill. My tickles of joys and ecstasy of revisiting my childhood was only short of her stint in bungee jumping. PTV studios were brimming with photos of popular 70s & 80s Moin serials. Our friend clicked pictures of us on sets of sitcoms, Qawwali, Newsrooms, a tastefully done living room, with photos of identifiable yesteryear actors of mass craze serials and much more. I remember my eyes sparkle, my step bounce, my bundles of chuckles, my glee unfettered and it truly became an unforgettable Adrenaline moment for me. Perhaps seeing the location came as a closure to my dream of visiting ‘that’ Pakistan seen on TV back home as children.
Among the expressive photographs spread the deep shadow of the creator Moin’s sudden demise. How these unknown, ordinary people turned into household names and cult stars. They were a far cry, from weepy characters -scenes of most Pakistani TV serials, today. I reflect on Moin’s passing and wonder if Sukrita- the charming lady of Dalhousie, of a spirited memory chip, who ironically, developed Alzheimer’s – a disease wiping her memory slate clean, that took her life; would she ever meet Moin- the women empowerment crusader, in Soul-land? If ever, then Urdu indisputably would ignite the conversation; tales of pre-partition, partition, and freedom may light their fire, generational similarity may concoct a Rice Palau or Biryani and their collective humour may stir the Kesar Chai and brush smooth the ruffled feathers and bond a fastidious friendship! Who knows Moin may strike an idea for an Indo-Pak serial and add a new twist to the tail of storytelling with real-time inputs from India, sorely missed in her vast repertoire of cherished Drama serials. The meeting may become a grand sweep, successfully brushing aside long drawn animosity between both countries; this time, perhaps for eternity.
Television in India started experimentally in September of 1959, with a small transmitter and a makeshift studio in Delhi. Daily transmission began in 1965 as part of All India Radio (AIR) television and later extended to Bombay and Amritsar in 1972. PTV came to Pakistan in November of 1964, the first broadcast from Lahore.
Haseena Moin, famed dramatist of Pakistani serials penned many a serial that left a lasting impact through generations including Uncle Urfi, Ankahi, Tanhaiyaan, Parchaieyen, Bandish, Dhund, Dhoop-Kinarey, Aahat, Kasak, Pal Do Pal, Tere Aajane Se. Her play Gurya won an award at the Global TV Plays Festival in Tokyo for best script and direction. It felt like Moin took a line or idiom, tossed it around and turned it into a story, with a standout character’s nameplate.
Pakistan’s first original script ‘Kiran Kahani’ aired in early-1970s was penned by Haseena Moin. Earlier PTV relied on novel based scripts for TV serials. When Moin’s play took to the airwaves, it turned unforgettable.
Haseena Moin – the beautiful woman, who wrote, created, love on reels of the small screen, never found a sweetheart in real life! Moin never married, died single, and wasn’t even touched by a rumour of an affectionate relationship with the opposite gender. So minute was Moin’s reflection of real life, she observed, understood, and breathed life into her diverse characters as if she had borrowed the nuances from a popular book ‘Men are from Mars and Women from Venus’ by relationship councilor John Gray. No! The book came much later, Moin had an inbuilt antenna combined with talent that observed and served the true essence of varied human behaviour.
Moin was the writer of the first coloured drama of Pakistan, aired on PTV called Parchaiyan, which had a huge star cast.
How did Rahat and Sahira Kazmi land in Amritsar?
It’s quite interesting how Pakistan’s top actor Rahat Kazmi and his wife Sahira Kazmi landed in Amritsar and stayed with a local family. It was after the Indo-Pak partition, that film producers Ram Dayal Sabharwal and his father Sardari Lal Sabharwal produced independent Pakistan’s “first film” Teri Yaad starring Nasir Khan and built lifelong relations and connections with the performing artists’ fraternity of Pakistan, this closeness did not get divided with the new national borders. Ram Dayal was married to Nirmal Sabharwal whose sister Swaraj Bhatia was married in a well-known political family of Amritsar. Taru Bhatia Peshawaria was the daughter of Swaraj. Ram Dayal had asked Swaraj and her husband Shyam Sunder Bhatia to host Rahat and Sahira in Amritsar since they were to cross over to Lahore Pakistan from Wagah border. Thus the duo had the privilege to stay in a local home of Bhatias and participate in an interactive session in SR Government College- Amritsar’s best women’s college at the time.
The writer can be reached at: [email protected]