The Creator of Pak’s bold woman characters on Television, was a timid woman: Moneeza Hashmi
Moneeza Hashmi, a broadcaster, television producer, media consultant, and former general manager of Pakistan Television (PTV); the youngest daughter of the Illustrious Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, is the chairperson of the board of Governors of the Lahore Arts Council, the first woman to be so. A ‘Pride of Performance’ Awardee by the President of Pakistan in 2003 for Excellence in Art and the winner of “President of NHK Prize” Award by NHK-Japan’s National Public Broadcaster, for outstanding contribution in Educational Media and others spoke to RASHMI TALWAR in India, from Lahore Pakistan, regarding her famed friendship with Pak’s distinguished dramatist Haseena Moin, about her reality as she knew it.
Haseena Moin (20 November 1941 – 26 March 2021) a Pakistani dramatist, playwright, and scriptwriter, wrote plays for stage, radio and television, some gained international repute, including many fans in India. Recipient of the ‘Pride of Performance’ award for performing arts, Pakistan; she wrote Pakistan’s first original script ‘Kiran Kahani’ aired in the early-1970s; quashed the practice of novel-based scripts for TV dramas by PTV. Moin was considered revolutionary to an extent, inspiring women empowerment by her iconic, feisty, trailblazing women characters, and considered the best playwright and dramatist Pakistan had ever witnessed. Haseena Moin will remain the joint cultural heritage of both India and Pakistan, cherished as she was in India her birthplace, as much as in Pakistan her adopted country. Her plays were aired on Indian TV Zee Zindagi and a few like ‘Ankahi’ were adapted too.
What bonded you with Haseena Moin? Was it the same school/ interests/ locality/ family friends/ or being a TV Producer?
We remained friends for 40-years, she was in television and I was in television, and that’s how we met and connected. It was basically through television where we struck up a friendship. I was in Lahore, she was in Karachi and both of us were frequent travellers. Whenever I went to Karachi she would host me and I would meet her family and became friends with the families as well and when she came to Lahore she stayed with me and so had a good relationship with me and my family. We had like-minded friends and we carried on for years and years and years. We practically grew up together, being nearly of the same age. Haseena was my favourite person. She was someone who like me woke up late in the mornings and worked till late at night.
We (the generation born in the 1950s-60-the 70s) in India’s borderline, practically grew up on Haseena Moin’s plays, found her characters to be strong women, however, Pakistan shows today’s woman as a sacrificial lamb at the beck and call of a man, this was not so in Moin’s times. How in your mind did Moin’s portrayals change society and what brought the repressiveness back in her absence? How did her plays change the scenario?
It is a long shot to say that her dramas changed society but I shall give you two three examples and I’m talking about way back in the 1980s when her dramas were iconic, there was only one channel then i.e. PTV. During Haseena’s plays and serials broadcast, the streets were deserted, businesses closed and people went home. Because at that time there were no reruns of serials, so you had to watch it live, there were no recordings, people would go to watch the serial and discussions went far beyond the evenings.
In today’s time yes dramas have changed. Yes, they have become weepy. Yes, women are shown as helpless. Yes, they are slapped backward and forward. I guess to a great extent, society has changed, societal norms changed, tolerance has changed and the big huge commercial television changed. In this loud world, Haseena Moin’s clean, smooth, lovely, and endearing dramas may seem a bit insipid, compared to what is being presented on television today in Pakistan. The serials are harsh and violent, rude language, crude, all gentility is missing. Why? Look at your Bollywood films, look at Sunil Dutt and Dilip Kumar’s times and see what you have today, no nobody wants to see those plays, those dramas, those films anymore, that is the truth of today.
Do relate some anecdotes of those times with Moin and the societal effect that her plays drew?
Dinners were postponed; marriages were post-timed if they clashed with her serial timings. The serials were broadcast during the weekend. Whether she changed society or not was a long shot.
Did Moin resemble the characters in her plays of a bold and feisty modern woman and hilarious comedy characters?
In an interview in my programme – ‘Tum Jo Chaho Tu Suno’,- one of my questions to Moin –“Your plays characters including women are, vivacious, full of life, vibrant and humour seems to be an integral part of most of them, yet I have known you to be sober, quiet, serious and thoughtful and ‘darrpok’ or timid too! How do you explain that?” Moin had admitted to be ‘darrpok’. And compared herself to a river, – “At its birth, the river is bright, glowing, sparkling, glittering as a pearl, rapid, swift, loud, saucy and spirited, playful & naughty; and as it flows, it slows, leisurely sluggish, with a dimmed sparkle. The muck thrown at us by others, and the muck we collect through our actions, becomes a muddy cocktail turning life’s river dirty, this is the tragedy of life. But, if we look back, we notice the light of a Chirag or lamp emerge from the lines of two banks of the river that conjoin at a point, to become lamps of our truth, of our goodness, of our actions, of our love, and affections. So then the waters of life are not so dense and dark.”
Moin disclosed in the interview that her demeanour of sobriety was cultivated and not organic. She had deliberately refined and subdued her bubbly personality with a lot of effort to appear reserved in professional life. “It was a sacrifice that I had to make and live with. This ‘self-restrained’ character cultivation started at the outset of my career. It was my parents who taught me, and some of it was my personal learning and choice, wherein I felt that this sparkling personality I was born with would be viewed as a flaw and designated as frivolous and shallow, in our society. My friends who were familiar with my vibrant and carefree nature, of being a prankster in college and university days would wonder where that naughty girl of the university vanished”, Moin responded somewhat with a burst of inner childlike laughter.
Relating an incident Moin said-“I used to work up an act in 3rd class compartment in trains and wean a seat by telling an emotional tale. These women characters in my plays are a reflection of my lost chirpy self that I sacrificed. Hence my comedy is situational, not exaggerated which is not my style. You have to create those bursts of humour where people get immersed in this moment of laughter. Besides this, I want women to feel their strength and walk with dignity,” said Moin in the interview.
Her most outstanding play to date?
All of Haseena’s plays were outstanding but if it was one it was ‘Tanhaiyaan’ with Shahnaz Sheikh.
How do you define Moin’s timidity?
Moin needed a traveller with her, if she had to come to Lahore she had to have an escort if she travelled anywhere like Islamabad, or she went abroad she needed an escort. And she travelled extensively in connection with her programs, her serials; she was one person who did. I love this thing about her; she would write her play, then if required; she didn’t do it deliberately; but if required and there was a time when it was ‘required’ and became almost a necessity, that part of the plot be shot abroad, so she would put in Bangkok and Mauritius or whatever and she would have it in her contract, that she would go with the team. The idea was -she needed to be on hand and in cases of changing script she could be there to present it, she didn’t allow anyone to interfere with her with the scripts. England, Scotland, she shot all over the world and travelled a lot, she loved traveling but she was always with an escort never alone and she was such a timid person. I often used to wonder how she would do it; at times I would scold her that you are taking too many risks.
But she just loved to travel and then a time came when she developed cancer. This was about 15 years back so traveling became a little limited for her but that did not deter her and surprisingly it was a very slow-growing cancer, she didn’t die of it she died of a cardiac arrest, but possibly inside- who knows what was going on inside her body but she kept up her lifestyle.
I would say “Haseena celebrated life, really celebrated life and although she had personal tragedies in the sense her sister died her brothers died and others too, it didn’t quite deter her; she kept on working she was writing a play and shooting a play until four days before her death.” And added, -“She was on location – a mountainous region- Nathagali, for shooting a play. Also, she was present on stage for an event, a day before she passed away.”
Haseena was a great woman- brave on one hand and extremely likable and a lovable person.
How did men react to the strong women characters in Moin’s plays in 70s and 80s?
I think men at that time may have found it slightly different but it wasn’t as if she made them out to be fire spouting, difficult. I’m going to say that in those days Pakistan was a tolerant society there was a lot of tolerance but of course her girls as you would like to call them were very strong characters but they did not lose their feminism, they were not dupatta-burning shouting and screaming women, no, they were nice girls, professional girls, and they were portrayed as strong and couldn’t be taken for a ride. Overall men found them different and they too loved the serials and it was family time to watch them.
Is any of her plays in the production stage?
A play is scheduled to be broadcast soon that she dramatized, relating to cancer, mirroring probably her own suffering from cancer. This play is dedicated to ‘Shaukat Khannum Cancer Hospital’, Karachi raised earlier by present Pak PM Imran Khan, in memory of his mother who too suffered from cancer.
Did Moin enjoy family support?
Haseena was an extremely creative person and creativity majorly came from the fact that she came from very strong family background. They were knit together, a loving family and I knew them all and so I know they were very concerned about each other, they were protective of each other, supporting each other at all times. Haseena made sure she was there for them at all times.
Her creativity was amazing; one of the main themes of all her plays and possibly her life was love. It was strange that she never found love in the form of a partner in life. She had a lovable persona, loved people, loved living, loved giving, and in her dramas, the underlying thread was of love. And, that I think, tied the audience together to her plays.
Some of Moin’s colleagues were jealous of her success?
No! All I know is that some people called her serials ‘lighty flighty’ very casual, funny, and non-serious, but these plays were so hugely popular! She had some of Pakistan’s crème de la crème of actors acting and craving to act for her. There was an award-winning Roohi Bano for ‘Kiran Kahani’- Pakistan’s first original script (before this, scripts used to be novel based)- , Khalida Riyasat for classic play- ‘Baandish’, Marina Khan for ‘Tanhaiyan’, ‘Dhoop Kinare’, ‘Tanha’. Haseena carved and created artists like Shahnaz Sheikh for ‘Ankahi’, Yousuf Kamal or Shakeel as ‘Uncle Urfi’, Rahat Kazmi in ‘Parchaiyan’. These became the great names of Pakistan television. She gave them unforgettable characters and they became the lifelong companions of whole generations that grew up watching them.
And, “Even today, after 40 years, if Shahnaz Sheikh, who has not acted in any play, other than of Haseena Moin, walks down the road, people will recognize her. One creates a character that stays with the audience after 30-40 years! That is the genius of Haseena Moin’s plays!”
How did Pakistani society react to her place and portrayal in times of political dispensations of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and of Zia-ul-Haq eras respectively?
Haseena was totally apolitical so I’m not going to put her into the Bhutto Era and the Zia era, she as a person worked for herself just as she wanted- at her own time and pace. She couldn’t be pushed or pressured into doing anything when she was given an assignment; she completed it with love and with her trademark humility, so there never was any question of politics or any political reflection of the times, in her plays.
Acclaimed Indian actor Raj Kapoor was one of Moin’s biggest fans and Moin even wrote for his film ‘Henna’ and then retracted her name from the film? Did she do any collaborative work with other Indian filmmakers? Was Haseena appreciative of the kind of audience she found in India, India being her birthplace?
She was certainly pursued by one of the greatest Indian actors and filmmaker of yesteryears -Raj Kapoor, to write for the film ‘Henna’ and she was the one who persuaded Pakistani actress Zeba Bhakhtiar to act in it. Both countries were having more tolerant relationships at the time but later Haseena’s name was removed from the credits. I don’t know about that omission, but she enjoyed doing the film. She loved the adulation she received in India, she adored it, enjoyed it and she loved Raj Kapoor. They in turn treated her almost like a queen; there was nothing political about her selection from Pakistan but an act of creativity. She felt so very proud of getting this opportunity in India of being selected to write for an Indian film, she loved working for it. Was she approached by other Indian filmmakers? I don’t know, and as far as I know, I don’t think Haseena would have done it for anyone else, because Raj Kapoor goes back in our past and our love for all these senior actors of Bollywood- Raj Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand so on, I don’t think new filmmakers would ever have put up with her or put up with the way she worked and the gentleness she worked with.
Your Personal episodes & anecdotes with Haseena Moin?
Ans: I loved her beyond measure; she was like my older sister if you want to call it that way. There wasn’t much age difference between us. The hard part is that the day she died she was actually coming to Lahore to see me, to work on a new serial project with me; she was going to write and oversee a new play that we had planned and talked about. Her niece Honey called me at 4 o’clock and told me that Haseena is not well and so can we postpone this meeting and I said yes sure and that same night she died.
The writer can be reached at:[email protected]; https://www.facebook.com/rashmi.talwar.35
Haseena Moin’s interview with Moneeza Hashmi can be viewed at: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10158008307628865&id=551108864