Catch me if you can’ seems to be Sahira Kazmi’s favourite catch-phrase these days. In an attempt to pin her down for an interview one comes across the standard apologetic response from her: “You know, I would love to sit with you and talk about so many things, but I’m just so tied up right now.” In the process of approaching her for this interview, every day brought more phone calls and more apologies. But at long last came that much awaited phone-call — the let’s-meet-up-and get-over-it.
So what is it that’s keeping the lady so elusive? Sahira Kazmi explains the reason behind her veritable hibernation from the media. The director is presently on leave from PTV and in the throes of editing a private production that she has recently shot, having taken special permission from the state broadcaster for this play. So why not direct the play under the PTV banner?
“I just feel the environment in PTV is no longer feasible for working,” she says. “I feel bad at having to do this, but I believe that if changes don’t occur then I don’t have any other alternative but to freelance, do what I would rather do, or just sit at home.”
One of the pioneers in her field, the director who gifted PTV with memorable serials like Tanhaiyaan, Tapish and Dhoop Kinaray, Sahira can do precious little except sit helplessly and watch her mother institution struggle to survive in a field flooded with private channels. Unfortunately, according to Sahira, the approach is all wrong. “PTV has the infrastructure, it just doesn’t have the people anymore,” she says, frustration palpable in her voice. “They need to get state-of-the-art equipment because they already have fabulous studios.”
So is it just the lack of proper equipment that is spoiling the perfect picture? “What PTV lacks is the right kind of people,” says Sahira. “I’m not a magician, I need a team to work with and if I don’t get that and proper equipment, then it’s not fair to expect wonders from Sahira Kazmi.”
Another aspect that she believes is in the infusion of fresh blood in PTV. With her current project dealing mainly with youth, the director has had a chance to observe the younger lot from close quarters. And contrary to general perception that lack of non-professionalism in our young people is the root cause of the dilapidated state of showbiz industry, Sahira believes that given a chance, young people display great potential.
“The younger lot has talent, but they need to be trained,” she adds. “We need good lighting, cameramen and editors. I think the seniors (the few that are left) should be used for training the youth.” Gazing back at the time when she first joined the industry, Sahira recalls names like Ashfaq Ahmed whom she worked with and who taught her the ropes. It was at PTV that Sahira learnt about Pakistan and its culture, traces of which are apparent in her timeless, thought-provoking plays.
Unfortunately, this mushrooming of channels has resulted in an overdose of half-baked professionals who begin as actors, turn into cameramen the next day and directors a day later. Sahira feels the best way to overcome this confusion is by way of proper training academies. “I appeal to the government, philanthropists or anybody who has the money to start an institution that can technically train people in the media.”
For someone like Sahira who thrives on quality, it is painful to see how the industry has taken a dive in terms of creativity and quality. “I think it’s unfair to the media,” she laments. What lacks is not just creativity, but variety as well. “If I want to watch a good play or show, or listen to good music, and by that I mean everything from classical and semi-classical to ghazals, nazams, popular and folk music, why shouldn’t I have the choice to hear and see what I want?”
Sahira nostalgically compares the current status with the glory days of television when writers from Bano Qudsia to Hasina Moin and Anwar Maqsood were represented on screen. At this point, she says, the authorities concerned are not interested in employing competent writers because the latter don’t work on a formulaic pattern. Dismissing the claims that it’s the ‘viewers ki demand’ who prefer the present standard of entertainment, Sahira points towards her more recent play, Zaibunnisa. “I did it at the prime of commercialism and succeeded. This means that people could relate to the subject, which was about domestic violence. Plus, it raked in money.”
When it is pointed out that certain veteran actors accept roles that don’t do justice to their status, Sahira says: “These are the only kind of roles they get and accept them they have to in order to keep the kitchen fire burning.” She feels it is not the actors but the channel owners and the advertisers who can bring about change by promoting quality entertainment.
Then again, there are people like Rahat Kazmi who refuse to compromise on principles. “Rahat is an educated person, he’s teaching and he’s happy. But a lot of actors and the directors have no choice.”
According to Sahira, the core issue is materialism. “Paisa chaiye, at any cost,” she says. “As long as you are making money, people will be your psycho-fans or friends. That’s all that matters to them.” Her worst fear is that if sub-standard programmes continue to be produced, television will meet the disastrous fate that has befell our film industry. “We’ve come full circle,” she exclaims, “The same kind of filmi music, the same kind of loud acting has now crept into drama as well. We watch women get out of bed in false eyelashes and full make-up. These are things that we need to grow out of.”
Waving off monetary issues, Sahira says that even today when older plays are aired from a channel, people tune in. Therefore, the argument that old themes do not generate advertisements does not hold true. She also dismisses the claim that serious issues cannot be entertaining, citing the example of Dhoop Kinaray, which was both serious as well as entertaining. “I believe this is the age of marketing. If you can market a formula, why can’t you market something different? It’s done the world over.”
Sahira says that now the ground is much more fertile for experimentation. It is the owners who make the decisions with no question of censorship. “My colleagues and I worked with more interruptions because there were a lot of different governments, policies and directors,” says the Sahira. “But I think if you are creative and talented, you can get away with a lot of things. But for that, Sahira feels one needs a lot of courage — something sorely lacking in most individuals these days.
Here is one director who is willing to stand against the tide and to speak the truth. She does not stoop to conquer and, in this age of commercialism, has managed to retain loyal viewers, but also set an example for those who refuse to compromise on principles.