This article was first published in May-June 2012
Momina Duraid, CEO and Creative Director, Momina Duraid Productions, talks to Mamun M. Adil about Humsafar’s success and the resurgence of Pakistani drama.
MAMUN M. ADIL: How do you explain Humsafar’s success?
MOMINA DURAID: It was the simplicity of the play that resonated with a lot of people. Humsafar had a very powerful script. It was based on a novel written by Farhat Ishtiaq, who also adapted it for television. She wrote it with passion; we spent more than a year working on the script, and I think it was done to perfection. Everything fell into place as far as production was concerned, be it the cast, the soundtrack or the wardrobe. Although Sarmad Khoosat (the director) came in at the last minute (the person who originally was to direct it was unable to do so), he created a rare balance within the play; it wasn’t too cheesy, artsy or vulgar.
MMA: Don’t you think it was a little stereotypical?
MD: Audiences seem to want stereotypes. The challenge is to make a stereotypical story appear beautiful on screen, to keep people glued to it and give it finesse and make it modern. That said, the play was a hit before the stereotypical saas-bahu theme emerged. I think the simple romance between the husband and wife was not stereotypical at all, but rather mellow and endearing, which is why it appealed to audiences.
MMA: What were the challenges of adapting the play from a novel?
MD: Although the novel was written in a past and present format, the screenplay had to be linear and this was the main challenge. We also changed Mahira’s character. In the novel, she never fought back and remained docile until the very end. We made her a stronger character in the play. Farhat was happy to do this, while keeping the flavour of the book, without compromising its essence.
MMA: Given the response to Humsafar, is Pakistani drama set to make a comeback?
MD: When Hum TV was launched the vision was to revive the old Pakistani drama tradition and not emulate Indian dramas, and gradually it did. But let me tell you, we should make trends and then break trends, because if you don’t, you are stuck in a rut. It is unfortunate that people in the industry only want to replicate successful dramas. These days, everyone wants another Humsafar. I tell my people to move on to something different, yet I am seeing trailers for dramas very similar to Humsafar already.
MMA: What sort of dramas have you produced recently?
MD: In 2010, we did Dastaan, which is very close to my heart. Everyone said that it would be a waste of time to produce a play about Partition because nobody would watch it. However, it struck me that just because a few plays based on Partition flopped in the last 15 years, it doesn’t mean that nobody should try to produce another one. The play was a big hit and now some schools want to make it part of their curriculum. Maat too is doing very well; it is about two sisters, with very black-and-white characters, and the fight between good and evil. Sanjha is about women trafficking. It was very difficult to execute because it centred on a girl who comes to the city from a village and starts working in a brothel; the kotha we showed was not at all glamorous; it was very stark and the play made one empathise with the girl’s pain and misery. The challenge was to get the message across without being vulgar.
MMA: Are dramas becoming racier?
MD: Just because you are tackling a bold subject it doesn’t mean that it has to be vulgar; there were many rape scenes in Dastaan, but there is a way of doing such things tastefully though symbolism. It’s like how news channels air their bulletins – they either just air news, or make it a sizzler. Plays should cater to families and should not be vulgar, given that 80% of the population have access to only one television set.
MMA: Have production houses benefitted from the renewed interest in dramas?
MD: Profit margins have decreased, because although the demand for dramas has increased, actors, writers and directors are overworked and charge more. This is especially true for actors, as not a lot of new ones are being discovered. Production costs have also increased, but the price of software hasn’t as much. Production houses are trying to bridge this gap by increasing the number of episodes.
MMA: How do you determine what kinds of dramas you produce?
MD: The internet, social media, ratings and our own focus groups give us an idea of how well a play does and this gives us some direction. However, personally I choose the type of dramas that I feel deserve to be produced. There are some plays you produce for the integrity of the channel and not for the ratings, as they are image builders. Then there are those that are done for the ratings and these are purely commercial and then there are those aimed at specific audience segments. So every quarter, we have a healthy mix of these.
MMA: How would you categorise the plays you have produced?
MD: Humsafar and Mera Naseeb were commercial projects; Dastaan was an image builder.
MMA: How has the increasing popularity of Pakistani dramas affected advertising?
MD: It’s amazing how many advertisers want to do product placement; they have realised that more people are watching dramas than movies and see what a strong medium television is. Product placement can be done subtly; it is ideal for household and food products, mobile phones and cars.
MMA: What do you think is in store for production houses in the next few years?
MD: Profit margins will decrease in the next two years, but quality will improve despite the lack of writers and directors, because of the demand and competition. One drawback will be that there will also be more trashy programmes because they may get higher ratings.
Mamun M. Adil is Assistant Manager, BD&R, The Dawn Media Group.