Amin Iqbal is among the creative and talented directors who focus on their work and do not come into limelight often. His play Wabaal starring Sarah Khan is currently being aired on Hum TV every Saturday. His debut film as director Rehbra, a rom-com starring Ayesha Omar and Ahsan Khan in lead roles was released in the mid of this. Well, I actually had to force this immensely talented yet still so humble and down-to-earth person to talk to The Brown Identity. We met at the sets of Wabaal in a break from shooting. Once he was on board, he elaborately spoke about his projects and the overall situation of the drama and film industry.
You switched to film (Rehbra) from drama and after the film – on the sets of drama (Wabaal) again. How is it difficult working in both mediums simultaneously?
Both meums have different story telling. Drama has a unique scenario in Pakistan. It is actually a bit difficult and challenging to produce drama as people have a lot of choices these days. Hence, you have to be very careful about the content and pace of the serial. We come across a new task every day. Accepting them and accomplishing them is an interesting experience. And if you have done the job accordingly, it is a big achievement. In films, you have a lot of time for pre-production like its designing and visioning.
Tell us little about your on-going play Wabaal?
I believe Wabaal is a story that has a lesson or message to the audience. If we get the script like this, we as director can also fill in our colours and make it a different storyline. Wabaal is actually highlighting some specific issues, which have given me a chance to get into the skin of society, and to tell people what effects they are carrying. Let’s see how successful we are in our efforts.
Do you agree that our drama has become monotonous subject wise?
The reason why our drama has become monotonous as it is circling around only two to three subjects. I don’t know why. I have been doing dramas for years. It is our bread and butter. So after doing many challenging projects you have to work on a script which is quite run of the mill. It also depends on the mind sets of channels’ establishment as many times they can’t opt a subject because of certain limitations of our society.
So what do you think are the reasons for this stagnation?
I think we don’t have a strong supply line of writers, directors and actors like the rest of the world and have been dependent on the same fraternity for the last 20 years. Channels are bound to trust those people because they have to fill their different slots. So all these things combined with competition and marketing and at the same time, to overcome the complex with the rest of the world, which is going far ahead of us, has made drama production a tough job. We don’t have a direction to go nor are we willing to make one. We still find some fire among us, but it is put off after a few days when not getting proper oxygen. Now our drama industry is like – shooting all day to have one warm meal in the evening, then starting it again the next day to get another one.
So what do you think is the solution to change the course of our drama in a more progressive way?
The only solution to get out of this stagnation is to think and discuss on new lines. We, who belong to the drama industry, are already trying internally to take our drama out from this static position. We are putting our efforts little by little. Parizaad is an example. Recently Bakhtawar is being admired by viewers. But when we talk about difference, I think it is a very cliché term. It’s actually your presentation and setup which makes things different. Here I give you the example of the film Titanic – a pure love story but in a different setup. Another one is Avatar, an age old love tale but in a completely unique style. Unfortunately in Pakistan, the production cost is so high that we are unable to even think about a different setup. Like if I was producing Wabaal in some other society more acceptable to new things, I would definitely have created it with my own vision – making it entirely different on screen. My idea of doing this script might be setting up a neighbourhood or locality but again it needs a huge budget. Producers always think that they are not earning according to what they are spending. There are few crazy like us who are taking it as an art. So the financers would only put the amount about where they are sure enough to get in return something profitable.
Do you think that our young generation of writers and directors are coming up with new ideas?
The stuff from new and young writers is mostly being taken or filled in by OTT platforms for their Web series. Actually they are dark stories, which we have started calling different. To me, they are just those things, which we can’t show on our mainstream media. I remember the time when wine and prostitutes were banned on PTV. Then things changed when the era of private channels started and the first private sector television drama on prostitute was made on Umrao Jan Ada in which characters were also shown having hard drinks. So to allow something to be screened, which was banned before due to some reasons, doesn’t make it different.
To me, change is actually the innovation in technique, storytelling and screenplay, which is happening all over the world. Like recently, Korean dramas have captivated the attention of our youngsters. Koreans are relatively new in the drama industry but what makes them unique is their execution. Their stories are the same but angling is different.
What is actually the drama for you?
Ashfaque Ahmed once told me that the published news in paper cannot be a drama. But here, we have started making dramas on real time news; taking our characters from them, producing autobiographies on personalities, who have been in news for a long time. These ideas may get a bit hit on social media but not actually get out from the skin of our society.
Why did people like Parizaad because it was a story that took its threads from the fabric of our own society. It was very much from the soil where we human beings live. These stories always touch viewers’ hearts as they relate to it.
You talked about the Ashfaque Ahmed drama. There was a time when we used to have 13 episodes. Where is it now?
It has gone long ago. Actually in this competition, where lots of content is available, viewers sometimes notice a drama after six to seven episodes. So if we make a drama with only 13 episodes, many dramas will go unnoticed at all in the case if people only start watching them after half of the story has been aired already. Now, we can’t go back to that format otherwise, financers would back off and advertisers would not be interested. PTV was a state owned channel and when the government wanted to propagate a certain agenda, they used to make dramas on them. So when private channels came and competition started, a business model of 26- episodes serial was introduced. It makes you sustainable in the market.
Many channels including Hum TV have started six-episode mini serials. What do you think about that model?
Actually these days, people are focusing more on digital media because of the rise in individual viewing. Times are gone, when we used to watch drama with the whole family. Now, we prefer to watch it in our space. This individual viewing has taken us to OTT platforms and we have become addicted to it. OTT has different content, which cannot weaken the television shows. Both platforms have their own relevance and viewership. OTT has its own language and the television shows, which directly come to your homes, have their own loyal audience.
After Rehbra, are you working on the next film?
Absolutely! We directors actually dream of making a film one day. For me film is like inhaling and exhaling oxygen. So there is no compromise on films. But in Pakistan, there are a lot of hurdles for a filmmaker, which I would definitely tell you in some other interview.
I might do my next film outside Pakistan for foreign market. We are negotiating on this. The size of our cinema industry and its business model in Pakistan are not enough to make any film a success. In fact films are made to do business and if they are not earning well, investors or financers would not be interested to produce them. Moreover, in Pakistan, most of the producer’s profit in Pakistan is taken by distributors and exhibitors, then why one should waste time and finances on films.