Haseena Moin, Pakistan’s legendary and beloved playwright, dramatist and scriptwriter passed away on 26th March 2021. With her an era of hope ended. The hope of a Pakistan I would stumble upon through a secret door to a beautiful world.
I always wanted to be Haseena Moin’s heroine. They were spunky, spirited, humorous and even sarcastic. They erred, failed, rose, loved, lost and owned up to their mistakes. They weren’t perfect and didn’t care to be. They weren’t apologetic, oppressed or downtrodden. They were strong, wilful and empowered. No wonder, I wanted a bit of their gold dust. I wanted the carefree charm of Sana in Ankahi, the spunk and cheekiness of Zoya in Dhoop Kinare, the integrity of Zara in Tanhaiyaan and the bravery of Tara in Shehzori.
I’ve binge watched most of her plays in a day or two, but I can’t imagine anyone having to wait the whole week for that 8pm slot on TV before Khabarnama at 9pm and then suffer through numerous adverts in between. I could tolerate it for any other play but not her plays. It would be pure torture.
The world Haseena Moin created around these confident, bubbly young women was a better world. A world where women weren’t subjugated and persecuted by barbaric brutes or perverts. A world where every man, no matter how broody, short tempered or foolish, was a thorough gentleman. Even the supporting male cast wore three piece suits, dressing gowns or sherwanis. Their intense looks could put any mills and boons hero to shame. Their confessions were poetic, deep and measured. These men were close relatives, lovers, friends and neighbours. They were funny, intense, sweet, sad, but none of them were predators and misogynists.
Growing up, taking a lift from a harried handsome stranger, teasing and joking with a neighbour or turning up at his door in the middle of the night, arguing aggressively to prove a point with a stranger, crying on the shoulder of a random older man in a lift, expressing feelings for a colleague or friend were all a normal occurrence in her plays but were unimaginable and could lead to very harrowing consequences in my real world.
Did Haseena Moin live in this better world, created one for our entertainment or was she trying to give us a layered, between the lines message? I wanted to ask her this question but have lost this opportunity forever. Given Pakistan television’s erstwhile conservative policy to stay away from bold topics, it still didn’t explain the wholesomeness and lovability of almost every character in her plays. Very rarely did she touch upon unpleasantness. Did she never come across it? Did she always encounter men like Dr Ahmer and Dr Irfan, Uncle Urfi, Mamu and Timmy in Unkahi and Qabacha in Tanhaiyan?
For me, Haseena Moin herself was the heroine of her plays. She was independent, unmarried, probably courted and idolised, successful, graceful, professional, principled and humorous. Did unpleasantness not seep through the world she experienced? I wonder why she stopped writing later on life. Did that world shatter, did she become disillusioned with the changing world around her or was her world no longer appreciated by a television industry that ran after sensational money making gimmickry?
From her response she was passive to writing later. ‘I don’t go anywhere myself for film or television. I’ll write if I’m asked to write.’ Why didn’t television producers ask her to write? Was no new age TV producer a fan of her great work and why didn’t fans like us make more noise to request new plays from her? If we’re quite satisfied watching ‘Mere paas tum ho’, ‘Bala’, ‘Jalan’, ‘Sangat’ etc. we deserve to get the regressive content dumped on us.
Women can aspire to be like a role model but their wings are clipped by their circumstances and societal constraints. They might fight to get from point A to point C on the path to emancipation but that road is fraught with unpleasantness, threats, abuse, assault and even murder. That journey isn’t easy or pleasant. A woman can only be empowered if the very real patriarchy in Pakistan facilitates her and misogyny ceases to exist. A woman can be like Haseena Moin’s heroine if the men in Pakistan are not only like Haseena Moin’s heroes but also her supporting star cast of men. Confidence, optimism and joie de vivre aren’t genetic traits, they’re learned, imbibed and are a product of our experiences.
If the argument is that art imitates reality and we have gruesome, regressive, ‘realistic’ content to watch day and night we start accepting that as the norm. But who will show us a better world? Someone needs to light that torch to show us the way out of darkness. Till we have a Haseena Moin world, women will continue to look over their shoulder for uninvited lewdness, shrink with fear at a raised male voice, be marginalised and harassed at their workplace, adopt and promote toxic gender roles that are ingrained in our psyche through internalised misogyny, and imagine they’re empowered by the crumbs thrown at them by benevolent patriarchs when the meaning of that word was never demonstrated or explained to them. Till then, I urge you to look at her world as a guiding light. This is where we should be as a society