Writer Umera Ahmed talks about a progressive Pakistan, its women and finding stories from daily life.
Your dramas, Maat, Zindagi Gulzar Hai and Behadd , which showed in India, focused on man-woman relationships. Is that a deliberate choice?
Man-woman relationships naturally intrigue me. I’ve been engaging with it ever since I started writing, 15 years ago. The intricacies, the problems, the trials and tribulations in relationships inspire me to give words to people’s journeys.
What motivates you as a writer?
Life. It’s the primary motivator as there is a story everywhere. My roots play a huge part too. I come from the small town of Sialkot in Pakistan. During pre-Partition, this town had the highest literacy rate among women. It was the city of poet Iqbal, and now people say it’s the city of Umera. My drive also comes from the creative freedom and opportunities I get in my field where women like Haseena Moin (well-known playwright and dramatist) rule.
Which characters from the serials describe you the best?
According to my friends, it’s Kashaf Murtaza from Zindagi Gulzar Hai. I am traditional in my appearance like her; strong, dedicated and committed too, but I am not ungrateful or bitter like her. Like her, I am unromantic whereas my husband is exactly like Zaroon, who is in Civil Services; he is romantic and more expressive, though in real life, my husband has never read or seen my work.
What about the men in your stories?
Is it a challenge to not be biased towards women?
I don’t pander to the Mills & Boon romance. Having said that, male characters are pivotal, but have to be real too. For instance, Zaroon is every bit a man — chauvinist, good looking and intelligent. But when he meets a woman, who challenges and changes him, there is friction as it is not easy for a man to keep his ego aside, accept and change.
Has your work changed perceptions people have about Pakistan?
The Pakistani woman’s image internationally is perceived to be regressive, which is not true. Hamari khawateen ka rehen-sehan azaad hai. Second marriages are looked down upon and a man has to give explanations for it.
Are there lessons for Indian television programmers to learn from Pakistan TV dramas?
While we are catering to two different markets, for us content is king. In Indian dramas, emphasis is on costume, glamour and locations. Take these out of the equation, and there is nothing to get hooked on to.
Will you be working on any projects in India?
I don’t write constantly; it’s two serials and a novel a year. Right now, I am writing my first Urdu feature film. As for India, I would be willing to work, but the demand for 100-plus episodes scares me. If a channel has the courage to do a 20-episode show, then I