Saji Gul is a contemporary Pakistani playwright known for his famous plays like Sanata, Iltijah and the current series O Rangreza. The presence of psychological traits and social issues always underlie his pieces of writing. Curious to know more about him and the sources for his inspirations, Social Diary caught up with the Writer…
One of the primary sources which developed my writing and began my journey as a writer is my father. He was by no means a formal storyteller but when I was a child, he would tell me stories of the Prophets before bedtime. This was the origin of my inspiration and I gradually noticed that even the Holy Text is delivered in the form of stories so that humans may better comprehend it. This really hit me. Even if you look at political or personal narratives, everywhere around the world, storytelling is prevalent and storytellers are important. Although becoming a writer was never something I wanted to formally pursue as a career, with time it was evident that writing is my forte.
Writing is something which comes naturally. Did you have any formal training for writing?
There is always a pressing question from people that can skill like painting or writing be learned and developed? Yes, you can learn the skill of creating Art but the vision for it is a gift. The vision is natural for a person and there are just some traits which are God gifted. In my case, I have had no interaction with Professional Writers. I have graduated from NCA and although there was theatre there, there were no true Writers as such or a mentor. It is through extensive reading and a personal interest in Literature which boosted my writing.
What directed you towards writing for Theatre specifically? What attracted you?
In college, I had initiated ‘Alif Adaab’ for the promotion of Urdu Literature. I read the works of Manto a lot during this phase and this way, authors and poets were my spiritual mentors- Mumtaz Mufti being a personal favorite. Also, through my experiences in theatre, my writing skills honed and I eventually wrote a series for Sarmad Khoosat after graduation. What attracted me to Theatre was the fact that back then there was no Literature Society in NCA. I also realized that when you generally talk to people about Literature, they get repulsed so I thought that if I fuse literature with theatre and use dramatic performing arts as a medium, the results will be well-received. So theatre was just a means to adapt literature and present it.
Do you remember your very first script/writing for National Television? Tell us about it.
After graduating from NCA, I did small theatre plays and I got referred to larger production houses. I wrote a series for Sarmad Khoosat titled ‘Tamasha Ghar’ which taught me how to write for television from a Director’s point of view. Before that, I was writing for Theatre and it is much different than writing for television
Most of your writings have strong underlying theories. Which sources inspire you?
My first script was for Geo Television- Tamasha Ghar, it had a deeper context. At the time no one was doing long-term plays because they be expensive and there is little profit recovered. So I started Tamasha Ghar and its concept revolved around man; his origin and the fear of self-actualization. Man is frightened of looking inside his soul and what he finds there- the realities of life. Films from Parallel cinemas and Artistic films have always intrigued me. I was also inspired by Indian films of the past which had powerful content and statements. The visions behind such concepts are clear and deliver a concise message for example. Since the beginning, I had an inclination towards Feminism so a lot of my plays are from a feminist point of view. A female protagonist expresses emotions better and as a character, a female has always appealed to me. Men, on the other hand, have a controlled philosophy towards emotions. Psychology has always been a field I naturally gravitate towards and am curious by; Sigmund Freud and Jung in particular have two theories on Personality which heavily influence the layers I create for my characters.
How do you deal with Writer’s Block?
*laughs* I hope to God that no one is ever cursed with Writer’s Block. Some people even use it as an excuse to be lazy, but whenever I face this, one way I deal with it is through music. There is an exercise I have practiced since the start- I would play music whenever I would get stuck with a plot and just let the music run free through my mind. Music has a natural rhythm which organizes your thoughts and it helps greatly to connect two scenes together. Additionally, there is a prayer supplement which always aids me. It is the same which aided Hazrat Musa when he prayed to God to help him in voicing his sentiments freely.
How has your writing evolved over the course of your career and what caused these changes?
I graduated from NCA as an artist at the age of 22; an artist is quite self-obsessed and all I could think of was to an extent are my stories connecting to the audience so this would quite unsettle me. But with time- when I worked as a Producer at PTV, I learned how to deliver my message right to the grass root level. To people whose intellectual level varies and so in this manner I learned how to alter my stories according to different audiences. I also evolved from just thinking about myself and thinking more about social and political reforms. It is the duty of an Artist to change the mindset of Society. And you will see this societal idea presented in Rangreza as well. So this is an ongoing journey and I genuinely feel my work has evolved for the better.
Pakistani Society can be quite sensitive to write for. How challenging is it to address critical issues without causing a backlash?
I feel that our society is sometimes completely indifferent to serious situations that require attention and then in other situations, they are over sensitized and react harshly. I have received backlash often for the portrayal of men in drama serial Iltija and even for Rangreza. But the thing to remember is that a drama serial isn’t a short film it is a long and gradual story which raises issues and points along the way. The Certain audience doesn’t even wait for the outcome of the issue raised and start reacting halfway through the show’s run. Additionally, Pakistan is torn between so many segments- a patriarchal section, a feminist section, a highly liberal section, a high conservation section etc. so there is always a segment of the society that gets offended without understanding context.
Other than writing, which projects have you been working on?
Contrary to common occurrence, I shifted from visuals to verbal. I have written a few ads as well as designed them. Additionally, I have worked on Children’s Programs.
The Urdu language is losing its usage and application as society continues towards Westernization. To what extent do you think this is true and how is this problem getting resolved?
This is to true to an extent. Social media has accelerated this process. The usage of Roman Urdu has increased, overlapping two languages. I think advertisement taglines have especially played a role in decreasing the popularity of Urdu. Urdu’s usage is further decreased as education modes have shifted to O and A Levels; generally, people have trouble writing in Urdu because with the language an entire culture dies out. Urdu’s image is further ruined by associating it with low-level news which’s the only aim is to create a sensation or shock value. One of the best things people like about O Rangreza is that its dialogue is old style Urdu.Children and how they are treated is one of the common themes in your stories.
What do you feel are the mistakes adults make in a child’s formative years?
My psychological development was highly influenced by my surroundings and I’ve had to deal with a lot of alienation, which would make me feel quite complex. I channel this in my stories and also as an artist, there is a child inside every artist with a curiosity level of amazement which stays persistent at a fantasy level even when you become an adult. Children genres are much neglected, there is low quality of children music and poetry nowadays.
Which recent TV Production cast and production team have you found working with to be a great experience?
I have an exceptional brotherly relation with Kashif Nisar and Mazhar Moin. I have worked with Sajal Aly twice and I am immensely impressed with the way she portrayed my characters. Saba Qamar in Sanatta, Bilal Abbas in O Rangreza and Affan Waheed are also actors who I feel have truly outdone themselves.
Name some of your favorite writers currently in the Pakistani media.
It is difficult to answer this as I feel that the story truly selects the writer as a medium and not the other way around. I really admire Amna Mufti, Zafar Miraj from current times. And from the olden times, Ashfaque Ahmed, Mumtaz Mufti, Manto and Rabindranath Tagore have been essential for my growth as a writer.
Any particular event on the sets which you are especially fond of?
My writing used to be awful back when I was working on ‘Tamasha Ghar’ so once there was a dialogue in my script which was “Tumharay Wajood mein bari barkat hai” and the Assistant accidentally interpreted it as “Tumharay Wajood mein bari harkat hai!” this was quite a funny blooper like incident.
So what’s next after ‘O Rangreza’?
Badshah Begum is my next venture and it is going to be quite a grand project!
Name something that you love?
I am obsessed with my children
Name something that you despise?
I hate ignorance and hatred.
One item you can’t live without?
As of now, my laptop
Your biggest wish?
I am blessed that as of now, whatever I have wished for has come true.
Ali pur ka aili
An endless list!
Your biggest inspiration?
Anything that hurts me
One word for the following:
Anwar Maqsood: The Greatest
Sajal Aly: Matchless
Noman Ijaz: Kudos, Noman Bhai!
Fasi Zaka: On my Facebook
Saba Qamar: Queen of media