Interview by: Muhammad Ali
Few writers have the ability to write with perfection in multiple genres. For Pakistanis, such a writer is undoubtedly Farhat Ishtiaq, whose command over various topics tells that she does not hold a parochial approach towards life, but keenly observes all kinds of happenings around her. She started with romances, shifted to social issues and has recently added a mystery to her name as well, turning all of them into blockbusters with her intriguing plots, rich characters and strong dialogues. We caught up with the novelist, dramatist and film-writer and asked her some questions, which are as follows:
Tell us something about your educational background. How did you enter the field of writing and why did you decide to switch towards screen-writing from novel-writing?
Basically, I am a civil engineer with a degree in the field from NED University, Karachi. Although I always loved to read and write, I had never thought of adopting writing as my profession. One day, while I was in my last year of university, I saw an advertisement of a story-writing competition in a digest and sent one of my pieces. Fortunately, it got published the very next month. This gave me a lot of encouragement and I continued to write while also pursuing my job as a civil engineer. My writings that were being published started getting appreciation and I gradually began to lose interest in the field of engineering. Maybe it was because Allah had already chosen the profession of writing for me. My increasing interest in it inclined me to leave my job after two to three years and I shifted my entire focus to novel-writing. I did take up jobs but the ones related to my passion, such as teaching. As far as switching to screen-writing is concerned, I was offered to dramatize my novel “Humsafar” for television. I did it, and it was destined to be a block-buster. There was no going back after that, but honestly speaking, I miss novel-writing a lot. It will always remain my first love and there are so many stories which I wish to write in the form of novels. I pray to Allah to provide me enough time for penning down a novel again, for it’s been quite long.
You have written romances like “Humsafar” and “Mata e Jaan”, issue-based serials such as “Udaari” and “Yaqeen Ka Safar” and your currently running project is a murder mystery. What is your personal favourite genre from all of these?
Whatever I write, I write it with extreme love and care, but I prefer the genre of romance. It becomes all the more favourite if it’s a romantic thriller. Romance attracts me a lot, and to me, it does not simply involve a love relation between a man and a woman. A love relationship can be formed with your parents, your country and even your religion. Romance is a vast term, also having a margin to incorporate an idealistic notion which you have for the world you live in.
Your very first serial “Humsafar” gained immense popularity. Did you feel a burden while writing your proceeding serials that you have to write as much good as before?
Definitely! But I would like to term it as “responsibility” instead of “burden”, as people start expecting a lot from you. Your competition begins with your own self because one piece of yours is compared to another piece of yours. And you definitely want to fulfill the expectations of all those people who love you and your work.
Which romantic story do you personally like from “Humsafar”, “Mata e Jaan” and “Bin Roye”?
I love “Mata e Jaan Hai Tu” as a novel. I believe that I succeeded in writing that novel in an extremely beautiful manner, with all of my emotions involved. Talking about dramatization, “Humsafar” will remain on the top.
Do you decide who is going to be your hero or heroine or does it all depend on the director? Did it ever happen that you were not consulted before choosing the cast and you got disappointed in the execution of your script?
The cast is decided after mutual consultation. Since I have mostly worked with MD Productions, Momina Duraid is always there to discuss it. The director also gets involved if he or she is already on board. So, three people, the writer, the director and the producer decide who is going to play which character, as a result of which I cannot say that I had been left disappointed at a certain point in time. I have always been satisfied. However, it can be said that the audience might not have liked a certain set of actors. We can never know what they like and what they do not like. On personal levels, my team and I have always given our best.
“Yeh Dil Mera” is a mystery drama. How did you come across this idea and what is the most difficult task while writing a mystery?
I love the genre of mystery. I personally enjoy reading and watching such stuff and I had always wanted to write something similar. I would really like to thank Momina Duraid for taking this courageous step and allowing this off-beat project to go on air while knowing that such dramas are neither made nor accepted easily in Pakistan, especially on screen. She still allowed me to write the story and work on it the way I wanted to. But yes, writing in this genre is an extremely difficult job. The biggest task is that you have to keep your story unpredictable. The viewers should never be given easy clues, otherwise your mystery will be killed. You have to create a situation which is opposite to what your viewers are expecting. The writer has the responsibility of acting as more intelligent than the viewer, which is quite a burden. All the same, these difficulties make you brave enough to walk the untrodden paths and also encourage other writers to avoid formula stories and present something unique.
Are you the only writer in your family or are there others as well who write?
Yes, I am the only writer in my family. Even in my distant relatives, no-one writes. There are doctors, engineers, lawyers but no writer. However, they do love to read and have been admiring me from the times when I used to write only novels.
You have also written films for the Pakistani film industry. Some viewers believe that Pakistani movies are like Pakistani dramas. Why do you think they say this and what is the solution?
Our film industry remained dormant for so long. It is after many years that it has started taking steps towards revival, and it will definitely take time to reach the caliber of international cinema. However, what is appreciable is that even during these baby steps, the industry has succeeded in producing hits like “Parwaz Hai Junoon”. It is a great achievement for us on a personal level, since we are not in a position to compare our work with the international film-makers yet. But yes, it does not mean that we stop here. We still have to work a lot and reach the caliber of those film industries which have been active for hundreds of years. As a writer, I also feel that I along-with other writers need to have a better understanding of how film-writing works and what makes it different from television writing. In other aspects of film-making as well, we need to grow professionally.
Our dramas are appreciated across the border as well. What do you think sets Pakistani dramas apart from Indian dramas?
Our television drama, no doubt, is very strong in terms of acting, writing, direction and production. What sets us apart from others, especially Indians is that we are now exploring new themes. We are gradually trying to move out of saas-bahu stories, something which people across the border have not been able to do yet. In comparison to them, our content is very unique, and has been so from the times of “Tanhiayaan”, “Dhoop Kinare”, “Waris” and “Ankahi”. Our artists also perform in a natural way. They don’t over-do stuff and keep things as much realistic as possible. Our dramas’ popularity outside Pakistan also stems from the cultural values they have in them, which makes it easy for families to watch them together while sitting in their lounges.
What message would you like to give to aspiring young writers?
Reading comes foremost if you wish to be a writer. Read all kinds of books. If you are into screen-writing, observe what is happening around the world in the field and learn the techniques. Secondly, writing is a continuous process. You have to exercise it daily. If you don’t write for months and revert to it after long, you will face a lot of difficulty making yourself comfortable with your pen. If God has blessed you with the talent of writing, polish it on a daily basis.
At what time of the day do you usually write and for how long?
Early morning hours are always very productive for me. I write with a good flow if I start earlier and then keep writing for hours and hours. Evenings and nights do not suit me when it comes to writing, I believe.
Have you written your dream project or not?
No, I haven’t written my dream project, although there are so many subjects which I wish to address. I also have this desire to write a period play. A lot of taboos need to be touched upon as well but I don’t think it’s the right time. I am not fully satisfied with my writing yet, and a lot of other factors come into play, for instance, the ability in your audience to accept the dark aspects of your society. So, my dream project will probably take some time.
Tell us about your upcoming projects?
I am dramatizing my novel “Jo Bache Hain Sang Samait Lo” for MD Productions. Its lengthy story and a wide range of characters will make it a huge project. It will be shot in countries outside Pakistan as well, such as Italy and the US.