As a student I remember being told over and over again that writing is akin to a mirror that does not and will not lie, and for writing to leave an impact, to have the ability to move the reader, it has to come from a place of honesty and integrity. There are many who write, but what separates a true writer from the multitudes is the courage to tell the truth. It is this willingness and fortitude – to open one’s self up to societal scrutiny, invite public criticism, and stand up against the mainstream – that makes a writer an artist and differentiates his writings from the rest of the herd.
We, here at DRNR, have appreciated and enjoyed Bee Gul’s body of work; her writings have made us think like few others have in recent times. To say that her stories are relatable and real and that Bee Gul is a keen observer of human nature would be an understatement. Hence going by the definition above, there is no doubt that Bee Gul is a writer, an artist, in the truest sense of the word. But would she be equally forthcoming when responding to our questions or would her answers be politically correct and circumspect? These and other such questions were going through my mind when I sent her our questions.
As you will see from her answers below, my fears were unfounded. Going back to the idea of writing being reflective of the writer, much like the characters she creates, Bee Gul’s responses are those of someone not afraid to speak her mind, someone unwilling to play safe and respond with polite niceties while sidestepping some of our blunt, and at times harsh questions. Mind you though, its not all dry and boring stuff, also shining through these responses is the very real, warm and fun side of Bee Gul the thinker.
I know you are all anxious to get to the interview so I’ll wind up. Magar as you all know my poetic abilities are woefully limited (and after having read Bee Gul’s selection from the masters I will not even bother looking through my very limited repertoire of truck poetry), so I don’t have an elegant way of thanking Bee Gul. I am hoping, however, that you all will join me in applauding Bee Gul for taking the time out to respond to our questions, and allowing us he opportunity to get to know the very real and warm person behind the formidable persona of Bee Gul the intellectual and writer. Thank you, Bee Gul – much appreciated!
…. Aur ab yeh rahe hamarey sawal aur Bee Gul ke jawab!
Written by SZ~
Why did u write Zid, I mean what was the purpose? Don’t you think it had kind of incomplete ending?
I wrote Zid many years ago much before Talkhiyan and Pehchan. The script was a dictation by the director. I did it as it was the first serial I was writing for television. Unlike Talkhiyan and Pehchan I was not given the freedom to write what and the way I wanted to write but broadly the idea was about a girl who did not believe in the marriage for the sake of marriage. Maybe it had an incomplete ending but I am not entirely against incomplete endings as the life goes on and the situations keep on changing.
What do think is the prime reason for the current plight of our industry (channel owners, weak script, direction, production or untalented actors)?
Commercialization, TRPs, marketing personnel’s subservience to advertising, and general decline of cultural and educational standards; also with the proliferation of channels and large increase in the quantity of production the industry got infested by people who did not really belong to this discipline, they only came in because it became lucrative.
Are you working on any new project?
Yes, I have just finished a serial which is in production pipeline.
Woh kaunsi kahaniyan hain jin se judne ki apki khwahish hai? Ke agar main woh ki hoti tau shayad behtar hoti?
Bohot si aisi kahaniyaan damagh mey ghoomti hein jin ki aaj ki market mein bananey ki koi gunjaish nazer nahi aati… Ankita ji: hazaron khawishein aisi keh her khawhish pey dum niklay
Do you think Pakistani television should be open to more diverse characters and plays?
Yes, most definitely so … kuch aur chahyee wus’at merey biyaan ki….
I didn’t watch Talkhiyan or Pehchan but I watched Zid and unlike a lot of viewers, I really liked it. My question is: Did your script come to life on the screen the way you had penned it, or did you feel it didn’t translate well on the screen (and maybe that’s why it didn’t resonate with the viewers)? I felt it was the latter (maybe a wrong choice of director). But I would love to hear your thoughts on this.
Thank you for appreciating Zid. Each director has his own way of execution; in Talkhiyan and Pehchan I was closely associated with the production so yes Talkhiyaan and Pehchan were closer to my vision.
At times, I felt Pehchan and Zid were giving completely opposite messages. I read Pehchan’s reviews and the take-home message I got was that there is a life beyond marriage. In Zid, Zee says the complete opposite to Saman – something on the lines of saari izzat shohar ki wajah say hai. How do you reconcile these two conflicting messages for the viewers?
That was certainly not the message of my script, maybe it was about some dialogues that Zee spoke under the compulsion of that moment.
I personally enjoyed watching Zid and my question is if we came across main characters of Pehchan and Zid in real life, which women would we call successful?
For me Kuku and Laila were the successful women as they carved their own paths and became independent financially and socially.
Loved Pehchan and Talkhiyan, but Zid was (sorry to say) a meaningless story.. No matter how much I tried, nothing there made sense to me. Please avoid writing for commercial reasons, because aisa likhnay walay bohot hain, magar jo aap kar sakti hain woh bohot kam log kar saktay hain. Did you write Zid yourself, for a change, or were you requested to write something to be made in America?
I wrote it for bread and butter… jo main likh sakti houn aur likhna chahti houn uski gunjaish kam sey kam hoti ja rehi hai.
I am awestruck when I watch your brilliantly written plays. They give me so much to ponder on, or at least I tend to use my brain (which has became so rare) in getting the hidden meaning behind words. Aapke liye yahi aata hai zehen main ke: darya ko kooze me band karne ka fun aata hai aapko .. I would like to ask what type of difficulties (if any) did you face while adapting the story for Talkhiyan,Because the way you adapted was magnificent.
Thank you very much for your appreciation. Ajji tareef kerna bhi koi aap sey seekhay 🙂 Adapting God of Small Things had been a dream project for me for a long time. When I proposed the idea to my director he said it was not possible to produce such a story in the prevailing television scenario. My producers Raziuddin Ahmed and Seema Razi were brave enough to give me the go ahead. I was over joyed and gave it my heart and soul.
Do you think besides the story , screenplays should also be done by the writers as well, as it then becomes more meaningful from writer’s point of view?
I have always been writing the screen play myself, some directors like to follow it and some don’t. Few of them actually discouraged me from writing a detailed screenplay. Khalid Ahmed is an exception. He understands, appreciates and has the ability to execute it. The absence of screenplay blocks my creativity and imagination. I think television like film is a visual medium and the screenplay is as important as the dialogues are.
I recently watched Kaun Qamar Aara and Pheeky Theek Kehta Hai… Firdous ki Dozakh I have watched twice and absolutely love it. These three telefilms were just too good. What do you enjoy more, writing telefilms or dramas?
Film is my favourite genre and the telefilms come closest to it so I thoroughly enjoy writing a telefilm; while writing serials I often get this sudden craving to write telefilms but unfortunately the demand for telefilms is becoming less and less.
Pehchan gave me a great sense of individual identity mixed with the true colors of traditional values..How hard was it to write Kuku and not make her a hated character. It was a very complex character, and have to say the director and actor did great justice to that role.
It is never hard to pen down any character, its not a struggle they just come to me naturally but this happens only where I’m given full freedom to write as in Talkhiyan and Pehchan. Khalid Ahmed did a brilliant job as he has the sensibility to understand the very human side of Kuku. Iffat Omar is a passionate actor and she was fabulous as Kuku. Both of them really worked hard on Kuku’s character.
I strongly believe the director couldn’t do justice to Zid. After this do you think you will continue with commercial plays but with someone who can do justice to your writings. I simply loved the last lines of last scene of Zid … they had Bee Gul written all over them.
I am open to working with all good directors in the industry. Thank you for loving my lines. This appreciation and love keeps me going.
Can we expect something coming from you and Khalid Ahmed again in near future?
Nothing on the horizon yet but I am keeping my fingers crossed…please keep praying 🙂 as working with Khalid Ahmed is like a dream come true.
Bee Gul, I am a huge admirer of your plays. The first one was Talkhiyan and I wanted to watch it because it was based on The God of Small things – a book that both my mom and I really like. I loved watching the book unfolding into all those beautiful scenes on screen. Would you do more novel based plays in the future? Please do, that would be really wonderful.
I would love to do so and I want to do many more novels only if I’m given a chance to do that. Thank you for admiring my work 🙂
I’ve noticed the perfect use of poetry in your plays, especially Pechan – this was the play that made me really wish I could somehow interact with you because it made me really think. How do you come up with the poems, shairi? Really liked the poem in the OST of Talkhiyan!
I am deeply associated with poetry and it has always closely influenced my life and writing; no wonder it finds its way into my scripts. Talkhiyan’s OST was a Sahir Ludhianvi poem.
Did you always want to be a writer and write screenplays? What or who inspires you to write?
I think writing has always been in my veins, I have always found myself writing something or the other if nothing else a personal diary. Coincidences landed me into screenplay writing.
How involved are you in the casting process and direction? Who would you like to work in the future-the artists/actors and directors in your wishlist?
I do get involve in the casting process when my producer and director wish me to do so. If not I stay away (although I don’t like it!). Directors: Abbas Korastami, Satyajit Ray, Sarmad Khoosat (as an actor, director both), Mehreen Jabbar, Khalid Ahmed (always). Actors: Hina Bayat, Shamim Hilali, Iffat Omar, Faisal Qureshi, Sanam Saeed. Tabu, Vidya Balan, Irfan Khan, Naseerudin Shah, Shabana Azmi, Meryl Streep, and the wish list goes on… I don’t know where to put the full stop and end to it 🙂
You and Khalid Ahmed make a dynamic writer-director pair and you also worked as an assistant director, so would you like to direct as a full time job?
Not really, I would prefer to continue to be a writer. I worked with Khalid Ahmed upon his insistence.
Do you think making it big in the commercial plays is important? I hope you write a play next that is artsy and also gets aired on a popular channel. Would you write for a movie?
Yes, if you have to earn money to buy yourself a luxurious life 🙂 I hope it too yaar… a popular channel airing an artsy play!!! hain khawab mey hunooz jo jagay hein khawab se 🙂 Movie!! yes yes yes..!
Two brilliant long plays that made me think- Kaun Qamar Ara and Firdous Ki Dozakh. How did you come up with the idea for these? How much thought goes into developing each character?
I really don’t know how I came up with those ideas… the stories just happened… not a single thought goes into developing any character… trust me it comes naturally with a flow. I usually don’t get indulged into some sort of a deep thinking process or maybe I do and I am not aware of it.
You always portray women who undergo a transition from being weaker to strong independent women- what motivates you to write these kind of stories?
My own life and the lives of other women around me inspire and motivate me to write these kinds of stories.
Do you write from your life experiences?
Yes, consciously and unconsciously both!
How much struggle did you have to go through to come to the stage you are now? Do you have any advice for budding writers?
I am a struggling, budding writer myself… Hoping to bloom and prosper 🙂
As a writer, one must read a lot as well… so, how much of a book nerd are you? Who are your favorite authors and favorite books? Any recent reads?
Yes, I have always been a book lover. There is a long list of favorite writers, poets and books. Ismat Chughtai, Munshi Premchand, Manto, Ghulam Abbas, Khadija Mastoor, Isabelle Allande, Garcia Marquez, Qurat-ul Ain Haider, Thomas Hardy, Shams-ur Rehman Farooqi… the list is endless. I am reading D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love these days.
Bee Gul ji I am a big fan of your dramas , watching your wonderfully written plays make me think so much in depth. And after watching both Tallkhiya and Pehchan I understood the deep meaning. They both are so close to my heart. Thanks again.
What would like to say about the Indian writer Vishal Bhardwaj and Gulzar ji ?
I am a great admirer of both of them; they are amazing artists. I wish Gulzar sahib could make more movies.
OMG! I can’t believe I am getting the chance to tell you how much I love you work. Talkhiyan and Pehchan are my two personal favorites; after watching these masterpieces I can’t bring myself to watch the stuff on TV these days. You have set the standard so high. I’m a guy not a girl and boys normally don’t like these kind of serials but you won’t believe I’m m watching them again online. They take me to some other world. I will always remember Sanam as bibi, Hina as Apo ji, Alishba as Laila and Iffat Omer as Kuku. Such is the power of your writing and amazing direction by Khalid Ahmed. What can I say about Zoyi and Jugnu. Please bring Zoyi back to screen, I really wanna see her lil more grown up. And pleeeeeez work with my favorite actresses Sanam and Iffat Omer again in some other masterpiece. I am dying to see them in your project with Khalid Ahmed. When r u coming up with your new project ? 🙂
Oh my god I am so so flattered. I am also dying to work with all these wonderful artists again… pleaaaaseeeeeeee ask the channel walas to let us make you another masterpiece!
How do you write – I mean, do you systematically set aside some time every day to write?
Yes, I take my writing very seriously and organize myself to get 4 to 6 hours of writing to be done everyday. I am an early riser so I get to my desk quite early in the morning.
What do you do when you hit a creative block?
Happily it has never happened to me… I guess I am not creative enough to get a creative block. 🙂
Do you discuss what you are writing with someone (like a friend or family)? Do you show them drafts of your work or do you just carry on writing until you finish?
I always share and discuss my writing with Khalid Ahmed, he is my mentor. Faseeh Bari Khan is another person who inspires me to write.
- Shamim Hasan
Do you believe there is a true love or all are fatal attractions?
I believe every attraction, relationship, call it true love, comes with an expiry date.
What are your strengths and limitations when you pen a script?
Strength the ability to write a screenplay, my limitation TRPs.
Do you think writing is a passion or a labor of love?
It is both labor and passion, the strength to labor is sustained by passion.
A particular character from you plays which was most difficult to write and was difficult to execute on screen in the way that you conceived?
Would you like to write about a single, independent female or females who are not dependent on men for their zindagi ki khushiyan?
Last but not the least why do you deprive us from not playing at least one raag and raagini in your plays, its like pushing us away from quenching our thirst?
The choice of music lies with the director.
Bee Gul, I loved Talkhiyan and Pehchan was really quite special for me. I absolutely loved the discussions we had here on Pehchan thread, exploring its sub-text and its strong connection to real life… I particularly enjoy your take on women in our society, women with some real substance – somebody a modern day woman can relate to. Love your almost-artsy yet not-out-of-this-world approach… I really hope we get to see more of that brilliance on screen. I loved how you played with the notion of mazboot vs kamzor aurat in Pehchan. I thought that was sheer brilliance. What inspired you?
My life. I think Pehchan is a reflection of my own life and of many other women around me.
I would love to hear your take on Zid we saw on screen. To be honest, I could see your hallmark peeking through every now and then, but then there was rest of it that didn’t make much sense or connection, as if it had nothing to do with you or the rest of the story. Seemed a bit lost.. Would love to hear from you where and how did the original Zid differ from the Zid we saw on screen? If and what you thought went wrong? If it was all in your hand what would you have done differently?
Zid was my first project for television and it was a commercial project and was written under the closed instruction of the producer/director. I wanted to write about a girl who did not want to get married for the sake of marrying and who could not resist speaking the truth and hated being lied to, and therefore she wasn’t accepted and was called ziddi.
If you were given complete freedom in choice of subjects for a serial, what kind of story would you choose?
I am a great fan of Iranian cinema, I am very much inspired and impressed by their cinematic imagination, depth and simplicity, and if given a complete freedom I will love to write on those lines. There is no single story that I can mention but there are so many ideas, novels and so many personal stories that I would like to bring to the screen.
As a viewer what kind of stories do you enjoy watching?
Slow paced, artsy, non commercial, sincere, truthful, zero TRPs (extremely important), dragging, glamourless, realistic, hard hitting, true to the times, tasteful, aesthetically beautiful yet simple… kuch na samjhay khuda karey koyi
Any TV serial you enjoyed watching recently?
Who is your all-time favorite character (from your plays)? Why?
Bibi, Kuku, Appo and little Zoyi of course. Can’t answer why… love is blind 🙂
Your adaptation for The God Of Small Things was fab. If there was one more adaptation you could do which one would that be?
Aangan by Khadija Mastoor.
If you were to write screenplay for a remake or a sequel of any TV serial (recent or classics) what will you choose? and why?
I would like to do a sequel of Pehchan to see where the men and women of Pehchan went in their lives (don’t you think I am very much self obsessed 🙂 ).
Your dream project?
I really hope and wish we get to see that whatever it is 🙂 My dream project is to write a feature film. I have many ideas up my sleeve, please ask your rich investors/producers friends to contact me through Her Excellency The SZ 🙂
Could you tell us a little bit about your early influences, how you first got interested in Urdu literature? Was your family into reading, any writers in the family, did they guide you as to what you should read, were you encouraged to write?
I was born in the family of educationists, and was raised by my grandmother who was deeply into reading and literature. My mother is a short story writer.i was brought up on Urdu poetry and prose then I went to do my masters in English literature which gave me a western exposure, I graduated in French that too opened up new vistas. In sab k bawajood creativity k liye jis jahalet aur jurat ki zarurat hoti hey who badastoor qayem rahi.
Aatay hein gha’ib sey ye mazameen khayal mein
Ghalib, sareer-e khama nawa-e sarosh hain
The women in your stories do not shy away from questioning longstanding societal norms and challenging the status quo. Non-conformists they might be, but no matter how badtameez, rebellious, or immoral these women are perceived to be, their personal moral compass remains pointed in the right direction. They don’t go looking for trouble, but if they do get into trouble they find the strength within themselves to stand up for what they believe to be right. In many ways this admittedly very clunky description can also be used to describe Ismat Chughtai’s women. How inspired and influenced, or not, are you by her work?
At least this much these women have to be because this is the first step towards liberation. I am smitten by Ismat Chughtai, her courage, her insight and her subversiveness blows my mind. The way she has depicted middle class hypocrisies is matchless. The command she has on language makes me envious.
Balaaye jaan hai Ghalib uski her baat
Ibaret kiya, isharet kiya, adaa kiya
By the same token, how influenced are you by the ideas and ideals of the Progressive Writers Movement. Had you been around in their heyday would you have counted yourself as a card carrying member?
I am an ardent admirer of Munshi Premchand who is said to be the father of the Progressive Writers Movement. The first Urdu novel that I ever read was maidan-e amal by Munshi Premchand. For myself, while continuing to write in their vein I would have refrained from labeling myself under a defined banner.
If you were to write a sequel to Pehchan, say ten years after the fact, where would we find Kuku, Laila, Mansoor, Mrs Khan, Sa’di, Khurram, and what would they be doing?
I don’t know … let’s find out!
Films are the big thing in the Pakistani media industry now, have you been approached to write one?
Yes, I have been approached by a couple of producers/directors but their vision did not match with my own. I am yet to see a really good film coming out of the recent reemergence of cinema in Pakistan.
Were you to write a film, how significantly different, or not, would it be from the kinds of stories you have written for TV so far?
I would like to write a film which is not a wannabe Bollywood or Hollywood but emerges from the tradition of our own writing and television history, something very different from the rest of the world with its own identity like the Iranian cinema.
Have you been approached by Bollywood filmmakers to write for them?
Not really although there have been one or two preliminary discussions.
If you had a choice which Indian director would you like to collaborate with?
Vishal Bhardwaj, Pankaj Kapoor, Mira Nair, Amir Khan.. there are so many of them, the less known ones .. I don’t even know their names.
Given the amount of effort that went into Talkhiyan and Pehchan, how disappointed were you by the response to these two serials?How much of an impact do TRP ratings have on what and how you write in the future?
I was firstly disappointed by the attitude of the channels who aired these serials. They did everything in their power to make these a non success; one channel literally banned me from showing my face on their premises. I never expected or aimed for TRPs but the reason for low TRPs was also that these efforts were suppressed by the channels themselves and huge lobbies’ within them. It is surprising how the feeblest and the humblest attempts to grow out of mediocrity threatens all concerned and how vehemently it is opposed.
Hamrey shair hain ab sirf dil lagi ke Asad
Khula ke fayeda arz- e huner mein khaak nahin
You are often described as a non-commercial writer; how valid, if at all, is the distinction between artsy and mainstream? I ask this because at the time it aired Talkhiyan’s lukewarm reception was ascribed to that fact that it was an artsy project catering to a niche market, but its later success has proven that it did infact have popular appeal, and would’ve probably done pretty well initially as well had it been promoted and marketed differently. Your thoughts?
As I said in the answer of the earlier question. Talkhiyan’s lack of promotion by the concerned channel was a total let down. I am happy and feel triumphant that despite that there was a market, call it niche, that appreciated it and praised it to high heavens I felt so deeply encouraged and honored. The commercial world must understand that the niche market also has the value, a value beyond money and profit. The best of the poets, musicians and painters, writers throughout history have been niche artists whether it is Ghalib or Shakespeare or Beethoven. The systematic destruction of the niche market and the exclusive encouragement of the commercial and crass are dangerous and destructive for the cultural growth and well being of any society. All enlightened societies of the world have taken care to guard against it. Unhappily, we are not one of those.
Feminist writers vs women writers; writing in a woman’s voice and telling the story as seen through her eyes vs writing about women and their issues– your take on these distinctions. Where do you fit in as a writer?
I consider myself a woman writer, the relationships between men and women intrigue me, I write about them, I like to write about women who grow out of their weakness and recognize their strength yet I write without judging my characters or painting them in black and white and therefore my characters are never evil, neither women nor men.
SZ, I recently came upon these lines by Javed Akhtar sahib.
Ab samjhnay laga houn sood-o zayaan
Ab kahan mujh mein woh junoon sahib
Zilat-e zeest ya shikast-e zameer
Ye sahoon mein keh woh sahoon sahib!