Haseena Moin: Pakistani trailblazer who formed younger minds in Amritsar

Neha Saini

When the cult classic Pakistani drama ‘Dhoop Kinare’ was first telecast on PTV in 1987, Seema Grewal was a Class XII student in Amritsar. Like many aspiring doctors at the time, she was hooked to the show, its influence so strong in her life that till date this writer-doctor keeps in touch with the fan page of the popular serial. Such was the pull of the show whose creator breathed her last recently. Haseena Moin is credited with giving iconic, trailblazing and popular role models to women from both sides of the border during the late 1970s and the early ’80s through her writings.

Moin, 80, was one of the most recognised and acclaimed playwrights of Pakistan. She was the recipient of the Pride of Performance award for her contribution to arts and wrote the country’s first original script for TV, ‘Kiran Kahani’ that aired in Pakistan during the 1970s. Her work, considered progressive and path-breaking at the time, has been globally recognised with ‘Dhoop Kinare’ being aired in Saudi Arabia in 2020; it was also adapted in India under the title ‘Kuch Toh Log Kahenge’ and featured Mohnish Behl and Kritika Kamra.

The late 1970s were the peak of her work as a screenplay writer as her TV shows, which also included ‘Tanhaiyan’, ‘Ankahi’, ‘Aahat’ and ‘Uncle Urfi’, were telecast on PTV. At the time, the broadcaster was experimenting with versatile shows and Moin’s protagonists — ambitious, progressive women — were unheard of.

Marina Khan

As Dr Grewal reminisces: “Rahat Kazmi, who played the role of Dr Ahmer Ansari, and Marina Khan, who played the vivacious Dr Zoya Ali Khan, remain my favourite characters. The show was so popular that during Punjabi classes, nine out of 10 students used to refer to the characters from the show as examples during sentence-making. Even our teachers would find it amusing,” she shares. Her characters were relatable and intense, yet vulnerable; they had that instant connect. “‘Dhoop Kinare’ was the first time I got acquainted with Moin’s work and that was just the beginning. Her writings were so nuanced, they left an impact without one feeling disturbed,” says Grewal. Now a writer herself, she attributes her early introduction to writing to Moin.

Rahat Kazmi

Moin’s fans didn’t just include women, men were equally enthralled. One of them is Arvinder Chamak, an Amritsar-based writer and artiste, who grew up on Moin’s body of work. “My memories of watching her shows, including ‘Tanhaiyan’, are still fresh. We were of impressionable age and to watch women in Pakistan sporting short hair or displaying a rebellious streak was life-changing. We had heard Pakistan was a regressive society, but to watch such amazing, strong female characters was revolutionary. The shows created a huge buzz among audiences and the fraternity on both sides of the border,” he shares.

Chamak had the opportunity of meeting Moin during his visit to Lahore in 2006. “At the time, I was working with Rafi Peer Theatre and Madeeha Gauhar and went to Lahore for a literary event. It was wonderful to speak to her and discuss at length about the progressive writers of the time and how the two cities of Amritsar and Lahore resonate culturally,” he remembers. For Chamak, what stands out is that despite adverse circumstances during Zia-ul-Haq’s time, she continued with her spirited writing. “Her literary legacy is a gift to the future generations.”

A still from Moin’s cult classic ‘Tanhaiyan

Though Moin did not visit Amritsar much in her later life, she was an active part of the city’s literary itinerary in the early 1970s. Surinder Malhi, 72-year-old writer and critic, fondly remembers how she would attend theatre and literature festivals in Amritsar on priority. “I had met her at one such literary event back in 1979 and asked her if she finds her existence in her writing. Her answer was simple, yet matched her resilience as a writer. She said that every writer exists through his or her work and each writer or artiste carries a streak of rebellion. She said more important to her was whether her readers found their existence through her work,” shares Malhi.

Giving an insight into her writing process, Malhi says that sometimes she would write while working in the kitchen. “She had this habit of multi-tasking and had thus created a small writing space in the kitchen. She would call herself lucky to have found support from her family, a big deal in those times,” he recalls.

It was not just the literary minded who were influenced by her. In her works, everyday folk found freedom too. Like Baldev Singh, a retired government teacher, from Patti. Watching Moin’s dramas on PTV was a sort of ritual for people in the border belt at that time, he says. “In 1976-77, most border areas did not receive Doordarshan and people would watch PTV. Most of the shows were black and white. The first coloured Pakistani drama to air was ‘Parchaiyan’ and it was written by Haseena Moin. After that, many of her shows became instant hits. For the fans, her characters were real people. She changed the way people perceived Pakistani society in the aftermath of Partition.”

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