Instep Today

Directed writing: what makes a story compelling?

By Amina Baig
Tue, 06, 22

We love the final product, but which one element controls how good a film or TV show is? Instep speaks to director Nadeem Baig and actors Mehwish Hayat and Gohar Rasheed about the art of onscreen storytelling

From left: Nadeem Baig, Mehwish Hayat and Gohar Rasheed. Photo: TNS
From left: Nadeem Baig, Mehwish Hayat and Gohar Rasheed. Photo: TNS

Pakistani television has always been the gold standard of storytelling in the region, regardless of a robust film industry at one point, and Bollywood across the street. While Indian cinema has scaled heights both in terms of the content of films and their technical institution, Pakistani cinema has had a start but halted many times.

What we do have, is great television. And with that, the industry has raised some incredible actors, writers, directors, and producers. As the film industry sputters to life now and again, more and more TV talent turns to the big screen to expand their craft and horizon.

Being able to speak to TV and film actors and directors at the same time though, allows us to really feel out and play with the ideas of what makes a story work, no matter the size of screen it was made for.

Director Nadeem Baig has films like Jawani Phir Nahi Aani, Punjab Nahi Jaungi, and now, London Nahi Jaunga in his expansive portfolio, as well as the very contentious, but very popular Mere Paas Tum Ho.

In Baig’s opinion, the onus of carrying the narrative is on the actor. “At the end of the day, they’re the ones on set, no one is telling them what to do beyond what they can and are,” he says. “Then there is that extra quality every character will bring to a character.”

The fact that, obviously, a director’s literal job is to direct his team in certain directions, is not lost on him.

“But then there are other moving parts,” says Baig. “The writer, the actors, the cadence of characters…”

Nadeem Baig has collaborated with playwright Khalil ur Rehman Qamar on more than one project. According to him, it takes the duo close to two years to lock a final script.

Mehwish Hayat interjects at this point, “I’ve seen Khalil ur Rehman’s work treated by other directors but it’s not the same.”

Hayat, herself a very ‘director’s actor’ actor, feels it is the director who can make or break a story and Gohar Rasheed agrees.

Both Rasheed and Hayat’s acting credits run the gamut of media and characters. They have previously performed together on stage as well, in a production called Bombay Dreams, which was wildly popular in 2011, when musicals and theater were flourishing.

“I agree that playing negative characters is more fun,” says Gohar Rasheed, “sometimes I don’t have a choice exactly (pauses for effect) but there is a lot more going on with the villain than the hero at all times.”

Nadeem Baig seconds this opinion, citing a recent example of recent TV series starring Humayun Saeed and Zahid Ahmed.

“I’m not saying this to incite competition, but Zahid had a lot more to play with in his role, with his mental illness, but Humayun played a couple of regular male characters in the same time, and didn’t get as much attention, or that kind of acclaim, so yes, I think writers are important.”

Mehwish Hayat, of course, believes staunchly that the director is the one who brings it all together. “I live for the experience of acting, and stepping into my roles,” she says. “So yes, a good story matters, and yes, the actor matters, but at the end of the day, there’s one person guiding us all.”

Mehwish Hayat, Gohar Rasheed, and Humayun Saeed star in London Nahi Jaunga this month, and all three say they had a ball on the set. While we will wait for the day writers and directors apart from Sarmad Khoosat and Kamal Khan will produce more than just an entertainer – which of course have their place – we’re just happy that cinema is getting a chance again.