Playing with fire

By Zubeida Mustafa

Mushtaq Gazdar is not the run-of-the-mill film producer/director. His forte is art films, which have won him international awards. One remembers his masterpiece. They are killing the horse, which portrayed the agony of a young girl suffering from mental stress. This along with Concert on the footpath, Songs of wishes and Muharram in Karachi are now available on a video cassette.

When Gazdar announced that his next project was a television drama serial, it naturally raised many expectations. He had dabbled in television before with the screening of his play Girastan, for PTV two years ago. His latest enterprise Dard Ka samandar, is based on a true love story and Gazdar has injected an innovative dimension in the 12 – episode drama.

The play has been handled with great sensitivity and its striking feature is its theme. Gazdar’s equally talented wife, writer Saeeda Gazdar, wrote the script. The couple have helped Rashida Patel’s Legal Aid Centre produce documentaries on women’s issues to create public awareness. Each woman they interviewed had a story to tell and one of the stories was very moving, which inspired them to make the serial. It has romance, mystery and social drama rolled in one.

When a young couple, Maryam (played by Mariam Yousuf) and Anwar Khan (Imam) fall in love they cannot tie the nuptial knot in normal circumstances because Anwar’s father, Nizam Khan, has other plans for his son. In the face of the opposition from their families, Anwar and Maryam seek the help of a Qazi to get their marriage solemnized. After that it is an uphill task. They encounter all kinds of obstacles ranging from the discriminatory laws of the land, a hostile police, unsympathetic courts and so on.

We do not know how the story ends. The premier at the P.A.C.C. last week was designed to give the journalists just a glimpse of the play. The second episode of 22 minutes and a scene or two from the first and third episodes were televised. It was, however, enough to give a feel of the play. As Saeeda said in her introductory speech, the play captures the heartache of romance, which knows no bounds, “Only one who has loved can understand that,” she remarked.

Dard ka samandar has beauty of its own as a work of art. It took Gazdar two years to produce. It initially started as a long play but expanded as it went along. Besides, it was self-financing venture, which meant, “diverting myself to the bread and butter assignments whenever the occasion demanded, “Gazdar said. With a massive cast of 42 – all newcomers to the world of show-biz except one – the film proved to be quite a challenge for its director. The scenes had to be repeated again and again for the artistes were novices and had to be trained while the shooting was taking place. Asma Ahmad of the PACC. selected many of them from her music and theatre classes.

Why the compulsion for new faces? Gazdar excels in filming real life in all its splendor and squalor. He is basically a masterly producer of documentaries which he skillfully featurizes to attract a bigger audience. Dard Ka samandar was to be shot outdoors at natural locations such as crowded shrines, marketplaces, and other public sites. Well-known film and TV artistes would have attracted too much attention for the filming to be done naturally. On the other hand the actors and actresses making their debut could mingle with the crowds without anyone ever knowing that a film was being shot.

In many places Gazdar encouraged characterization as he proceeded. Some characters are real life ones and were picked by the producer because they fitted their role so well. Thus the saintly figure at the shrine that performed the nikah in the film actually solemnizes marriages at a mazar. Gazdar told him what was required of him and he proceeded to enact his role delivering the dialogue in his own words. As a result the play is natural and has no artificiality about it.

The central message of the play was summed up beautifully by Huma Mir (the advocate in the play) at the premier in PACC. She appealed to the people not to obstruct the marriage of two people in love. It drives them to extreme measures, which can have grave consequences in our society. Huma has put it so aptly and Gazdar has filmed it touchingly.

Source: Dawn 23 May 1993