Writer Muhammad Ahmed is that rare thingâ€”a gentleman from another era
The world of screenwriting is unique: the writer labours away crafting beautiful dialogue for the actors, while he remains largely anonymous to audiences. Muhammad Ahmed has successfully merged the two professions. Mainly a screenwriter, he has also starred in several Pakistani drama serials including the much-lauded Coke Kahani and Durr-e-Shahwar. Simultaneously, he has penned the dialogue ofÂ blockbusters such as “Tere Bin Laden.” With a command of Urdu that would make old Allama proud, Ahmed is a jewel in the crown of Pakistani television. Through out, he has wielded humour in the service of a humane social agenda.
Of all the roles he has played, he says the character of Durr-e-Shahwar’s father is one of his favourites. He played the part of a caring advisor who gave his daughter (played by Samina Peerzada) little wisdoms that helped her confront her demons. He laughs, “At this point in drama serials, you basically get to only play the father.” The leading roles are reserved for the innocent or evil-as-the-devil female protagonist. But some roles allow for creativity. In Coke Kahani, for example, Ahmed was allowed to play around with a wig. “I’ve always hated wigs, if you’re bald, then you’re bald!”
â€˜We are told to keep the ending particularly tragic, to begin dousing the female lead in sorrow within the first 3-4 minutes!â€™
“I’ve taken a break from writing for dramas, because,” he says with his signature wit, “the only thing the industry is interested in is making women cry.” Seasonal trends, he says, dictate TV content. “In one spell, for example, you will only find dramas about extramarital affairs on all four major channels. The heads get together and see what subject the show with the highest ratings is featuring; then they feel a burning need to cash in on the same story!” Ahmed is making me laugh very hard at this point. He continues. “We are told to keep the ending particularly tragic, to begin dousing the female lead in sorrow within the first 3-4 minutes!”
Ahmed has mostly written light-hearted plays. A little-known fact: he wrote “Azar Ki Ayegi Baraat” (2009), the first in the comedy line-up that would eventually include the phenomenally popular “Dolly Ki Ayegi Baraat” and “Takkay ki Ayegi Baraat.” “Azar” starred some of the biggest names in Pakistani television, including Javed Sheikh, Saba Hameed, and the irrepressible Bushra Ansari.
Ever the modest poet, however, Ahmed says, “To clarify, I don’t write comedyâ€”Âthat is Anwar Maqsood’s job and there has been no one to match his skill yet in Pakistan.”
But “Tere Bin Laden” was noted, especially, for its humorous script. Nikhat Kazmi of The Times of India gave it a 4 out of 5 rating, adding, “compared with recent laugh riots at box offices, Tere Bin Laden has both: a smart script and some smart acting.” Pankaj Sabnani of Bollywood Trade News Network said, “Tere Bin Laden is ‘laden’ with many humorous moments. It is by far the funniest film in recent times. A must watch.” Asked about his style, Ahmed says, “I’m not that good with punchlines, I don’t think my writing makes people laugh out loud, but it does make them smile.” Ahmed was selected after extensive testing and hired to train some of the non-Punjabi speaking cast members who found the Punjabi humour in the dialogue very fun. Citing an example, he says, “Woh bacchi bari tight hai,” something that no one in Pakistan would laugh at, since we have heard it so many times, but spoken by a Sikh in India it had everyone in stitches.
â€˜The beautiful things that Haseena Moeen has written will be lost to the worldâ€™
Ahmed has approached serious subjects too. When he wrote a play about incest, “Khamoshi,” it was banned from being aired a second time. “My reasons for writing about this particular subject was, first, that it was based on a true story and secondly, I wanted to prove that it is possible to write a story about something so vile without sounding vulgar and without the production seeming tacky.” The result was a beautifully directed, sensitive play.
With a career spanning three decades, Ahmed has, with immense grace, divided his talents into acting and writing. An old-fashioned gentleman at heart, he misses the days of yore, when script-writing was mesmerizing, designed to please the heart, not producers hungry for ratings. “No one will ever give television the same high status as literature. The beautiful things that Haseena Moeen has written, Tanhaiyan, Dhoop Kinaray, these all will be lost to the world as great writing.”Â