If anyone read my interview with the writer Mohd Ahmed, you know that I got into writing because of the soap Dareecha, which he had written. One day while switching channels I stopped on ARY and there was this extremely mesmerizing person on screen named Shamshad Bibi (Hina Bayat) speaking of a Bari Tayi and a Bari haveli with Fazila Qazi. I was fascinated by the way she spoke and carried her character…she was grace personified. I then saw her as Zareena Aunty in Humsafar, Mata -E-Jaan, and a few other serials. She fit every single character she portrayed perfectly. There is a certain calmness in her, an inner peace that shows on and off screen. When you speak to her, you feel it (i certainly did). I had been wanting to interview Hina Bayat her for about a year now and it finally happened. Here goes:
- What is your degree in? Where did you go to school?
From the very beginning I was taught by Irish Catholic nuns at the Convent of Jesus & Mary, Karachi and I am forever indebted to their methodology of education. After completing my O’levels, I attended and graduated from St. Joseph’s College, Karachi in Liberal Arts and went on to study Industrial Design (Product) at Pakistan Design Institute in collaboration with CIM Germany.
- Does the degree and education you received have an impact on your current career?
Absolutely! Everything I learnt from Urdu & English Literature to History to Greek Classics to Political Science, Art and Design Principals has contributed in shaping my mind, my beliefs and my aesthetics. It has enriched me as a person and taught me to think, research, analyse and structure every undertaking whether it’s anchoring a show, interviewing a guest, investigating a case or playing a character.
- You went from a TV anchor to an actor, what was your first drama and what made you say yes? I guess how and why did you decide on that switch?
I had never planned to be on television but life takes strange turns and I believe in giving a 100% to where I am and what I have in hand at that point. As an anchor I was also the producer of my show and was involved at every level from research to the final edit. It was my world – literally! But it was Sultana Siddiqui who felt that there was an actor in me which needed to be explored. After much persuasion I finally agreed to do a small yet significant role in “Jhumka Jaan” so that just in case it doesn’t work, I would not damage my image as an anchor. Much to my surprise, it was very well received! I still wasn’t entirely taken in and it was some time later that I accepted a role in “Ishq Gumshuda” tempted by the fact that it was penned by Noorul Huda Shah. It was a great experience working with Haissam Hussain as director and pairing with Asif Raza Mir as a co-actor on a beautiful script and role that is still winning over viewers years later – it has been called the “hidden gem of Hum Tv” after its recent airing again on Zee Zindagi. I continued to work as an anchor and an actor for some time but as the mood of the channels changed and the need for sensible, constructive content declined I made a conscious decision to give more time to drama. At least this way, I felt I could entertain the viewers and yet convey the necessary messages.
- What do you look for in a script? What excites you?
The first thing I ask for is the script! A good storyline, strong characterisation and imagery and a challenge as an actor is what I look for. A lot of writers today have limited exposure so they paint very flat, 2 dimensional characters that are either black or white. I try to find and bring out all the shades of grey that real people are made of. Very few characters are written for people in my age bracket as most stories are girl-meets-boy with other characters simply filling in. This is why I look for challenges as an actor, even if it means playing characters that are much older in age. Fortunately, projects like Tum ho keh Chup, Talkhiyan, Aunn Zara, Gar Maan Reh Jaaye, Jalpari, Manto and Mata e Jaan have allowed me to push my limits as an actor.
- Are there any particulars writers and/or directors you would like to work with? What about costars? Any favorites?
I have been extremely fortunate in having worked with the best of the best. Among directors – Haissam Hussain, Sarmad Khoosat, Haseeb Hasan, Mehreen Jabbar, Khalid Ahmed, Amin Iqbal and Mohsin Talat working on scripts penned by Sarmad Sehbai, Bee Gul, Noorulhuda Shah, Mohd. Ahmed, Umera Ahmed, Farhat Ishtiaq, Faiza Iftikhar, Mona Haseeb and Asghar Nadeem Syed. I’m still waiting for Sameera Fazal and Khalilur Rahman Qamar to write me an unforgettable role :) As to Co-stars, I believe very strongly that off-screen chemistry translates beautifully on-screen and with some co-actors it has been memorable. Asif Raza Mir, Noman Ijaz, Javed Shaikh, Samina Peerzada and Shameem Hilali bring out the best in me. I’ve also had great fun and wonderful moments working with Adeel Hussain, Osman Khalid Butt, Mahira Khan, Sanam Saeed, Ayesha Khan, Sarwat Gilani, Humayun Saeed, Maya Khan and recently Bilal Qureshi. I would love to work with Anjum Shehzad, Sania Saeed and Faisal Qureshi but so far it hasn’t happened!
- I saw an interview of you with Faisal Qureshi once and I believe it was mentioned that you are also a Hafiza of The Quran. Does that play any role in your characters? Especially those of Shamshad Bibi (Dareecha, which by the way is why I started watching Pakistani dramas) and Zaineb (Qudrat)?
We live in a world where so-called custodians of faith tell us what is right and wrong according to their own ‘convenient’ interpretations. Hence it is crucial that we study it ourselves – in whatever language we can best understand. I am not a Hafiza (some misunderstanding there) but I come from a family that is religious and encourages debate, discourse and research. Spirituality comes from within and our ultimate guide is our Creator who has given us the ability to discern between right and wrong. It is through complete and absolute submission to Allah that we are elevated to the highest levels of contentment and spirituality – submission that actually empowers us! I have played many characters that were deeply spiritual and yet very different, depending on their circumstances and individual personalities – Bibi Jonum (THKC), Shamshad Bibi (Dareecha), Hajra (MeJ), Zainab (Qudrat) and Husna (AZ) were all women with an inner strength brought about by unwavering faith and inherent goodness.
- Speaking of Qudrat, it had the potential of becoming an excellent play, what went wrong in it?
The storyline of Qudrat was powerful, the characters strong and the message impactful. I loved the character and back story of Zainab when the writer approached me for it. But as the project got underway the director and writer had a falling out and the project got derailed. It’s execution suffered from a lack of sensitivity and spiritual insight, back stories were ignored, too many characters and tracks were included and it became a confused, disconnected mass that just didn’t gel. It was the wrong script for the wrong director.
- How does this happened? Don’t the writers and directors know beforehand what the script is about?
The writer has to step back and allow the director to interpret and execute the script once it is handed over. Most successful directors work with the writer beforehand to develop the script and many times involve the writer during the shoot as well. But there is never an ideal situation – sometimes a good script is placed in the hands of an unsuitable director who is unable to translate the writers vision effectively. On the other hand, sometimes the standard of a mediocre script is raised in the hands of a good director. The biggest challenge for an actor and director is in conveying an abstract or intangible idea – spirituality is one of those subjects which can only be ‘felt’. Where scripts like Qudrat and Laa were lost in translation, dramas like Dareecha, Shehr e Zaat were able to convey that ‘feeling’ successfully.
- What do you think of the Pakistani drama industry these days? With all the alcohol, extra marital affairs, everything being put out in the open, where do you think this is taking Pakistani culture?
Pakistani drama has always had immense following and great power of suggestion. A medium as powerful as this can serve as a vehicle of change, bringing awareness to society, changing mindsets and inculcating positive behaviours. It is a sad state of affairs that it is being wasted or perhaps, is being used to promote agendas that will have a hugely negative impact on society. Channels and production houses are caught up in the dubious ‘rating’ game with no thought being given to quality of writing and content. Clichéd flat characters and sensational titillation promotes the portrayal of women as either ‘mazloom’ or ‘zaalim’, content revolves around hackneyed love triangles, marriages, in-laws and extra marital affairs. Lack of research and well-read writers, directors and actors is the cause of serious misrepresentation and misinformation in matters of law, religion, physical and mental health, social and cultural values, even morality and ethics. Case in point is the rehashing of the 3 simultaneous talaq and halala concept which is not permitted by Quran or Sunnah but is widely practiced and accepted, partly due to the endorsements through drama.
- Thoughts on MAS (Mazloom Aurat Syndrome)? Why are we still watching the same thing over and over?
Originality and content have been compromised for material gain. Channels and production houses are not willing to invest too much time and money in developing and executing strong scripts or untested storylines. Good, seasoned writers, directors and actors cost more so compromises are made and one formula after another is dished out. With more and more channels requiring content 24 hours a day, quantity has taken over quality. No one wants to take a ‘risk’. The ultimate excuse for compromising the art and craft of making drama is put forth in one word – rating!! These people-meters installed in a certain kind of household, in a certain type of locality with a typical mindset, are touted to represent all of Pakistan. The advertiser is happy because that is his target market, the channel is happy because it gets the revenue and art and ethics be damned! The weakest link is actually the story itself – the same old tales eventhough “aur bhi gham hain zamanay main muhabbat ke siwa”!
- As an actor, do you think you have any responsibility to the audience of your work? Are there any roles you wouldn’t do?
Absolutely!! I have always refused to be part of projects that promote or project content that is false or detrimental to our social, cultural, religious and patriotic values. Unlike Cinema, Television is a medium of great responsibility as it beams directly into people’s homes without any filters and reaches out to all genders and age groups irrespective of their class, beliefs and mindsets. Even if I portay a negative role, it must serve to highlight the positive and the consequences of the negative. The message must be clear and unambiguous of what is right and what is wrong. I owe my viewers that!
- Your favorite dramas/films (not necessarily yours)?
Many old PTV plays – Jungle, Dhoop Kinaray, Neelay Haath, Aik Mohabbat Sau Afsanay, Ankahi, Tahaiyaan…….and some new ones including some I’ve had the good fortune to be a part of – Dastaan, Maat, Daam, Man o Salwa, Talkhiyan, Jalpari, Aunn Zara, Tum Ho keh Chup, Mata e Jaan.
I love films and they are so diverse – Muthi Bhar Chawal, Aandhi, Umrao Jan, Abhiman, Ijaazat, Sahab Bibi aur Ghulam, Roja, Maachis, Bombay, Dil Se, Philomena, Shawshank Redemption, Ben Hur, Cocktail, Dostana, Gladiator…….the list is endless.
- What is next for you? Any new plays coming up?
My guest appearance in Bashar Momin recently was immensely appreciated so I was prevailed upon to do another one in Kaanch ki Gurya for Geo/A&B :) Also another A&B project titled Neela Mausam. And the one that I’m really excited about – a wonderful combination of Khaleelur Rahman’s script and Mehreen Jabbar’s direction for A Plus/Alpha Productions. I will also be working on a courtroom drama series with Angeline Malik and a few others that are still in the pipeline. I am also looking forward to the release of “Manto” on the big screen. That is one to watch out for!!
I am constantly being asked by co-actors, directors and producers to write and much as I want to, I don’t know where to begin :) I guess a few more bad scripts coming my way and I just might get motivated enough! Hahaha! But one day I hope I can and maybe even direct. So far it’s a dream – don’t know when it will become a reality.
- How is family life? Does your family fully support you or was it a struggle in the beginning?
I am truly blessed!! My parents, my in-laws, my sisters and above all, my husband have been pillars of support. They are my best critics as well as a constant source of encouragement. Managing time and personal responsibilities with the manic routine I have is a constant struggle but I’m never alone in this. I would not be half the person I am today if it wasn’t for my mother and my husband. As I was the first one in my family to step into the world of media and television, my father was a bit concerned that people would eye his daughter in a negative manner. I made him a promise that I would never compromise my dignity, respect and the family honour. Today he is not among us but I’m always conscious of that promise I made 20 years ago.
- You stated in a recent interview that ‘The talent is there, unfortunately the commitment and respect for the craft is lacking. Many people are here for fame and glamour but do not realize that quick recognition lasts just for those proverbial 15 minutes. I do not see actors doing any homework or research on their characters. Many just want to ‘look good’ irrespective of the demand of the role.“ This ended up in a couple fb statuses where many writers were agreeing with you. Why does this happen? Why do producers and directors hire such actors?
It is unfortunate that while so much work is being done, the focus on quality has become hazy. Maybe it’s just a reflection of the times where hard work, commitment, respect, honesty and integrity have become old fashioned values. Quick money, easy way out, shortcuts to fame and leap frogging your way up is the new thing. We have an abundance of self-proclaimed divas (new and old) who believe it is their right to be late, rude and disrespectful to others because they are the ‘stars’. Others are either close friends of or the ‘flavour of the month’ for some producers and directors so they enjoy ‘special privileges’ and are served up plum projects in return. Yes, the casting couch is there but fortunately, there are others who have either made their mark or are slowly working their way up. In the long haul, the ‘stars’ will fade away, the ‘actors’ will survive. They are the ones who rehearse, research, are punctual and committed to their craft!
- Your thoughts on morning shows? Couples are getting married 2-3 times and sometimes the same channel…they are showing baby showers, bridal showers, lavish clothing and jewelry worn by hosts and guests in a country where half the population can’t even afford to feed themselves and the literacy rate is above 40%? Singing and dancing has become a routine even in Eid shows. What is going on here and why?
These morning shows target the average housewife, who is generally confined to the home and has little exposure to the outside world. Most educated women (housewives or working women) are not the audience for such shows. I have said this on many occasions that it almost seems like there is an agenda to debase the average Pakistani woman intellectually, psychologically and morally so that she becomes incapable of passing on anything positive, constructive or intelligent to her family. A similar trend was seen with the India soaps some years ago and now many Pakistani dramas are also endorsing those same clichés. It is the exact opposite of what Napolean Bonaparte said, “Give me good mothers and I shall give you a great nation!”
- A message to your fans?
Please keep me in your prayers, so that I may continue to do good work to entertain, educate and improve the lot of our people and contribute to building up a nation that our country can be proud of! We owe it to Pakistan and to all those people who sacrificed everything for this freedom that we take for granted.
And with that the interview ends. This was one of the easiest interviews I have done as she did all the work. From my experience, I can vouch for her kindness, intelligence, and extreme patience. We definitely need strong women like her in the media. Thank You Hina Bayat for taking the time out for this. Highly appreciated!