End Of Telefilm Culture One Of Many Tragedies That TV Encountered: Mehreen Jabbar
Besides providing us with classical dramas to feed on, Pakistan television also gave us a set of aesthetically pleasing, light-toned telefilms from the mid-90s to the late-90s. Carrying a sepia on-screen look and incorporating soft tabla music in their background scores, these telefilms would narrate significant stories, such as those of neglected children, priggish elders, psychologically upset mothers-in-law, passionate craftswomen, and classical dancers. Many of these telefilms were the creations of Mehreen Jabbar, the most prolific of directors when it comes to this genre. Her innumerable projects in the medium, produced both inside and outside Pakistan, and incorporating artists from all over the world make her one of the most authentic figures for a discussion on telefilms. So, I caught up with Mehreen Jabbar for this genre-specific interview.
1) Apart from their duration, how do telefilms differ from other televised mediums of story-telling?
What sets them apart from other mediums is the way they narrate events. Telefilms follow the rules of feature films and tell stories in a compact form without stretching them. They have a starting, a middle and an end, and all of that in a time duration ranging from 70 to 90 minutes.
2) Why do you think the telefilm culture in Pakistan came to an end? Does its absence leave any negative impact in your opinion?
It is one of the many tragedies which our television has encountered. Despite having a rich history of meaningful telefilms, today we are left with none. The primary reason is that our industry is now driven by commercial interests. Anything episodic and that too beyond 20 episodes appeals to us as carrying monetary advantages. Telefilms provide you with the opportunity to explore various subjects. You get to experiment more and attain the chance of working with performers who are ready to give their best to a single episode story. The genre’s absence certainly leaves negative impacts. Even for storytellers, telefilms and short films have a lot to teach regarding expressing one’s feelings in a reasonable span of time rather than stretching them for long. The genre, I believe, would still be beneficial, especially to the directors who are now working in our film industry. They will get to work in a similar medium and polish their talent of telling concise yet gripping stories.
3) How was the presence of telefilms advantageous to Pakistani writers, directors, actors, and viewers?
At that time, our film industry was facing a downfall, and the only way through which we could tell stories within an hour’s duration was telefilms. In order to attract a wider viewership, all kinds of themes were also being touched upon, so both the makers and the viewers were enjoying it.
4) You have made telefilms in phases. One phase was of the late 90s, one was of New York-based telefilms, and one has been of commercial Eid telefilms. How do you recall these phases?
My inclination towards cinema pushed me towards making telefilms, for that was the only way I could execute my passion for films in the 90s. Therefore, for PTV, I made “Farar”, “Abba, Amma aur Ali”, “Laal Baig”, “Putli Ghar” and “Ab Tum Jaa Sakte Ho”. Then when HUM TV was launched and needed new, experimental, and unique content, Sultana Siddiqui allowed me to pitch some ideas for telefilms from the US, resulting in “Saaye”, “Saraab” and “New York Stories”. Now, unfortunately, the only telefilms being made are those for the occasion of Eid, my contributions being “Ghoongat”, “Dino Ki Dulhaniya” and “Hum Chale Aaye”. It is certainly not the ideal way to work in the genre.
5) Since Pakistani channels do not make telefilms at all now, do you miss working in the genre and do you wish to revive it again?
If given a choice, I would be doing telefilms only, or limited series. I miss it a lot and I believe that the disappearance of telefilms is a tragedy not only for the makers, but also for the viewers who do not have the stamina to wait for the entire week and that too for another dragged episode, but prefer watching compact yet meaningful stories. But I can only suggest it to channels and production houses, for they are the ones who have to invest in them and send them on air at the end of the day.
6) What are the steps to revive that culture? If it is revived, which writers would you like to work with and what kind of stories would you want to tell?
One way in which it can be revived is through a series of telefilms. This might fulfill the wish of the content heads of producing longer, episodic material. The other way would be to advertise a telefilm and prepare the interested viewers. There are many writers who would love to go for the genre I believe, since most of them are forced to pen serials. Talking about stories, I would love to go back to how I started and explore the countless genres which have not been explored in our industry, such as tragi-comedies, black comedies or thrillers. Telefilms always open such avenues for creative people.