‘Suno Chanda’ Writer Saima Akram Chaudhry Reminisces Her Journey
This one-on-one conversation with the famous scriptwriter, Saima Akram Chaudhry takes us through the life journey of a woman who loves to write light-hearted comedies but is also great at penning the serious ones when need be. Her skills are versatile and her works ranging from ‘Suno Chanda’ to ‘Kaisi Aurat Hoon Main’ are an indication of that.
Saima Akram Chaudhry divides her time between teaching and writing. Appointed as a lecturer of Urdu Literature by the Federal Government, the lady became a household name in Pakistan after the release of her Romantic Comedy, ‘Suno Chanda’. Catering to all age groups and incorporating dialects from multiple regions of Pakistan, ‘Suno Chanda’ grew into the most-watched serial of the country and succeeded in bagging awards in multiple categories at various platforms. Although this comic piece is what Saima Akram Chaudhry is popularly known for, she also has to her name ‘Kaisi Aurat Hoon Mein’, a serial dealing with the theme of gas-lighting, something which few dramatists have touched upon because discourse on the issue demands a deep understanding of the abuser’s psychology. I caught up with the writer and asked her a few questions, which are as follows:
When and how did you enter the Pakistani drama industry?
I have been writing for quite a long time. I started with children’s magazines, growing up into a short story writer and then moving towards Urdu language digests for which I have penned down countless novels. As far as drama writing is concerned, when A & B Productions emerged and engaged a lot of digest writers for television projects and started the trend, I sent a lot of one-liners to various channels.
However, I did not receive any response from the production houses which I contacted and kept waiting for many years for an idea of mine to receive approval. It so happened that around 2014, Saira Ghulam Nabi, who was initially the editor of Khawateen Digest took up a position at MD Productions. There, she came across my one-liners, and since she knew me well, she contacted me. Satisfied by both of my one-liners, she asked me to come to Karachi from Islamabad and taught me script-writing, eventually resulting in ‘Muhabbat Ab Nahi Hogi’ to go on air on HUM TV as my first project. So, I would give the credit to Saira Ghulam Nabi for bringing me into the field. It did not just happen one fine day but demanded a lot of struggle and patience from my side.
How was the idea of “Suno Chanda” conceived? Did you have any idea that it would grow into such a popular project?
I had written multiple romantic comedies for digests, but all the same had come to realize that comic writers aren’t taken much seriously. Therefore, when I entered the drama industry, I did so with the conviction that I will write only serious dramas. As a result, all of my initial dramas such as ‘Muhabbat Ab Nahi Hogi’, ‘Mera Dard Na Jaane Koi’, ‘Aadhi Gawahi’ and ‘Mere Ajnabi’ were serious productions.
Since Saira Ghulam Nabi knew me as a writer of light romantic novelettes from my young age, she approached me when HUM TV needed a comic Ramadan special play. I was given the task to work on the project, after which I developed all the characters first, and then began developing the story. I commenced with the characterization because the motive was to present a story that would cater to all age groups, showing the importance of all the members of one family. I handed over the idea to MD Productions, who got it approved from the channel and called me again to Karachi.
Earnest discussions on the story-line began, a lot of input being provided by Shehzad Javed, the content head at MD Productions. The story I had brought had made its basis as an antagonistic relationship in the sense that two cousins, asked to wed each other, are actually interested in two different people. After a lot of discussions, it was decided that the clash of two couples be reduced to one, and that of Arsal and Jia is shown sorting out its matters like sensible adults. Through their eventual involvement with each other, we also wanted to show that their elders had read them well enough before deciding to wed them to each other.
The story then continued to develop along these lines. A lot of help was provided to me by Saira Ghulam Nabi and Shehzad Javed. I would write an episode, it would get shot and then sent on air. It was three to four days before Eid that I finished writing the last episode of the first season. Such was the alacrity with which all of us were working, with absolutely no idea that it would attain immense popularity.
‘Suno Chanda’ has countless characters speaking various dialects. How do you manage to control such a variety of characters?
It usually happens that a story-line is formed first and then the characters are developed. In the case of ‘Suno Chanda’ however, the characters were conceived first. I sat down and drew a family tree, giving individual traits to each character and spending hours and hours on its personality. I took the utmost care to create every character different from the other so that each may have a separate identity. That identity was to be provided through characteristic gestures, dialogues and behaviours. Once all the paper-work was completed and I sat down to write the story, things fell into place and a flow engendered.
With such a popular serial to your name, do you now feel burdened that you have to write equally good in your upcoming projects?
Yes, ‘Suno Chanda’ received three awards this year; one being a Lux Style Award, one being a Hum Award, and one being an IPPA Award. I also became the recipient of a Best Writer Award for ‘Suno Chanda’. I do feel that I have a huge responsibility on my shoulders now, the evidence being that I haven’t written anything after the second season of ‘Suno Chanda’. I am taking this long because in this while, I need to write something good enough to remove the ‘Suno Chanda’ tag from my name. It has to be something different and better, rather than the same. One good product of yours sets a parameter and the quality of all your proceeding projects is measured on the basis of it. I do not readily sign contracts now but think twice before agreeing to some project. My responsibility as a writer has grown after the popularity of “Suno Chanda”.
What are you currently working on? Did you manage to write anything during the lock-down?
I was writing a Ramadan special serial for HUM TV which stopped midway owing to the lockdown, and a few of its episodes are still left. The lock-down hasn’t been quite productive, I must say. One works more when one is under pressure and has to meet deadlines. I only wrote a telefilm for Geo TV for Eid. A serial for Geo TV, however, is also under-way, and the work on a HUM TV project will also continue after the lockdown. My project which will go on air soon is “Gustaakh”, produced by Aijaz Aslam’s Ice-Media Entertainment.
You have also written serious dramas. What do you enjoy more – serious writing or comic writing?
When it comes to reading or watching, I prefer lighter stuff. Ironically, in the case of writing, I go for serious pieces as I consider it easier. You have to abandon everything and fully indulge yourself in the script while writing comedy. Something that does not make you laugh will probably not make your viewers laugh either, and you have to take care of this.
Are you given stories to write on or do you take your own stories to channels? What was the story behind “Kaisi Aurat Hoon Mein”?
All of my drama serials which have gone on air until now have been my own stories. Yes, discussions do take place and suggestions are given at various points in the story, but I have never been forced to write on a certain topic. As long as ‘Kaisi Aurat Hoon Mein’ is concerned, I was given the idea by Faheem Burney, and the initial idea was to tell the story of a morning show host epitomizing all those working women who are emotionally abused by their husbands. However, fearing that our country’s morning show hosts might take it personally and get offended, we were inclined to change the story from that of a morning show host to that of a cooking show host. This was one “go-ahead” for that serial, and the characterization and the story development were entirely my jobs.
Have you written your dream project or is it still under-way?
No! Although I have a lot of projects in the pipeline, I still haven’t put down on paper what I have always wanted to. Besides, I don’t consider myself a writer who is mature enough to start thinking about her dream project. I am in the initial stages of my career and have a long way to go before creating what one calls a dream project or a masterpiece.
Name your own favourite writers who have inspired you through the years.
All of the contemporaries such as Aliya Bukhari, Seema Munaf, Farhat Ishtiaq, Maha Malik, Amna Riaz, Misbah Nausheen, Zanjabeel Asim Shah and Amna Mufti inspire me to write. From other genres of Urdu Literature, I admire Mushtaq Ahmad Yousafi, Mustansar Hussain Tarar, Qudratullah Shahab, and Mumtaz Mufti. Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Mir Taqi Mir, Jaun Elia, and Munir Niazi are my favourites amongst poets.