The discourse on modern Pakistani drama is incomplete without mentioning the name of Saji Gul, whose meaningful works comprising of intriguing plots, dark themes balanced by an intelligent pen and rich characters resulted in the simultaneous running of his three plays, ‘O Rangreza’, ‘Iltija’ and ‘Pyari Bitto’, commencing in 2017 and walking with us into 2018. Prior to these, Saji Gul wrote ‘Sannata’ for ARY, the kind of which was never written, is not being experimented on, and cannot be remade in Pakistan.What marks Gul as unique is his craft of storytelling. Unlike the stories of many drama serials, Gul’s stories do not seem to be in a hurry to reach a conclusion and propagate a certain agenda, but the viewers come across intriguing happenings, twists and turns which keep their curiosity piqued. This difference is the result of the writer’s in-depth knowledge of the structure and components of a story, which he exercises on two levels. “I follow the three-act structure, divided into three phases of the story. The same structure makes its way into each episode, which comprises of an introduction, a conflict and a resolution. Each episode becomes an interesting whole, while at the same time, the conclusion of an episode and the introduction of the next episode are linked, forming a continuum.”My interest in Gul’s writing arose from his incorporation of a kind of magic realism in his dramas. In ‘Sannata’, Saba Qamar sees a dead bird in a dream before her miscarriage. Similarly, Affan Waheed in ‘Iltija’ and Soniya Mishal in ‘O Rangreza’ come across symbols in their dreams, which influence their proceeding life incidents. When asked about this inclusion of dreams and symbols, Gul talked about the significance of dreams both religiously and scientifically. The writer believes in Sigmund Freud’s ideas of suppressed desires, which come into play only when one we are asleep. “While dreams make active our impulses which we try to snub due to social norms, dreams can also be considered as a way of connecting with God,” says Gul. “God sends symbols to humans in the form of dreams, conveying messages which may influence their life decisions. Religiously as well, the dreams, which messengers would see, would come true, and their life decisions were also based on their intuition. So, dreams have a very important role in our lives.”The incorporation of dreams in Gul’s dramas is also a result of his family’s staunch belief in dreams. The writer confesses that many of his own decisions in life were a result of encountering something in dreams.A few people know that Gul started his career from PTV as a writer and director of children’s plays, which would be based on both learning and entertainment. A popular example is ‘Granny, Sunny Aur Science’ casting the veteran actress Durdana Butt. Though having abandoned the genre, a love of children still exhibits itself in Gul’s modern plays; ‘Iltija’ being based on a child suffering from Down’s Syndrome, Sajal Aly being a very young girl in both ‘Sannata’ and ‘O Rangreza’ and a small girl being forced into marrying a middle-aged man in one of the episodes of ‘Kitni Girhein Baqi Hain’. Gul believes that childhood, the memories associated with it and the feelings attached with certain incidents encountered as a child are inevitable, since they develop our personalities and continue to influence the decisions of our mature age.“Therefore, an artist must keep that relation intact, and keep the inner child alive. Struggling childhoods have a deeper impact. Born with a squint, I was made to feel it more deeply because as a child, you are pointed at for minor things. Growing up with it, I have an emotional attachment with my childhood as well.”If observed deeply, Gul’s characters are rich and can be taken as case studies, reflecting a certain trait, possessing a specific mindset and which can be analysed in isolation from the other characters. This results from a hard-work of doing homework on the characters, which the writer does by creating profiles of characters, which determine the characters’ names based on their actions, their education level determining their choice of words, their ethnicity comprising of the language they will be using and their religious and political views which will be reflected in their behaviours and mindsets.“Since Sassi is a character making a journey, her name has been chosen from the folk tale of Sassi Punno. The name of Khayyam Saani who is a poet in my play takes his name from the popular poet Omar Khayyam.”Besides, Gul also applies Carl Yung’s theory of personality, based on the idea of persona, our outer personality, and shadow, our hidden personality. “This theory of personality helps in making the characters having various shades, for flatness in characters makes them boring. These various layers, even if conflicting, are psychologically justified.”A daring approach into Gul’s characters also makes us aware, and at the same time, terrified of the dark traits they carry, based on Sigmund Freud’s ideas of sexuality. When inquired about his take on these theories and their inspiration, Gul had to say, “These theories, whether true or false, are justifiable and have been developed into vast, important subjects. As far as their universality is concerned, the traits which Freud talks about are present everywhere, even in Pakistan, but we hesitate to talk about them. Secondly, in this part of the world, we pick up a trait and start judging people. The details of a personality trait and the causes are not probed into. The study of the details is what these theories provide, and they are very helpful in knowing a personality, ultimately helpful in developing a rich, multi-layered character whose attributes can be justified.”The fact that there is Ameer Khusro’s poetry in the background of both ‘Sannata’ and ‘O Rangreza’ and that the characters of Gul fall into love to an extent that their ultimate resort seems to be divine love cannot be neglected. The writer, not an ardent believer in spiritualism, does take a keen interest in how world religions are formed, and to what extent cultural practices are exercised so as to turn into a religion.“I am more inspired by the wisdom which Sufism contains. It teaches you that love is not a destination in itself, but something that inclines you to make a journey. The wounds, which it gives you, help you grow and evolve. My next play will also be focusing on the wounds which love gives to people, and how the mental maturity resulting from it automatically connects itself with spiritualism.”Gul was also asked regarding how much writers put themselves into their characters, to which he replied that characters need to be isolated from the writer if a natural cycle is to be observed.“While characters which are not you help you in living a different life, they also reflect a natural process of life, from which the human sympathies and reason of a writer have to be kept at a distance. This is achieved when you have set up a psychology of a character and given characteristics to it. It starts to grow itself after a few episodes and makes its decisions itself based on the psychology and other viewpoints, which the writer has infused into it. The characters tell themselves how they are supposed to react at a certain moment.”Besides being a person well read in literature and psychology, as is reflected in his dramas and their explanation given above, Gul is a proud Pakistani and an admirer of his own culture, which he thinks is more rich and colourful and should be depicted in our art and literature. He believes that the purpose of writing must not be catharsis only. A writer needs to be socially responsible so that the readers or viewers may gain some benefit from the writer and grow intellectually. This idea is reflected in the fact that while Gul sticks to the modern idea of depicting mostly feminine issues in dramas, he has taken the idea to a whole new level by depicting four different types of women in ‘O Rangreza’ exhibiting four different colours from the prism of feminist theory, hence educating the viewers about different women who may come under the umbrella of feminism.The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgPublished in Daily Times, January 22nd 2018.