After spending some time at the venerable National Academy of Performing Arts, Mustafa Afridi joined the league of Pakistani dramatists with ‘Dil-e-Nadan’ in 2009, and in a matter of just a few years, established himself as one of Pakistan’s top playwrights. His body of work consists of a number of critically and commercially successful television serials, including ‘Aseerzadi’ (2013), ‘Firaaq’ (2014), ‘Sang-e-Mar Mar’ (2016), and ‘Yeh Raha Dil’ (2017). The talented young writer was awarded the Hum Television and Lux Style awards for writing ‘Sang-e-Mar Mar’. His latest television serial, ‘Aangan,’ is scheduled to go on air in the month of October this year. In an exclusive interview for the Daily Times, Afridi sits down with Ally Adnan to talk, at length, about his upcoming serial. Khadija Mastoor’s ‘Aangan’ is one of the most celebrated Urdu novels written after the partition of India and Pakistan. It won the prestigious Adamjee Award for Literature in 1963 and has been translated into 13 languages. Was adapting a work of such literary significance intimidating? Yes, it was. ‘Aangan’ is a classic and the work of a master writer. It has a lot of depth, complexity and nuance. The narrative style and structure of the novel are simple, but its story and themes are profound and deeply complex. They lend themselves to interpretation in a multitude of ways, each one more rewarding than the other. My challenge was to preserve the austerity of Khadija Mastoor’s writing style while exploring the story beneath the surface, with intelligence, sensitivity and feeling. It took me a year to fully understand the novel and a year and a half to adapt it for television. Thankfully, the hard work, energy and time that I put into the adapting the book has turned out to be personally gratifying and enriching. I hope to have done justice to Mastoor’s seminal work and am holding my breath for the reaction of viewers. The story of ‘Aangan’ is set in the first half of the twentieth century and depicts the moral, emotional, political, cultural, and social mores of the time. Do you believe that these are valid today? The story of ‘Aangan’ is not tied to any one time period. It is the tale of people living in trying times and deals with their beliefs, emotions and feelings. These elements lie at the core of society and constitute its cultural, political and social foundation. They do not date. The story of ‘Aangan’ is, therefore, both universal and ageless. It is as relevant today as it was about a century ago. Our people have the same psychological makeup, the same emotions and the same problems as they did in 1918. We still have Jameels chasing dreams, Chammis sacrificing themselves for love, and Aaliyas dealing with the doubts and certitudes of life. Very little, if anything, has changed. Our interpretation of its story and themes may change with time but ‘Aangan’ will always be relevant and current. ‘Aangan’ is written from a woman’s perspective and has a very strong set of female characters – Aaliya, Chammi, TehminaBaji, Kusum Didi. On the other hand, the male characters – Jameel, in particular – are relatively weak and uninteresting. Did you have to reinvent some of the character to make them attractive to twenty first century viewers? No, I did not. In fact, I worked very hard to stay true to the richly fleshed-out characters of Mastoor’s novel. Jameel, Aaliya, Safdar, Chammi, Kusum, Asrar and the others, all the characters have been defined in great detail – and with great skill and intelligence – by the author . Their strengths and weaknesses, convictions and doubts, and dreams and actions make them real, relatable and interesting. They do not need to be reinvented for the current generation of television viewers. While adapting ‘Aangan,’ I felt that it was my duty to maintain fidelity to its wonderful people. I made a deliberate effort to not change the essence of the novel and its characters. The central character of ‘Aangan,’ Aaliya, has been compared to that of Gaythi from Altaf Fatima’s ‘Dastak Na Do’ (1963) and Tara from Yashpal’s ‘Jhoota Such’ (1958, 1960) but is, in fact, more robust, complex and nuanced. How do you think Pakistani viewers will respond to a heroine who does not like men, takes over the responsibility of taking care of her mother after partition, refuses to accede to her mother’s wishes to get married, and asserts her independence, even in the most trying of circumstances? Aaliya does not hate men; she is against the system which creates men who lack strength, character and courage. She is bothered by men who romance women but abandon them in the face of changing circumstances and challenges. Her problem is with a society that allows men to act in dishonorable ways and treat women without care, consideration and empathy. It is highly reductive – and very unfair – to label her character as just a man-hater. There is much more to Aaliya than that. Jameel is an unlikely hero for our times. He is weak, capricious and passive. He abandons his first love – Chammi – for the more beautiful Aaliya when she comes to live in his home, and continues to pursue her even after she firmly rejects his romantic advances. Do you think that people will accept Jamil as the hero of the play? Jameel is a sensitive man who dreams of better, happier times for himself and for those around him. I think people will empathise with his character and find his unbridled hopefulness attractive. It is true that his character begins as a weak one but, as the story progresses; Jamil evolves into a man with strength, grit and determination. He, however, always remains a dreamer and this, in my opinion, is the quality that makes him a worthy hero of the story. When did you first think of adapting ‘Aangan’ for television? It was in the year 2012. ‘Aangan’ has held me captive ever since. I used to think I would be free of the hold that the novel has over me after adapting it for television, but I was wrong. I still think about ‘Aangan’ all the time and feel a strong need to take the story forward from where Khadija Mastoor left it. I cannot bear to think of abandoning the characters of the novel. It is my hope to write two sequels to ‘Aangan,’ one that covers the period between 1950 and 1980 and the other between 1980 and 2018. Hopefully, I will find the freedom to move on from ‘Aangan’ after writing the two serials. Why do you think ‘Aangan’ will make a good television serial? ‘Aangan’ tells a poignant story, full of passion and drama, with great skill, sensitivity and intelligence. It is inhabited by interesting characters and deals with themes, subjects and ideas that will resonate with television viewers. People will be drawn to its characters; some will be loved and some reviled, but all of them will generate strong emotions amongst viewers. ‘Aangan’ will engage, entertain and give people a lot to think about. I believe that it will be a very successful television serial. How involved were you in casting for the serial? Momina Duraid, the executive producer of the serial, lead the process of casting for ‘Aangan’. I believe that the director of the play – the very talented Mohammed Ehteshamuddin – was involved in casting as well. My own involvement was minimal. Let me add that Momina put a lot of effort and energy into casting the right actors for ‘Aangan’. A few of the actors that she wanted were unavailable when we started work on ‘Aangan’. Instead of looking for alternatives, she chose to delay the project and wait for the right actors to come available. I think it was a good decision. Casting compromises can kill a serial. Your last television serial, Hum Television’s ‘Sang E Mar Mar’, was exceedingly well-written and a huge hit with both viewers and critics. Do you believe that ‘Aangan’ will achieve similar success? I hope and believe that it will. ‘Aangan’ is set around the time of the division of British India but deals with much more than the 1947 partition. It tells stories of the partition of lovers, friends, and families. It deals with the effects of political upheaval on the lives, minds and relationships of ordinary people. It is rich in emotions. It has a lot of drama. And it has characters that represent our society in an honest, candid and daring manner. I think that people will get attached to ‘Aangan’ and make it a very successful television serial. TV One’s serial ‘Ghughi’, which was based on the 1950 Punjabi novel, ‘Pinjar’. by Amrita Pritam, received a lukewarm response from viewers, when it aired, earlier this year. The serial was set in roughly the same era as ‘Aangan’ and dealt with a few themes similar to those of your upcoming serial. Are you concerned that Pakistani viewers may not have an appetite for historical dramas set around the time of partition? I am not. ‘Aangan’ is a good television serial. A lot of very talented people have put their heart and soul into it. I cannot see their hard work, love and dedication not being rewarded. The writer lives in Dallas and writes about culture, history and the arts. He tweets @allyadnan and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Published in Daily Times, September 28th 2018.