Asghar Nadeem Syed: A Writer Par Excellence

Asghar Nadeem Syed is a literary name that needs no introduction. With a host of successful TV serials under his belt, Syed is known for highlighting societal issues few have the courage to bring to the discussion table. Khadijha Tariq talks to the legendary writers about the times, past, present, and future.

shghar Nadeem Syed has been a prominent playwright, drama writer, poet and educationist known for iconic popular drama serials including Chand Grahan, Riyasat, Khuwahish, Kirchiyan, Nijaat, Bol Meri Machli, Khuda Zameen Se Gaya Nahin, to name a few. He completed his Master’s degree in Urdu language from University of the Punjab, Lahore and PhD degree from Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan. Syed has never shied away from pinpointing negativities prevalent in our society. For his valour with the pen and his words, he has won numerous awards that only add to his impressive resume. Academia Magazine got in touch with him to discuss his life and what he plans in the near future.

 

Writing Career

Discussing his early experience with language and writing, Syed said, “I used to write stories and poetry in my college days and soon after completing my graduation, I started writing for literary magazines and was also teaching at the same time.” He said he got a call from PTV soon after and was invited to work as a play writer. Gohar Aftab Ahmad guided me through the process and I started writing plays for PTV. I have no formal qualification or degree in the field of writing or film making and all that I have learned is through groundwork and the experiences I had during my writing days. I learnt a lot from my seniors, including Ashfaq Ahmad Sahib and Anwar Sajjad Sahib and used to read their scripts and writings for a better understanding of the art.”

 

Writing Inspiration

Writing is all about deriving inspiration from prominent literary writings. But Asghar believes following someone is not the right practice to become a professional writer. “Every writer should have his/her signature style or something that distinguishes him or her from others. You can learn the basics of the craft by studying or reading classics or scripts. But no one can teach you how to go about the craft, which you can only polish with time and experience. You can learn how to develop stories or how to lay out the narrative structure of a piece of writing, but originality is derived only through your individual life experiences or the cultural milieu you dwell in. The story you write or the characters you develop are inspired from your individual life experiences and no book or person can teach you this.”

 

Unorthodox Themes 

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, not many writers were brave enough to write about issues of women, social injustice and feudalism. But Syed was an exception, as he never shied away from highlighting such vices. Asked about the challenges he faced during those times, he said his dramas and writings were a true depiction of what the audiences wanted to see back in those days.  The upper regions of Punjab including the Siraiki belt or Cholistan were underrepresented during my time. I happened to visit these areas and hence came across the living conditions and challenges faced by women and minorities in these parts of the country. The feudal system was quite dominant and women were exploited at the hands of unjust social practices. In my plays, I always portrayed women characters as strong, brave and courageous. I realised the cultural issues back in those days and hence voiced the concerns of middle and lower-middle classes through the medium of drama and playwriting.”

 

Modern Writers

There is a flux of writers entering the growing entertainment industry in Pakistan. However, Syed believes that the modern writer is restricted and entangled in marketing and popularity metrics. “We enjoyed liberty and were allowed to write on a diverse range of topics and themes by PTV. However, the modern writer is not free from market-related pressures. They are asked to sit with the marketing team who provides them with themes and ideas that can garner women attention or can earn producers lofty amounts of revenue. Even the role of the writer is limited now, as you hardly see them in the credits section.” He said back in his days, “plays were recognised by writers, but now they gain popularity based on actors and director, with little or no credit given to the writer”. He opined that writing of modern writers was limited, and most were churning out stereotypical stories, representing women either as oppressed entities or as the ones who oppressed others.

 

Writing, Dramas And Stereotyping

Commenting on the sobbing fest that most Pakistani TV dramas have turned into, Syed said today’s dramas lacked the power to inspire change and promote positivity. “Dramas highlight negativity which further flourishes negative elements or vices in the society. A society that wishes to develop its structure and cultural setup can never target just one section of its populace i.e. women. They need to represent all sections of the society, even all provinces and their issues. Drama milieu is very limited in its approach, as it only highlights some sections of society. Moreover, marketing goals surpass all other objectives, reducing the eloquent demeanour of this powerful medium as a mere tool of earning money and garnering popularity.”

 

Media Education In Pakistan

With the recent growth of media industry, media studies have become an in-demand study discipline in Pakistan. Syed, who has more than 36 years of experience in the field of education, believes that the Pakistani youth pursuing media studies were talented and had the required skillset and vision to change the image of the country. Some schools adopt a very liberal approach while designing media curriculum, incorporating several components, including screenwriting, editing, designing and lighting etc. They train their students on multiple grounds and allow them to practise what they learn through theory. Unfortunately, our education system is all about passing exams with good grades and fails in meeting the set criterions of work order; putting students far behind their experienced colleagues. Media is an extensive field and hence the need of the hour is to allow students to develop their ideas and challenge the conventions.”

He said he taught at BNU for almost five years and a number of his students were now stepping into the media industry. “Private universities can play a vital role in providing the practise ground to young aspiring media students,” he added. “Currently, I am teaching at NCA, and I am pleased to inform that several students at the varsity are very talented and just need a breeding ground to channelize their creative energies. They have the potential to change the course of the future.”

 

Research In Media Education

Just like other academic disciplines, research is media is an important aspect of the educational process. And Syed believes research is an invaluable key to implementing changes and introducing novelty and originality in media curricula. We need to introduce modern cinema in our media curriculum. Also, books on cinema and film making need to be updated after a year or so, as new techniques are introduced in the creative industry with each passing day. Universities need to strengthen their student accessing mechanisms. Not every student can become a successful writer or filmmaker. Some students are more suitable to become actors, editors, animators or even producers, instead of filmmakers. We need to groom students per their skills and aptitude.”

 

Advice To Youngsters 

Syed said the first step towards becoming a successful writer or filmmaker is to watch modern cinema. “Bollywood and Hollywood are not the only popular film industries across the globe. You must watch Romanian, Iranian and Russian cinema, as you can learn the craft and much-needed skill-set to polish and channelize your creative and artistic energies.” He also advised youngsters to read more literature, fiction or non-fiction. “You cannot learn the art of writing without reading good writers.”