Difficult to find actors for a TV serial about Down's Syndrome, says Ilteja director Mazhar Moin
Trawling through the super-abundance of TV plays on our entertainment channels, you do stumble on some that will catch your fancy, for there is something there for everyone. There are a lot of drama being produced, but sadly a lot of good work gets lost because there is so much going on.
Most of the fare is tear-jerkers about love-triangles, revenge, betrayal and packing-line saas-bahu sagas (ad nauseum) that neither the audiences nor the producers seem to get enough of. But while the saas-bahus were trashing each other, a new and promising genre of drama has emerged recently which is tackling some sensitive social issues.
It is not easy to work with issues that are socially taboo so kudos to the production teams that packaged them well and found receptive audiences too. Last year’s trend-setter, Hum TV’s Udaari which paired a debate on child abuse with a commentary on parenting became very popular, perhaps more so after PEMRA issued a notice to Hum TV for ‘objectionable content’ which created quite a stir.
Read more: Breaking new ground: there's more to Udaari than just child sexual abuse
Next in line was ARY Digital’s Khuda Mera Bhi Hai, a bold and brilliant initiative on the plight of a woman who gives birth to a intersex child.
On the same track and presently on air, is ARY Digital’s Iltija, directed by Mazhar Moin, the riveting story of a young couple who have children with Down’s syndrome and quadriplegia. The writer Saji Gul (of Sannata fame) has picked a difficult and sensitive issue that our society needs to be aware and tolerant about. The serial highlights how disabled people or families with disabled children are marginalised in our society.
“It can happen to any couple and is a reality that people should learn to accept,” says Mazhar Moin who has cast children suffering from Down’s syndrome and quadrepligia in the serial instead of child actors. “We have their families on the set and they have been very cooperative and supportive. We even had doctors advising us on being careful about what might upset the children on the set like too much noise or light,” he says. “Sometimes the shoots would become really time-consuming but all that is good as long as there is visual change and education for TV audiences.”
A project that doesn’t focus on mainstream media content has its fair share of challenges. Word is that casting for this serial was quite a challenge as all of the big name actors refused to do a depressing serial. Nevertheless Affan Waheed and Tooba Siddiqui are doing a fantastic job as lead actors.
Also read: Tooba Siddiqui will star in drama about Down syndrome
“A lot of people refused to act in this serial quite possibly because it is a difficult one and only someone who is passionate and has a high-level interest will opt for a serial on a tough subject,” says Moin. “Incidently, Tooba Siddiqui who has not worked on TV for the last two or three years and was looking for a solid role for her comeback so she was cast in the mother’s role. Also I don’t do drawing room locations and actors know that working on locations with me can be pretty gruelling,” he explains.
With eight episodes already aired, Mazhar Moin is happy with the feedback. “We even got an email from a home for these children being run in India that they are watching the serial and find it very realistic and inspiring,” he says. Forget the popcorn but keep a tissue box handy because the story gets pretty depressing and there is comic relief missing in the form of a character to lighten up the air a bit from time to time.
Originally published in Dawn, ICON, May 28th, 2017