Sanam Saeed says we can have good Pakistani content if film budgets are spent on OTT platforms instead
Every year, the Karachi Literature Festival gathers literature lovers under the same canopied roof and hosts an array of talks that range from appreciating established works to exploring narratives that form as the world shifts. This year, actor Sanam Saeed attended as a guest speaker and spoke about the change that can come about if budgets allocated for films are spent on OTT platforms instead.
The session, called From Silver Screen to Mini Screen: Goldmine of OTT Media, hosted on day three of the 14th iteration of the KLF, was moderated by Safinah Danish Elahi and included scriptwriter Faseeh Bari Khan as the other guest speaker. Saeed held the conversational floor and talked about her criteria when choosing the characters she plays.
“When I choose a character, it is necessary for them to convey a message. Pakistani women don’t travel much, they aren’t very educated either — they don’t read too many books or see the world outside their homes so they don’t have many tools to learn from — their exposure is limited. But through television, the world opens up in front of them, they get a new perspective, they live vicariously through television,” she said. “So it is very important, especially for Pakistan, because our television industry is booming, we have done some really great work — delivered really good stories, messages, productions to our public. It is our social responsibility to do good, to show good, to bring about the change.”
She said the reason why she doesn’t take up too much work is because she does not find a positive message in every role that is offered to her. Saeed remarked that her perception changed after she saw her characters in Mera Naseeb and Zindagi Gulzar Hai being upheld as “role models”. “I realised our youth has no role models, there are no role models left anymore. It is very important because Pakistan has such a high population of young people — we need to have male and female role models,” she said.
The Ishrat Made in China actor thinks social media has had a detrimental effect on Pakistani youngsters, turning them more “robot-like”. “It’s very important to have characters that are aspirational, that women in our society can look up to so there’s hope and some form of change that can happen in society,” she added.
Khan pointed out that it is TV that teaches women that they’re weak. “What can we say about TV when the people in charge show violence against women and say it increases their ratings?” he asked. He said they claim that the expected audience for dramas today includes domestic workers and that other women have made the move to Amazon and Netflix for better content.
“We’ve had enough content where women are getting abused and crying, let’s show that women can do something other than forgive men, they can live their own lives as well. This is why I wrote Ghisi Piti Mohabbat,” said the scriptwriter.
According to the Cake actor, Pakistani content has downgraded where storytelling is concerned. “We used to write good stories but we don’t anymore because of what Faseeh Bhai pointed out — the ratings. But these days, there’s confusion — [people ask], ‘Have you quit acting? We aren’t seeing you on TV’. I have quit acting on TV for now but I am taking up series on lots of OTT platforms.
“Recently, Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam won an award in Singapore. In March, we’re going to France for the Series Mania Festival for a series called Barzakh. Unfortunately, Zee5 is banned in Pakistan which makes sense — why should Pakistan make money for India? It’s understandable. But hopefully through this, our homegrown platforms Urduflix, Tapmad [will benefit],” she said.
Saeed mentioned that there is also a financial issue, which is why shifting to OTT platforms may be the wisest move. “The money that is spent on these series equates to our film budgets. Cinema doesn’t create the same kind of enthusiasm because with a Rs1,000 ticket, food and drinks, it’s just not affordable anymore. If the ones who have money want to spend it in making films, it may be a big gamble but if they invest the same budget in OTT platforms, maybe there would be some change, maybe then we could have some good content.”
She concluded by noting that most Zee5 shows that are winning awards are Pakistani. “Pakistani writers, directors, actors [and] production, and it is made in Pakistan. That means we have the talent. Hopefully Zee5 is going to create some healthy competition for Pakistan to have more OTT platforms.”