Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Humour Is Always Native

This interview was recorded in 2003 by the VOICE Monthly, Islamabad

A tête-à-tête with writer, dramatist and producer Jehanzeb Aziz,
By The Voice Team

HUMOUR is serious business. Ask the failed slapsticks! In the realm of Urdu literature, very few people have ventured the genre and fewer still earned a reputation worth the salt. Jehanzeb Aziz, our personality of the month, entered the arena through his book Aik Dafa Ka Zikr Hai. According to Jehanzeb, the book was not exactly a conscious effort. Apart from the book, he is keen to do a lot many things. The Voice interviewed the PAF officer turned writer, advertising and PR practitioner , who heads the media department of the National Registration and Data Base Authority (NADRA). He has also served in the Inter Services Public Relations Air Wing.

Jehanzeb has not limited his craft to humour, trebling as a dramatist and producer to boot. He claims to have been infected with the bug of writing from his childhood. His joy and happiness knew no bounds when his first essay Makhan Lagana Aik Fun Hai (Buttering Is An Art) was published in the Urdu journal 'Hakayat'. As a person, he is forthright and amiable.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: What were your feelings on reading your script for the first time?A: Beyond explanation. I always enjoy reading whatever I have written and it gives a strange kind to happiness to me.

Q: You have had a distinguished career in Pakistan Air Force. How did you manage to spare time for literary activities?A: Life at PAF was so hectic and exciting that today when I recall, I am unable to understand how I managed to do it all. Writing is a full time job and it is only possible to write when you are able to develop a train of thought. Otherwise, you cannot even imagine writing anything. In my opinion, if you want to write one page, you have to read a hundred, otherwise, you cannot produce anything worthwhile. As far as I am concerned, I lay no claim to having produced any special work. I’m indebted to Syed Zamir Jaffery, who advised me to test myself in writing. This is how I came to be.

Q: Humour is not any easy form of literature. What inspired you to opt for it instead of relatively easier forms?A: I did not intend to write humour. I just wanted to write in the language which is in vogue and which abounds in humour. My language is not the traditional language of other books, couched in grammar. It is local parlance done without preparation of any kind of notes.

Q: Pundits opine that one loses all fire for writing after penning a book or that craze for writing gets a new impetus. What is your experience?A: My craze is still alive and at peak. My second book is headed for the shelves shortly although I have yet to finalise the title. This book also deals with the lighter side of life, where the reader will be able to enjoy a fresh lease. I believe the majority of Pakistanis are not greatly tuned to reading. I have made a very deliberate effort to keep a lighter vein so that the reader is tempted not to leave it in midway. I have just finished a novel written in potohari language.I am also working on another novel which is based on my experiences especially in armed forces of Pakistan.

Q: Are you inspired by big names in Urdu humour?A: I think a lot of serious poetry and prose on romance has been written in Urdu, but the same is not true of humour. Yet, one aspect about this genre of literature is encouraging: although small quantitatively, Urdu humour competes favourably with international standards qualitatively and the credit for this goes to the big names. Pitras Bukhari, Mushtaq Ahmed Yousafi, Syed Zamir Jaffery, Shafiq-ur-Rehman, Colonel Mohammad Khan, Mohammad Khalid Akhtar are the torch-bearers.

Q: Which among these inspires you the most?
A: Khalid Akhtar off course. He is in league of his own.I also like Ibn-e-Saffi.He is probably one of the most under rated writers of urdu language despite the fact that he is the most selling writer even almost two decades after his death. His characters and his stories are awesome.

Q: Poets and writers enjoy recognition, globally. Do you think humorists also share the same limelight?A: No. In my considered opinion, humour does not conform to a way of writing that has a certain international appeal. Poetry on the other hand, is universal in content. Novel and romance also share a global slice. Whereas humour is always native, addressing the local environment. In a way, you can find a similarity here, with folk arts.

Q: Tell us about your skills on the canvas?A: Apart from writing, I also have an abiding interest in painting. I enjoy romancing with canvas, I was not able to go to some art school for formal training primarily because of my cadetship and PAF service but I enjoy painting.

Q:Have you exhibited your work?A: No and yes. I have not had a formal kind of exhibition. I normally paint and sell them.

Q :And how you ended up in Advertising and public Relations.?A:Somewhere in 1994-93, I met Director Public Relations ( P.A.F). Group Captain Naveed, he asked me to work for Yaum-e-Fizaya (Air Force Day). He offered me to join ISPR Air Wing and from then on I am in it. Later, Group Captain Sultan M. Hali took over as DPR (PAF), who had been my instructor when I was a cadet. We, by the grace of almighty became a winning team and together we implemented many changes and improvements. We produced several documentaries, videos and a very successful drama seriel based on life in Pakistan Air Force.

Q : And your writing and painting background helped?A:Off course- painting is about visuals- and it helped a lot. ISPR Air Wing and at Hawk Advertising where I was Creative Director, these skills helped.

Q: What is the story behind drama seriel Shahpar?A: The drama serial was planned in 1995 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the country. Group Capt Hali and I did all the planning and requested noted playwright Mustansir Hussain Tarar to write the script. He very kindly consented to it. The production of the serial was assigned to me. For direction, senior television producer Qaisar Farooq was requested but the then PTV managing director did not agree to the proposal and instead asked Syed Shakir Aziz to do the job. The drama was a major hit, producing record business. I was responsible for the production and I also directed the aerial sequences.

Q: But there was lot of controversy also about 'Shahpar'?A: You see anything good is controversial. Some people raised some objections about the serial drawing heavily on romance. My response to such objections was that flying per se, is a romance. Through Shahpar we tried to portray the proud pilots of PAF as normal human beings, not supernatural creatures. We wanted to communicate that they are not mere mechanical parts, but wholesome human beings with feelings as strong or weak as any other mortal.

Q: How was your experience doing various PAF projects?A: Very challenging. Actually doing anything in air adds another dimension to the whole scheme of things. When you are recording a sequence on ground your characters and camera remain on ground. But when you are in the air, everything changes. Your camera is in the air, your characters are flying and the light source changes at every moment. It has a different dynamics altogether.

Q: Did you receive an award for Shahpar?A: Yes Musawar Award.

Q: You wrote drama seriel Sajri Sawai for PTV. Have you switched over to drama writing from production?A: You see, basically I am a writer. Senior PTV producer Syed Taufiq Shah is among good friends of mine, he asked me to write the script. It is a story of Pakistanis living abroad with a bent on the trials and tribulations of these expatriates.

Q: After Air Force how is NADRA getting along.?A: Well NADRA is something truly exciting. First of all every Pakistani, young old, living here or abroad is our audience. Then NADRA’s product is very unique. It remains with (you) always. All these things makes it challenging as well as exiting.

Q: Why these new ID cards?A: We are changing the system, as you know the previous system was manual and according to a safe estimate there were more than 10 million fake or illegal or bogus identity cards in circulation. However NADRA is not about just making ID cards, it is infact one of our by-products. The main target is to get registered each and every person in Pakistan through all available means.

Q: What is the response of the general public?A: The response has been overwhelming; beyond our estimates and projections. Till date more than 30 million application forms have been acquired. The rate of submission of filled-in forms is also very fast, it is faster than what we can easily handle.

Q: How do you see NADRA performance as far its goals are concerned?
A: In a short span of time NADRA has successfully completed the scanning and data entry of all the National Data Forms (64 Million) and has successfully used this data for the production of the computerized Electoral Rolls. NADRA is already issuing the new computerized National Identity Cards to the citizens of Pakistan. National ID cards for Overseas Pakistani(NICOP) and Pakistan Origin Crad (POC) is in the pipeline. The national data warehouse is a national asset.I am sure it will inshalla be a very effective decision support system in the future.

Q: How are you approaching your audience?
A: This has been a real challenge. And I had and still have huge tasks at hand. We are employing integrated approach for our mass communications effort using various above the line and below the line communications methods.

Q: What is your opinion about current media and advertising in Pakistan?A: We are witnessing major changes. Media ,advertising professionals and advertisers all must be prepared to deal with the new situation in the times ahead. Like satellite and cable TV have arrived in Pakistan but we still do not know what to do with them. In the same way we are yet to exploit the potential of internet properly. Our advertising agencies must be prepared to take up new challenges. There is an acute shortage of trained people in advertising industry. There is shortage of creative directors, good copywriters and visualisers. Karachi based agencies are more professional because of the availability of trained manpower and better infrastructure like studios etc. On client side, especially government media managers need to be more professional. I think we are moving towards more accountability. We need research organizations like Gallop Pakistan and Aftab Associates for devising media plans based on facts and figures.

Q:What are your future projects?A: As I have said earlier my second book is almost complete. I have just finished a novel written in potohari language, Drama seriel Sajri Seware was based on this novel. I am also working on another novel.It is a very difficult subject but I hope and pray, I will be able to finish it. I am in pre-production stage of a comedy drama serial. lets see what happens only Allah knows about the future.