It is hard to define Samina Ahmed in a few words; she is a hard core boss, an understanding colleague, a caring mother, a dedicated artiste, an astute director/producer and a compassionate human being. And to top it all, she is a very opinionated lady.
“As an artiste or any creative person, you have to have a firm belief in yourself and do only what your heart tells you to do. Anything less or more means one is not being true to one’s self, only compromising; and that is one thing I have never done, nor am willing to do at any stage in life.”
The name Samina Ahmed stands out significantly in Lahore Television’s history. And although she is more acclaimed for her performances in comedy ventures like Akkar Bakkar, Taal Matol, Alif Noon and Such Gup, Samina says she started her career with some essentially serious plays, as comedy was not the norm of the day then. Does she prefer comedy over serious plays? “I prefer all kinds of play, be it comedy, serious, art or commercial.”
In 1997, Samina started her own production company, Samina Ahmed Productions and captured the audiences with a genuinely hilarious comedy, Family Front, which ran for a record 150 episodes, bagging PTV Awards in 1999 for best director, actress, writer, supporting actor and new talent. “That was a tremendous boost to our company and has proved to be a very solid foundation for our work to come in later years,” she says. The production house fared extremely well afterwards, churning out one comedy after the other and continues to amuse an entertainment hungry audience incessantly.
‘As an artiste or any creative person, you have to have a firm belief in yourself and do only what your heart tells you to do. Anything less or more means one is not being true to one’s self, only compromising; and that is one thing I have never done, nor am willing to do at any stage in life,’ says Samina Ahmed
But does it imply that its success is essentially linked with comedy ventures? “By no means,” the denial comes almost instantaneously. “It is true that we have the most acclaimed comedies to our credit, but it all came very naturally. You don’t squeeze into an existing niche; you must do what your heart tells you to. If you start catering totally to others’ demands at the cost of negating your heart’s voice, you lose out, both as an artiste and as a person.”
She claims she can never be made to partake in a venture that she cannot relate to as a person. “I know I would never be able to do horror or violence because that’s just not me. May be as an actress, I would take up such a role just to prove that I can do it. But as a producer or director, it is certainly not my cup of tea.”
Before Samina became the first ever lady in the country to open (and successfully run) a production company, she was involved with theatre as the director of programmes at the Alhamra Arts Council in Lahore. She talks about her achievements in that chair. “I really wanted to establish a happening entity, but alone, I couldn’t. I did contribute to the best of my capabilities: I created a puppet theatre, training puppeteers, creating new characters and organising a regular puppet show which is still continuing. Then I arranged a number of music programmes, organised music and drama festivals and encouraged new people to make a mark for themselves.”
Speaking about the many television channels sprouting up lately, Samina feels that both sides of the coin must be taken into consideration. “Yes, it certainly is offering more chances to all those associated with performing arts, and we do see a lot of new talent coming to the forefront. But it has also affected the quality of drama and art. You see, we are a people who don’t think or plan proactively, and now we have a serious dearth of professionals in all fields (from technical to performing departments) as no human resources were trained with these new channels in perspective. Here, I would say PTV has played a poor role. They had all the facilities in the world but they just did not induct or train new people in anticipation of new channels. And unfortunately, they are the worst sufferers in this regard. PTV is still trying to retain the past glory that it once enjoyed, but can that be retained when their whole infrastructure has collapsed? There are no dramas being produced; they are just being bought from whoever is there in the market to sell. PTV has really lost its identity.”
And what does the fire-brand producer have to say regarding the much hyped ‘softer image’ of Pakistan? “What softer image?” She throws up her hands and laughs cynically. “Is there such a thing as image when there is nothing real to support it? How can you create a false image when the world knows who and what you actually are? This is the age of information and tremendous technology. You can deceive the world for some time by covering the rubbish with a sparkling image, but it won’t last long. Sooner or later, reality is bound to seep though. There is no way you can trick the world into believing that all is well here when it is not. Can I take a couple of actresses and a camera to shoot in Peshawar or a village in interior Sindh or Punjab for that matter? No, I can’t. Aren’t these areas a part of Pakistan? Doesn’t the softer image apply there? The only way we can project a better image is by addressing the situation and really making things right.”
Samina passionately believes that unless there is political stability in the country, things cannot get any better. And there is another point she has to make. “We have to develop a work culture here. These days, it is fashionable to sit back and declare that you are getting a fat salary without moving a finger. It is considered fashionable to claim that the people who do work are nothing more than kammi kameen. We should be ashamed of ourselves, making such horrendous claims.”
Samina Ahmed, in our brief meeting, reveals a passionate and highly opinionated personality. But she adamantly refuses to describe herself. Nabeel, the writer of her serial Hanstay Bastay comes to the rescue. “I think she has two very positive qualities that stand out quite prominently: one, she is very honest and fair in her dealings, and two, she is very generous and big hearted. She sees to it that all get their fair share (including herself) and does not get bogged down by problems or difficulties.” (Samina nods her assent). “As for her not-so-positive qualities, I think she is short tempered and gets a trivial impatient at times. That’s all.”
I ask Samina about what she values most in life? “Insaniat (humanity),” comes the prompt and succinct reply.