Erum Binte Shahid is one of the biggest producers of Pakistani drama industry. She started her career in the early 2000s and continued to attain respect, especially when she produced some soft and light-hearted telefilms and serials during the times haunted by loud content made in accordance with the Indian style of drama production. The best quality of Erum Binte Shahid is that despite having produced prolific work, she has managed to make almost all of her works appealing owing to the creativity she incorporates in them. Every project of hers has been novel and mundanity is something you cannot associate with her name. Erum Binte Shahid also has some directorial works to her name such as “Khamoshi the Telefilm”, “Abban Zafar”, “Love Finally”, “Aye Ishq Humein Barbad Na Kar” and “Ruswa”. In many of her projects, Erum has teamed up with lovable celebrities like Rubina Ashraf, Marina Khan, Maria Wasti and Mohammed Ahmed to present enjoyable pieces. I asked her a few questions, which are as follows along with their answers.
To what extent is the statement true that it is the producers who demand stories based on the victimization of women?
I do not agree with this statement. In the modern times, the producers’ freedom has been curbed by the channels and even the producers have to succumb. The kind of work we wish to do and present is not in demand. In demand is nothing but the stories of oppressed women. The times in which producers used to sell their work to channels were better in terms of content. With the growing times, producers have fallen victim to the dictation of channels who control you in every way you are working. Still, it cannot be said that it is only specific kind of work which is running on air and is growing popular. A recent example of it is “Silsilay”, a serial we made for GEO, based more on familial relations and emotions and less on woman oppression. Even when the serial took a romantic turn, it was in the last episode. The other example can be of “Angan”, the highly popular ARY serial which was also not based on any sort of victimization but was a soft, PTV style family drama.
To whom does the story actually belong? The producer, the director or the writer?
Considering the circumstances and the way things take place here, the story becomes that of the producer because in the system we work in, the producer pays for the story. But by the end of the day, the story belongs to the writer. Even if the producer, the director and the writer team up to develop a story, the pen remains in the hands of the writer and the credit should be given to the person who has written it.
You have been working since early 2000s, a period which is also known for producing Indian style drama serials. Can you tell us the names of some productions of yours which you made in those days to create a difference?
Yes, it’s true that a time came when soaps based on Indian style started being produced in Pakistan. In those days, I headed a project named “Kaisa Yeh Junoon” while working as the senior producer at ARY. It was a mega serial with a star-studded cast. All of us tried to make a difference but if we talk about change in the real sense of the word, the credit must be given to Baber Javed who brought back our own style of drama-making. He directed a number of pieces in those times which were not soaps of Indian style but drama serials of Pakistani style. While all of us were trying keeping under consideration our respective capacities, Baber Javed gave serials in abundance.
Tell us the names of some personal favourite drama serials of yours from the days when “rating” was not an issue.
I directed a series for GEO titled “Kaisi Hai Zindagaani”. It was produced by Rubina Ashraf and was based on taboos of the society. We tried to tackle every subject which is brushed under the carpet due to the discomfort it creates. This series happens to be my personal favourite project. Another drama which is very close to my heart is “Ruswa”, directed by me and produced by A & B. From my own productions, I feel that “Kaisa Yeh Junoon” involved a lot of effort and I still recall it as a very good production. “Lala Begum”, a film produced by me and directed by Mehreen Jabber for the Zeal Unity Project is also very dear to me.
You have done a lot of work with Mohammed Ahmed, both as a producer and as a director. What inspires you in his writing?
Yes, I have done a lot of work with Mohammed Ahmed. We are compatible and have developed a strong working relationship. We understand each other’s moods well. The best quality of Mohammed Ahmed is his conveyance of deep thoughts and ideas in very simple words. His style of writing is not philosophical at all. It is simple yet impactful. We have been working together for so many years because when it comes to work, we share the same aptitude. The two writers I have always enjoyed working with are Mohammed Ahmed and Ali Imran.
While you have worked with veteran writers like Haseena Moin and Mohammed Ahmed, which young writers do you think are capable and talented from the modern times?
I like Faiza Iftikhar from the modern times. She is also less philosophical and more realistic when it comes to dialogues, and her craft of handling the story is admirable. I have worked a lot with her, two examples being “Tujh Pe Qurban” and “Dil Lagi”. Two other writers I admire are Samra Bukhari, with whom I recently did “Silsilay”, and Sarwar Nazir. I also came across the script of “Pukaar” by Adeel Razaq which I found very well-written but unfortunately, did not get a chance to supervise.
We see you producing works in abundance, yet you take care to produce artistic stuff. How do you manage to infuse creativity into every project in an era of commercialism?
It’s all about trying. I try to produce good work and take success and failure as parts of life. Hard-work and good intentions, however, can definitely produce an admirable result. I might have produced and directed poor-quality works but it has never happened because of my bad intentions. At times, one has to surrender before a lot of constraints in the process of production. Still, I have always strived hard to make the quality suffer less amidst problems like low budgets and have managed to keep creativity intact.
What are the future aims of “Evolution Media Productions”?
Its foremost aim is to try to produce good work. One does not always succeed in producing the desired result, for in the process of producing, both creativity and business hold equal importance. The task of producing eight to ten projects within a year will not always lead to all of the productions being perfect, but it will be taken care that even a project lacking in quality due to some reason be presented as worthy of watching with the help of hard-work. So, the only aim of “Evolution Media Productions” is to be remembered as a house that made good dramas and never compromised on quality.
With the revival of our film industry, have you planned to make any film?
I feel that I still need to learn more about production so that when I make a film, it is executed properly in every way, is liked and does not result in the team’s humiliation. Moreover, I am interested in the genre of suspense, but I am not sure if these are the right times for that. A film is definitely in my pipeline, but a film with creative input and not baseless comedy.
Can you name some people who have acted as inspirations and supports for you in your career?
My father supported me a lot, and had he not been beside me, I would not have been a part of this industry. He understood my passion and temperament and gave me the freedom to pursue my interests. The other person I would like to name is Sameena Peerzada who brought me into the industry and in the initial days of my career, cared for me and taught me like her own child. I assisted her in her film, “Inteha” and she is one of the reasons why I am today what I am. She took me from Islamabad to Lahore after convincing my father that I am meant for this field. Whereas inspiration is concerned, Raana Sheikh’s work has always inspired me a lot. These three are ineluctable names in my growth as a successful person of the industry (if you think I am successful). Saba Hameed and Maria Wasti are my close friends who have always been there in times when it has been difficult for me to take decisions. These two ladies have acted like true friends, who instruct and scold but selflessly and for your good.