Pakistani star visits local friends


BRATTLEBORO -- One of the biggest stars in Pakistan visited town recently.

Before visiting family in San Francisco, actress and producer Samina Ahmed decided to stop by and see her friends, Professor Javed Chaudhri and his wife Yasmeen.

"The weather is horrible," she laughed.

From May 1-4, Ahmed spent her time taking in the area while Chaudhri attempted to persuade her to participate in the Women's Film Festival. She met with six festival organizers during the trip.

This will mark the 24th year of the film festival held in Brattleboro. It is usually held on a weekend in the spring.

Chaudhri told the Reformer there was a very exciting discussion between Ahmed and festival organizers.

"There's all types of talk about collaboration with women from Pakistan and women in film art here," he said, hopeful that with these ongoing talks, Ahmed will be returning to the area more often.

Like famous author Rudyard Kipling and Chaudhri himself, Ahmed grew up in Lahore, which is in Pakistan. She also was a director of the Punjab Arts Council, which has its office in walking distance from where the Civil Military Gazette offices are located. Those offices were where Kipling had worked as a journalist before eventually moving to Dummerston and building his home known as Naulakha.

"History comes back full circle," said Chaudhri.

As a producer in Pakistan, Ahmed is mostly known for her work in television. She also has been an actress for 48 years and got her start when she was still in college.

"Javed (Chaudhri) has always wanted me to come and do something for the festival here," she said. "It's a fine festival here."

The first comedy that Ahmed produced and directed was called "Family Front," which she described as a super successful television show about a crazy family that aired in the late-'90s. She was also one of the show's starring actresses.

At the time, a new channel was launching and outside producers were being asked to pitch ideas. Ahmed went to the channel's general manager with the concept for "Family Front." It ended up being the program used to launch the channel.

"It was one of the main products. There was lots of publicity and hype," she said. "We had a very good team."

In newspapers, critics wrote favorably about the show. They did not know what to expect, given that most of people involved in the project previously had worked in drama.

After the success of "Family Front," Ahmed's son joined her in production. She had started Samina Ahmed Productions for that show and went on to make several more. He would select and direct scripts while Ahmed would pitch potential shows.

"I had to convince the channels that it was a very good thing and they should buy it," she said. "We worked like that for a good five or six years. He moved on to Karachi to work with the National Academy of Performing Arts. He started teaching there and I was left alone. I thought it was too much and took a step back."

For now, Ahmed is sticking with acting. She said it is easier than producing, which entails putting up with actors, making arrangements and looking out for locations. She will be one of the main characters in a television show coming out this year.

Producing is still in the cards, though. Ahmed told the Reformer that she has some ideas.

In her country, television show creators do not film seasons of a series.

"We just go on and on and on. It's difficult to do 52 or 51 episodes in one year and sustain quality," she added. "We had only one episode in advance in hand. Every week we had to come up with an episode."

That would include recording and editing as well as adding music and laugh tracks. Then the finished produced would be sent to Islamabad for its telecast.

This will mark the 50th year of television programming in Pakistan. It can still be challenging to work in the industry due to the limits for electricity usage.

"At the moment, we have 12 hours of electricity available in the day. It's one hour on, one hour off. In big cities that is," said Ahmed. "It's very difficult to work in that atmosphere where the basic thing you need is electricity and we don't have enough of it."

Generators are used on filming locations, which can drive up the cost of a production. But it allows for a more even supply of electricity, Ahmed said.

Another challenge has to do with the state of political unrest in her country. If there is a bomb blast or firing, some of the personnel involved in filming may not be able to get to location on time.

"They may be coming from different sections of the city," said Ahmed. "If there has been a problem in that area or in the middle of the area ... They will not arrive. They are held at home and the show is canceled that day."

Delays in filming can also increase costs but the show must go on. Deadlines still need to be met.

"Personally, I think one has to be very resilient to know a bomb blast has gone by, many people have died and you start getting your makeup on and start acting," said Ahmed. "I think eventually, it starts telling."

She told the Reformer that the entertainment industry is important in making different cultures understand each other better and stories on television and in film are taken from real life instances.

"We do get CNN and BBC but that is not going to make us understand how people live, what their aspirations are, what are their problems and how they solve them," concluded Ahmed.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.


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