Amongst the buzz surrounding local films (every month another production house swears that their film is in-fact the ‘revival of Pakistani cinema’) we often ignore an aspect of local entertainment that never stopped growing. Pakistani television since the golden days of PTV, unlike film and even music, has been characterized by steady evolution.
Today’s local celebrity culture is brimming with television stars. But the unique style of modern soap operas is not for everyone, still regardless of what your take on television serials is you can’t ignore the plethora of opportunities they present for budding actors, directors and producers.
Perhaps no one personifies this potential more than Pakistan’s youngest producer. Mirroring the fresh-faced charm of the leading actresses that she works with, Sana Shahnawaz struck commercial gold with her debut production (you might have heard of a little thing called ‘Mann Mayal’.) It became a nationwide sensation, and cemented her as an electrifying talent.
“I had worked very hard on the serial and I was hopeful the audience would like it which they thankfully did.”
It is surprising then to learn that her entry into the entertainment business was via a completely different field. She talks about working as a wardrobe stylist while still pursuing a degree in textile design, her eventual transition to production and the perfectionist streak shines through. It is clear that hard work is her mantra, as while the promise of adoring fans is nice Sana isn’t interested in leaving success up to chance. When asked about ‘Mann Mayal mania’, she is at once humble and yet unwilling to let all the backend work go unnoticed. “I am not sure if I was ‘expecting success’,” she says, “but yes, I had worked very hard on the serial and I was hopeful the audience would like it which they thankfully did.”
Albeit her love for creativity is evident, but she is also unfazed by the business side of things. Having worked fist as a wardrobe stylist and then a style director for forty television serials, she has a history of flexing her creative muscles, but is simultaneously a believer in doing things right. “My transition towards production has been a gradual one,” she says, “once I decided to become a producer, I didn’t get my first project overnight. I worked on it for months to ensure it is perfect. Only then did Mann Mayal happen.”
Her words capture the situation well; ‘Mann Mayal’ did in fact ‘happen’. Like a phenomenon that divided opinions but kept audiences hooked and the online world buzzing. It ‘happened’ to all of us whether we would admit it or not, and while many would chalk it down to the intangible tastes of the population, it would be fair to divert some credit to young Miss Shahnawaz as well.
As a millennial making her mark in a saturated industry, she is keen about ensuring that her product is noticed by the masses, “viewers have so many options these days – it is important to grab their attention,” she says, “I am extremely involved in the marketing aspect of all my productions because it is the need of the hour.” She is also unfazed about embracing changing and often disrupted technologies, her take on the ever-expanding online world is an example, “regardless of what one thinks of the internet, I cannot deny it is the most important medium for publicity at the moment which is why I focus on it a lot.”
“I am extremely involved in the marketing aspect of all my productions because it is the need of the hour.”
Perhaps the one thing that she is nonchalant about is all the attention she garners as an individual. In the wake of her success, a myriad of interviews popped up. Most of these kept brandishing her title as the country’s youngest producer and were brimming with dolled up images of her.
The flurry isn’t surprising; many people have long envisaged the mysterious minds behind the scenes as somewhat of a hardnosed anomaly. So when Sana Shahnawaz entered the spotlight, all doe-eyed and smiling, many were understandably astounded.
Her reaction towards this hype however is casual and accepting. “When Mann Mayal was about to come out and my name started appearing as the producer,” she says, “I started receiving a lot of attention from the media. I also received a lot of messages of appreciation on my personal social media accounts which is why I decided to make them public and be able to interact with my fans because where would I be without their support?” She may have elected to stay behind the camera, but she isn’t shy when it comes to appreciating her many fans.
If we were to categorize them, Sana’s career choices then could be branched under an umbrella of calculated risks; she is at once unafraid to venture into uncharted territory yet ensuring that she has done her due diligence. A combination best represented by her decision to unveil her production house, Next Level Entertainment. Launched towards the end of last year, it was a move that she embarked on with fellow producer Samina Humayun Saeed. A firm believer in working with the right people, Sana gives her partner a shout-out, “I have never been nervous about my decision because I have Samina Humayun by my side who has been doing this for the longest time and is truly the best of the best,” and if their first production is any indication, it is clear that they are capable of much more than romantic-drama.
“I want to change the landscape of Pakistan’s television industry.”
While ‘Mann Mayal’ divided opinions, some even writing it off as conservative and old fashioned, yet it wouldn’t be a miss to say that Sana represents the progressive face of Pakistani television. Not just as a young woman assuming a leadership role, but also as someone who is willing to produce daring content.
Her second production (first under the Next Level Entertainment banner) titled ‘Khuda Mera Bhi Hai’ centres around the plight of intersex children. After Shoaib Mansoor’s evocative film ‘Bol’ this is the first time that a mainstream Pakistani production has put an intersex character at the centre of its plot, and Sana has no qualms about how important the subject is, “luckily I found the perfect platform where I can highlight this issue and have people ask questions,” she says, “and together, I hope we can find solutions to these questions, start a dialogue amongst people, be able to improve society as a whole and hopefully change lives and be able to give equal rights that every human deserves.”
The project has been lauded by many, and as it was released in the wake of the critically acclaimed ‘Udaari’ (a television series dealing with child sexual abuse) many see it as a positive shift in the narrative of Pakistani television.
Which is something that Sana acknowledges is one of her own goals as well.
While her confidence and commitment are admirable, but perhaps her most appealing quality is a clarity of thought; she knows exactly where she wants to fit in the entertainment industry puzzle, “I want to change the landscape of Pakistan’s television industry and take it a notch higher. I am hopeful each project of mine will be a step in that direction.”