Sana Shahnawaz is a Pakistani television producer, whose debut production was the TV serial Mann Mayal which aired on HUM TV a few months back. She has just recently named her production house Next Level Entertainment, which is in collaboration with Samina Humayun Saeed. They are currently working on three TV serials, the first of which is Khuda Mera Bhi Hai. Sana chose this project as a follow-up to Mann Mayal because of the story which highlights a very sensitive topic in our society. The story is based on a wife who gives birth to a transgender child, and the challenges she faces from her own family as well as outsiders. While Mann Mayal was a commercial project, Sana wants to explore different territories as a producer and not limit herself to tried-and-tested formulas to ensure good financial returns. Following Ink had an exclusive conversation with this rising star.
1. Your new show, Khuda Mera Bhi Hai is centered on the concept of a couple having a transgender child. What made you pick this particular subject?
I have had this question in my mind since I was a young girl; about who these people are, where they come from and what kind of lives they must lead. Luckily I found the perfect platform where I can highlight this issue and have people ask questions 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.
2. What kind of an audience do you aim to reach out to with this show?
This topic is pertinent to people of all walks of life, young and old, men and women. I expect to reach out to all of them and help them expand their minds and accept this as the truth and reality of life.
3. Do you think the Pakistani audience is ready for progressive shows?
Yes I think they are. I also think it is about time that we stopped considering our audiences as the type to only enjoy saas bahu dramas. They are equipped to not only digest but also handle and appreciate all sorts of stories, especially the ones based on realities of our society.
Mann Mayal was a wonderful beginning for me and I feel blessed to have been able to make such a drama but I believe as a producer I have a responsibility to not just entertain people but also to highlight the realities of the world and make our audiences aware of them.
5. Do you feel the content on our local television will ever change? Most of the time all we get to see are marital problems and second marriages of men.
Marital problems and second marriages are also a reality in our lives. But I do think we have come a long way, so many different stories having gained so much popularity. From where I see it, the content has already changed and changed for the better.
6. What is your criterion when you select a script?
I always aim to look for stories that are exciting and thought provoking and make it in a way that gains the attention of audiences. Those are the main thoughts that I have when working on any project.
7. Please tell us a bit about the upcoming projects of Next Level Entertainment. Do you guys plan on venturing into movies soon too and if so, what kind of storylines can we expect to see?
My upcoming project Bekhudi, which is expected to air on ARY in November is based on a true story. Another one of my projects, Iltija is based on Down syndrome. There are lots of other projects in the works but it is too soon to tell. I am concentrating more on dramas at the moment as I want to be able to bring more interesting subjects and storylines to the television screen. Will venture into making a film if I get a really good story.
8. What role does your family play in your business?
My family has been in this business for over 20 years now and they have done a lot for the industry. Everything that I know and everything I have learnt has been from and through them.
9. Who are some of your favorite actors and directors to work with in Pakistan?
Humayun Saeed, Talat Hussain, Noman Aijaz, Aisha Khan, Iman Ali, Sajjal Aly and Sohai Ali Abro, Saba Hameed are some of my favorite actors. Nadeem Baig, Shahid Shafat, Mehreen Jabbar Haissam Hussain Yasir nawaz are some of the finest directors but I feel most of the directors of our industry are doing brilliant work.
10. Which television shows (local or international) are you hooked on these days and why?
I love Game of Thrones. From the Pakistani dramas I loved Kafir, Doraha, Ishq Junoon Deewangi, Dillagi, Pyare Afzal, Besharam, Udaari. The list is endless actually when it comes to Pakistani dramas as television has always been superb and brilliant, because our style of storytelling had always been so close to reality which makes it so powerful. The world has just caught on to the power of television but Pakistani Television Industry has always managed to create classics time and again. I hope to become part of the great legacy of Pakistan Television.
11. Have you faced any challenges as a female Producer in this industry and who has been your biggest support through your journey so far?
It is a tough job, not just for women but for everyone, but I have been blessed with a good support system, that is my family.
12. What do you do in your spare time? Are you very social?
I love reading books and my scripts with some good music in the background. I love spending time with my family, meet my friends with whom I can relax and just be myself with.
13. What qualities do you feel a good producer should have?
To excel at anything, one must be honest, committed and true to themselves. It is important that whatever you do, you do it with love and passion.
14. What advice to do you have for other Pakistani women who want to become producers?
It is a great platform and a truly wonderful industry. Women should venture forth and with great perseverance, they can reach great heights.