Haseena Moin’s Wonderful World of Women

The screenwriter elevated the ordinary to capture the dream of millions of Pakistani women: freedom to be themselves.

Tazeen Javed

March 29, 2021

Haseena Moin’s Wonderful World of Women
Haseena Moin, writer of extraordinary female characters such as Sanya (Marina Khan of "Tanhaiyaan") and Sana Murad (Shehnaz Sheikh of "Ankahi")

Screenwriter and playwright Haseena Moin, who passed away in Karachi on March 26 at age 79, was so famous for her female characters that playing one of “Haseena Moin’s girls” was considered the high point of any actor’s career. “My spirited heroines were a reaction to the regressive female characters in Urdu literature,” Moin once said in an interview. Moin was not the only female playwright of her era — her contemporaries Bano Qudsia and Fatima Surayya Bajia were both successful novelists and playwrights — but Moin was a phenomenon. Her portrayal of the everyday lives of the modern urban women of her era, laced with wit and humor, made her one of the very few screenwriters who were superstars in their own right. 

Such was her impact that even before satellite television reached South Asia, her fame spread from Pakistan to India through pirated VHS tapes of her work. Over her writing career, which spanned over 40 years, from 1969 to 2012, Moin changed the way stories were told in Pakistan by centering women — giving them agency, independence, and choices during a time when they might have had few in real life. Her first heroine Tara (Nilofar Abbasi), from Shehzori (1970), eloped, unheard of in the 1970s. Zara Ahmed (Shehnaz Shaikh) from Tanhaiyan (1985) was an entrepreneur. Sara (Nadia Khan) in Des Pardes (1991) was a golfer who traveled internationally for tournaments. Moin’s shows were not only subversive, but also successful.

Born in Kanpur, in present-day India in 1941, Moin moved to Pakistan in the early 1950s and graduated from Karachi University with a Master’s in history in 1963. She started writing for a children’s magazine, Bhaijan, when she was 17 and then moved on to writing skits for Radio Pakistan in her early 20s. Following her success with Radio Pakistan, Pakistan Television — the state-owned television channel — invited Moin to write an on-stage Eid special in 1969, which paved the way for her big break: writing for a TV serial. Her first, Shehzori, was adapted from a short story by Azeem Ahmed Chughtai, brother of renowned writer Ismat Chughtai. Shehzori was such a hit that Moin was asked to write the first-ever original script for a Pakistani television show, Kiran Kahani (1973). Moin worked consistently since, writing both original serials and adaptations, such as that of Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel and Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady. Despite her success, Moin never considered writing to be her full-time job and was an educator — first a teacher and then a school principal. For her, teaching was her day job, while writing was her labor of love. 

In 1988, famed Bollywood director and producer Raj Kapoor would ask her to write the dialogues of his film Henna (1991) — about a man who inadvertently crosses the Indo-Pak border from India into Pakistan — which she did. He passed away before he could finish the project, and his son Randhir Kapoor took over. But, at the time, few knew of her involvement: before the film’s release, Moin requested Kapoor to remove her name from the credits because of increasing tensions between India and Pakistan.