The shows that our neighbours are watching
With Islamabad requesting New Delhi to lift the ban on its TV channels, soaps from across the border may just return to entertain us as they did in the ’80s and ’90s. Sunday Times takes a peek at what’s airing on Pak prime time
Anahita Mukherji | TNN (THE TIMES OF INDIA; July 22, 2012)
For two countries separated by a common culture and language, the idiot box can bridge the gap. But, with both governments often taking each other’s satellite channels off the air and often using the state TV for propaganda against each other, television has reinforced stereotypes — mostly in India where channels from across the border have been banned. This may all change now as the government proposes to open India to Pakistani TV channels, something that may change our perception about the neighbouring country.
Pakistan, like India, is addicted to the ‘family drama.’ Indian viewers would be tickled pink to see the first episode of the Pakistani serial Dil Diya Dehleez, which opens with a bunch of young women singing the Bollywood number “Mehndi laga ke rakhna.”
That Star Plus is amongst Pakistan’s most watched general entertainment channels may have something to do with the fact that many Pakistani serials are inspired by Indian soaps. For Indians, this is akin to watching a reflection of a reflection. “You have to understand that they (Pakistani serials) are based on the Star Plus formula but are now breaking away from it,” says Kamal Siddiqi, editor of The Express Tribune, a Pakistani daily. Pakistani serials are rather bold in the issues they raise, from child abuse to divorce and even incest, he adds. Many are adaptations of Urdu novels.
Not so long ago, Pakistan, like India, was obsessed with Hindi serials of the saas-bahu variety. “People wouldn’t cook their meals from 7 pm to 10 pm when Hindi serials were on air,” says Fazila Kazi, a popular Pakistani TV actress and producer. But much like Indians, Pakistanis too, are now growing weary of the saas-bahu formula.
Humsafar (pictured above), one of Pakistan’s most popular serials, revolves around the lives of Khirad, a young girl from a poor family, and her snooty rich cousin Ashar who get married, in accordance with Khirad’s mother’s dying wish. As the two begin to fall in love, they’re torn apart by Ashar’s scheming mother who plots with his childhood friend to separate the couple. While the story sounds straight out of a K-serial, the acting is more natural and a lot less dramatic than what’s dished out on Indian TV. The clothes and make up are understated, and the homes look like regular middle-class houses, not the palaces that families in many Indian soaps inhabit.
Unlike the shy demure heroines in Hindi serials, Khirad is a strong woman who stands up for her rights, and though in love with Ashar, is capable of living alone. Confrontations between Khirad and her mother-in-law are not accompanied by dramatic bursts of music. “Humsafar was aired every Saturday at 8 pm. I would try and watch all the episodes. I was crazy enough to watch what I missed on YouTube. And believe me, I wasn’t the only one,” says Mehwish Jillani, a young mother from Karachi. She also loves watching Mera Saeen, the story of a feudal politician, and family drama Dil Diya Dehleez.
While Kazi feels the sets and costumes look beautiful in Indian serials, she finds them a tad exaggerated, with heroines wearing make-up to bed. “We want to make more realistic serials for the masses. When they see people just like themselves on screen, going through the same things they do, it helps them find a solution to their own problems,” she adds.
Dareecha, a serial that Kazi acted in, debunks superstition and shows that much of what we think is magic is simply a manifestation of past guilt. Kazi, an avid viewer of the Colors channel, says the new crop of Hindi soaps is also a radical departure from saas-bahu serials.
Serials about life in the army are also hugely popular, like Alpha Bravo Charlie — a story of three young friends in the army— directed by Shoaib Mansoor of Khuda Ke Liye fame. Dhuwan, one of Pakistan’s golden oldies, is about four police commandos.
“The golden era of PTV tele-serials began in Lahore in 1964 with Nazrana, the first drama aired on the channel,” says Fazil Jamili, editor, internet for Pakistan’s Jang group of newspapers. He says the streets wore a deserted look when popular serials of the ’80s and ’90s like Jangloos, Waaris and Fifty-Fifty were on air.
Pakistani serials will help Indians see a very different side of Pakistan and the issues faced by the middle class such as crime, poverty and corruption, says Siddiqi. “This would show us Pakistanis in a good light, a contrast from the gun-trotting, turban-wearing weirdos that have somehow become the general perception of Pakistan,” says Mehwish, who wants India to appreciate Pakistani talent in much the same way that Pakistanis love Bollywood.
A still from Sartaaj