“..just like the rest of the world, we are a formula- driven industry…you know, Humsafar changed everything; people in masses, from all classes were watching television like never before. Now at this time, I feel, that the TV industry, should have said, okay. We’ve got the eyeballs. Let’s change things. And you know what we did? Unfortunately, we replicated the formula.” – Mahira Khan, Faiz International Festival 2016.
The drama service of Pakistan has exponentially grown to become the bigger slice of the pie that illustrates the media industry. Although our dramas have come a long way since the golden era of PTV in the late 1960s to the 1980s, the contrast cannot entirely be termed as an improvement.
Familiarity. Repetition. It’s what highly saturates pretty much every plot line of the dramas televised on our screens and what more or less sums up the aforementioned quote. The dominating husband lashing out every bit of anger and absurd act of abuse onto his poor pitiful wife (who has to pull off the pretty face especially while weeping) until she finally decides to leave him; only to marry another man who is, fortunately, much more handsome, rich and successful, as well as willing to accept the child that’s not even his own. Let’s stretch this out into words and tears and screams onto a canvass of scripts for 24 episodes and the ratings are in the bag.
Romance is not the bone of contention. Every drama throughout history has had the aspect of romance between characters, and even one that adds to its charisma and popularity. It is a necessary trait, and even understandable for amidst the trials and hardships of the characters, the audience yearns for a break and something delightful as well as alluring, to keep their attention riveted. But romance, that instead of comprising of mere complications or unrequited love, inspires ‘tough love’ and feeble role of women sugar coated with the portrayal of being sacrificial, are two very distinct things, where the latter seems to be a problematic affair. Even historically, dramas that centered on the romance between two actors were unnerving. A woman falling in love with her supervisor doctor, who is not only 15- 20 years older in age, but was technically in sorts her uncle too? (Courtesy : Dhoop Kinare, 1987) A challenging and daring move by the writer that could have been catastrophic in terms of awkwardness; yet remains today as one of the most beloved and memorable show by the people of Pakistan.
The reason behind this brings us to the other major trait that many dramas of today, lack. Consistency. Over the years, the plots of the stories have become shorter, but excruciatingly prolonged owing to the unrealistic division of approximately 24 episodes, each of which can only be nearly half an hour long. Perhaps this is why, on numerous occasions, many plays kick off with an amazing start but become steadily uninteresting as they continue. Also, less than half of these total episodes bring something crucial to the plot of the story which only adds to the frustration of it all. Alpha Bravo Charlie (1998) and Aangan Terha (late 1980s) were dramas that had no extra-ordinary or unique storyline, yet remained true to their form of being hilarious, tragic and engaging till the very end.
The absence of strong yet diverse characters is also one of the focal points to the argument. Previously dramas included a number of characters, each of whom played an important role and were indispensable and unforgettable in their own ways. Whether it was the solemn hero, or the stubborn heroine, the comedic sidekick or the aggravated old aaya; in spite of having one significant attribute were able to pull off every emotion most convincingly and magnificently. Most dramas today only tend to cast people who might be conceived as being good looking but fail to act and live up to the expectations of the viewers.
Tanhaiyan (1985) and Ankahi (1982) were both successful shows of their times, and although the setting was based on the times of the 80s, actress Shehnaz Sheikh flaunted the idea of a compassionate, independent woman who wished to support her family by working. And although her family was taken aback initially, she stood her ground and became the object of admiration for them. More than 30 years later, television now tries to discredit working women as being less honorable and seems to conceptualize the idea as alienation. The use of inappropriate jokes and phrases has become a common norm within comedy plays, which makes them an explicit watch for children. Earlier on, shows like Ainak Wala Jin and Alif Laila were adored by kids who not only differentiated between the good and bad morals of life but were affiliated with their own national language and culture.
Nevertheless, there have been certain reformations that can be looked upon as a silver lining. A few plays have been trying to score and raise awareness for prevalent social issues of the community, such as rape (Udaari), the mistreatment of transgender (Khuda Mera Bhi Hai), as well as the backward traditional practices of tribal areas including honor killings, trading women (Sammi) etc. These might have been considered as shameless by our older generation. Shows like Daam, Daastaan and Zindagi Gulzaar Hai have tried to personate strong-willed women and consequently emerged as a pleaser from the audiences.
The potential within our country is exuberant and abundance in nature. The only thing required is to make use of it and rather than following the safe path of making predictable shows, it’s time we deviate from the commonality so as to take risks. The odds are in our favor, for our industry is nearly at its peak and has a brilliant crowd of performers that are internationally acknowledged for their work. If we play our cards right, then consequentially, we will be able to reap benefits that are both economically and socially desirable.