Having established television as the country’s most influential medium, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the Pakistani awaam is now hungry for better and bigger (in scale and content both) dramas than they were ever before.
Pakistan has an incredibly rich history of both film and television, although the latter has won the race globally and historically by winning hearts time and again. Television’s widespread viewership has consequently also gifted us several A-list actors and celebrities. And with TV serials now available online too, audiences have access to a lot more than was accessible a decade ago. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the Pakistani awaam is now hungry for better and bigger (in scale and content both) dramas than they ever were ever before.
Why, then, do producers continue to use elements of the very same saas-bahu-aur-saazish concoction and serve us recycled, reused and regurgitated content on television?
As an avid Pakistani television and digital content consumer, one can’t harp on this enough. It has to be said that there is a dire need to look beyond themes like domestic abuse, sexual violence against women, child abuse, and abduction (Ruswai, Bikhre Moti, Udaari, Main Gunehgar Nahi, Ek Tamanna La Hasil Si, Pani Jaisa Pyar and countless others).
Can we not write stories about powerful, rebellious women (and well, men too for that matter) for whom there is a life beyond the realm of domesticity and romantic happily-ever-after scenarios? Think Baaghi, Mere Qatil Mere Dildaar, Khaas, Aakhri Station, Uraan. There exists a life beyond marital bliss, and it can be fabulous without getting married for women and men alike.
For starters, using different storytelling devices other than sister rivalry (Jalan, Kashf, Yaariyaan, Thora Sa Haq, Mere Harjai), cousin marriages (Aahista Aahista, Madiha aur Maliha, Maat,), extra-marital affairs (Yahan Pyar Nahi Hai, Mere Paas Tum Ho) and stringent moral policing combined with melodramatic joint-family sagas embedded with revenge across generations (Anaa, Diyar-e-Dil) would be a refreshing change to see on our TV screens. The talent, storytelling skills and resources in Pakistan are all thriving but they are incredibly rusted; one can almost hear the woes of these tools loud and clear, pining to churn out new content. And this pandemic may just be the opportunity to do so.
Whether it is Pakistani music, reality TV, or Urdu dramas, there is no doubt that the go-to revenue generating and financially viable and dependable medium has always been television for this country. Since time immemorial, whether it was the era of state-sponsored television, or the decade in which the entertainment industry faced grave repercussions (during the implementation of the martial law during the Zia-daur) or the recent 21st century influx of urban content and regional language programming by myriad cable TV channels (post privatization), television has remained a steady source of entertainment across generations.
It is time we stopped thinking of television as the lesser medium and invested resources into revamping its content instead. On that note, here is some food for thought for producers and entertainment houses that can help restore the glory Pakistani Television was once known for, and at the same time diversify content for global audiences and content consumers:
Re-thinking televised content: Breaking watertight boxed definitions of dramas, serials, morning shows and reality television is the need of the hour. There is no new innovation that can possibly take place amidst family sagas, marital mayhem, domestic abuse, sexual violence against women and children, verbal harassment and emotional trauma-bonding, which actually is often romanticized in many overwrought narratives. All possible permutations and combinations have been tried within the ambit of the above mentioned themes and desi viewers are turning to foreign content with shashkas for respite, courtesy the latest Turkish sensation, Ertugrul.
Children’s programm-ing has become an extinct art: Current content creators have unfortunately missed out on and completely washed out a very key component of the nation’s viewers: i.e. children. There are no original TV programs made or aired in Pakistan for children and as a result kids grow up thinking Bulbulay and Suno Chanda are television series made exclusively for them. Can we not revive content like Ainak Wala Gin, Uncle Sargam, Khul Ja Sim Sim or Sohail Rana’s musical compositions that were exclusively aired for children? The entertainment industry has clearly overlooked and neglected every child in the country, each of whom possesses a unique, inquisitive and impressionable mind of their own.
Can we be more inclusive of television and film sub-genres? There are over 25 key genres in film and television, and over a 150 different sub-genres within the key genres. If not radically changing the popular narratives already at display, can we not explore some kind of tangent from the existing family sagas and weeping women dramas?
Private entertainment channels can find interesting ways to blend ad revenue with different genres, historical and regional stories and consequently blur the boundaries between fact and fiction by creating and experimenting with hybrid content, such as scripted reality television shows, tele-theater, action soaps, satirical comedy series, mysteries, thrillers, biographical television dramas inspired from the lives of our country’s maestros, scientists and artistes.
How about a college cocktail, a simple light hearted romantic-comedy series spread over multiple seasons which leaves audiences with cliff-hangers craving for the next season. Pakistan could also possibly have its own spin on Desperate Housewives or Sherlock but let us not get ahead of ourselves, shall we?