The Language Barrier
While the language for which TV channels in Pakistan get broadcasting licences is Urdu (and not English or any other language) it seems more TV programmes these days are switching to Punjabi as a dominant language. A bit of Punjabi here and there creates viewer interest, especially the humour, which offers great entertainment and is always welcome. But it is extended chunks in these programmes that are broadcast in Punjabi – and no other language – and are thus not understood or enjoyed by a whole section of viewers.
The producers and presenters of these programmers can do well to at least translate the Punjabi into more intelligible Urdu to enable a greater number of viewers to understand and enjoy what is being said. For example, when Azizi, the main character in Hasb e Haal on Duniya TV, jokes in Punjabi, he comes across as wholly adorable and his presentation style drives one into fits of laughter in any case. However, when he does a spoof on a particular character in Punjabi, things come to a point when they become difficult to understand because the Punjabi is too dense and beyond the vocabulary range or understanding threshold of such viewers who do not understand Punjabi. One of Azizi’s favourites is the Queen of England. He assumes the character of the old queen but she is always a Punjabi – and one whose characterization or humourous lines are difficult to follow if one does not speak and wholly understand the language. Perhaps doing the character in any other language would not offer the same depth of humour while Urdu does not offer the kind of funny possibilities that Punjabi does. A good alternative would perhaps then be for the programme host to translate in some way what is originally being said.
There are other examples as well, such as certain characters in Khabarnak and Mazaq Raat who make quips in Punjabi. That must be truly hilarious content, considering the laughter it evokes from most of the studio audience but the giggles need wider dispersal and that is something the producers and the channels need to think about. Even in serious programmes, such as Aapas ki Baat on Geo TV, Najam Sethi perhaps instinctively resorts to Punjabi when he is in his element because that is his mother tongue and he is not even aware of it until the anchor, Munib Farooq, prompts him to speak in Urdu.
Considering that Punjabi is a major language in Pakistan and though it is not the national language but it is still spoken and understood by over sixty percent people, it would be a good idea to have whole TV programmes exclusively in Punjabi. There is also the option for the regulators to allot whole slots to the presentation of programmes in Punjabi. This would allow all those who love this language to express themselves more openly and to promote the particular quality of humour that every Punjabi is so proud of. It would further help if such programmes could then be rendered into other major Pakistani languages to expand their entertainment value.
There is also a need to have TV programmes in other languages that are widely spoken and understood in the country. Urdu, as the national language, may be the unifying factor and is certainly the lingua franca, but other languages have their own place and are greatly popular both in their own areas and across the country. A provision was made when licences were given out to private TV channels to encourage the setting up of channels catering to the Sindhi, Pashto, Punjabi, Seraiki and Balochi languages. Some of these regional channels have become quite successful over the years and have good audience followings. However, there is none among these channels that can compete with a channel with a national viewership and the economics or the reach of the regional channels does not make this an economically attractive proposition in any event. In such a scenario, the best alternative would be to allocate certain slots on the main channels to the regional languages so that they can broadcast programmes in these languages. At the same time, while there is a need to deter Urdu language programmes from incorporating other languages in their content beyond a certain minimum percentage, whenever such content does make its inroads, it should be duly translated so that a wider audience can enjoy it.