Exporting TV Drama
Thee Zee Zindagi initiative taps into an otherwise little explored market for the Pakistani TV drama – the sizeable Muslim community in India.
The Pakistani TV drama has found a solid fan base among Indian viewers.
Pakistani drama is famous for its strong storylines, riveting performances and popularity among TV viewers. Some of Pakistan’s finest actors are known for their work in this genre. When the popular drama ' Dhoop Kinare', were aired, the streets would be conspicuously clear of traffic as everyone would scurry home to catch the latest episode. Drama watching was a national hobby and has remained so. With the mushrooming of private TV channels in recent years and an upturn in production, drama enthusiasts now have a wide array of serials to choose from and the genre continues to thrive in the country.
Now, the Pakistani drama serial has another feather in its cap – it has found a solid fan base among Indian TV viewers.
In the past, the cultural exchange between India and Pakistan was a tad one-sided with Bollywood’s movies infiltrating Pakistani homes, Indian film songs blaring at weddings across the country and popular Indian actors becoming household names in Pakistan. Sure, the occasional Pakistani singing talent would strike it big across the border, but aside from Nusrat Fateh Ali, Rahat Fateh Ali, Junoon, Strings, Ali Zafar and Atif Aslam, other Pakistani acts that were exported to India, particularly those affiliated with Pakistani cinema, were little more than footnotes in terms of the larger Indian entertainment experience.
Zindagi TV, an initiative of one of India’s largest media empires, has altered this balance and has started showing Pakistani drama serials in India. Now a new wave of Pakistani soaps is being watched on TV in India with interest and a degree of curiosity. Fawad Khan and Sanam Saeed’s ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hai’ has reportedly become a hot favorite with Indian viewers who have also received ‘Maat,’ starring Aamina Sheikh and Saba Qamar, with enthusiasm.
Compared to the local soaps, the Pakistani TV drama presents the Indian viewer with a markedly different experience. Interestingly, this initiative has also tapped into an otherwise little explored market for the Pakistani drama serial – the sizeable Muslim community in India, which shares considerable common ground with its Pakistani counterpart.
Indian journalist Ayesha Aleem says that she’s been hearing about Zindagi TV for the past few months. The women in her family, including her grandmother, mother, aunt and even her 10-year-old cousin, are regular viewers of Indian soaps. The trend continues in her extended family as well. “The most widely watched Hindi soaps here tend to be very colorful, with loud make-up and sets, dramatic camera work and background music. The characters usually wear plenty of jewelry and OTT clothes,” Aleem explains.
Thirty-seven-year-old Noreen Ahmed is an Indian educationalist who believes that all Indian soaps share certain commonalities. “Most of the soaps I've watched seem to follow similar story lines, where the 'super bahu' is battling immense odds while balancing family, extended family and pleasing society,” Ahmed says. “The story is often overly dramatic, hard to believe and celebrates a woman's constant sacrifice. Even subtle nuances like camera angles, background music and make-up look over the top and are clichéd. The total effect leaves the audience a little exhausted from trying to focus on all the drama.”
Indian soaps mostly tend to portray the country’s dominant religious group, the Hindus and the minorities are therefore comparatively underrepresented. “Although we belong to India, there are distinct cultural differences that sometimes we cannot relate to. Most obviously, that includes things like pujas but it extends to other areas as well like the kind of food they eat and the way in which they interact as a family and as a society,” Aleem says.
It’s no surprise then that Zindagi TV has been such a hit with this sector of the Indian population.
“All the shows are centered on Muslim families that we share many cultural similarities with. That said, we being Indians, there also are some differences,” says Aleem. According to her, a recent Indian soap called
‘Qubool Hai’, which showcases a Muslim family, has been similarly successful with India’s Muslim viewers, owing to its culturally and religiously familiar subject matter.
Aleem also comments on the general viewing experience and aesthetic value of Pakistani soaps. “The viewing experience is much better,” she says. “The color schemes, clothes and camera work are significantly toned down which makes it more pleasant to watch.”
The Pakistani drama industry has rapidly transformed into a vibrant, dynamic and technically superior one in recent years. More drama serials are being churned out and some of them, such as ‘Humsafar’, have registered unprecedented success with viewers.
While Pakistani drama serials have often showed a tendency to ‘borrow’ from Indian soaps in terms of
exaggerated zoom shots, heavily made-up leading ladies and the use of Minglish, the industry has begun holding its own and has gradually established its distinct identity. This, in turn, has given a much-needed boost to Pakistan’s entertainment industry and all those whose livelihoods depend on it.
Pakistani drama is equally appealing on account of its depiction of real people and stories. Ahmed, who has watched ‘Aunn Zara,' 'Maat', and
'Zindagi Gulzar Hai' says she finds the acting natural and believable. “Even the supporting actors seem invested in their character, which is a departure from a lot of other soaps,” she says.
“I like the fact that the themes are the mundane problems faced by the common people, yet each story seems to draw on different experiences,” Ahmed says. “The story might include threads of jealousy, relationships of an unusual nature, unwillingness to follow norms like an arranged marriage or student angst and how the character is coping. Also the reactions and interactions of the actors feel more genuine and true to the nature of the character. In a nutshell they feel less like formula films,” Ahmed comments.
Zindagi TV may have set out to promote art but while doing so, the venture also has the potential to bridge the gap between the people of the two countries. Ahmed believes
that the soaps help to portray the humanness of the Pakistani people. While there are some interesting quirks and shades of diversity in the language, clothes and interactions with society among the Pakistani people, there are also endearing qualities of similarity of people in the two countries.
“The same family ties and concern over similar issues and, in some forms, the same pressures. I think the quality of the soaps I have seen prove to me the artistic genuineness of the Pakistani people and will create a sense of understanding and tolerance in whoever watches them,” Ahmed says.