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.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Maria Ka­mal The contributor is a teacher, writer and re­searcher. She is a Dag Ham­marskjold fel­low and Ful­bright alum­nus.

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.

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