In the context of Indian and Pakistani entertainment, soaps have always been a means of catharsis for housewives on both sides of the border. From her struggle to live up to her father’s honour and wishes, to her woes of being answerable to her husband (and in many ‘dramataic’ cases the mother-in-law as well), the housewife looks for her own story in drama serials.
Since their inception, the drama industries of both countries have managed to produce some top class soaps with massive followings.
But the question that arises is: have we been as influential as Indian counterpart? Certainly not, as we haven’t been able to create our own ‘Tulsi’ yet. But the larger, and more important, question remains, can we in Pakistan even do this, considering the line between reality and fiction is very fine when it comes to Pakistani TV? A writer will have a dozen second thoughts before writing about a woman who can single-handedly change the conventional household. Similarly, a producer will also be sceptical in investing in such a project. Tulsi is just an example of the way Indian dramas have penetrated pop culture but has the modern day Pakistani drama managed to create any such icons?
The dish antenna arrives
The Indian and Pakistani TV entertainment race dates back to the 1992 World Cup when the cricket-crazy nation installed dish antennas to get a clear reception of the World Cup. Part and parcel of the package were complementary channels such as Zee TV, Setmax and Sony. As a result Pakistanis, the proud heirs to PTV which had numerous top class dramas such as “Waris”, “Sitara Aur Mehrunnisa”, “Dhoop Kinare”, now had exposure to shows like “Sansui Antakshiri”, “Hum Paanch” and “CID”.
These were the early 90s, the era when private producers jumped onto Pakistani TV for the first time and provided us with some phenomenal programmes. Drama serials like “Jaal” and “Kashkol”, cooking shows like “Potluck” and sitcoms including “Family Front” and “Teen Bata Teen” captivated viewers. Though Indian programmes — particularly “CID” and Ekta Kapoor’s “Hum Paanch” — created a small cult of their own, local channels STN and PTV remained in control. From crime series to sitcoms, Pakistani channels during the 90s gave a tough time to Indian programming primarily because of the quality and cultural relevance of the local dramas and also because easy access to satellite channels wasn’t available in Pakistan and was considered a luxury.
Ekta Kapoor and Pakistani private media
In the early 2000s, Indus TV laid the basis of the first Pakistani private channel and with it came a revolution in Pakistani TV programming. This was when Star Plus turned into a completely Indian channel and initial popularity in Pakistan was far from impressive as many locals could not relate to the huge and decorated sets shown. The channel was then banned for a few months by former General Pervez Musharraf, which led to Pakistani comedies like “Sab Set Hai” being able to create their own following.
However, slowly and gradually the Ekta Kapoor format of soap operas started infecting Pakistani dramas which led to soaps like “Jo Baat Ghar Mae Hai” and Original Soundtrack (OST) became an essential part of Pakistani dramas.
The remote changes hands
Things started to get ugly post 9-11, with the entertainment industry hitting rock bottom in late 2000s when the art of ‘news making’ became the primary focus of Pakistani media. News anchors got the status that VJ’s once had and for the first time in the history of Pakistani television, the man of the house took over the remote control. However, sitcoms for him were shows talking about current affairs. The news hysteria created by more than 30 channels operating in Pakistan and gave dramas and soaps a tough time to survive. But still, kudos to drama serials like “Humsafar” for creating a massive following in more recent times.
In a nutshell, although the Star Plus monopoly has been broken, Indian dramas are still watched more as compared to Pakistani dramas. Though the acting standards have declined as compared to the PTV days, local drama-producing techniques have progressed, especially in terms of technically sound entertainment.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 15th, 2011.