‘Sesame Street’ localised

Published: April 13, 2011
The Pakistani version of “Sesame Street” will be set around a rural street cafe. PHOTO: AFP

The Pakistani version of “Sesame Street” will be set around a rural street cafe. PHOTO: AFP


The United States has turned to oversized puppets in its newest attempt to win hearts and minds in Pakistan, funding a $20 million remake of popular children’s television programme “Sesame Street”.

The US show that popularised characters like Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch and Cookie Monster, is being remade for a Pakistani audience in order to promote “shared values and ideas” said USAID’s education chief in Islamabad, Larry Dolan.

Girl power and tolerance are among the messages to be spread by colourful puppets such as Rani, a science-loving six-year-old with plaits who is friends with a teenage bookworm and a hardworking donkey.

“Pakistan Children’s Television” show will broadcast 78 episodes from September, but in a country of up to 180 million people, only three million children are estimated to have access to television.

The show’s makers hope to reach 700,000 children and 300,000 parents with the help of spin-off projects. Six hundred live performances are planned across 90 districts, and books and multimedia versions are in the works.

The show has entertained children in the west for 40 years, but according to Dolan, “Sesame Street” has also spread understanding of HIV in South Africa and promoted women’s rights in Egypt.

“ The approach we are taking here with Pakistan TV is to promote tolerance,” said Dolan.

Rani’s father is a gardener and her mother a housewife, uneducated but “adamant her daughter should have every opportunity in life”, according to a written brief of the characters. The donkey longs to be a pop star “illustrating how, through hard work all dreams are possible” says the brief.

Dolan said USAID will give $20 million to Lahore’s Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop to creatively direct the show. A portion of the funds — albeit “less than half” — will go to the US-based Sesame Workshop, which will research how to bring more children’s programming to Pakistan.

Elmo, the inquisitive high-energy red puppet — one of the main characters of the American version of the show — is the only Western character to make the cut in the South Asian remake.

“Elmo’s Pakistani cousin ‘illustrates the idea that questions are good and the world is a playground for exploration and discovery’,” says the brief.

Since Urdu is commonly spoken by only a fraction of the country, most of the shows will be translated into the regional tongues of Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto and Balochi.

“Sesame Street” has been in Pakistan before, televised in the early 1990s in English and later dubbed into national language Urdu. But the characters and context could only be understood by a westernised minority of Pakistani children.

The new version of the show will be set, not along Sesame Street, but around a rural street stall cafe. “This programme is a gift to the children of Pakistan from the American people,” said Faizaan Peerzada, the creator of “Sesame Street Pakistan”.

He admits that in the past, the workshop has been targeted by Islamist militants waging war on anything seen to smack off Western liberalism. “There’s a certain section of the Islamists who feel they must come and disrupt the whole country,” said Peerzada. “But I think the programme itself is the answer … to teach children in a joyful and colourful way.”

Published in The Express Tribune, April 14th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (7)

  • Saad Durrani
    Apr 14, 2011 - 2:53AM

    Sesame Street (original format) was never “dubbed” in Urdu, and it was aired till mid 1990s. I know because I grew up watching it.

    However, It was a separate program called “Open Sesame” which was dubbed into Urdu, which was named “Khulja Simsim”.

    Furthermore, the Guardian reports that the Pakistani version would be called “Simsim Hamara”. Recommend

  • fajim bilwany
    Apr 14, 2011 - 2:47PM

    i hope sesame street can teach our children constructive things rather than how allah will give them 72 virgins if they go blow themselves up & kill people.

    hopefully this show will teach our girls that they don’t have to be ashamed of their gender,that they are not dirty things which have to be covered up all the time,that they are just as intelligent & capable as their brothers,husbands and fathers.Recommend

  • saad khan
    Apr 14, 2011 - 2:57PM

    this is good news,our children will get to learn new things in a fun way rather than having to rattafy religious texts in a foreign language they don’t understand but are brainwashed into believing that their rattafication will result in paradise for the next 7 generations.Recommend

  • amused
    Apr 14, 2011 - 6:35PM

    @saad – dont mix entertainment with religion, Shows like ‘chota bheem’, ‘Krishna’ and ‘Hanu Man’ are produced to educate kids about hinduism. Why then are you criticizing religious education?

    Have an open mindRecommend

  • Apr 14, 2011 - 6:49PM

    LOL!! Cartoons are going to stop children from being a terrorist. What about those area’s where there is no TV but drones ?Recommend

  • Saad Durrani
    Apr 14, 2011 - 10:05PM

    @Saad Bin Shahid:
    Radio shows… and everyone had a radio… and even if that fails… the show will have vans going to different areas and show this programme.

    Tribune’s story is very basic. Guardian covered it in a bit of detail.Recommend

  • ABDV
    Apr 15, 2011 - 6:03AM

    Nice to see a donkey in there….I have been a bit concerned about Pakistani donkeys and the treatment they recieve…hopefully our sesame donkey can be an inspiration :)Recommend

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