Ever since one can remember, Eid transmissions have a standard format: either it’s a tete-a-tete in a festively decorated lounge or dramas with a fixation on marriage (typically rival neighbours whose kids have been romancing on the roof and manage to bring the family together with their engagement on Eid).
Given that Eid, akin to any other holiday, is centred and pivoted around the family, one understands that programming at this time must by default promote family values but why can we not go beyond the marriage paradigm? “We are a fearful nation, severely lacking innovation,” chides Azfar Ali, a popular television host. “We don’t even experiment with our leaders! But to give credit where credit is due, all over the world, holidays like Christmas and Eid will generate films and shows that depict this hunky dory image and must have romance and family. Given that romance is pivotal to women and the majority of Pakistani television audiences are women, the programming will naturally reflect that.”
The convenient scape ‘goat’ for Eidul Adha of course becomes the sacrificial lamb which becomes the central focus and emblem around which the plays are and can be centred while still keeping its gaze on the family. The lack of a totem for Eidul Fitr invariably puts the onus on family, romance and weddings then to take on the mantle. Writer Vasay Choudhary, who has done an entire series of plays based on the ‘baraat’, has never interestingly made an Eid play but defends the romance wedding formula by saying that it is not something that is done unconsciously. “The Eid dramas are the Hollywood answer to Christmas flicks like Notting Hill, Valentine’s Day and Love Actually,” says Choudhary. “Weddings provide a base where all kinds of family values can be explored and projected.”
Azfar also makes an interesting point about Eid being a time of artificial happiness which marriage encapsulates. “It is the only time when a father who would never let her daughter out of the house, will let her dance, for instance,” he says, but argues that the television Eid rendezvous are getting too formulaic and trite with every channel airing its own version with the handful of stars that the entertainment industry has. “Why not do a ‘Minute To Win It’ type game show instead of an Eid lounge,” offers Ali.
However, veteran producer Kazim Pasha holds the writer responsible for creating and sustaining this marriage fixation. “It is the Eid planners and our writers who need to brainstorm to get programming out of this shell, which to a great extent our audiences expect because of all these years of lollipop feeding,” says Pasha, who did a play two years ago on Eid titled Chef, which challenged societal hang-ups about certain professions. “A small percentage does break out to do something different and we need to look for other things to celebrate, perhaps how a poor family manages to overcome some trying circumstance with the help of the community and then celebrates on Eid.”
However, with a new league of producers like actor and host Fahad Mustafa and Azfar Ali coming to the fore, one expects a new perspective to appear on television. This Eid, Mustafa’s play centres on a married couple plummeting towards ground zero and their mothers getting together to seek a resolution for the two. A film-maker by profession, in the past Azfar has done a telefilm about a young boy coming home with an art degree – much to his family’s chagrin and anger.
These plays, akin to Pasha’s Chef, are trying to break from the formula and address other issues in the family apart from marriage and one hopes they manage to project an alternative side to the modern Pakistani family’s life and circumstance.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 30th, 2011.