Pakistani drama industry: From gold to ashes

Published: December 16, 2011
Will the drama industry ever regain its former glory? The debate continues. GRAPHIC: JAMAL KHURSHID

Will the drama industry ever regain its former glory? The debate continues. GRAPHIC: JAMAL KHURSHID


My mother tells me they had to reprint her cousin’s wedding cards to include the message that television screens would be put up at the marriage hall. The last episode of the epic drama “Waris” was due to be aired that night and who in their right minds would want to miss it?

Such was the zeal and aura of a Pakistani dramas back in the 80s and 90s. “Roads would clear up and there would be absolute silence in homes from 8 to 9pm, when the dramas aired,” recalls my mother.

It’s a quantity eat quality world

So what happened to our dramas? Is it the Indian invasion, the onslaught of multimedia or the ubiquity of television that made our dramas lose the veneration that our parents speak of?

“The television used to be a novelty back in the day, so anything that aired was viewed with enthusiasm,” says television director Vasay Choudhary. “People typically ignore this crucial aspect when discussing the glory of old dramas. Yes they were good, but all of them were produced by the state television network where the drama teams were official employees and had enough time to take each project individually,” he explains. Choudhary believes that the mass production of television dramas has compromised the quality which was seen in dramas during the 90s.

Sarmad Khoosat, son of the veteran actor/comedian Irfan Khoosat says, “There’s no celebration around TV anymore as it used to be. It has become a wallpaper medium now. Also, previously there was nothing to do after sunset except watching TV since there was no cafe culture back then.”

Bringing quality back

The younger lot of directors agrees that not every drama produced these days is a milestone, but argue that neither was every production from the previous years. “Fifteen dramas out of a myriad produced during the 30-year reign of state-run television stood out. If you compare it to the 11 memorable ones that stood out in the last three of four years, you will realise that the average is the same,” explains Choudhary. His peer Khoosat agrees, “Dramas like ‘Meri Zaat Zarra-e- Benishan’ and ‘Humsafar’ are currently enjoying the same status as dramas like ‘Tanhaiyan’ did for us. Our productions will also become memory for a whole different generation.”

Legends holding on to the past

The king of all playwrights, Anwar Maqsood, however, has a very different take on contemporary dramas. “The fall of Pakistani drama is as poignant and powerful as the fall of the Roman empire,” he states. “The race for ratings has ruined us, and the quality and the art of storytelling in a drama has suffered because now people are now more concerned with the numbers than the craft.”

Maqsood is particularly critical of dramas that are shot in exotic locales because he feels that these dramas are disconnected from the reality of 80 per cent of Pakistan’s population. His dramas gained prominence for their simplicity and believability. “We shot ‘Half Plate’ in one room with Khalida Riyasat and Moin Akthar and that play had 80 reruns on TV and its script was sent to the Lucknow University to serve as a guide to theatre students.”

On the other hand Choudhary states, “Television had a very theatrical approach back then where each scene was very well thought out. Unlike the veterans who had other jobs to fall back on, contemporary drama actors work full-time. Also, with the plethora of channels, there is no time to rehearse and actors look at scripts on the set, perform there and then and leave.”

It is this mass production, Maqsood laments over, along with the flamboyance and a near vulgarity that has now seeped into our dramas. “What the dramas today show is a future that we would like to have but cannot have, so it creates a frustration in the audience.” Maqsood was so appalled by the current situation that he stopped writing, but now after 10 years has produced a drama that is expected to be on air in January 2012.

Despite his criticism though, he is sanguine about the future prospects of the drama. “When things get completely destroyed, hope emerges from the ashes,” he says philosophically.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 17th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • Rizwan Elahi
    Dec 16, 2011 - 9:40PM

    Most of the recent are showing very negative role of women. Women need to be shown as strong humans. Who can defend them selves. Who can shut up anyone who is unreasonable with them.


  • murtaza
    Dec 16, 2011 - 10:16PM

    there are plays based on novels now a days ,they are a bit better but still need to improve . old times were good but still they did not had any competition then .i believe in 5 years we are going to see an other boom in PK drama and it will be able to represent us internationally .


  • Chilli
    Dec 16, 2011 - 11:00PM

    Stop mid breaks and tons of ads, our dramas will be up again. PTV dropped from charts decades ago and they lost their cream to private channels.


  • Silent Spectator
    Dec 16, 2011 - 11:06PM

    Sarmad Khoosat and Amna Nawaz Khan are doing what Shahzad Khalil and Saira Kazmi did in the past. They are bringing back people to the TV drama scene just like Anwar Maqsood, Fatima Suraiya Bajia, Haseena Moeen, Shahzad Khalil, and Saira Kazmi did.
    It’s too bad that TV dramas got commercialized and copied the Indian soap formula for a while. I’m glad that most of it has now stopped and we are getting back to the core Pakistani drama values. Back in the day, TV stars were popular because you only saw them once a week. Now thanks to multitude of channels, reruns, annoying morning shows, cooking shows, and almost everything on TV; you can see the TV stars usually on TV doing everything including acting, cooking, singing, giving health tips, commenting on political affairs, and preaching. If you are an actor, stick to acting only please.


  • s.w.a
    Dec 16, 2011 - 11:54PM

    I am a young girl but i loathe the fact that all or dramas are based around girls and women. their weddings, divorces, affairs, illegit pregnancies and blah blah…. these are the only storyline around which urdu rrun of the mill novels are written now a days. it is NAUSEATING! I am a girl… an educated girl. Our lives are not as pathetic and artificial as shown on tv. there is way more the life than shadi and saas bahu fights!

    P.S all the directors out there.. STOP CAKING ALL THE WOMEN WITH MAKEUP.. make quality dramas and people will watch and applaud. very simple! a simple woman with true talent is a hell lot better than a women with tons of makeup on a botox filled face.


  • Komal Shakil
    Dec 17, 2011 - 12:04AM

    I think other directors like mehreen jabbar are doing a a good job aswell you can see this in her dramas like Daam,malal,droha ect and Sarmad khoosat is the first director whose work is being appreciated globally which is a proud thing for the pakistani drama industry.


  • Bling Bling
    Dec 17, 2011 - 2:27AM

    They are much, much better than earlier. I see families talking about recent and ongoing drama serials enthusiastically. I doubt, however, it will ever be like the golden era again. People have access to youtube so they can miss their favourite dramas and watch it later.


  • ProudPakistani
    Dec 17, 2011 - 5:09AM

    Aww…Miss that era of PTV…my childhood was so pleasant..


  • Danish
    Dec 17, 2011 - 11:33AM

    I believe paki dramas still rock. Even quality is not up to the mark as it used to be earlier. However the gradual change in the stories and topics is due to change in our culture. Prime time serials are good, but 30 mins soaps are just waste of time. Also, one hour drama with different stories in each episode (like ‘Kitni girhain baki hen’ and ‘Neeli chatri’) are too good.


  • Pakistani in US
    Dec 17, 2011 - 11:54AM

    Anything in Pakistan that’s not turning to ashes?


  • Pk_paris
    Dec 17, 2011 - 4:53PM

    @ Pakistani in US,
    Corruption, hatred, support to stratergic assets, conspiracy theories and many more not turning to ashesRecommend

  • Faraz
    Dec 18, 2011 - 12:48AM

    Mehreen Jabbar has done some very good work over the last decade. Her latest, Daam, was a very good serial perhaps the closest we’ve gotten to Dhoop Kinare and Tanhaiyaan.


  • TangoMango
    Dec 18, 2011 - 2:16AM

    please get your facts right before you sit to pen down an essay. How can one make comparison of two generations and I say it is absurd to do so. In 80s there used to hardly be any entertainment with only one television channel – PTV, so there was no choice but to see whatever is aired. Now TV channels have mushroomed and added to this there are many Indian channels showing all kind of fantasy soups. In this world of competition we have burned ourselves to ashes. Pakistani entertainment industry lacks funds and can’t compete to the standard of Indian entertainment. Not alone entertainment industry, Pakistan is losing in every sphere and dying its own death.Recommend

  • Zaibinda
    Dec 18, 2011 - 4:43PM

    Waaris! One of the best dramas ever! Closer to my heart as it’s my grandfather’s drama. It is true that people used to cancel weddings, they didnt even went to the doctor the day on which waaris use to come. On the demand of audience the time slot was extented from 30 mis to 50 mins. Also the dramas like Tanhaayaan, Dhoop KInaray, Samundar, Ankahi…..all super classy dramas. We cannot see that kind of dramas now.


  • Aftab
    Dec 19, 2011 - 2:11AM

    Meanwhile, the pantomime drama that is real life Pakistan continues to hit higher and higher notes. Who needs drama on TV when tragedy is unfolding outside your door everyday.


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