The real charm of cinema for a viewer lies in the theatrical and congregational experience; a large screen, high-quality audio, movie popcorn and a crowd of people are essential to movie enjoyment.
Unfortunately, this picture is largely absent in Peshawar since the arrival of tele-dramas – the final nail in the coffin for Pashto films. Tele-dramas (similar to tele-theatre and long plays that were initially aired on PTV) are a mixture of drama and film, which incorporate song and dance but are longer in duration than dramas.
The DVDs of these tele-dramas are available at cheap price at CD shops, can be copied to cell phone memory cards by mobile shop owners and are also aired on TV by local cable operators. This availability has allowed them to spread like wildfire in Peshawar, burning behind whatever is left of the Pashto film industry. The power of cheap entertainment at home has led the locals and hujras to stay home and watch tele-dramas instead of going to the cinema.
A director’s perspective
“The tele-drama industry has declined a little due to piracy issues in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” says Farhad Ahmad, a tele-drama director. “Up until last year, more than 50,000 copies of tele-dramas were sold on average.”
“We are losing the congregational space of a cinema but making films for television has actually made directors more cautious about the kind of stories they narrate as they are now catering to Pathan families and not to a bunch of angry, frustrated men,” he elaborates.
Saadullah Jan Barq, one of the finest and oldest Pashto film and television writers, feels that this is the ideal time for tele-drama directors to capture the current audience. He feels that directors should go the extra mile and transform this industry into mainstream entertainment, as Pashto cinema is on the verge of dying. “Tele-dramas have the potential to completely replace Pashto cinema from its roots,” Barq told The Express Tribune. “It’s cheap, safe and equally entertaining.” He emphasised that the real challenge for the tele-drama industry is to continue to bring in innovative and diverse ideas. Additionally, in order to avoid forming stereotypes like Pashto cinema, the directors will have to be on their toes.
Barq further adds that unless a director like Shoaib Mansoor comes to the rescue, Pashto cinema will easily be destructed by the flood of tele-dramas. “It’s sad but true and has pretty much already happened,” he says regretfully.
The concept of tele-dramas was introduced early on in the year 2000 but became a multi-million-rupee industry later on when prominent actors of the Pashto film industry such as Arbaaz and Jahangir Khan entered the tele-drama industry.
“In a cinema, it takes Rs1,000 to entertain five people whereas it takes only a Rs50 CD in the case of a tele-drama,” Ashfaq Ahmed, a shop owner at Nishtarabad CD Market tells The Express Tribune. “These are dramas that can be comfortably seen with the whole family, so why shouldn’t one opt for them?”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 31st, 2012.