Most assume that the Pashto film and drama industry are all about violence and vulgarity. Many have no idea that comedy tele-films produced in Nishtarabad, the hub of tele-film production, also exist. These comedy tele-films — released on compact discs (CDs) — are inspired by the comedy dramas that were aired on Pakistan Television Peshawar centre — the only source of public entertainment in pre-satellite channels’ time.
The CD culture started when, due to the rising political upheaval in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, drama artists diverted their skill-set towards these dramas that can be watched in the secure vicinity of one’s home. As a result the culture of selling dramas to private channels took a backseat and now according to Farman Umerzai, a writer and director of CD tele-films, CD dramas have reached out to more than 80 per cent of homes in K-P.
While talking to The Express Tribune, villager Adnan Khan says, “There was a time when the streets of our village would be stranded because everyone would be glued to the screen to watch a Pashto comedy drama on PTV.” He then adds that this culture is no longer popular in Peshawar as the availability of drama CDs has made it easier for people to keep a track of their favourite dramas and catch up with the episode whenever they have time.
These dramas have seeped into the Pashtun culture because of the comfortable viewing and the power-packed entertainment they bring to people. One of the main ingredients in making a hit drama production is the “relatability”. The audience should be able to relate to the scenario and the issues being shown in the film. The drama industries all over Pakistan especially K-P have picked up on this secret tip and are trying their best to target their respective audience’s emotional and social issues.
Ashfaq Ahmad, the director and the owner of Star CD centre, Nishtarabad says: “My dramas talk about the most basic issues like a man with two wives, a man and his dysfunctional donkey-cart, the unemployed youth of the village and their mischievous acts, etc.” He adds that, “The majority of the actors featuring in our comedy dramas are from the rural areas, and masses can easily relate to them.”
Writer of several famous Pashto comedy dramas, Saadullah Jan Burq, also says, “It is a good sign that the drama industry is now shifting its trend from violence and vulgarity to simple comedy drama.” However, he adds that it’s time “some good and educated people come in this field to raise the quality of scripts. Right now, there are some cheap acts being done that sometimes even have foul language in them.” Burq’s claim, however, is rebutted by producer Umerzai. “We only show a village environment in our dramas and good actors never use foul words as the dramas are made to be watched by families,” he says.
Burq further shares that a typical Pashto tele-film usually revolves around a single character. A single character is humiliated by performing extremely silly scenes repeatedly. He also complains that a large number of the characters we see in these comedy dramas are inspired by characters in old PTV dramas.
While drawing comparisons between comedy then and now, Burq maintained that comedy of the past was completely different from the tacky comedy we see in present times. “The comedy of yesteryears had this charming levity to it,” Burq reminisces. “The writers tried to provide small messages to the people in a simple manner which not only made them laugh but also gave them lessons about life.”
However, Farhad Ahmad, a producer of CD drama at Nishtarabad says “These days, dramas crack jokes at the expense of police or Wapda officers, which act as a catharsis for common people who are fed up of these institutions and their inadequacy.”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 24th, 2012.
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