Pakistani dramas: What the viewers want!

Published: January 12, 2013
Hina Khwaja Bayat.

Hina Khwaja Bayat.

Hina Khwaja Bayat.

“Born, raised and living in Denmark, I never had any cause to be proud of my Pakistani origin till now, when I can silence my Bollywood crazy friends with just two words — Pakistani drama!”

“Thank you for Shehr-e-Zaat — it has made us revisit our own values!”

“My children’s Urdu has improved watching Humsafar.”

“We are huge fans of your dramas because as Indians we have nothing to compare.”

This is feedback from encounters with random viewers that made me proud of being a small part of a revolution called Pakistani drama!

Thanks to this unique product, Pakistani identity started being recognised globally; channels previously focusing on news found a whole new market of viewers abroad that were (and are) hooked to Pakistani shows and drama; DVD sales scaled unprecedented heights with the demand for Pakistani drama; copyright laws benefited the government coffers. But in this charged environment, greed became the driving force.

Channel owners forgot that it was Pakistani drama that enabled them to expand their networks; production houses forgot that it was the content and quality of their plays that had beaten the Indian soap culture. The government forgot that Pakistani television had become the face that was neutralising its poor image and anti-Pakistan propaganda abroad. Media became a lucrative business — hence, regulations were bent to make room for foreign entities; channels compromised their own image and identity and producers their craft and creativity.

Slowly but surely, local content started giving way to foreign dubbed programs and is now being replaced by it.

Turkish and Indian soaps — glamorous, sexually titillating, showcasing western mindsets and the colourful Hindu culture — may be alien to our Pakistani values and sensibilities — yet popular, in the form of one Ishq-e-Mamnoo — easily understandable because it is human nature to be tempted by that which is forbidden or “mamnoo”! It started with Urdu1 raking in profits from this “foreign”, second-hand product with other channels jumping on the bandwagon citing “viewer demand” as the reason for replacing fresh hence, relatively expensive local content with old foreign material bought cheap on re-run rates. At first, the channels pleaded that they had to air foreign content in prime time as the 10% allowance left no margin for repeat telecasts. But now, in flagrant violation of that Pemra regulation, they are repeated throughout the day taking up almost 40% of airtime.

The United Producer’s Association came into action calling for safeguards for the Pakistani drama industry against this hostile takeover by approaching Pemra, media channels and recently, the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting. But even as the chairman of the committee directed Pemra to implement their recommendations within one month and most parliamentarians pledged unconditional support for our local industry, surprisingly, the minister had reservations on putting restrictions on Indian content. Has Mr Kaira forgotten that his government’s conciliatory efforts towards India are as one sided as the Aman ki Asha campaign of a media channel that is itself banned in India, but shows Indian content in its prime time slots? Or is it a case of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” because the government cannot afford to upset the media and news channels it is on the brink of elections?

Even more shocking is the advice given to UPA by some politicians — that UPA should take the matter to court. What then is the job of these “democratically elected” representatives if basic regulatory matters have to be resolved by the courts? Should the judiciary then also be given the offices of legislation, execution and enforcement of laws if our legislative bodies are so inept? Or is it a ploy again to enable certain stakeholders to get stay orders and carry on with their business?

Yet again, we see a lack of political will, a lack of pride and ownership, a lack of identity by the very institutions that are meant to protect it. Yet again we see greed overriding nationalism. We as a nation stand to lose our culture, our identity, our creativity, even our livelihoods but the channels too will lose a lot in the long run. Our overseas viewers are not interested in Turkish or Indian content — they subscribe to Geo, ARY, Hum and Express to watch Pakistani drama. What, pray, will the channels show their subscribers a few months from now? What will they show viewers when they become bored with foreign soaps, as every Turkish soap cannot be Ishq-e-Mamnoo just as every Pakistani drama is not Humsafar? What will the big boys of media do, when the smaller/regional channels start showing the same cheap foreign content? The answer is that they will lose subscribers and advertisers as credibility and identity would have already been lost.

Ironically, the Pakistan Broadcast Association is running a campaign claiming to “protect the viewer’s right to know”, but the very same channels are holding producers hostage by demanding re-negotiation of approved contracts or else simply not buying the content. Producers are squeezing actors, directors and technicians citing channel pressure as a plea. Media professionals today stand to lose a lot but so will their silent viewers — it may be too late when they realise that their silence has cost them a loss of their own future, the future of an industry that they owned and were so proud of! Is this what the viewers want? 

The writer is an actor, anchor and columnist with 17 years of experience in the media industry. Human development and social issues are her area of expertise and she is actively involved in related causes.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 13th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (12)

  • bhatti
    Jan 12, 2013 - 9:38PM

    yes.. i fully agreed with u. GOVT should establish its constitutinal and moral authority through *pemra, it should fine the production houses and channels who ran the foreign content just to earn some more money…..these channel ownere are also promoting a copy paste culture in our society on large scale which itself shows there thirdclass nature.


  • Shaami Lahori
    Jan 12, 2013 - 9:53PM

    I belong from a very moderate family in Lahore and believe me I once started watching Ishq e Mamnoo with my sister and story and the story is so Bizarre that even i was compelled to change the channel. These are not our values what are propagated in these dramas and kindly it is my request to Pakistani crowd to reject these imported dramas and also it is my request to local producers to produce some quality stuff that you can compete with these dramas.


  • Harshvardhan sharma
    Jan 12, 2013 - 10:14PM

    The guy/gal doesn’t know the difference between cinema and daily tv soaps since they are incomparable as the effort, time, money spent is miles and miles ahead in film than a regular tv drama, no wonder bollywood is a big hit in Europe/USA/UAE and among south Asians anywhere u see the box office collections they keep increasing every year since there is a huge market for it and if 2 decades down the line bollywood may well replace Hollywood as biggest source and market provider for film around the globe, it already is no 2


  • Jan 12, 2013 - 11:16PM

    Agree with you 100%. The same thing Imran Khan said a few days ago.


  • doom
    Jan 13, 2013 - 12:30AM

    And yet again we see a complete disregard and really just no awareness, no concept at all for such things as personal freedoms and the right to choose, even from the educated.

    It is not the government’s job to interfere in such PERSONAL things as what dramas we watch. Have you ever heard of any such protests or even the existence of an organization such as PEMRA in any even somewhat developed country? No. Because there is always some concept of people’s right to choose, consumers right to choice etc that prevents it. Just imagine if you were told that you could no longer buy any foreign products to protect local indsutry. Say clothes, or shoes, or mobile phones. How would you like that? Programming is no different.

    Stop trying to force shove Pakistani dramas into Pakistani people’s throats. There is no need for this panic. People will always watch Pakistani dramas. Everyone needs to relax and not be so afraid.


  • Jan 13, 2013 - 5:00AM

    I agree that the foreign content does not truly represent our cultural values BUT where does the dramas in Pakistani reflect our true values either????

    EVERY SINGLE Drama you take doesnt matter which channel, you see broken relationships, divorce, domestic disturbance and whatnot.

    Does that represent our values? If an issue exists in the society, it doesnt mean you have to highlight it in every single drama, i.e. divorce and provoke others by follow the same path.

    I think Pakistani writers/producers need to rethink on the overall objective before it is too late for this already-morally–dead society.


  • Blithe
    Jan 13, 2013 - 12:04PM

    Bollywood is far more vulgar .
    With Pakistani villagers being brainwashed to the
    extent children are dancing to Sheila ki Jiwani,. Can you imagine ?!?!!
    The vulgarity!!!


  • Jeddy
    Jan 13, 2013 - 1:56PM

    Pakistani channels that there is a huge market outside India. People in other countries want to see our shows and they want a cultural exchange. They would like us to air their best shows, though they are culturally very different from us, but they have made an effort to do their best. They want to see our best effort. India does not show our channels so we do not their show theirs. Why focus solely on India? Let the world know about our entertainment. Does Hollywood care how different American culture from the rest of the world? US movies and TV shows are popular all over the world.
    We should have a larger world view. Our shows should be seen in country of the world If our shows are sold to thousands of foreign channels, instead of the few channels in Pakistan, everyone benefits. But we have to be more accommodating, we will have to buy shows from different countries. Turkey is a Muslim country, it has modernised but the values they have are the same. To improves those show, voice talent in Pakistan should be used. Dubbing in Urdu should much better. This will open an entire area, in which people who know have good voices become voice actors.


  • Muhammad
    Jan 13, 2013 - 2:04PM

    In one of HUM TV dramas, representing OUR CULTURE, the mother in law asks her daughter in law to mind her dress which was too revealing (shoulderless dress) and the DIL replies this is fashion !!!


  • Banday
    Jan 13, 2013 - 2:26PM

    All this foreign & local content debate is basically a capitalist war between different groups to safe guard their economic interest under the grab of culture protection, choice protection or employment protection. Dubbed Turkish soaps are not only shown in Pakistan, but in dozens of more countries in Middle East, Central Asia & Europe, where we can find similar groups like ours fighting against or for them on similar themes. Unfortunately, pressure of globalization is crushing any protective barriers around the world & drama industry is no exception. If we don’t adapt creatively, then our drama industry will also be crushed. And mind it that exports of Turkish drama industry has reached the annual figures of $ 100 million.


  • anwar khan kharoti
    Jan 15, 2013 - 10:56PM

    indeed pak drama has its own taste where no 1 can compet it.

    i do not 9 y media channels are promoting Tarkish & Indian drama……..
    if we go through the history of our drama, its a brand, and if i say thet we are known sorry wel known just coz of oyr drama,
    i think people( chanle) 4get thet era when we had the only channl and when in prime time our drama begins the street of india shows that no 1 is living the street/village/city
    bt bt bt…. chnnles must review their policy and try to promote our drama


  • shama
    Jan 20, 2013 - 10:23PM

    I saw manahil and khalil on Express TV today and was shocked by the type of scenes in it.

    first, it showed manahil’s father drinking merrily at dinner before whole family, even his religious mother and finishing a whole bottle.
    then, another scene showed khalil and zainab semi-clothed in bed together.
    These may be turkish values but these are not pakistani values.
    We do not drink like them and we do not wear skirts flaunting our legs and cleavage.

    Looks like PEMRA is sleeping or it has been given its due share by Express TV to allow such turkish plays. Pakistani views should criticize Express TV and PEMRA before we have even more crap being shown which we cannot watch with our family.
    shame on Express TV.


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