Behlul and Bihter took everyone by a surprise when Turkish soaps graced the Pakistani screens, with gorgeous faces and unconventional storylines getting an even better response than expected.
Two years later, the situation has changed. Zindagi, a channel owned by Zee TV network in India, has started airing Pakistani dramas — an exchange that Pakistani artistes and the UPA (United Producers Association) had been asking for, for quite some time. The Indian media and viewers have greatly appreciated the content, however, the question remains, what does this success mean to our local artistes?
“It can have the same impact as the Turkish plays had on us. Only this time, it would be bigger and long-lasting. Given that we share the same language and don’t have the dubbing handicap,” says script writer, Vasay Chaudhry.
Chaudhry is more interested in how this exchange will benefit the local production houses because that is essentially where the real creative force is and not the TV channels. “This will lead the production houses to stop giving world rights to Pakistani channels. If a producer knows that his play can resell and run in India as well, he will produce one quality play rather than four half-hearted products,” he adds.
Faysal Qureshi, on the other hand, was optimistic about the response but had not imagined it to be as overwhelming as it is. “I was confident that our dramas will be recognised worldwide. Our audience still doesn’t believe that but that’s another thing altogether,” says Qureshi.
“The best thing is that now Indian channels are asking our producers to produce content for them and are not just interested in buying content that has already been aired,” he adds.
This moment reminiscent of how Bollywood opened its windows for Pakistani singers in the mid 2000’s. Since then, every newcomer started making the kind of music that sells in Bollywood and consequently, we didn’t see any big singer emerge after Ali Zafar and Atif Aslam.
“That would be equivalent to finishing your own career before it has started,” asserts Qureshi. He says that every newcomer has to start from his home ground — just like a cricketer, who starts at college level, goes on to play for the national team and eventually for the counties. “The reason why Fawad Khan is now working in India is because he was recognised in Pakistan. There are no two ways about it,” says Qureshi.
Veteran actor Samina Ahmed says that the local drama industry tried its best to imitate the Indian ‘formula’ to cater to a wider audience and that failed terribly. She gives the example of how the Indian drama Uttran was aired with local dramas in Pakistan and didn’t do as well
“The 50-minute serial structure is our forte and that is what the audience has gotten used to over a span of fifty years. In the long run, we only need to improve on that and not undermine it by switching to some other format to suit a bigger audience,” says Ahmed
For Samina, the response for local dramas across the border is a positive sign as it may eventually lead to a wider audience for Pakistani dramas; however, it is still too early to say anything for sure.
“For now, the response is due to the novelty of discovering something new, as both, Indians and Pakistanis are very curious to know about each other. We get to know about them through their films and these dramas are the first formal inlet in Pakistan for them,” she adds.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2014.