KARACHI: Indian soaps are a rage among Pakistani women who love 'saas-bahu' sagas like "Pratigya" and "Uttaran" and the reality show "Bigg Boss" for their grandeur, costumes and larger-than-life projection.
"As they say, you always love to have what you don't have; the same is the case with us. We are way too addicted to Indian soaps," Zahida Zaidi, 52, a former politician based in this port city, told this visiting IANS correspondent.
"Our soaps have low budgets and hence they are simple and close to reality, but Indian soaps are just the opposite," she pointed out.
Indian channels like Sony, STAR Plus and Colors are quite popular despite being banned in Pakistan, which means the local cable guy doesn't have permission to telecast them. The public has access to them only through Direct-To-Home (DTH) services.
"We record these serials and then telecast late at night. Hence the poor people get to watch their soaps. It's risky but this is what is happening. Everyone wants to watch these Indian soaps," said a local cable man on condition of anonymity.
The prime time slot from 7.30 PM to 10.30 PM is for both Indian and Pakistani soaps.
Karachi women reveal how addicted they are to "saas-bahu" sagas, even battling for the TV remote in their homes during peak hours - just like their Indian counterparts.
The soaps also leave many questions in their minds.
"Do you people dress like TV actors in real life?" asked a curious Kulsoom Nawaz, 55, for whom these soaps are the only window to Indian culture.
A woman officer at the immigration counter at Jinnah Airport asked this IANS correspondent: "'Aap yeh bataye ki kya aap log aise hi make-up laga kar ghoomti hain pura din aur phir sote hue bhi make-up nahi utarti hain' (Do you people wear make-up throughout the day and even while you sleep)?"
They have also noted some peculiarities of Indian serials.
Marshita Aman, 58, asked: "Why does a person who is dead in a soap have to come back to life again?"
Most of the serials are full of kitchen politics and men are visible in almost every frame. Zahida said: "Why doesn't the male member of these families go to work? Why do they have to be home all the time?"
"Why do you portray unrealistic things? Women of all generations in a household are shown as young and no one has a single strand of grey hair. It's completely unreal. We wonder why you do this?" she asked.
Pakistani viewers also fail to understand why Indian soaps have "pooja" after every problem and why there are so many close-ups of characters.
Despite these questions, Karachi women swear by Indian soaps like "Pratigya", "Kaali", "Behene", "CID", "Bigg Boss" and "Uttaran" because of the presentation, costumes, larger-than-life sets.
They say in comparison Pakistani soaps are sombre, soft, subtle and very much close to reality. People usually watch Hum TV for soaps like "Qaid-e-Tanhai", "Dastaan" and "Saiqa".
"What you will see is that the women glued to these soaps are old women like us who have done their prayers, played with grandkids, slept and then at the end of the day want to entertain themselves," explained Zaidi.
"We don't have a pub culture; hence we have to be at home and end up watching these serials. Despite all these discrepancies, we watch these soaps because they have a feel good factor and female protagonists dress so beautifully; especially their saris are a delight to watch," she added.
Marshita is appreciative of Indian actresses for their slim figures and make-up and says it is done brilliantly.
The viewers are still very fond of Tulsi (Smriti Irani) and Parvati (Sakshi Tanwar), the protagonists of "Kyunkii Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thii" and "Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii" - the longest running soaps of Indian television - even though these ended a long time back.
So strong is their fascination that they often go hunting for jewellery pieces worn in the serials and equally often find Parvati or Tulsi style ornaments at Karachi's local Sunday Bazaar and Sadar Bazaar!