Television helps Afghanistan tune in to normalcy

Latest drama ‘Innocent Heart’ depicts the country amid the ongoing foreign-troop withdrawal.

News Desk November 15, 2014

Afghan television recently broadcasted the story of a 12-year-old named Kabir. The six-part drama centralises the life of the boy who gradually sees his life unravel, while learning important life lessons of abstaining from violence and that democracy is the only way forward. Titled Innocent Heart, the drama features a host of female actors, reported the Al-Arabiya News.

Set against the backdrop of the 2014 Afghanistan elections, it depicts the country as it attempts to surmount the over decade-long war amid the ongoing foreign troops withdrawal, and the hope of a future that seems frail. The series comes at a time of change in Afghanistan, as television was previously banned in the country.

Audiences are now watching soap operas such as Innocent Heart as they are a reflection of the lives of countless Afghanis, and an attempt to promote change in the country marred by conservatism and poverty. “This type of messaging is successful within a drama, as opposed to a documentary or public service announcement, as people become attached to the characters because it is long-form television,” said Trudi-Ann Tierney, writer of the drama.

There had been a rapid increase in the number of independent television channels in the country since 2001 after the US-led invasion, which toppled the preceding regime. Most of the television time slots are dedicated to low-budget game shows, talent quests and soap operas from India and Turkey, which are later dubbed in the native language. The prevalence of such programmes is due to the fact that only a few stations are keen to make expensive dramas that may not garner advertisements.

Most of Afghanistan’s productions, mainly dramas, are dependent on foreign aid, which usually comes with the catch that the show must impart a positive message. Innocent Heart has been funded by the US Agency for International Development.

Tierney has been making television shows in Afghanistan since 2009, which include the crime series Eagle Four, created along the lines of the American thriller 24. She explained how Eagle Four attempted to improve the public’s perception of the police at a time when the police evoked negative feelings among citizens.

“As the characters learn along the course of the drama series, the audience is learning as well,” she commented. “Of course, the shows have got to be entertaining or you don’t have a captive audience. The messages have got to be subtly-embedded into the story line. If it’s too obvious or didactic, people know they are being preached to and they tend to switch off,” she added.

Producers are hopeful that shows such as Innocent Heart would have a dual effect by not only entertaining the audiences but also giving them something to learn from the story of characters like Kabir. “We are addressing violence, the radicalisation of young people, community resilience, and the fact that it is a vulnerable child who will connect with people on an emotional level, which makes for very powerful television,” Tierney said.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 16th, 2014.

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