Discussing the fate of Urdu plays and films at Think fest 2023
“The redemption of Pakistani media lies in the production of indigenous content that taps into the things we are seamlessly good at, including Mughal era, folk tales, poetry, and classical literature.”
These views were expressed by SeemaTaher Khan, the CEO of TVOne, during a session on the fate of the Urdudrama, conducted under the auspices of Afkar-i-TazaThinkfest 2023.
The Thinkfest greeted us on a chilly, pleasantly sunny weekend this year. The event started with the fervourand festivity it is known for. It aims to provide an atmosphere conducive to a discourse on the pressing issues of the contemporary socio-cultural zeitgeist.
A session titled, Kya Urdu Dramay Mein NayeBayaniaykiZarooratHai?focused on the relevance and resonance of Pakistani drama with the Pakistani culture and audience.
Seema Khan expanded on how public demand affected the production of content. Khan said that big-budget dramas with resources and production power had been gaining more traction so naturally, the industry began to prioritise the quality of production rather than content.
“Fixation with this trend led to productions that looked like wash-out imitations of Bollywood because of their ability to capture attention,” she said. Khan said that there was a need to revive indigenous themes in our productions.
SamiyaMumtazwas also a panelist. Tracing the evolution of Pakistani content, she spoke about her experience as an actress. She said that the roles she was now being offered were drasticimprovement on the earlier ones in terms of depth and development.
According to Mumtaz, the direction the industry seemed to be taking may be right.She said the process needed to be accelerated. She said she was hopeful that the younger generation stepping into the field would serve as a catalyst for the change.
In a conversation withThe News on Sunday, Mumtazsaid she disagreed with the portrayal of an average Pakistani household. She said that the disconnect between the drama characters and the audience was creating cognitive dissonance among the viewers.
“An ostentatious lifestyle only a minute fraction of the society can affordis presented as the norm. This fissure between the television lifestyle and a commonman’s lifestyle does not allow the intended projection to take place. That’s why all efforts for bringing about a social change through content fall flat,” she said.
Mumtazsaid she was pleased to note that the characters were no longer plain and uninteresting. “We’re starting to see more nuanced characters,” she said.
OmairRana, actor and theatre director, carried the conversation forward. He said the industry had become too comfortable in the genre confinements that it had created for itself. He said breaking free from the vicious cycle required taking risks.
“An ostentatious lifestyle, which only a minute fraction of the society can afford, is presented as the norm. This fissure between the television lifestyle and a commonman’s lifestyle does not allow the intended projection to take place. That’s why all the efforts of bringing about a social change through content fall flat”
Speaking later to The News on Sunday, Rana called for a national strategy on content creation to foster novel narratives that needed to be circulated in society.
He also emphasisedthe significance of two factors in content creation: grade and commerce. “Both have to be taken into account but the prime focus should be on the grade aspect of it,” he said. Rana also raised questions about the TRP data and its metrics, based on which the policies and the scrutiny were carried out in terms of filtering the content.
The discussion was moderated by television host Hina Khan.
Khan criticised the media ‘giants’, saying they were to blame for setting the wrong precedents and then perpetuating those, not realising the damage they were causing.
In asession, about the film industry of Pakistan, titled Hum FilmainKyunBanatayHain?the stardom of SarmadKhoosatgalvanised a huge audience.
Adeel Afzal, actor and activist, was one of the panelists who opened the dialogue with a critical approach, asking the fraught question of social activism through movies.
NirmalBano, the famous writer, responded that a message was always intended for the audience. Bano said that it was usually wrapped in a storyline but there were always small takeaways there for viewers.
The Gen-Z phenomenon was also discussed in the session. In a reply that bagged him a thunderous round of applause, Khoosat said that there was a palpable generation gap between the people who had been in the industry for quite some time and the new entrants. “But to take this beacon forward jawaanon ko peeroon ka ustaad hona parray ga,” (the young will have to mentor the old).
Regarding the commercialisation of movies, Sarmadsaid it was essential.He said a film was an expensive project. “The execution must not deviate from the central philosophy of its initial conceptualisation,” he said.
Responding to Adeel’s question about whether the Pakistani moviesweregetting the right scripts, NirmalBano said there was a counter-productive supply-demand cycle between the audience and the sponsors that needed to be jettisoned.
The overall mood of the gathering was a testament to the audience’sdiscontent with the media houses. Most of the participants said that the production houses could do a better job but were not paying attention to the demands of the audience.
“In the race for revenue, the production houses seem to have forgotten the values they once stood for,”one of the audience commented.
It was pointed out that much of the content nowadays lacks depth because of a uni-focal approach adopted by many writers. It was suggested that an interdisciplinary review of the script - by field experts - can enrich the script and ensure that the audience find it relatable. Such an exercise may help engageand entertain a larger public.
Fortune favours the brave. The dream of having a lionhearted media trailblazer has yet to be realised.
- The writer is a graduate fellow at the ITU Lahore. He is a practitioner and commentator of psychology, public policy and governance. He can be reached at email@example.com