Crossing the generational chasm

April 9, 2023

One thing the drama industry must do if it is to sustain itself is pay attention to a younger audience

Crossing the generational chasm


iven its youth bulge, there is a large audience in Pakistan waiting to be entertained. In a country where more than 60 per cent of the population is under 30, it should have occurred to at least some of the drama producers to gravitate towards the younger generation for inspiration and represent it in their work.

However, a majority of prime time drama serials still focus on topics and themes like carrying forward the ‘traditions,’ marital issues that surface while living in a joint family and love triangles.

Unsurprisingly, these narratives do not attract a large number of teenagers. Surprisingly, these narratives continue to be perpetuated by our drama industry. While young people turn away, an older generation provides a faithful audience that such plays appeal to.

The widening generational chasm and the inability of content producers to find a way around it may as well prove to be the last nail in the coffin of Urdu drama. This fondness for exclusionary storylines that normalise obsessive subservience and oppressive traditions defies logic and is unsustainable because the youth cannot relate to it.

Not all is doom and gloom though. Some productions are trying finally to appeal to both parents and their children. In doing so, they are attempting to highlight the challenges that young people are facing today. Besides being relatable for the children such productions offer their parents some valuable insights into the lives of their children as well as a vocabulary that they can use to communicate with younger people.

Pinjra, which premiered in October 2022 and is still on the air, is one such serial. Written by Asma Nabeel, the play is exceptional in centring on the lives of teenagers. Their trials and tribulations are at the heart of the plotline.

The drama serial depicts the stories of adolescents who suffer on account of poor decisions taken by their guardians. The main conflict arises when a troubled child, Abhaan, shows interest in fine arts. While he wants to become an artist and has an aptitude for it, his father wants him to focus on natural sciences. The authoritarian father takes a series of extreme steps, pulling him away from his discipline of interest and triggering a chain of disturbing events in his life.

Also in Pinjra, teenagers are shown discussing issues like divorce, domestic violence, sexism in families and workspaces, depression in teenage and suicidal tendencies and handling those. All these topics tend to be swept under the rug by an older generation but are important for contemporary youngsters.

Crossing the generational chasm

Released in November 2010, Daddy was similar to Pinjra in that it highlighted some problems faced by teenagers. The difference was that while Pinjra shed light on how neglectful, controlling or absent fathers can wreak havoc in the lives of teenagers, Daddy showed an empathic father who, albeit a bit lost, was making an honest attempt to connect with his children and help them out. 

A parallel is drawn between the families of two mothers, Khadija and Wajiha, who are also childhood friends. Khadija is a housewife and Wajiha a promising professional and a divorced single parent. The two represent polar extremes in their ways of parenting. The difference between healthy and toxic parenting is portrayed through their interactions with their children. The children of both households face problems because of controlling and narcissistic men who are also shown struggling with parenthood.

The unfiltered critique of desi parenting brings to mind another drama serial that is almost a decade old. Released in November 2010, Daddy was similar to Pinjra in that it documented the problems faced by teenagers. The one difference is that while Pinjra sheds light on how neglectful, controlling or absent fathers can wreak havoc in the lives of teenagers, Daddy had shown an empathic father making an honest attempt to connect with his children and help them out.

Daddy, written by Ali Imran, tells the story of Jahanzeb, a compassionate and understanding father of two. When Anya, his wife, who has aspired to be a filmmaker, finally gets a chance to get a certification from India, Jahanzeb supports her in her decision to going abroad for education.

Jahanzeb and Anya’s two teenage children initially find themselves facing problems beyond their comprehension. At this point in the plot, their dad takes on the responsibilities of both parents and makes sure that they do not suffer because of a lack of parental attention. Given its credible portrayal of teenage problems and how they can escalate as a result of parental disinterest, the play could appeal to both teenagers and their parents.

Arriving back in Pakistan after completing her certification, Anya finds out about the transformation of her children and her husband into such empathic people and is proud of them.

Watching Daddy was a welcome escape from the hectic study routine for many of my teenage friends. We routinely discussed the story and shared our thoughts on it. Sometimes, the conversations about the play served as a segue into deeper discussions (often full of teen angst) about the challenges we were facing in our relationships with our parents and how to understand where they were coming from and communicate with them.

At home, watching Daddy almost became a ritual. I would take a break from homework; so would my younger siblings. Five minutes before the drama aired, we would all flock around the television. Father and mother would join us with popcorn, and we would be tethered to the TV for an hour.

The drama industry in Pakistan has achieved many a milestone in the portrayal of marital issues. Some major perception shifts are required to target another large pool of audience.

Producers need to invest a lot more in topics related to a younger audience. Pinjra and Daddy are two productions that set the bar because they engaged with viewers across the generational divide.

The writer is a theatre practitioner and a drama critic

Crossing the generational chasm