Heavy doses of socially charged content desensitized viewers; dramas offering diversity served as a breather. Instep looks back at the year...
Looking back at 2018, one realizes that the major highlight of the year in television was the multiple social themes explored. And there was nothing wrong with that, given that we were finally speaking up about topics that had been considered a taboo since forever. The trend continued in 2019 and the number of socially relevant dramas only increased; sensitive issues such as acid attacks, child abuse, domestic violence, dual personality disorders, sexual assault and abuse and workplace harassment dominated the small screen this year.
However, to one’s dismay, these narratives did create talkability and drew attention to the causes at hand, but often the way they were handled also desensitized viewers rather than always providing solutions. The overflow of socially-charged content worked well for producers who cashed in on it because of ratings. How many of these dramas actually created an impact and/or managed to handle these subjects with the sensitivity they demanded remains a question mark.
Instep dissects the year 2019 in TV, also mentioning notable performances and exceptional stories that left a mark. Let’s begin with the positives...
With a range of drama serials revolving around social themes, few focused on diverse genres such as horror, as was the case in Bandish, and suspense mystery, as we’re seeing in Yeh Dil Mera. The former was close to reality and set a benchmark in the genre whereas Yeh Dil Mera, which is presently on-air, is unfolding the mystery with subtle yet strong references to the most neglected issue of mental health.
The ISPR-funded Ehd e Wafa that revolves around the lives of four (male) friends is also generating positive reviews for its uniqueness while Haseeb Hassan directorial Alif is initiating constructive dialogue due to the strong spiritual angle that sets it apart from the rest. It has introduced conversations on TV like never before!
Comedy dramas Shahrukh Ki Saaliyan, Romeo Weds Heer and Dolly Darling, among others, are worth mentioning for at least attempting to make people laugh since there is hardly any room for laughter on the small screen. Though the award-winning Suno Chanda garnered huge acclaim last year, Suno Chanda 2 didn’t impress much and received mixed reviews.
Dil Kiya Karay, directed by Mehreen Jabbar, was slow-paced according to some but it was less dramatic and light on the heart as opposed to domestic and social issues that were often overwhelming. It was more about family ties, covering for each other, moving on and progressing in life as individuals as well as together.
Last but not the least, drama serial Khaas became popular for paying attention to ‘emotional abuse’ in addition to verbal and/or physical abuse in a marriage. It portrayed the trauma of being in an abusive relationship and how difficult it is to make people understand its consequences on one’s wellbeing.
Ranjha Ranjha Kardi that revolved around the life of a mentally challenged young man Bhola (Imran Ashraf) and Noori (Iqra Aziz), who came from a family of rag-pickers, stood out for many reasons. The performances, dialogues, treatment, character development and the way this drama tackled multiple important themes at once was phenomenal. Director Kashif Nisar doesn’t miss out on even the slightest of details and this is visible in this production, penned by Faiza Iftikhar.
Inkaar was another master piece directed by the maestro (Kashif Nisar) and written by the incredible Zafar Mairaj that won hearts due to its realistic portrayal of how a young woman, Hajra, fights for justice after she is trapped in an unfavourable situation with the son of a feudal lord. Rehan Sheikh as her religious yet progressive father, Hafiz Ilyas, set an example as he stood by her daughter rather than shaming her for her mistakes.
Saba Qamar and Bilal Abbas Khan starrer Cheekh, directed by Badar Mehmood, went on to become one of the most popular dramas this year. Harassment followed by murder was the key theme and how much it cost Mannat (Saba Qamar), the protagonist, until she was served justice for her friend. However, the drama had its highs and lows and some sequences towards the end let it down.
Surkh Chandni, penned by Asma Nabeel, that followed the life of an acid attack ‘warrior’ Aidaa (Sohai Ali Abro) as the writer likes to call it, also stood out for a new theme within socially relevant narratives. The on-going Ishq Zah e Naseeb that tackles the subject of dual personality disorder and its impact on the victim as well as his surroundings, has garnered a lot of praise as it attempts to remove the stigma attached to the condition.
The overflow of socially-charged content worked well for producers who cashed in on it because of ratings. How many of these dramas actually created an impact and/or managed to handle these subjects with the sensitivity they demanded remains a question mark.
Mere Paas Tum Ho, which causes social media frenzy as soon as a new episode goes on air, is apparently the most watched drama on-air these days. Viewers continue to critique and/or praise it for varied reasons but they are still addicted to it. Though there’s nothing new about the storyline – a wife cheating on her husband with a richer, financially stable man – the execution makes it appealing. Nadeem Baig’s direction together with Khalil ur Rehman Qamar’s quirky, often problematic, dialogues have become a major attraction for most viewers.
Imran Ashraf as the mentally challenged Bhola in Ranjha Ranjha Kardi became the most loved character on the small screen this year as he essayed the role with natural flair. He also impressed as feudal rogue Rehan Chaudhry in Inkaar. Iqra Aziz as the strong-willed and self sufficient Noori in Ranjha Ranjha Kardi delivered an equally powerful performance, while Sana Javed gave viewers goosebumps with her heart-wrenching performance in Ruswai that reflects on the plight of a rape victim.
The versatile Yumna Zaidi, with three TV roles to her credit this year – Hajra in Inkaar, Sameera in Ishq Zah e Naseeb and Aiman in Dil Kiya Karay – proved her incredible range as an actor. Saba Qamar proved her versatility yet again in Cheekh while Bilal Abbas turned out to be the most talked about anti-hero as he pulled off the role of Wajih with finesse. Ahad Raza Mir, on the other hand, has also caught attention as the mysterious guy Amaan in Yeh Dil Mera.
Winning hearts with her craft, the young and dynamic Sajal Aly nailed it as Chammi in Aangan earlier this year and continues to enthral audiences as Momina Sultan in Alif and Anna in Yeh Dil Mera. She carried each role with ease, which is a testament to her versatility. Playing opposite her in Alif, Hamza Ali Abbasi returned to TV screens in 2019 and is making waves as Qalb e Momin though he announced he would be taking a break from entertainment.
Zahid Ahmed, who mostly opts for unusual roles, is one of the great actors the industry has today. He is proving his mettle as Sameer with a split personality disorder in Ishq Zah e Naseeb, and a blind young man Nain in Mein Na Janoo – both dramas are presently on-air.
Humayun Saeed and Ayeza Khan, the most talked about onscreen couple right now, are naturals when it comes to acting and the way they have played Mehwish and Danish in Mere Paas Tum Ho has certainly touched viewers.
Initially, when Pakistani television saw a new wave of socially relevant dramas, it offered a break from domestic issues and familial disputes. However, as the number increased, one noticed the two tracks coming together – there’s hardly any story that doesn’t include domestic violence, family politics and/or extra marital affairs. This leaves very little room for light-hearted romance, comedy or instances from our daily lives that aren’t too heavy on the heart and the mind.
Another problem with Pakistani dramas at present is the excessive exposure to stories of assault, harassment and physical abuse, to the extent that viewers are no longer moved by it. Damsa is one such example of a drama that tackles the subject of child trafficking but is very difficult to watch. Even Surkh Chandni became mundane at one point as one could predict what’s coming up next. Ruswai attempted to break away from the norm and present a sexual assault victim as a strong woman who puts her self-respect above anything else. However, she eventually surrendered to family pressure and the drama has now become more of a saas-bahu saga.
Thirdly, there have been some recent productions that picked up narratives that have already aired on TV in the past and made a drama around that. For instance, if you watch Fahad Mustafa and Sanam Baloch-starrer Kankar (2013) that recently aired once again, it reminds one of Khaas. Since social media wasn’t as active at that time, the drama didn’t get the hype it deserved. Similarly, Gul o Gulzar looks like replication of Ghar Titli Ka Par that aired on Geo Entertainment last year.
Instead of finding unique angles, channels are only playing up on what sells, what generates hype and, in turn, ratings. This seems to be on a rise as many writers and directors complain about not having the creative liberty they once had as channels and producers have taken over decisions regarding scripts, casting as well as direction.
There is no right or wrong way of doing things, neither is there a fixed formula for success/ratings but there is always a way to find balance. It is said that there are only seven basic plot structures in all of storytelling but it is the setting, the characters and the treatment that make one story different from the other. There are hundreds of dramas presently on-air but more than 80 per cent of them end up looking the same. Many of them are even shot in the same locations, rented homes with the same actors working the loop.
There is a desperate need to dig out a variety of issues and characters rather than following similar patterns and running after just high ratings. This happens when the same set of people, particularly the ones who aren’t even a part of the creative process, start making decisions for everyone, leaving no room for diversity and exploration. Perhaps this is why dramas airing on one channel share a lot of similarities even in terms of actors.
Television, and TV dramas in particular, do mostly cater to women and housewives in particular, therefore pick up themes that would appeal to them. But there is a rising generation that is part of the digital revolution; that aspect of life hasn’t even started to be addressed on Pakistani TV. There is still no programming for children or for teenagers.
One way to ensure originality and balance is to leave the decision-making power to those who have expertise in their respective domains. Writers and directors often complain of the interference and imposition of producers and channel owners who are only moved by numbers. Ratings shouldn’t be the only parameter; television should be serving viewers an equal mix of entertainment, information and education, as is the age old barometer. And it all doesn’t only stem from family dramas and old-school hackneyed themes. The world is changing; it’s time television evolved with it.