Here’s what got us through 2020

December 27, 2020

Whether you were looking for entertainment or retail therapy, in the absence of human interaction, you had to be online to feel alive!

Asim Abbasi’s Churails released in August 2020 and set Pakistan’s sanitized sensibility on fire.

It’s almost impossible to review the year 2020 as anything but devastating but as we raise a toast to ring in the new year, we have to believe that our glass is half full even if it’s half full of a tepid and somewhat flat bubbly. The coronavirus pandemic, mascot of the New World Order that we’re stepping into 2021 with, in its destructive path has given us survival tools that will help us weather the challenges that inevitably lie ahead. One of those tools is optimism and the ability to spot a silver lining in the darkest of situations; we do see an overwhelming change in the way people are reflecting on the year gone by. The smallest things are making people smile.

Walking on that somewhat idealistic path, it is also important to pinpoint and celebrate the moments of levitation one experienced during the year in entertainment. In an overall dismal 12 months, fortified by occasional and unfortunate censorship (Zindagi Tamasha should have been allowed to release in January, as scheduled) there were elements that made the darkness tolerable.

The rise of OTT content in the wake of cinema lockdowns

A term we’re more familiar with in reference to an ‘over-the-top’ sense of style (think Lady Gaga), the term OTT shifted to over-the-top channels, ie channels made accessible directly via the internet, not via cable services. In Pakistan we saw the emergence of Nashpati Prime on YouTube, immediately kicking into our consciousness with Saat Mulaqatein, a nine-part miniseries starring Noman Ejaz and Zara Tareen. You must watch it if you haven’t already. This August we were introduced to See Prime, another OTT channel for original Pakistani content. Short films like Naam Kya Rakha (Fahad Sheikh and Hajra Yamin), Dancing Doll (Anoushey Abbasi) and Aagey Barho (Samiya Mumtaz and Aijaz Aslam) quickly picked up an audience that had neither the time nor the patience for the over-extended and unnaturally sanitized content offered on television channels.

Amongst the many OTT channels that debuted on YouTube and online Apps, there was ZEE5, formerly a TV channel in India that had introduced ZEE Zindagi, a leg exclusively dedicated to Pakistani entertainment. ZEE Zindagi had to disassociate from Pakistan post Uri (2016) and the Modi government, but it made a comeback in 2018 as an OTT service. This year it announced five original series from Pakistan, two of which have already been streamed to great success.

Asim Abbasi’s Churails released in August 2020 and set Pakistan’s sanitized sensibility on fire. Then came Mehreen Jabbas’s Ek Jhoothi Love Story, starring the nation’s new heart throb Bilal Abbas Khan and Madiha Imam in key roles. We’re now looking forward to Abdullahpur Ka Devdas, Mann Jogi and Dhoop Ki Deewar.

Netflix and Amazon Prime, of course, gave Pakistan its much needed dose of international content, whether in the form of the Turkish inspirational epic, Ertugrul or the quick paced Money Heist. With people locked away in their homes, many of them in quarantine and isolation, OTT content came as essential relief and entertainment.

Cinemas in Pakistan went into indefinite lockdown on March 23 and it’s unclear when or whether they’ll be able to resuscitate back to life, even with the dozen or so films that were scheduled to release in 2020 and have been shelved until further notice. The Legend of Maula Jatt, Quaid e Azam Zindabad, Nilofer, Money Back Guarantee, London Nahin Jaunga, Kamli, Dum Mastam, Tich Button and Ishrat – Made in China are just some of the names that come to mind, but when, where and whether they’ll get a cinematic release is anyone’s guess. We’ve got Hollywood mega-films in waiting too but they too would not be enough to bring cinema back, experts feel.

TV and easy access to entertainment

Pakistan’s TV industry, the numerous channels that whisk up endless content for an insatiable awami appetite, continued to work in overdrive, come Covid or quarantine. As a result, locked away in their homes, people tuned into TV dramas like never before. Almost every working location and set became Covid Central, but it was integral – economically and psychologically – for the show to go on.

Mega brand Khaadi collaborated with Esra Bilgic, best known as Halime Sultan from epic series Ertugrul and the collection sold out, online, within minutes.

We were thus given some very engaging drama serials to watch, topping the list would be Pyar Ke Sadqay with Bilal Abbas Khan and Yumna Zaidi, Alif with Hamza Ali Abbasi and Sajal Aly, Ehd e Wafa, with an ensemble cast headlined by Ahad Raza Mir, Osman Khalid Butt, Wahaj Ali and Ahmed Ali Akbar. There were romantic thrillers like Yeh Dil Mera and unorthodox romances like Kashf. We’re stepping into 2021 with serials like Dunk and Raqs e Bismil just having started and others like Khuda Aur Mohabbat, Neeli and Pehli Si Mohabbat on the horizon. TV content may not necessarily be getting better but there is comfort, if not always quality, in numbers.

One has to understand the outlay of Pakistan’s population to understand that there’s a TV generation and an online streaming generation and a very small percentage of the demographic overlaps. So with both sources in overdrive, onscreen entertainment was never insufficient. The little space left was dedicated to the world of Tik Tok, which rose as one of the most popular Apps in the world, democratizing the word ‘star’. It allowed everyone to be a star!

Fashion & the evolution of e-tail therapy

Fashion, especially fast fashion, is what most people desire and very few actually need and so it was a matter of time before the fashion world witnessed a paradigm shift in favour of a sense of responsibility. The past year accelerated a conversation that had been dragging its feet in the dressing room, bringing out sustainable and ethical practices as need of the hour.

Slow fashion, sustainable fashion, water and waste reduction, rethinking the use of plastic, irresponsible disposal, fair wages, work ethics and similar subjects became focal points of concern.

Things are still not as evolved in Pakistan, where most brands and designers worry about survival , but one did witness one monumental change apart from the introduction of face masks as a fashion accessory. Only brands and labels that were online had a chance of surviving the crisis. With shops shut down for most part of the year, sales shifted online and that too had its own challenges; people had nowhere to go, thus no motivation to buy. It’s only with the advent of winter and the (restricted) festive season that sales picked up and people started shopping, perhaps in search of a feel good factor.

If you think about it, even style stars – those that once ruled runways and fashion campaigns – shifted to Instagram and became social media sensations.

Fashion isn’t the only thing that shifted sales online. With restaurants restricted to outdoor-dining, take away and delivery services picked up and several online delivery apps were introduced to the world wide web. Home-based food businesses, like bakeries, picked up like never before. One saw a big induction of specialized online services, whether you wanted organic greens for a salad (Bloom), a specific unprocessed cheese (Karacheese), organic eggs, meat and poultry or just a dozen buttery madeleines for tea (Wild Flour). The world literally fell to the fingertips!

As 2020 comes to an end, one thing has become strikingly clear; you cannot survive if you’re not online. Whether it’s for work, school, entertainment, e-tail therapy or something as basic as getting your daily groceries delivered, you need to be online to survive and master the New Normal.

Here’s what got us through 2020