|A still from Zindagi Gulzar Hai|
Picture source: Google, YouTube.
I have stopped watching soap operas. In other words, the never-ending "Saas-Bahu" sagas. In fact, I stopped watching them a decade ago. And I think that's the greatest service I may have done to my intellect in the last decade. The slow unending stories, the unbelievable and extremely tortuous intrigues, the ghastly make up, the garish costumes, the artificially artificial sets, the three times action re-re-replay of scenes, the three times close-ups of expressionless faces - faces so made up that even the actors may not recognise themselves when they look in a mirror. Remember Rohini Hattangadi being made-up by Sridevi in the famous scene in "Chaalbaaz"? Well, now you get the drift.
And so it was quite refreshing to see some contemporary Pakistani "TV Dramas", as they are called. Most of them have first been telecast on Hum TV, and are now being beamed in India by Zindagi channel. The dramas are actually, well, dramas. Most of them are based on novels or stories, and actually have something called a "story", a "Kahaani" which is not unending like "Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki". They typically wind-up in 25-26 episodes. Even Saas-Bahu intrigues end, and the vamps and villains are visualised just like ordinary people, and not demi-demons, if such an expression exists, as on Indian TV. Remember Urvashi Dholakia or Sudha Chandran? Or so many others of their ilk, who would put even Radhey Ma to shame. And despite their various short-comings, these Pakistani dramas manage to capture one's imagination.
Of course, Indian television did not always belong to the "Kyunki Chhaas Bhi Kabhi Dahi Thi" variety of nonsense. I remember seeing some wonderful stories in the '80s and early '90s. If there was a "Humlog", or a "Buniyaad", or a "Nukkad" in the '80s, there was a "Phir Wahi Talaash" in the early '90s. The list is endless. Even upto the late '90s, we had beautiful adaptations of stories like the one of Wuthering Heights called "Samay", starring Pooja Bhatt and Aly Khan. The 2000s sounded the death-knell of meaningful dramas on TV. The novel gave way to the banal. The sensible to the inane. The realistic to the garishly artificial. And drove way art from TV forever.
Pakistani dramas and their popularity in India are not a new phenomenon. One still remembers pirated video cassettes and the beeline people made to watch them. Tanhaiyaan, Ankahi, Dhoop Kinarey, and the Indo-Pak drama on Star Plus called Tanha. Of course, all scripted by the great writer, Haseena Moin. Marina Khan was a household name, and people loved her Meg Ryan-ish import as well as her impish on-screen characters. Even the stand-up comedy "Bakra Kishton Par" was funny - actually funny.
Now, in 2010s, the old has given way to the new. Now, it's Zindagi Gulzar Hai, Humsafar and Daastaan, which rule the airwaves and the hearts. And now there is Fawad Khan, and Mahira Khan, and Sanam Saeed who are the current heartthrobs. And Haseena Moin has been replaced by Umera Ahmed as the czarina of scripts.
Of course, people say, they get repetitive after a while. Yes, formulas do tend to get stale. But as of now, one gets to see faces one can recognise. Like on Indian television in the '80s and '90s. People with acting skills. People who could emote. Not lipsticked men and kohl smudged women, who all look the same. All painted with the same foundation. Maybe Indian TV has managed to fight and win one battle that all anti-race and anti-colour activists have not been able to - the battle of colour. Or shall we say, all is fair, and lovely, on contemporary Indian TV?!