Couple of years ago I remember watching an episode of the Nadia Khan Show where she highlighted the sorry state of the food industry. The unhygienic conditions of restaurant kitchens, unhealthy stuff added in indiscriminately, expired sauces and stale vegetables – you name it and our public eateries – fast food joints, caterers, even five stars kitchens – were breaking every kind of industry standard that ever existed. I think it took me about at least a couple of months before I could be convinced to eat out, and fast food remains a no-no for me even today. Of all the horrific things they discussed, the two anecdotes that have stuck with me ever since are: a) waiters/young boys scraping off leftover meat pieces from used plates, collecting them in a bag and handing them back to kitchens where they were re-used the next day, and b) doing the same with soft drinks, i.e., collecting leftover sodas in bottles (after a wedding for instance), filling them in used bottles, resealing them and passing these off as “fresh” “new” bottles.
No, I haven’t gone crazy and this is still a blog about Pakistani dramas. I purposely began with a reference to that particular episode of Nadia Khan’s show because the recent spate of dramas, bar a few exceptions, all seem like a cut paste of each other – old wine in not-so-new bottles. Not only do we have formulas at work, but if a particular twist works for one hit serial, then tau bas! Rest assured we will see at least five hundred if not more rip offs featuring a similar if not the exact same spin. It is no longer about telling an honest story about the human condition. No. Now its all about thrills and which serials offers the most – the race for TRPs is on. The story and its writer are dead, long live the ratings.
Take for instance the new serial Nazdikiyan airing on ARY. Apart from filling up a time slot what other purpose was this serial serving? What is it showing that we haven’t seen before. Yes, the broader plot line, as noted on the official Facebook page, may be about watta satta (exchange marriages) and its evils, but what we actually see in the first episode is a haphazard mishmash of things ‘borrowed’ from popular, rather so called hit serials as per TRP charts, all randomly thrown together and given that much more tarka and presented as a brand new project.
If one of the most popular serials in recent times (as per TRPs) Aasmanon Pe Likha had a shaadi in the first episode, then here we see it times three. Yes, as if one miserable shaadi was not enough, we have three siblings getting married here. Misery brings high ratings so why not have it times three? Imagine teen auratein aik saath dukhi hongi tau kitni ziyada rating aayegi… and, if they were to all cry with big huge tears all the more better, nahin?
Remember Humsafar? Remember Sara’s suicide? Remember the impact that had? Well if a suicide could do the trick for Humsafar, phir yahan kyon nahin? And why not go one better and put that in the first episode? Tau bas, our rejected pyar ki maari swallows a whole pack of pills and dharaam! The pills are barely down our dukhiyari’s throat and she is down for the count. Wah! what an entertaining episode! Maza aaya? Nahin? Chalo koi gal nahin…
If you’re not warmed up as yet, let’s add in a handicapped older sister, jis ka rishta nahin ho raha tha, her poor brother, therefore, had no choice but to agree to this watta satta and sacrifice his love (remember our suicidal Sara wannabe?) So now we have a langri (they call her that in case you missed her obviously faltering steps), dukhi behen. And, if you haven’t connect the dots as yet, her zindagi after shaadi will be even dukhi-er. To ensure that you totally get the point of her character she repeats it at least three four times: shaadi ka doosra naam hai compromise. Cue the violins.
With shaadis galore could saas bahu jhagras be far behind? Rest assured, from the constant tantrums it is easy to deduce there will be plenty of chakh chakh to come. Seems like the makers knew all too well that their story, if you can call it that, had nothing to sustain audiences’ interest, hence their lame efforts to cobble together as many ‘thrills’ as they possibly could, agar ek tuka nahin laga tau doosra tau lag hi jayega.
In case you think I am nitpicking on one drama its not that. This malaise is spread across this board. Let’s take the example of Muhabbat Ab Nahin Hogi, which aired from HUM TV. Airing twice a week this serial was a literal smorgasbord of thrills. Again, following the “formula for success” we had a shaadi right away and things were hunky dory for approximately an episode n a half. From there began a crazy state of affairs which included an unbelievably stupid heroine, an absentee husband, the girl’s interfering mother, an impossibly immature devar, a questionably close relationship between devar and bhabhi.
Not enough for you? No worries, we also had shuk thrown in for good measure. Agar phir bhi maza nahin aaya tau we saw presumed childlessness, pseudo issues with an on-again-off-again hijaab, a miscarriage, an attempted suicide, an interfering nand, a runaway wife, an almost rape, a car accident, … you get my drift. It is all about plot twists. String a sufficient amount of thrills together and you have yourself a serial. Firaaq is the latest entrant in this list, displaying a similar let’s-cover-all-our-basis approach to story-telling.
Where Nadia Khan’s show did rattle a few cages and reportedly instigated change, I have no illusions about this piece making any ripples. Regardless of reception, I firmly believe this issue – demise of the story – is something that needs serious consideration. While these thrill laden serials might make money in the short run, what are their prospects in the long run? Why is it that despite being low on production values serials from the 70’s and 80’s are still fondly remembered? Haseena Moin’s Tanhaiyan, Ankahi, Dhoop Kinarey did not boast crazy twists, foreign locations or fancy designer wardrobes but they worked, and how!
Even in more recent times, serials like Daam are still remembered fondly. Why? Mehreen Jabbar did not shoot that one in NYC, neither did she have a huge budget, but it still made its mark. Why is Vasl still a good one to recommend to friends? Why do we still talk about telefilms like Ghoonghat or Shanakht? Why is Aunn Zara so beloved? Why do I watch Talkhiyan again n again? What of Shehr-e Zaat or Humsafar or a Zindagi Gulzar Hai?
The answer is quite simple – story, the writing. A solid script, not a formula, mind you, is the basis of all good serials. Yes, directors, actors, production values, all make a huge impact, but nobody can make something out of nothing. Good actors cannot infuse life into non-existent, uni-dimensional characters. How is a director supposed to bring to life a string of thrills?
People-in-charge: I get that TRPs are the be all and end all for you guys, but please don’t turn our justifiably praised drama serial into a joke. The reason why our dramas garner global viewership is because of their strong stories. It is mind-boggling to think that at a time when we should be looking to further strengthen our already strong suit, we are being remarkably short-sighted and focusing on the here and now. Why are we fiddling around with the one surefire formula for success – the story!
I get that channels make more money from a serial with 20+ episodes, but surely they know better than me that not all stories can be stretched to accommodate this very corporate demand. Stories are not cars that take shape on an assembly line, built to satisfy an industry standard. Every story is an individual piece of creative art, one best left to the whims of artists involved as to the how and when it should end. What is the point of dragging stories when you have nobody left to watch? Jackson Heights is the latest victim of this approach.
Call me naive if you may, but surely a shorter serial with strong, committed viewership works better in the long run, no? Please don’t turn our very talented writers into mindless automatons expected to string together a series of events that not only cross the 20 episode limit but must also encompass at least six or seven of the now requisite issues: saas-bahu, rape, sexual abuse, physical abuse, hijaab, extra marital affairs, two wives, mehram/na-mehram, shuk, terminal disease or two, betiyaan bojh hain, and so on and so forth.
Dear people-in-charge: Yes, admittedly I too hit the ffwd button when a scene drags on forever and the story is at a standstill, but does that mean that I want a thrill a minute? NO, I DO NOT. All I’m asking for is to stop the dragfest. As a dedicated viewer of your drama serials I am begging you to credit your audience with a semblance of intelligence. Trust me, we can distinguish between a logical progression of events and a random cut-paste of five or six of our favorite dramas, a blatant plagiarism of a popular Bollywood film, or a copy of a StarPlus serial. Take pity on us and don’t ask our highly respected and talented writers to write chhapaas. These writers have produced more than enough gems of their own, why then are we asking them to borrow others’ work?
At this point it may seem like I am crying out of turn, particularly when our serials are doing so well across the border and conquering new markets globally. But the way I see it, this is precisely the time to pause and re-evaluate. Rather than doing it after, why not shut the stable door before the horse bolts?
Written by SZ~