‘Tis that time of the year again, when we pause to look back and evaluate all that we watched on our TVs in the year past, the good, the bad and the ugly of it all.
Before I continue, however, I must confess that in all the years I’ve been blogging, this is the most unmotivated I’ve ever been. Usually, during the year there has always been a serial or two that’s kept us interested and engaged, not because it was so bad or ’cause there was nothing else to watch, but because it was actually really good. 2015, by contrast, was a year where quantity was inversely proportional to quality.
For most part, the quality of what we watched ranged from average to downright abysmal, and this from even the most talented of creatives, who’ve given us some really superlative stuff in the past. Hence clearly this is not about questioning the quality of the talent, this is more about why these talented writers, directors, artists are being dictated to participate in one mindless project after another. The answer, as we are all well aware, is the omnipotent TRPs. The be-all and end-all of what drives our drama industry these days.
Whether the stories we saw in our serials made any sense or not was not the headache of the drama industrialists (as I call them), that was left for us, the ‘nit-picky’ viewers, to fret and complain about, what mattered for the content heads, marketing departments, producers and channel heads, was the bottom-line. As long as a serial got the ratings and made money all was well. And because it was all about the money, honey, we got long-winded serials that outlasted 99.9% of the shaadis in dramaland. Mitti pao on sense and sensibility, reason and rationale, logic and coherence.
Even as our lives as Pakistanis, whether living in the country or outside, got more and more complicated, our dramas kept telling us that all that mattered was ‘ishq, pyar, muhabbat. There was no problem bigger than shaadi, and woh kab hogi aur kis se hogi. Supposedly these are the only topics that we, the viewers of Pakistani dramas, want to watch. That we might be interested in more, and if so what that might be, is something no one will ever know because we have no say in the matter and nobody’s bothered to ask our choice. We can only choose from what’s on the menu, or alternatively simply switch to non-Pakistani fare.
So myopic have recent dramas become that if these were your only introduction to a Pakistani woman then you would be forgiven for thinking she was a complete moron, the self-absorbed kind, whose life revolved solely around main, meri and mera.
Check out a few of these drama titles from 2015: Main Adhoori, Main Kamli, Main Baraye Farokht, Mere Ajnabi, Mera Naam Yousuf Hai, Mera Yahan Koi Nahin, Yeh Mera Deewanapan Hai, Tera Mera Rishta, Sartaj Mera Tau Raj Mera, Mere Dard Ki Tujhe Kiya Khabar, Tum Mere Kiya Ho, Tere Mere Beech Mein, to name just a few.
It is interesting to note that even though our drama industrialists appeared unaware of the fact, they remained fully aware they were dishing out the same old, hence the impetus for shiny packaging. Take any recent serial and there is a marked increase in promos that revolve exclusively around the young lead pair, training the spotlight on their ‘romantic’ encounters. That these scenes might not happen till the final few episodes, or the overall story might not even be the pair’s ‘love story’ per se, or even that the so-called ‘love story’ is actually a deeply disturbing tale is a whole other conversation. What matters is that younger audiences are hooked and eagerly waiting and watching for the ‘romance’ to bloom.
Along similar lines, the almost overnight interest in the lakes and valleys of the northern regions is too coincidental to be a mere fluke. One story after another is suddenly set in the scenic mountainous regions, so much so that at times it almost seems like we are watching an extended advertisement for the Tourism Department of Pakistan.
For now, these strategies seem to be working; despite their aggravation with the same old, many continue to watch for the chemistry between the lead pair and the exotic locations, but for how long?
All this to say that at the end of 2015, in terms of subjects and storylines there was nothing new to write home about, at least for me. That said, despite the overall doom and gloom there were a few efforts that merit praise and deserve acknowledgment.
Jackson Heights: Written by Vasay Chaudhry, directed by Mehreen Jabbar and produced by Six Sigma, this serial aired on Urdu 1. Falling victim to the malaise of over-stretching, about 9-10 episodes too long, here was a story that engaged constructively with issues of domestic abuse and depicted women with concerns other than pyar and shaadi. Aamina Sheikh shone as the strong-willed Salma, and Marina Khan was fabulous as Michele. Ali Kazmi was very convincing as the menacing Sikander and Nauman Ijaz as the affable taxi driver, Bhatti sahab, breathed life into one of the most well-written characters in 2015.
Mera Naam Yousuf Hai: It is no secret that this serial was a mixed bag for me; there was a lot here that disturbed me, but then there were parts that I appreciated as well. My issues with content aside, this serial deserves a round of applause for its technical aspects. Qasim Ali Mureed’s brilliant camerawork, framing and lighting was particularly impressive as was the sound design, the placement of the various songs chosen for the serial, and the overall editing. I do hope some of our editors and sound people watch this one and take careful notes on how to do things right.
Omar from Goya: For a serial that had started off promising much, Goya flailed and faltered pretty badly around the midway point. Despite all its shortcomings, however, Goya gave us the best male lead of 2015, Omar. In a dramasphere teeming with paragons of perfection and bad boys, Omar stood out for his human-ness and his relatability. Here was a man who was weak and strong in equal measures, neither perfect nor
flawed- he was real. Given a lot of depth and nuance by writer Mohammed Ahmed sahab and well-directed by Farrukh Faiz, Omar was played to perfection by Osman Khalid Butt.
Hina Bayat: That I am a fan is no secret, but even if I was not I would’ve been after this year. Working within the existing framework of recycled stories and cliched characters, Hina has always endeavored to bring us something new each time we see her on the screen. I don’t think any of us would’ve expected a Khala Khursheeda – burqa clad and paan chewing – type character from her, but she surprised us all with her excellent portrayal. Later we saw her as the sharp-tongued, strong-willed Afia. Starkly different characters, both were performed with equal brilliance and panache. Had I been in the business of giving awards, Hina would’ve been my pick for the best actor award, not just in terms of these two performances, but overall consistency and commitment to her craft.
These then are a few of the things that stood out for me in 2015. For an overview of the disturbing trends we saw in our dramas this past year, please check out my piece published in the latest issue of The Friday Times.
I know you guys will have a lot more to add to this discussion, so do chime in and share your take on the year past. Looking forward to reading all your thoughts.
As I sign off on my last post for 2015, please join me in hoping and praying for a happier, healthier and safer year for all, irrespective of who, what and where.
Happy New Year!!
Written by SZ~
Link to my Friday Times piece