By Butool Abbas:
What’s restricted has always been enticing. There is an innate urge to open closed doors and windows and peep inside. And, not so surprisingly, activities beyond the Indian border-i.e., in Pakistan, have always generated interest. But, there was also a copious amount of stereotyping that happened in the process. Our interactions were limited and whatever the popular media depicted was our window to understand this separated land. A series of cricket matches, a handful of singers traveling to and fro between borders, and a few actors later, all we knew till date is that Pakistanis had a great talent pool and were a good looking lot!
The politicians also fed on our lack of clarity. They fueled our imagination about who is an average Pakistani by creating perceptions through what their army does across the international borders. Narrow-focus of vision bordering on obsession for Kashmir and a total lack of respect for rules and system cut a very sorry figure for a youth living in Pakistan. We unknowingly came to believe that every guy across those lines lacked any other goal in life except vengeance. In retrospect, it couldn’t have been far from the truth. Just reverse the situation to understand how crazy it sounds.
The efforts for goodwill
There’sÂ no doubt that the history between the two countries has been blotted with conspiracies, conflicts, and treachery. But efforts to restore goodwill between the nations have also been on priority list of diplomats. From the very first match in 1952 between the two countries till date, nothing can beat the adrenaline rush, and competitive spirit of an Indo-Pak match. However, the idea was set out with an objective of creating goodwill between the two countries. Through decades, music concerts and comedy shows etc. were conducted for this very hope of peace – or as appropriately named, ‘ Aman ki Asha’.
Cut to today. Circa: 2014
Zee TV launches a new Indian entertainment television channel airing syndicated shows from Pakistani top-rated serials. The channel is owned by the Zee Entertainment Enterprises; launched on 23 June 2014. It is said that later it would telecast shows from various others countries too, for instance countries like Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
The Channel launches with the multi -faceted vision of bringing fresh content to Indian television from international markets, and for an alternative way of goodwill building between the two countries (the tag line reads “Jodey Dilon ko”) . The risk is well rewarded. In a television market reeking with the stench of serials focused on the superficial dynamics of saas and bahu, brothers, etc., the new channel seems like a breath of fresh, aroma-filled air.
The content starved Indian audience receives it with open arms. This phenomenon is not restrained to the ‘Aunties’ of India, but has spread across a section of youth, and is slowly trickling to the masculine population too. My interactions with a few people on social media networks, and offline too, revealed that people are literally glued to the shows on the channel. There are more positive reviews than negative. It is thus safe to say that the channel Zindagi has generated more goodwill and respect in its short stint, than a series of matches between the two countries could, in years.
Why is this so? â€¨Why are people even getting excited about serials, dramas, and all this supposedly run-of-the-mill Ekta Kapoor-ish stuff? Is it actually capable of breaking stereotypes?
Let’s take a quick look at the whys and whats, and uncover layers of this project.
What makes Zindagi so ‘cool‘ as being claimed here?
With only a couple of programs in its kitty, the channel still manages to walk the talk. The programs range from a story of a newly married couple – Aunn Zara, a series of short stories; Kitni Girhain Baaki hain; a mini tele-series, Kaash main teri Beti Na Hoti; and a complex plot of hate and love in Zindagi Gulzar Hai, the channel’s most popular serial.
Aunn Zara has the male protagonist in a house filled with elder single females who fuss over him. The fun begins when they actually trust the new daughter-in-law with the car-driving- more than their own son, due to his past track record! These females have been cut across generation and need no men to take care of them. The channel’s most popular serial, Zindagi Gulzar hai, is about the complex relationship between two headstrong, intelligent individuals and class rivals, Zaroon and Kashaf. The serial delves into the subject of marriages and human errors of judgments in the most mature manner I â€¨have seen till date. It’s not over dramatic- it’s far from sluggish, but in fact uses common everyday life incidents to make its point.
There are two phenomenal achievements of this channel. One is that while getting us into the houses of an average Pakistani, it broke the biggest mental block. It made Pakistanis to be a normal bunch of human beings in our mind. When they bore open their fears, attitudes, habits, and circumstances to us (Indians) through this medium, we immediately empathize and connect. The problems and situations seem to be quite common across borders.
The second achievement is the portrayal of females in the serial. The very fact that females are not questioned for every decision they take and some characters in the story are extremely headstrong about balancing career and work, should make us clap with respect. What is heartening to see, is the liberal thinking women with a strong rooted sense of culture. They do get their share of chauvinism, but that’s beside the point, as those are extrinsic factors. Even the director is a lady, Sultana Siddiqui, and that’s a first considering I am yet to know an Indian television lady director. When I delved into the subject more, I came to know she owns the broadcasting network, Hum TV, in Pakistan, from where Zindagi has bought most of its content.
The channel also demystifies the need for baroque-looking sets, garish makeup, and blingy clothes with its no-nonsense approach. What makes Zindagi even cooler is its tight script, crisp screenplay, well delivered dialogues, subtle acting, and the rich language of delivery i.e., Urdu. Can you imagine that a marriage scene between the protagonists took less than 10 minutes to get over? And that, too, in a single episode itself? I was astounded for a while, with the lack of melodrama, and the non-repetitive script that the channel was offering. Its well-paced content makes it suitable for us, the attention-deficit youth population to watch.
The Future of Indian TV
Today, with the entry of Zindagi Channel, people are excited with the fact that after a long time, a drama is respecting their intelligence, and thinks of them worthy enough to appreciate complex plots.
On a very strong note, these Pakistani serials make a mockery of our long held rigid belief system about them. Its meaningful content is a slap on the face for every prejudiced person. Its far advanced portrayal of the complexity of human relationship makes us cringe when we change channels and see its Indian counterparts. Zindagi TV is a modern updated version of good old Doordarshan serials and surely must be sending shock waves in the Indian television industry these days.
It’s about time our television serial industry also rose up to the standards and stopped over-simplifying plots, and serving half—baked personalities as characters. The very reason that dramas work is because there is an urge in us to understand human relationships. We relate to it, cry with it, and also try to evolve through it. Dimwitted scripts are the mother of all issues that the Indian television industry faces today, and the entry of Zindagi only made it more obvious.
For a change, it’s the turn of Indian production houses to worry and fret. And as for us, the audience, let’s sit back, relax, sip a cup of tea, and enjoy this wave of change because Zindagi aajkal really Gulzar hai!