The death of drama
By FOUZIA MAPARA
It would perhaps be ideal to get an ergonomic remote control for all the time spent watching television these days because you're not about to find a quality soap anywhere on a Pakistani channel.
Drama is now on a totally new track with amazingly big budgets, title songs, overly made-up leading ladies, frequent advertisements in newspapers, recording spells in the US and huge billboards all across town. Not just that, for the incurable drama freak there are episodes every single day and if that isn't enough, there are repeats. Actors have become producers and producers have become production companies. Unfortunately, even with so much happening, there is no substance, no memorable play and nothing that keeps you waiting with bated breath, your heart racing at every dialogue or the anxious wait for the next episode.
That was what happened years ago when drama was the strength of Pakistani television. In the days of black-and-white TV the plays were excellent. These days we have elaborate sets, expensive designer costumes, hair and make-up gurus, yet the scripts are so loose and direction so pathetic that there is no impact of any word spoken and any expression shown. People in such plays live in boring, predictable situations in palatial houses, meet in Dubai, get married on foreign shores and get separated in Pakistan. They forever sit on huge dining tables under humongous chandeliers in front of covered serving dishes, nibbling and fidgeting with something on their plate that is supposed to be food. They don't eat because provision of food on the set is still a hassle for the production team despite hundreds of takeaways everywhere. Secondly, their acting skills are so limited that if they eat they probably can't deliver their dialogue.
Recordings are done in furnished rented houses so there is no particular relation between the characters and their surroundings — they are all innocuously rich and marginally stupid. In short, for all the glam and glitz, pomp and show, there is no quality in script, direction and acting. It is all factory, all plastic but the show is on the road. A powerful medium like television drama is being flogged like a dead horse. Remember the days of Shehzori, Zair Zabar Pesh, Kiran Kahani, Aik Mohabbat Sau Afsanay, Waris, etc? There was only Pakistan Television with its four production centres but drama reigned supreme. Khuda Ki Basti sent chills down the spine while Aik Mohabbat Sau Afsanay left indelible marks on the public conscience. When black-and-white television gave way to colour, viewers were treated to Aik Haqeeqat Sau Afsanay, Teesra Kinara, Dhund, Ankahi, Tanhaiyaan, Dhoop Kinaray, Aangan Terha, Sitara Aur Mehrunnisa, Dhuaan and the LTV long plays that tele-viewers would lap up late at night with Amjad Islam Amjad, Saleem Chishty, the late Ashfaque Ahmed, Bano Qudsia, Munoo Bhai, Mohsin Ali, Haseena Moin, the late Shahzad Khalil, Mohammed Nisar Husain (late), etc, creating miraculous and meaningful drama that gripped viewers instantly. One bonded with the lively or eccentric characters and lived through these plays. And these are just a few names that this writer can remember off hand.
So with a legacy like that, what eventually happened? Something very drastic. It wasn't that glitzy channels from across the border suddenly stole all the viewership. Who opened the door that let in the Parvatis, Pallavis, Tulsis, Kum Kums and their endless crazy circus of nauseating and treacherous in-laws? Indian and Pakistani audiences, wherever they live, are now hooked to the daily dose of Balaji productions. Most Indians swear they don't dress up 24/7 in saris, bindyas and chooris, neither do we in Pakistan. So who are these people we have become addicted to on our mini screens? So much so that they now lead fashions — attire, hair and perhaps emotional reactions, too.
Despite all the glam and glitz, pomp and show, there is no quality in script, direction and acting. It is all factory, all plastic but the show is still on the road. A powerful medium like television drama is being flogged like a dead horse
We sit and watch helplessly however much spice Ekta Kapoor throws our way. But let's make one thing clear — the concoction of Indian TV soaps may centre around daily household feuds, progression of enmities, song dance and pooja, yet the presentation, art direction and camerawork is excellent and in a way that it grips the viewers attention and keeps them pining for more. People don't leave the house for dinner parties until after the Star Plus fare is over.
It could have been easier for Pakistani drama producers to pay serious attention to what was lacking in their productions and start from where Pakistani plays initially started losing appeal for the viewers. With little or no training and the bad habit of never fine-tuning anything, they opted to become copycats instead — if the Indians can do it so can we, and all we have to do is show sari-clad actresses and get into a plot of domestic warpath and villany. It seems that as a last-ditch effort to force people to watch local plays, the ban on Star Plus, Sony and the Zee network has now been reinforced.
Moreover, big banners such as Humayun Saeed and Abdullah Kadwani may appear on billboards all over the city but do they really offer the kind of scintillating, thought-provoking, meaningful stuff that the dramas of yester years offered? A water-tight script, gripping plot, ace performances and memorable characters like the villainous Munshi of Fatima Surraiya Bajiya's Shama, Beena of Haseena Moin's Uncle Urfi, Hasnat Bhai and Akka Bua of Kiran Kahani, Qabacha from Tanhaiyaan, Chaudhry Hashmat from Waris should be the hallmark of our plays today. In any other case, it would be sad to witness the death of Pakistani drama.
The olden age of drama saw market places close early for Haseena Moin serials and for Amjad Islam Amjad blockbusters streets would be deserted. Did you even know that currently a Haseena Moin serial is running on one of the satellite channels? And there was a time when Haseena's lead actresses used to be worshipped across the nation. So where did we loose touch with it all?
Sadly, we have become a nation of hypocrites and who prefer to take it easy rather than work hard, opting for quantity over quality and sweeping weakness under the carpet instead of addressing them. We spend our time flattering each other, giving each other awards and lavishing praise for extremely mediocre work. And when competition comes our way, we simply block it. There must be enough talent in Pakistan to send Indian trashy soaps back home so that people would choose to watch meaningful Pakistani drama instead. The people have a right to choose and it is unfair to limit their choices.
The dire need of the day is solid script writers who can present a positive, soft image of our society. That we are Pakistanis and being good human beings is above everything else. We need to portray liveliness and a positive approach in our plays with a tight script, light dialogue, stories about people who exist around us and not about being beaten up in havelis by scary-looking, gun-toting goons.
We, the viewers, want to see all members of society represented in our plays, we wants philosophers and peasants and normal people and abnormal people — in short, Pakistani society depicted as it truly is. We want people like Mehreen Jabbar and Saqib Malik to launch talent hunts and bring fresh faces and talent on screen. As of now, the poor couch potato will concentrate more on the popcorn because there is nothing to watch on television.
Edited by Farhanas - 09 January 2006 at 8:36am