Indian TV soaps charm Pakistan
|While Aishwarya Rai and Shahrukh Khan are the Bollywood favourites in Pakistan, the Tulsis, Kumkums and Mihirs of the Indian small screen are giving them tough competition. |
Still from the serial, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi.
Pakistan's romance with Bollywood is well known and documented too. A few years ago it used to be Madhuri Dixit and Shahrukh Khan (SRK); now as "Madhuri has got married and become old", it is Aishwarya Rai.
Luckily men on celluloid don't age so fast, so SRK rules supreme here, with Aishwarya followed in popularity by Preity Zinta and Urmila Matondkar. The last had an extremely successful visit to Pakistan recently and went away starry eyed and overwhelmed by the adulation she got here.
But what one was not prepared to see in Pakistan's commercial capital was the craze for Indian television soaps such as Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii, Kasauti Zindagi Kay, Kumkum - Pyara Sa Bandhan,
and the like.
Karachi-based textile industrialist Majyd Aziz has been a passionate votary of improving business and cultural ties with India and a diehard fan of Madhuri Dixit. Till today, he rues the missed opportunity he had of having tea with Madhuri, along with other Pakistan businessmen, way back in 1999.
After the Indian Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee's Lahore bus yatra
, when relations between the two countries had improved, Aziz was scheduled to head a business delegation to Mumbai. Most of the members of the delegation were Madhuri fans and wanted their Indian counterparts to arrange a tea meeting with the film star, which was organised. But then Kargil happened and the entire visit collapsed, as did Indo-Pak ties.
Over the last five years, Indo-Pak ties have taken a roller coaster ride, but the Indian entertainment industry continues to enthral millions of Pakistanis. With the ban on Indian TV channels being a thing of the past with Indo-Pak ties taking a dramatic turn for the better, a new genre of small screen gods and goddesses are being worshipped in Pakistan these days.
It is nothing short of shocking to be told by a Karachi housewife, "I feel my day is incomplete until I've spent some time with Tulsi (Smriti Irani of Kyunki...
); I wish we had the serial on all days of the week."
Says Aziz, "We Pakistanis just love your TV serials. The other day, I had to meet somebody and he said ki Bhai, is time ke beech mat ana
, (don't come between this time) because I'll be watching Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii
For one who has kept a safe distance from the Hindi soaps at home, it is embarrassing to be asked about a Tulsi or a Parvati or a Prerna handling an episode in a particular manner or the twist the tale takes in another soap. One can't help wondering what the Ektaa Kapoor brand of soaps, which many women activists at home have questioned for creating a warped image of the Indian woman, have to offer our neighbours.
To which Aziz says, "People can relate to the kind of family life and intrigues that go on in each home. Also, people like to watch what kind of latest trends and fashions are in vogue in India... the kind of clothes the heroes and heroines wear in these plays. With visa restrictions and our roller-coaster relations in the last few decades, not everybody can visit India, but our people certainly like to know what is going on there. So by watching Indian cable, you get to know all this, and get entertained too."
Adds Asif Noorani, editor of Star Weekend
from the Dawn
group of newspapers, "What people can relate to is the similar culture between the two countries. Dekhiye na yaha bhi saas bahu key jhagdey hotey hei, aur waha bhi
(even here, as there, the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law tug of war goes on); while blessing the child, the Indian mother says, 'Beta, sada sukhi rahey'
and here the Pakistani mother says, 'Beta, hamesha khush rahey
.' So I am not surprised that your plays are so popular."
Adds Karachi businessman Fakhruddin Mamoowala, "The main reason for their popularity is the entertainment value and the make-believe world they show. When we switch on our PTV, we see the same old depressing stuff; the zamindar
torturing his servant, or the husband beating his wife, and she yelling her lungs out. How much of such stuff can you watch every day? When you come home after a day's work, the last thing one wants to watch is such depressing stuff."
And so during mid-February, while Lahore was busy celebrating Basant and the babudom of Islamabad was busy giving the finishing touches to the Indo-Pak Foreign Secretaries level talks that began there on Monday, Karachiites were busy watching the Screen
"I watched Preity Zinta for the first time at that show, and thought she was gorgeous," gushed a businessman, a hardened Aishwarya admirer, at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Karachi Main.
But Pakistan's obsession with the Indian small screen and its Hindi soaps became really evident at a cultural evening organised at the naval headquarters in Karachi, where the main entertainers were comedian Moin Akhtar and script writer Anwar Maqsood. The duo's latest TV serial Loose Talk
— a take off from Tim Sebastian's Hardtalk
on the BBC — has taken the country by storm, and is watched, one is told from President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Zafarrulla Khan Jamali downwards.
Presenting an excerpt from one episode, Akhtar brought the auditorium down with his references to Indian soaps... on how his wife refuses to answer him unless addressed as 'Tulsi', some of the soap characters' scanty clothing — well by Pakistan's standards at least — and the intrigues hatched in families.
He added that while these serials are on, nobody in the family is even interested in talking to him. "Everything in these plays is watched in such minute detail that I'm afraid that one day, when I finally die, they might forget that they have to bury me... . they might actually pile some logs of wood on my body and burn it!"
In another episode, Akhtar is shown telling a friend, "Thank god, I don't have any children."
When surprise is expressed at his being happy at such a misfortune, the man says with a straight face, "Just imagine what would happen if I was celebrating the 10th birthday of my son, and in the 135th episode, a man appeared saying: Kiski salgirah mana rahey hauyeh aulad tumhari hei hi nahi
(Whose birthday are you celebrating; this is not your child)."
One evening, at a dinner party at the Karachi gymkhana, senior citizen Shirin Bandookwala is restless, least interested in the delicacies on offer and talks with a couple of other women about the Hindi serials they are missing. The women make it quite clear that but for a social obligation, they'd rather be at home watching the saas-bahu
intrigues coming into their drawing rooms from across the border.
Comments her son-in-law, "All these episodes will be repeated tomorrow in the afternoon. Instructions given to us are clear: Nobody should visit her or even telephone her between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. tomorrow... she'll be glued to the TV set and even lunch will have to wait till then."
When asked what Pakistanis find so fascinating in these soaps, he says, "It's an unreal world they show... every family is filthy rich, the characters talk only in terms of crores of rupees, there's nothing that they can't afford to buy... . And the number of affairs depicted on the screen and the number of illegitimate children that spring up... all this is mind boggling to an average Pakistani!"
Well, so is the marketing of sarees in Pakistan's bazaars as "Yeh Tulsi ki sari hei
" or "Yeh Kumkum ki choodiyan hei
". Or young kids giving each other "blank cheques just as Mihir does" in Kyunki...
The younger generation, of course, would like to wear clothes trendier than salwar
suits or saris. But parents keep a close watch on the clothes worn by their teenaged daughters. Noodle or spaghetti straps are strictly out and many Pakistanis are concerned about the "cultural invasion" that is taking place from this side of the border.
When the Karachi-based Managing Director of Swiss Specialty Chemicals Wasim Mirza says many Pakistanis dread an era when the daughter will come home and say, "Papa, meet my boyfriend," one has to put one's foot down and explain that in the majority of Indian homes, it doesn't work that way either.
But what do you tell 10-year-old Abdullah when he talks starry eyed about the "blank cheques" handed out by Mihir, the dozen-odd pet dogs of some other character — or is it the same man? — that run behind his S class Merc all the time, or the mafia-like operations of some of the heroes or anti-heroes of the Indian small screen?