Cross border invasion

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By Maheen A. Rashdi

What is it that Star Plus dramas offer that keeps viewers so hooked? Is it the glamorous sets, the dazzling couture sported by all characters or the perfect make-up? Or is it simply the superb marketing designed to capture just about anyone even fleetingly viewing the channel while fiddling with the TV remote?

There was a time when Pakistan’s traffic used to be commanded by our local television. When PTV aired dramas like Zer Zabar Pesh, Shehzori, Waris, Aakhri Chataan, Ankahi and even Fifty Fifty, people sat glued to their TV sets until the weekly episode was over and then went about their respective chores and appointments. Even wedding/nikah timings were kept accordingly — either well before the drama time or after its airing, since repeat telecast was not the norm and viewers didn’t want to miss the cherished episode. But that seems like another lifetime altogether. Now, alot of viewers in Pakistan don’t even switch on to the national network until it is time to watch the local news.

When the Star network entered the arena in Pakistan via the cable network in the second half of the ’90s, the electronic media acquired a totally new dimension of entertainment. With it came the Hindi drama revolution and soon Kaun Banega Crore Pati and the big Bachchan became a daily guest in the living room. It was a liberating feeling to see the awesome Amitabh up close and personal, actually conversing, joking and even ‘prosing’ with his direct gaze into the camera. Soon, the very same audience which had hung on to every dialogue penned by Haseena Moin began hanging on to the big B’s words of, ‘confident’ and ‘lock kar diya jaey? Forgetting all about our local television’s glorious potential, the bulk of the Pakistani audience soon turned to Tulsi and Mihir’s love saga and has since been living an alternate life with the stars of Star Plus.

Now, strange life sequences are being watched by an enraptured audience who find nothing amiss in absurdities being dished out in appealingly packaged dramas. And if someone who does not regularly watch the Star Plus soaps happened to switch on the channel, this is what they’ll be seeing: the girl who is this boy’s wife never went through the wedding ceremony herself so she’s not really married to him; the other girl is his actual wife but he doesn’t know that she performed the marriage rituals with him; and then the first girl is not really her own parents’ daughter either, while the other girl is the first girl’s parents’ daughter though the parents don’t know that their daughter is not really their daughter; and the first girl is actually the daughter of the other girl’s parents who don’t know they are the girl’s true parents! Bizarre, illogical and senseless. But these strange happenings have the audiences under a spell and the collective viewers of such stories include the average housewife, the corporate executive, the neo-intellectual, the college student and even the daily labourer.

Living alternate lives is perhaps the best way to explain the phenomenon of these Indian soap operas which have taken over the lives of so many. Fanatic viewers actually go to sleep wondering whether Tulsi and Mihir will patch up or whether Sujal will survive the accident and if Kashish will ever come to know that he is still alive. Being a part of that fanatic crowd I have often tried to logically analyse what it is that these dramas offer that keeps viewers so hooked. Is it the glamorous sets, the dazzling couture of saris and other resplendent ensembles sported by all characters or the perfect make-up from the eyebrow line to the haircut and colour? Or is it simply the superb marketing designed to capture just about anyone even fleetingly viewing the channel while fiddling with the TV remote? The cult is so strong that there are those also — possessing a reasonable level of intellect, I may add — who sit eagerly through the entire four-hour duration when the Star Parivar awards are being shown, just to find out which one amongst the favourite bahu, bhabi, patni and saas etc, are awarded the prize. There is just no straight answer as to why these soap operas and inadvertently the channel commands so much respect, subsequently making the mighty Ekta Kapoor richer with each passing day.

For the less informed let me elucidate that Ekta Kapoor is the lady who has almost 90 per cent of Star Plus airtime booked for her dramas. Running under the production banner of Balaji, all the famous soaps — Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki, Kahin To Hoga, Kasauti Zindagi Ki, to name a few — are produced by Ekta Kapoor, who happens to be the daughter of Bollywood chocolate hero of yesteryears, Jeetendra. These drama serials are not only household events in our part of the world, but are watched religiously in the Middle East and even in North America.

Catering to almost all interests the serials on Star Plus include family dramas as well as thrillers, comedies and even political sagas which ends up making it quite a family channel with something to be viewed by almost every member of the family. Belonging to the generation which has grown up on PTV dramas and having now turned into an avid viewer of the Hindi soaps, it is at times most saddening to see that our local channels are unable to garner the kind of interest that the Indian channels do.

At one time Doordarshan — India’s state-owned television network — was not even close in quality productions when compared to PTV ventures. But now, looking at the local dramas, the poor editing, the unsynchronized direction, the lack-lustre acting and the sloppy sets glare at you so harshly from the TV screen that one is wont to switch over to a picture which has perfect lighting, well thought out sets, slick direction and forceful acting. It is the little things which change the bigger picture but cutting corners has always been a Pakistani speciality, and hence the fall in qualitative productions. We still have great actors, we have brilliant writers and we have some great producers, too. But why don’t these extremely competent people know that keeping with the times includes perfecting all the arts anew with newer technology. Living on old laurels gets one nowhere. Self-analysis and self-critique is essential to better oneself in any field. But if our producers, directors, actors, etc, will go on believing that they are great because they once did great stuff, they will remain where they ‘once’ were.

Even now, if our local offerings include the kind of visual presentation offered on the Indian channels, viewers will gladly shift to local viewing. There is still a lot dished out on the Hindi channels which is not savoury. Some storylines are far too removed from the values which we have grown up with or which we would like to bequeath to our children. There is also a continuous emphasis on the stories of their many gods and goddesses that is not palatable to many of us, but their artful cloaking of such ‘propaganda’ in appealing visuals has made Pakistani viewers accept a culture which is not truly ours. With Star’s invasion, Sidhu’s sports, Ekta’s soaps and the big B weren’t the only aspects that became part of our lives. Malaika’s jhatkas to the chaiyyan beat and the likes also became more accessible, pervading our squeaky clean TV with a culture we will be hard put to come to grips with. At one time the only western culture TV viewers were exposed to was from the occasional English series aired on PTV like The Odd Couple, How the West Was Won, Trapper John MD, etc., which were appropriately censored for family viewing and we were quite happy with that. Now with changing tastes and intellectual levels of kids, there is not a single channel locally available which gives them a fair share of the West, the glamour and pizzazz which youngsters are now u
Posted 10 Jul 2005

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