The only values one can relate to on TV today are wife-beating, child-abandoning and home-wrecking, hardly entertainment
There is a weird disconnect in the values promoted by the Pakistani news media and the entertainment industry. Weird because both occupy the same, 32-inch LED space in most of our privileged life. Weird also, because the two genres have now become interchangeable. Indeed, most retired civil servants, housewives, spinsters and domestic helpers get their entertainment from nightly talk shows and news bulletins, while outrage and emotional empathy is reserved for characters with names like Asher, Khirad and Sara.
It is quite weird to think that a country where the social values that are put on a pedestal and portrayed in TV serials include plotting against one’s daughter/son-in-law; trying to break up a married couple; having extramarital affairs and abandoning one’s children. This is a far cry from the silver screen legends of yore, where issues such as living with abject poverty, mental disability, rights of sexual minorities and feudal injustices and rag-to-riches stories were the primary meaty subjects in our daily TV viewing diet.
If the ‘entertainment’ being sold to the masses today is any barometer, one would have to conclude that Pakistani society has become progressive to the point that it chooses to satirize and criticize these unspeakable values through constant bombardment. Indeed, people know what ‘having an affair’ means, but can’t make head or tail of it when someone asks them to ‘put their affairs in order’.
There was a time when Pakistani television strived to be more than just a spinoff of the Ekta Kapoor brand of soaps. Today, Pakistani TV is more ‘Kumkum’ than ‘Aangan Terha’. I have a theory for why this is so, but you probably won’t be interested. You see, great art is always the by-product of great adversity. The 80s were such a period in our nation’s history. It was a time when dogma dominated, criticism was quickly cut down to size and reality was whatever the Ministry of Truth proclaimed it to be. This age produced some of the best television known to us today. Shows like 50-50, Studio Dhai, Sona Chandi, Dhoop Kinaray, Aik Muhabbat Sau Afsanay, Waris, Andhera Ujala, Ankahi, all of whom dealt with almost the same social issues that we wrestle with today, were produced far more tastefully. The subject matter was sensitive, yet better woven into the storyline. Issues such as discrimination against women, child abuse and homosexuality were implied, insinuated and not stuffed down the audience’s throat. This also, in a way, promoted tolerance and allowed the audience to sympathize with the characters that represented these themes and issues.
Today, the motif is no more. We have blatant statements that predispose us to an opinion about the nature of the show we are about to watch. Names like Buri Aurat or Annie Ki Ayegi Baraat tell us more about the show than we need to know. There also is very little subtlety: if the protagonist’s husband is an abusive man, he will necessarily slap his wife across the room several times during any given episode because he is just that sort of man. Negative behavior such as this will be glorified but never deconstructed.
While the world has moved away from morality plays, we have somehow come to embrace them. Character development is a thing of the past and one-dimensional actors playing one-dimensional roles are fodder for the audiences of today. Also gone are the memorable characters of old, there has never been any attempt to replicate the slapstick genius of Jaidi, the wry wit of Salim Nasir as the dancing man-servant, the moralizing megalomania of Irfan Khoosat as the “deh-jamaat-paas-direct-hawaldaar”, or even the ISPR-approved machismo of Capt Gulsher. Today, we have Fawad Khan smoldering away in his impeccable suits, no matter what the role. Mahnoor Baloch and Mahira Khan, talented and beautiful actors in their own right, are typecast in show after show, speaking volumes for the pedantic nature of most soap writers.
This is not to say there are no exceptions. I remember vaguely a show called “Don’t Jealous”, which gave birth to the ever popular catchphrase. The show was well-written and nicely shot: it had a sense of humor and was able to laugh at itself. That is one quality missing from TV today. Writers are afraid of leaving their high perches and coming down to talk to us at our level. They would rather that TV remains ‘larger than life’ and therefore inaccessible. In fact, the only values which one can relate with anymore are wife-beating, child-abandoning and home-wrecking. Hardly entertainment.
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