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Telescope: Border crossings

Pakistani serials have familiar themes, but greater subtlety.

Written by Shailaja Bajpai | Published:July 3, 2014 12:03 am

If you have a poor memory for names, don’t aspire to be a football/ soccer commentator. In the World Cup currently being played in Brazil, there are two to three matches each day, involving at least 22 players in every game. That’s up to 66 names the commentator must know, pronounce as accurately as possible and put a face to, not to mention the referees, linesmen, coaches, reserves, etc. No point knowing that Lionel Messi is considered the greatest football player of his generation if you can’t identify him on the field when he latches on to the ball, breaks quickly and passes it to Angel di Maria for the “goal!” that helps Argentina beat Switzerland (Sony Six).

No, it’s not easy being a football commentator, so we should salute those who do the commentary with such apparent ease, they sound like a child reciting the two-times table: “Garay, Zabaleta to Gago, who sends a long pass to di Maria, Higuain dribbles past Drmic and feeds Messi the ball, Mascherano, Rojo neatly intercepted by Behrami, only to lose the ball to Fernandez and Lavezzi! Shoots over the goal post”. Or words to that effect. Try saying that in less than 20 seconds.

For those who hate playing games or watching others play theirs, who have lost interest in the shouting matches on news channels, don’t despair. There’s life after both. It’s called Zindagi. The new channel brings you serials from across the border. In the 1980s, when Doordarshan was the only gig on the tube, viewers would buy, beg, borrow or steal video cassettes of Pakistani “plays” — remember Dhoop Kinare?

Well, now switch on Zindagi to watch some of the more recent serials/ series from Pakistani TV: Zindagi Gulzar Hai, Aunn Zara, Kash Mein Teri Beti Na Hoti, and Kitni Girhain Baqi Hain.  It’s been an auspicious debut. The shows are similar to Indian/ Hindi serials and yet very different. The similarity lies in the themes — families, the clash of generations, young people tumbling into love or into marriage (not necessarily the same thing) and women in a traditional society.

The differences are apparent in the treatment. The productions are more realistic than Hindi serials, which are deliberately melodramatic. In the Pakistani shows, the women are not caked with make-up, weighed down by costume jewellery or their costumes. The music plays gently as an accompaniment to the content, not to startle you out of your dinner. The camera work avoids giving you fainting spells with 360 degree gimmickry. Most characters speak and behave like normal human beings. And although the language is Urdu, it is simple enough for us to understand, barring the occasional word here and there.

What do the shows reveal about Pakistan? Well, it is like India in many ways. A girl from a traditional, middle-class background lives with her mother and sisters, abandoned by their father, who leaves them for another woman in order to have a son. She goes to a premier university where she encounters the rich (Zindagi Gulzar Hai). The saga of Kashaf and Zaroon covers women’s education, female empowerment and social preferences for a son, while telling the story of how they fall in love. The rich and the middle class reflect stereotypes: the rich are more spiteful, uncaring and careless of norms, the middle-class family bonds and embodies the “right” values.
A single, independent rich girl with only men around her marries a spoilt middle-class boy brought up by women only (Auun Zara). The comic drama that ensues as they come to terms with each other is fun even if the message is ambivalent: the girl becomes more “traditional” in order to woo her in-laws and her spouse. Hmm. Kash Mein Teri Beti Na Hoti and Kitni Girhain Baqi Hain portray the suffering of women. In the former, a poor family will “sell” their daughter to a rich family, who want her to bear them a son. In the latter, actress and BJP MP Kirron Kher introduces a series of short stories on the sad lives of women trapped in marriages or by social norms.
More next time on the serials but meanwhile, watch them for their subtlety.

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