The strength of Pakistani dramas has always been its relatable content that both entertained as well as satisfied the viewer’s intellect. From the golden era of PTV, Pakistani dramas have succeeded globally because of the human stories they told, the realistic and inspirational characters they portrayed, and their sober and dignified manner of storytelling.
Pakistani dramas have changed since then, like all things to do. As the situation in the country and around the world changed and moved towards new directions, the dramas too had to evolve to better represent the current realities of the world. But for the most part, Pakistani dramas stuck to the ideals that had made them stand out in the first place.
The direction of dramas
It is quite ironic if one thinks about the content of Pakistani dramas, which used to be its strongest asset, is now the one which is constantly being criticized. From the looks of it, the Pakistani audience is just not happy with the kind of content that Pakistani dramas are presenting. Else why would PEMRA’s social media handles be bombarded with demands to ban this drama or that drama so much? Sensationalizing sensitive issues, the regressive portrayal of both men and women in dramas, glamorizing of immoral deeds and characters; Pakistani dramas have started to normalize themes and ideas that used to clearly not be associated with what made a good Pakistani drama. These things were reserved for dramas from across the border; dramas that were generally frowned down on, once upon a time.
When the makers of today’s dramas are questioned just why have they taken Pakistani drama towards a direction which is the complete opposite of the ideals that Pakistani dramas used to have, the answer we get is simply this – because these dramas sell nowadays. They get the higher ratings, they get more views online; from a purely business point of view, it is these dramas, that are accused of being against the morals values of a Pakistani society, which give the Pakistani drama industry its most profitable ventures.
And if something is being bought in such high numbers, it gives off the impression that it is the best product in the market. Why else would the buyers, and in this case the audience, go for something low quality? Itna bikk raha hai, cheez toh achi hogi.
A quick look at the episodes uploaded on Youtube of some currently on-air dramas will show videos averaging around 3-4 million views per episode. Funnily enough, these are the very same dramas that are most criticized for having questionable content shown in them. So, the makers claim that nowadays the dramas that have the melodrama and the non-progressive storylines are the ones that are the biggest successes for them, are not entirely wrong.
And it is not like all dramas that are being produced nowadays have questionable content. Dramas that don’t follow the conventional mainstream drama template continue to be produced. The audience is very much free to tune in to watch those dramas. But again, a quick look at their Youtube stats show that these quality dramas don’t fare as well as the formulaic dramas. Of course, some exceptions do exist.
The bigger picture
So, how does one deal with the situation? Because on one hand, the Pakistani drama audience on social media continues to get more vocal with criticizing the current deteriorating state of Pakistani dramas. On the other hand, the very same kind of dramas continues to enjoy top spots on trending lists week after week. Who would a Pakistani drama maker rather listen to? The complaints of a section of people on social media or the numbers that speak for themselves?
Naturally, the drama makers and the channel owners will lean towards the numbers. They are after all in the business of making dramas for more commercial reasons than artistic ones. But we argue that in doing so, by completely reducing Pakistani drama into just a commercial venture, they are ignoring the bigger picture. The bigger picture which indicates Pakistan, in the near future, being completely stripped off of its right to claim that it is a land that produces dramas that can pass any quality test.
Time to go global
There is a difference between celebrating a drama’s popularity and using a drama’s popularity as an excuse to not put in more effort to make better quality dramas. Pakistani dramas have contributed so much in promoting a more positive side of the country on an international stage. And they have done so by resolutely standing by the ideals of prioritizing quality storytelling over lazy commercialism. If the Pakistani drama makers continue to exchange quality content with a formulaic one just because it is giving them profit, they will be doing the decades worth of good reputation of Pakistani dramas a disservice.
The stage is global now. Dramas are now competing with dramas from around the world. The audience isn’t just switching between channels now, it is switching between countries whose content they like to see. If at a crucial time like this when Pakistani drama should be gearing up to prove itself worthy of penetrating that global market, drama makers continue to forsake high-quality storytelling for cheap thrills that make them easy money, the loss this country’s entertainment industry will face will be colossal. And it will be the kind from which recovery might end up taking a long time.