Rafay Says: The Decline of Quality Content in Pakistani Dramas

Rafay Says: The case for quality content in Pakistani dramas

Ever since the passing of the veteran playwright, poet, lyricist and Sitara-e-Imtiaz winner Amjad Islam Amjad sahab (Late), who’s known for his renowned televised dramas that include Waris, Dehleez, and Samandar, to name a few, I began to wonder and question myself about the legacy of the Pakistani drama content sector.

Content in the 80s and 90s

The ’80s and 90s were thrilling for local content. As a child, I remember being glued to the screen to watch Pakistani Dramas weekly with my family. The dramas used to be episodic format in a total 40-45 minutes duration and wouldn’t cross a 15-episode mark.

The content was gripping, the performances were stellar, and the productions impeccable. We had professional sets at PTV studios, and every technical individual contributed exceptionally through their technical skills. But above all, the content was king. The subjects were intelligent and thought-provoking and provided viewers with a sense of learning and a grasp of human intelligence. It was a collaborative environment.

The creation of content was derived from the notion of taking inspiration through societal studies, personal identity analysis, and gender-based norms to derive characters which have a place for conflict. The content eventually combined and formulated a dramatic notion based on a subject pivotal to the public to construct a learning and empowering message.

My Own Example While Innovating

It took me six years to produce a drama focusing on the ideologies of a wrongful feudal setup and rural injustice. Every channel I pitched prior to the process, I was told this wouldn’t get the ratings. One network owner quoted “People don’t like sushi“.

Sushi is not necessarily raw fish. You can eat it cooked or also alternate it with vinegar rice. Anyway, I thought consuming fish was healthier and better than junk food I pondered. I kept quiet and decided to research what I could sell. In my opinion, the concern wasn’t the liking or disliking of sushi, but the fear of what would happen once starved viewers adapted to sushi and dumped the rancid food they were being served before.

To my dismay, after speaking to countless content heads whose job is to regulate content, I was advised to focus on women-centric issues because our prime-time audience consists mostly of housewives. The meters installed cater to a specific area.

Apparently, housewives don’t deserve well-crafted content. However, the content exhibitors aren’t wrong either. It’s their job. In a nutshell, television programming wins through successful ratings. Many people have given up on watching Pakistani dramas because they consider them a waste of time, technically weak and full of plot holes. Simply put weak content. People have shifted to OTT (Netflix, Amazon Prime). Not a hidden fact anymore.

The Fault in Our Dramas

What do the majority of our dramas showcase? Women conflict, marital issues, sometimes or mostly infidelity, cousin marriages, mischievous women causing chaos? I think so. For example, the posters of the majority of drama serials have women in bridals. Not holding a degree, not dressed up as police officers or doctors. If they do, I get to hear they’re backed up by not-for-profit agencies that fund a cause, which is also good. Even a monopolised network environment needs financial security. A self-initiative would be respected.

Some dramas do strike a chord and are able to showcase a true cause of human development through content. On the other hand, most of our proficient writers of entertainment are now shying away from writing for commercial television. They’re moving to either digital (Youtube) or other avenues to exhibit intelligent content through a progressive producer. Same for directors. They’re not interested in working in a factory environment. No pun intended.

Taking Inspiration from Beyond Our Borders

Honestly, for creativity and new-age content to thrive, we must take inspiration from international mechanisms. As an example, it’s always a room of writers and not just one. The pool of creativity should be a conjoined effort rather than exhausting one medium. Hence the lack of writers within the industry.

Also, the monopolistic environment of private networks is not helping the independent producer grow. An independent producer is a must for the industry to thrive and contribute. If only our established trade bodies would take note of this (United Producers Association), we would be in a much better state. But the tirade of stuck payments makes it impossible to speak on the cause for the majority of them.

Raising the Bar for Content in Pakistani Dramas

Regardless of what the outcome of my production was, I will never have any regrets that I didn’t try. But someone has to raise the issue before it’s too late. Progressive content and evolution of the craft are a must; otherwise, one can only dream of a successful OTT like Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Disney+ to start operations in Pakistan through content.

The subscriber base model, on the other hand, is a debate for another day. We will be dictated by our neighbours on that front for now since they control the majority of South Asian content for the right reasons.

Content is the base of every medium exhibited on a public platform. In order to evolve, we need to fix our mechanics. Now or never.


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