THE CARAVAN, 1 November 2014
By Karanjeet Kaur
IN THE FIRST EPISODE of Aunn Zara, an egg—lobbed by a mollycoddling aunt in an attempt to ward off the evil eye—lands on Aunn’s head. As the vexed hero of the 2013 Pakistani comic drama squeals his way out of the frame, his mother admonishes the aunt for her superstition: “Ye sarhad paar ke drame mat dekha karo,” she says. “Don’t watch these serials from across the border.”
It’s an offhand comment, yet an appropriate one—not merely because the contemporary Indian soap opera has, at its core, the neat image of a woman taking preventive measures against fate, but also because the makers of Pakistani television serials are aware of their country’s superiority in the genre. This summer, when Zindagi, a new channel from Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited, began broadcasting syndicated shows from across the border, this superiority became apparent to Indian audiences as well—Indian audiences, that is, who did not grow up watching Pakistani teleplays.
In 1989, my uncle and aunt returned to Delhi from a tour of Pakistan bearing dried Kandahari apricots and almonds, “American” synthetic crepe yardage, and grainy VHS tapes of Dhoop Kinare (The Edge of Sunshine, 1987) and Tanhaiyaan (Loneliness, 1985). The owner of our local video store, from whom we routinely rented recordings of slapstick stage plays such as Bakra Qiston Pe (The Goat, in Installments, 1989) and Budhha Ghar Pe Hai (The Old Man is Home, 1989), had alerted them to these teleplays—both scripted by the legendary dramatist Haseena Moin—before their departure.
Dhoop Kinare, set in a hospital where a young Dr Zoya Ali Khan romances an older colleague, had aired two years earlier on Pakistan’s state-owned channel, PTV. I was five years old when I watched it, and understood nothing about the play’s progressive subject, its first-rate storytelling, or Nayyara Noor’s fluid ghazals, which held the narrative together. This was also around the time I was making definitive career decisions—obviously I wanted to be a doctor like Zoya. But what I actually wanted was lead actress Marina Khan’s short hair; her baggy salwar kameez suits, then in vogue; the inherent elegance of the Urdu she spoke; and, above all, the natural goofiness with which she played the recalcitrant medical student. I remained captivated until the tapes unspooled from overuse, for which I was solely responsible.
After binge-watching several of the new shows being aired on Zindagi, I recently returned to Dhoop Kinare. It still outstrips any contemporary, and several past, Indian television shows by a mile. Aided by actors who are so easy on the eyes, it has all the characteristics long-term viewers have come to associate with Pakistani teleplays. Even 27 years after it was made, its characters’ concerns feel current: Zoya’s resistance to studying medicine, or her friend Anji’s insistence, against her father’s wishes, on studying fine arts.
– See more at: Opening A Channel