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Predictions and trends for the drama season in 2017

While we are often warned that past performance is not always a good indicator of future results, for the drama industry it is a gold standard. If a drama about two sisters tearing each other apart succeeds we will see at least two or three similar stories in the next few seasons, it is as simple as that. To borrow a term from economics 101, it is the ‘Invisible Hand’ of market forces at work; the push and pull of demand and supply that ultimately decides the fate of content. Unfortunately this is also why the market stagnates at times, relying on easier proven options rather than innovation.Pakistani dramas have always been a marriage of two disparate souls: one completely commercial, while the other is rooted in the great literary and artistic sensibilities of our culture. Just like any marriage, the real dilemma is balancing the relationship between practical needs and the concerns of romantic ideals.

As in every creative field there is always room for innovation, and 2016 saw plenty of it. Apart from a few serials like Dayar e Dil, 2015 was a serious down turn in quality, as the entertainment industry pivoted towards the brave new world of bigger screens and the allure of movie stardom. However, this year saw a distinct rise in quality and investment in  television production. 2015 saw a return to the smaller screen of actors like Humayoon Saeed, Mahirah Khan, Hamza Ali Abbasi, Sanam Saeed and others despite their forays into movies ;and there were big budget serials like Dillagi and Mann Mayal to match. That cross pollination is likely to continue while the nascent Pakistani film industry is  still struggling to find its place .Television is not only a safe  commercial bet but still a good place to find that all important jet fuel to star status and becoming a household name .  Actors like Feroz Khan, Sajal Ali, Mawra Hocaine, Kubra Khan and Ainy Jaffri who have or will be part of Pakistani feature films either already are or will be seen in TV productions for 2017.

Amongst the encouraging trends for 2017 are strong, empowered female roles.  the positive reception to  the heroines in  serials like Udaari ,Dillagi , Besharam and Preet Na Kariyo koi have  raised hopes that we will see more of these kind of women on screen . However the trend of women as abused, mazloom victims weeping their way through 24 episodes before finding some savior in the 25th    is unlikely to disappear soon, if the success of mind numbing dramas like Bay Qasoor and Mann Mayal is anything to go by. Among the most discouraging story trends is the constant use of Halala as a lurid plot twist but with the success of Zara Yaad Kar and Hatheli we are almost guaranteed to see one or two more in this category next year.

One piece of good news is that the Dusri bivi ( Dusri nahi theesri and if need be chauthi ) phenomena seems to have finally lost steam ,with only a few dramas picking up on it this season. Of the major trends in story inspirations perhaps the most interesting shift has been a small but significant move away from the usual melodrama ( concentrating on the complicated love life of three individuals) to more panoramic stories. These wide ranging sagas like Udaari and the fabulous Sange Mar Mar allow for a   well etched set of characters and paint a picture of life on a broader canvas . Such serials harken back to the old days of Ptv when content was king and add much needed depth and social commentary to  the  superficial line ups channels often show.

2016 has proved that innovation can be commercially viable and socially responsible with the near flawless super hit serial Udaari. Sexual abuse and rape seem to be very much on the radar with new serials  like Muqabil and Bay Khudi that touch on these subjects popping up as 2016 winds down and  more in the pipeline for the coming season . “the mantra seems to be, pick anything controversial and run with it “one industry resource stated, revealing that he has been presented with scripts on “controversial “subjects such as sexual abuse by family members (which is ironically the statistically the most common) but being a socially responsible person he had personally rejected the scripts because they were not “balanced”.

Although the success of garnered by stories touching on difficult social issues has opened the door for more diverse, and challenging stories. For example the recent Khuda Mera Bhi hai deals with life and family problems of a transgendered child and the recent Nazo dealt with the issues around raising a mentally challenged child The flipside to this is that if a sensitive subject like sexual assault is handled crudely as in popular dramas like Sangat and Gul e Rana it can end up being simply exploitative, misleading and even dangerous. The missing element between a responsible approach and one that is entirely commercial is directly related to the amount of research done by the writer and the amount of quality control exercised by the production house.

The rising international profile of Pakistani dramas continues its upward gradient and has not been set back by Indian channel, Zee Zindagi’s ban on Pakistani content. Just as average Pakistanis continue to watch Bollywood despite the political manipulations of public sentiment; Indian fans of Pakistani dramas continue to enjoy the latest serials on YouTube and other popular social media platforms. Meanwhile Hum Tv’s recent announcement that Pakistani Dramas like Humsafar, Zindagi Gulzar hai and Sadqay Tumharey can be watched on Netflix has opened another gateway for the immense creative talent in Pakistan.

It remains to be seen how long Zee Zindagi CEO Dr Subhash Chander will sit on the rs 60cr content that he has stated he has blocked from release on his channel. With most of the serials already shown on Pakistani channels already in the public domain it is hard to see how that content will maintain its value down the long winding road of international jingoism and saber rattling. There are many questions hanging over the  2017  season Will access to more sophisticated and international content via Netflix , inspire and improve local production or will there be a dumbing down to capture easier market share ? Increased access through diverse platforms has only increased the popularity of drama serials as a medium in the West, but only time will tell how this plays out in eastern markets.

The corollary ban on Indian content in Pakistan has given a boost to local content especially since Indian channels keep a strict control on the sharing of content via social media .On an interesting side note, one unintended consequence of the Indo Pak rivalry has been the boost it has given Turkish dramas, whose popularity continues unabated. Shows like Kosem sultan and Kala paisa Pyar are not just incredibly popular  on this side of the border but have found a home on Zee Zindagi, filling the empty slots left by Pakistani content.

Overall 2017 looks like an exciting time for Pakistani television, with quality productions and strong content making a sharp comeback. The craze for game shows has lost some of its momentum and after a few seasons of high profile controversies over blasphemy, Pakistani Morning shows seem to be towing a more respectful if not informative line.

Sadaf Haider

@Tomtomatoe find me on my blog SadafSays.com or the pages of Dawn images online.

Sadaf Haider is a freelance writer, a seriously unserious fan of dramas and films but most of all an observer. She is always looking for an amusing diversion and luckily other people are always willing to provide one.

This article was first in print in Dawn Newspaper and then in the Dawn e paper

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