So, Udaari aired its most graphic episode yet. Not to mention the play itself, centering on the serious issue of child sexual abuse, is perhaps the most haunting serial ever to have gone on air in recent memory.

It is a brave effort that must be applauded from here to there to no end and beyond. But – and yes, there is a but – it isn’t for every viewer out there sitting in front of the tele.

Before you jump to crucify me at the altar of ‘but progressive thought and reality, you ostrich with head in sand!’ chances are you’ve already read one of my pieces hailing Udaari. In case you missed it, read all about my unconditional ishq for the play here and here.

So, where is my concern coming from?

From here:

Yes, I know, Udaari is not vulgar, shameless or pointless. This viewer is totally not getting it but there’s a reason for that.

This play isn’t meant for you if the only reason you’ve switched on your television is to unwind and relax or for peace of mind. *God help you when you watch the news, if ever.* But I understand the frustration.

Given that Udaari is perhaps 75% over and edging swiftly to a close now, and with the much tooted horns and coverage of the serial an average viewer must know by now what topic it covers, hence, must be able to effectively utilize options from changing the channel to not watching it altogether. However, there is no denying that episode 14 was quite unexpected even for an ardent Udaari fan.

The fact that we loved it doesn’t do much for all those who thought they’ll give it a try ‘now’ of all times, and felt they were thrown off the rooftop. Or hit by a bus. Or similar.

While this tweet was source 1 for my concern, the reply to this tweet was source 2. And the following one fed into it.

Why? Why must fans or viewers of one particular genre sacrifice their interest to watch something that fans of another genre like?

Why must Mann Mayal, a love story, be compared and contrasted with Udaari, an eye-opening social issue raiser? The two plays serve different purposes, thereby, serve different sets of viewers. Apples and oranges. Pulao and Biryani. Kheer and Halva. It is possible to like one and not the other. Or like one slightly or a whole lot more than the other. It is possible!

Why must we disrespect a viewer who likes one genre more than the other for their choice? Can't we accept the fact that like books, teleplays too have genres? Teleplays too can be vanilla, horror, fantasy, romance, thriller, realistic fiction, historic fiction, and more. 

The last straw for me was this:

Isn’t it time we too had a television content rating system in place like all the other sane countries in the universe?

“Television content rating systems are systems for evaluating the content and reporting the suitability of television programs for children, teenagers or adults… A rating is usually set for each individual episode of a television series. The rating can change per episode, network, rerun, and country.”

(Source: Wikipedia)

If you’re familiar with Hollywood or satellite TV, you must be familiar with content rating and what I’m talking about. You know – PG-13, PG, MA, D, R, G, L, V and all these letter appearing before the start of a program, in the description of a movie, on the cover of a comic book, on the box of a video game?

This is content rating.

It lets you know if your 10 year old should be watching this program and if you can stomach it too. Content ratings can be as descriptive as the broadcasters want them to. There is no limit on that. However, they’re only effective when mentioned and the audience be made aware of it.

The best way to do that is to display the rating card before the start of the program, and keep it on-screen in a corner (usually left hand corner) for the first 15 to 30 seconds into the show.

As more and more shows are experimenting with pushing the envelope to grab a more diverse audience, broadcasters too are becoming increasingly careful and tend to display the rating on-screen after every commercial break. Since the rating can vary from episode to episode, the viewers always have a choice of discretion for opting in or out of watching a particular episode.

And I’m wondering over here that why, in the twenty-first century, we still don’t have this basic tool of television viewership.

According to the PEMRA Mandate, as copied from their own website, this is what the regulatory body is supposed to do:

·         Improve the standards of information, education and entertainment.

·         Enlarge the choice available to the people of Pakistan in the media for news, current affairs, religious knowledge, art, culture, science, technology, economic development, social sector concerns, music, sports, drama and other subjects of public and national interest.

·         Facilitate the devolution of responsibility and power to the grass roots by improving the access of the people to mass media at the local and community level.

·         Ensure accountability, transparency and good governance by optimization the free flow of information.

How exactly is PEMRA hoping to achieve all this if it won’t even rate the programs it vows to regulate?

First things first, to rate a program, it must be screened by the regulatory authority. In light of PEMRA’s recent rulings and debacles, it seems the screening part is left for the public to shoulder. PEMRA just cutely sits back and waits for its complaint section to blow up in everyone’s face and then, it simply slaps a ban on the horrid program in question as per public demand. *Allah Allah, Khair Sallah!*

I honestly don’t think there is any system of checks and screenings in place so that viewers may be given adequate discretion to practice. I mean really, it is a concern when children are watching and discussing shows that aren’t for them. Mann Mayal is not for kids. Zara Yaad Kar is not for kids. Khoat is not for kids. Dillagi is not for kids. Udaari is not for kids, though, it is about them and might be beneficial for them to watch but Parental Guidance is acutely necessary.

To be honest, no dramas, shows and movies are for children unless they specifically are targeted at children. Parents must realize this on their own but a judgement error on their part to do so doesn’t excuse the broadcasters and PEMRA from failing to warn the parents what’s in store with regards to a particular show so they can take necessary precaution.

It’s time we had proper content ratings. And it’s time we respected all television genres equally.

It’s time!