People born lately till mid 80s have grown up by watching PTV, the sole but at that time the only entertainment channel of Pakistan. Streets were deserted when the clock struck 8 o’clock at night. Families used to sit together before TV till 9 pm. No matter what genre the plays were about, they were amusing and entertaining to everyone, and for every person of different age groups. Those PTV plays had no equals, not because there were no private TV channels, but because they were the best combination of dialogues, emotions and acts engrossed by the best romance, which was pure from profanity.

It all went well till the first decade of 21st century when the standard of our plays started declining with the invasion of Indian serials telecasted on some private TV channels. These plays attracted the attention of our ladies and were watched regularly. Now in the second decade of this century instead of reviving back our drama industry, the serials of another country has made another invasion. Turkish plays are being applauded and there are talks about these plays at every nook and corner, people like the lifestyle that has been depicted in these dramas. These invasions have not only affected the quality of our dramas but have also affected directors and producers and their definitions of good and bad and bold and conservative.

What is wrong with our drama industry? Why the standard of our plays is deteriorating and what are the factors which are providing oxygen to these foreign plays? To get answers of all these questions which rise in the minds of common people especially in those who had watched the quality plays of PTV and entertained by that single channel, Sunday Plus the chance to talked with the renowned director Ayub Khawar, who spent most of his life span in PTV and is regarded as one of the best director of his time. He is a multi-dimensional personality who is at home in direction, production and is also a very refined poet and writer. Mr Khawar has directed famous drama serials such as Khawaja and Son, Fishaar, Din, Daldal, Inkaar, Ghareeb-e-Shehar, Qasmi Kahani, Nisf Sadi Ka Qissa, Kahani Ghar etc. He casts light on all these issues and traces some of the week points which developed in our drama industry with the passage of time.

Mr Khawar who is currently working with some private TV channels briefed about some facts which he observed while working with PTV and other TV channels. He is of the view that there is a huge difference between the both. “PTV was a single channel but was fulfilling the duties of almost 12 private channels of the present era. There were news, entertainment programmes, musical shows, children programmes, literary and religious discussions etc. Furthermore it was giving the representation of all the provinces of the country by producing the programmes according to their respective traditions and customs. There was something for everyone and of all ages. It was in someway working as the binding force.”

Whereas, he did not see that the private TV channels are maintaining any balance between the entertainment programmes and serious programmes. “Most of the private TV channels are producing only two things –‘news’ and the ‘talk shows’ and the latter are mostly on political issues,” he maintained. On a sarcastic note Mr Khawar elaborated, “There is no soap famous worldwide than these ‘shows’ in which anchors are very big actors who know well how to create dramatic or funny situations.”

“There were also such kind of programmes on PTV and we used to call those ‘Mazakara’ in which discussions or analysis were presented but in sober and decent manners. There was never any fight or quarrel like we see now every day on our TV. I do not think English word ‘talk shows’ depict the meaning of ‘Mazakara’,” he explained.

Tracing the reasons for invasion of Indian plays in Pakistan Mr Khawar goes back in good old days of PTV and explained that it was the time when senior directors used to decide that what they had to show to people. “Sensor policy was strict and ethics and morals were given the top most priority. Most of the plays were about the middle and lower class people. The first play in which the upper class was shown involved in drug addiction and other social evils was ‘Inkaar’. There was the reflection of life style of affluent class in that play. Before that it was always the poor people which remained the focus for such social evils. This was meant to give some leniency in sensor policy and to show people the other sides of our society. At that play, people were surprised and raised their eyebrows. The beginning of STN programmes was also the part of this policy,” he maintained.

“When the private channels started they showed everything for which Pakistani people were not prepared. For example, people used to listen to the news at 9 pm and one or two programmes of political analysis; but with the inception of private media people are watching the news and political talk shows 24/7.

“All this does not mean that I am against the access of information but there is always a process for everything. The same thing happened with TV plays. There was a competition of TV plays between the different channels and some channels bought Indian soaps. Those were telecasted without realising that either these soaps are acceding to our social norms or not. A race between the channels had started which ultimately affected the viewership and our drama industry,” he maintained.

Describing the side-effects of these plays Mr Khawar said that with the passage of time private TV channels made a clear classification of male, female and youth programmes. “Male started to watch talk shows and ladies became interested in Indian soaps in which the rule of women was shown. Those plays were mainly about relationship, rivalry and domestic politics where men had no part. Youth was attracted to unbridled liberty and rebellious nature of the main characters in these plays. All these things were new to our people because the restrained media became independent at once. Furthermore the fact cannot be denied that other’s things always attract more,” he explained.

“Indian soaps developed a concept of unnatural beauty. When I use the word ‘unnatural beauty’ it means Indian plays are not the depiction of real life. They have created an artificial world where actors and actress wake up with creased saris and shirts. The dress designing and the jewellery were all alluring to our ladies. So our channels started to idealise the soaps of Star Plus even though most of the things in those plays were not according to our customs and traditions. By watching plays like ‘Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’ the same ‘mother- in-law’ woke up in our ladies which was sleeping somewhere in them.”

“Similarly, in production of Indian soaps, the same light effects are used for day and night. Viewers may hardly judge that either it is 12 o clock of day or night. Whereas, our plays were close to real life, there were dark nights and daylights,” the director continued.

Answering to a question that either any effort was made to stop such cultural intrusion Mr Khawar answered in affirmation and said, “There are many actors, directors and producers who copied the Indian plays. Some of them have gone to the level of stupidity and absurdity. In effort of making a modern play and to create humour they even showed ladies slapping or dragging each other in their plays. But fortunately there has always been a strong presence of those directors and producers who rebelled against this intrusion and I am one among those who struggled to save the Pakistani culture. The play ‘Yeh Zindagi Hai’ is one of its examples. The second big factor was the response of our audience. Our people like Indian movies and plays but they do not like watching our actresses and models to wear that sort of cloths which Indian actresses wear. So in a way audience has also discouraged this new trend,” he said.

Pakistani plays are always applauded because of their quality but for the past few years it has lost its sublime status which it once used to enjoy when there was only PTV. Besides Indian plays dominance, there are many other factors which has affected our drama industry. Mr Khawar highlights some of those. “The private TV channels and the production houses believe in one policy which is ‘spend minimum and earn maximum’ and without spending money one can’t bring quality. This policy is one of the major reasons which paved the way for Turkish plays.”

“Secondly in pursue of boldness and race for channel’s ratings TV channels ignored their moral and social values. Whereas, in PTV directors use to decide that what they have to show to the people and from which stuff should avoid; but now that stuff is telecasted which people want to watch either it is up to the mark or not. In this age of rating if anyone talks about values and ethics he is tagged orthodox or conservative,” he elaborated.

After the dominance of Indian plays for a long time, the rule of Turkish plays has started. Comparing the Pakistani plays with the Turkish plays the renowned director and producer pinpoints some of the major causes of the latter’s popularity. “Let me tell you two major facts before I go into the detail of causes. Since the time when Indian plays were imported to Pakistan, the work had started on exploring some other country whose plays can make business in Pakistan. What I mean that the invasion of Turkish plays is not sudden but its roots can be traced long before in the past. Here I reveal another fact that there are a few more countries whose plays are being considered to be imported in the future.”

“As far as the reasons of popularity of Turkish plays and their invasion is concerned, as I mentioned earlier its major reason is the policy of ‘spend minimum and earn’. TV channels are earning maximum with a play which they have bought at nominal price. The Indian products were also bought because they were cheaper and so are the Turkish plays.”

“There are many factors which worked as catalyst to increase the popularity of Turkish plays, for example, there is some similarity between them and us. People were attracted to new cultural resembling our own. The selection of plays was good; in ‘Ishq-e-Mamnu’ people watched a new upper class and their new ways of living. It had attraction for both males and females. Similarly, Fatima Gul is the depiction of two different classes and our middle class also have the same values which were shown in ‘Fatima Gul’. Above all the making of these plays is marvellous because there is the reflection of actual life,” he maintained.

Pinpointing the weaknesses of Pakistani showbiz industry he said that in all the above mentioned circumstances we were losing because our TV channels were giving priority only to ratings and if this trend would persist it would further harm our industry. He regretted about the prevailing circumstances where financers dictate what sort of play it would be and cinemas owners do not give time to Pakistani films because they have bookings for foreign film. “If we do not get time and coverage in our own country then we should nor blame others. We produce many good film but they get little time in our cinemas,” he said with heavy voice.

Once PTV used to telecast good quality plays but this spirit seems absent for the last few years. Mr Khawar traces its reason in nepotism and political influences. “When I joined PTV there were very senior and experienced people like Agha Nasir, Afzal Kamal, Fiaz-ul Haq, Zaman Ali Khan etc. The second tier was of Muhammad Nisar Hussain, Shahzad Khalil, Yawar Hayat, Mohsin Ali, Qasim Jalali and some more and in my tier there were Shoaib Mansoor, Haider Imam Rizvi, Iqbal Ansari, Shaukat Zain ul Abidin. The every tier was connected with its seniors and got strict professional training from them. After our generation the link of training broke because hiring was made on political basis and most of those newly hired people were not professionally good. This political influence is still exists; so with the absence of professional people at PTV is losing its quality which it once used to have in the past.

“There is no emphasis on characterization in plays. Previously, actors were remembered because of the characters. Its one reason may be that these days every actor has to shoot scenes of different plays with different directors so they are short of time and that is why rehearsals and discussions which were once an important part of shooting is now considered mere waste of time,” he briefed.

In this rapidly changing world what the new directors have to do, he advised, “Good play is the combination of good script and creativity and the best way of producing and directing is the combination of new and old. This way we can keep our roots firm in our cultural traditions.”

Commercial TV exists everywhere and it has always attraction for others. Indian and Turkish plays attracted our audience but besides there are also some weak points in our drama industry. Our young generation of our actors, producers and directors are very talented but they should also take benefit from the experience of their seniors. Ayub Khawar is one of our legendary directors who are assets of our drama industry. He is an academy of direction in himself. The newcomers in this field should learn from such people who know all the ups and downs of production and direction.