In the mid 90s, it felt like the golden years of Pakistani television were a distant memory. Our dramas, previously admired for their great stories and real characters, started becoming a mirror image of their Indian counterparts.
The influence of the Saas Bahu soaps from across the border was clear and undeniable. This resulted in many people (myself included) slowly giving up on Pakistani dramas.
A good story is like a good magic trick - it transports you to another world. To you, as a viewer or a reader, it becomes reality and no longer a work of fiction.
From the trials and tribulations of the two sisters in Tanhaiyan; to the beautiful and timeless love story in Dhoop Kinaray; to the tearful yet meaningful journey of realisation of a married couple in Aahat - we were a generation that had seen magic created on our television screens on numerous occasions.
When the standards of our home productions disappointed us, we turned away, in search of other mediums of escapism.
Pakistani TV dramas make a comeback
However, it feels like the days of glory are to return. Our faith, once lost, looks to be restored as our drama industry churns out one classic after another.
From Dastaan to Humsafar to Shehrezaat to Aunn Zaara to Zindagi Gulzar Hai to Pyare Afzal and finally Diyaredil, we are back to producing dramas that are not only popular on our shores but are increasingly enjoying cross-border success. We have a lot to be proud of!
But it is equally important to understand what makes a drama work and what the viewers want to see.
Decoding the recipe of success
The starting point is a good story.
We want a story that engages us both on a personal and a social level. We are tired of stories based on family politics, or manipulative women trying every trick in the book to get their way! We do not want to see rushed divorces or forced second marriages or the age-old dilemma of ‘beta chahiyay’. In short, we do not want to see stories about concepts that repulse us, on television.
The most successful stories are based on a strong family unit. This, in turn, creates more characters that the audience can root for. Look at Zindagi Gulzar Hai as an example – both family units, be it Kashaf or Zaroon’s, were supportive of one another despite any differences.
The next most important element is a good love story.
I personally feel that we have enough reality staring us in the face in everyday life. People want to watch a drama that pulls at their heartstrings or makes them laugh. Even if the situation is serious or worrisome in the drama, it should be balanced out well with light, heart-warming moments.Tanhaiyan is a classic example of this approach as Qutbuddin Qabacha made a timely appearance to provide the audience with much needed relief throughout the drama.
And then we need the right kind of couple...
While it may appear that the audience will root for any lead couple, the reality is in fact quite the opposite.
....a heroine like Zindagi Gulzar Hai's Kashaf
The female character that has won the most hearts in recent years is Kashaf Murtaza. I feel she represents the kind of female heroine that can capture the imagination of the audience more than anyone.
We want a female protagonist whom we can admire. Who faces hardships with her head held high. Who is self-reliant and hard working. A modern woman in her goals and outlook, but traditional in her mode of behaviour.
Like all women, she has her moments of weakness and insecurity, but she musters up her inner strength to face every challenge. A woman who hides her tears and puts on a brave face. Who may be misunderstood, but could never be ignored.
If you agree with the above being a just description of Kashaf Murtaza, you will realise that the same description also applies to the character of Dr Zoya Ali Khan from Dhoop Kinaray.
How can the same description apply to two such different characters? Because their personalities may be different but the qualities that we admire, remain the same.
...and a hero like Diyar-e-Dil's Wali
The male character that inspires the same level of admiration in recent times is Diyar-e-Dil's Wali Suhaib Khan.
I am certain that over time, the character of Wali will overshadow the popularity of another favourite, Kashaf's hero Zaroon Junaid. This is simply because Wali appears to be a better man than Zaroon.
He is the silent type, who keeps his thoughts and worries to himself. He demonstrates a high moral code by his sense of fairness, and responsibility. He treats everyone with respect, even those responsible for causing him unnecessary pain by words or actions.
Even when he is angry, his reasons are understandable and his actions justified. At no point can any of his actions be described as hypocritical. A woman feels safe with such a man .
You will note that the same qualities also apply to Dr Ahmar.
Thus years roll by, but human nature remains unchanged in terms of what we like.
Our scriptwriters should take note – while they can’t create the same characters; they can create different characters with good and admirable qualities!
They've done a great job so far in reintroducing Pakistani dramas back into our lives! But as Peter Parker (Spiderman) would say, with great power comes great responsibility. They can create magic with their words, but should just bear in mind the kind of magic tricks that the people want to see!
For a drama to be successful, the characters must inspire, engage and move the audience. Because Kashaf and Wali have one thing in common, if nothing more – they have won our hearts!