10 iconic Pakistani TV dramas you should binge-watch this weekend

The top 10 have these things in common: repeat value, iconic characters, a coherent story from start to finish
Updated 28 Mar, 2020

This piece was originally published on 9 July, 2017.

Pakistani dramas have made colossal strides over the last decade, raising the bar for quality writing, innovation and realism.

No, we don’t mean the daytime soaps that are full of saas/bahu sazishes (mother-in-law/daughter-in-law scheming) but the prime-time offerings of our major channels.

Ever increasing internet access and the spread of social media have put any show just a click away. A sizable section of the Indian public and the worldwide subcontinental diaspora now make up a hitherto unheard of international audience.

So it made perfect business sense for Indian broadcasting giant Zee TV to take advantage of such a commercial opportunity and dedicate a channel called Zee Zindagi to their transmission. It was these same dramas that introduced not just India but anyone on the globe (who understands even a little Urdu) to our most famous exports Fawad Khan and Mahira Khan.

Unfortunately, political rhetoric seems to have reduced the torch of cross border friendship and goodwill to the kind of flickering diya Paro carried around for Devdas, so maybe it’s time to remind everyone why the diya was lit in the first place.

Read on: Is Zindagi TV considering a ban on Pakistani dramas?

Now, this list was not easy to compile. Just being popular or “hit of the season” will not get your favourite drama on it. Firstly, a drama has to be incredibly well written: any repetitious dialogues, inconsistent characterisations, or lazy reliance on stereotypes or clichés would be an immediate disqualification.

The ones that did make it to the Top 10 have these things in common: repeat value, iconic characters, a coherent story from start to finish and a strong director.

However, the single most important common denominator was that they were all rock solid entertainment, the kind of show audiences were desperately waiting all week for.

1) Dastaan

Director: Haissam Hussain Writer : Samira Fazal

Cast: Fawad Khan, Sanam Baloch, Ahsan Khan, Saba Qamar, Mehreen Raheel

It's not easy being number 1. Being good is not good enough, you have to be exceptional. Dastaan isn’t just any serial, or just any romance between two individuals. It is an epic love story between a nation and its people.

Set during the tumultuous time of Partition and Independence, Dastaan told the story of Hassan and Bano, torn apart by events far beyond their control. The sheer complexity and scale of such a project would daunt anyone but was skillfully handled by director Haissam Hussain with the kind of next-level genius that he is well known for.

Marshalling multiple locations, a huge star cast and all the political sensitivities and historical details while still maintaining a critical balance makes this drama stand head and shoulders above the crowd.

Fawad Khan, Sanam Baloch, Ahsan Khan, Saba Qamar and Mehreen Raheel gave superlative performances to match Samira Fazal’s wonderful script.

2) Humsafar

Director: Sarmad Khoosat Writer: Farhat Ishtiaq

Cast: Fawad Khan, Mahira Khan, Naveen Waqar, Atiqa Odho, Hina Bayat, Noor Hassan

Some things are so pure and simple that they outshine everything else.

Humsafar enthralled a nation, launching Fawad Khan and Mahira Khan to super-stardom. Director Sarmad Khoosat and Farhat Ishtiaq gave us more than a love story; here was a map of the human heart, an intimate understanding of the deepest feelings two people can have for each other. Romance, jealousy, despair and ultimately the triumph of forgiveness made this one of the best serials ever made.

3) Daam

Director: Mehreen Jabbar Writer: Umera Ahmed

Cast: Adeel Husain, Sanam Baloch, Aamina Sheikh, Sanam Saeed

This rare gem of a serial is like a long cool glass of water on a hot summer’s day.

Director Mehreen Jabbar’s elegant minimalist style perfectly captured this acutely observed story of friendship and loss. This is one of writer Umera Ahmed’s most mature and complete screenplays; intelligent and nuanced in its understanding of the human condition.

4) Durr-e-Shehwar

Director: Haissam Hussain Writer: Umera Ahmed

Cast: Mikaal Zulfikar, Sanam Baloch, Samina Peerzada, Nadia Jamil, Nauman Ejaz, Umer Naru

This drama is a textbook example of the power of a good director.

What could easily have ended up as a well-written potboiler became an essay on marriage and the changing demands of modern relationships.

Using a clever balance of past, present and near past, director Haissam Hussain kept the momentum going in what might have been just another mazloom aurat (helpless woman) story.

This technique required a lot of skilled editing and if anyone wants to compare notes on how it's done, just watch the American serial The Story Of Us, which mirrors this difficult style.

Memorable performances from Sanam Baloch, Mikaal Zulfikaar, Nadia Jamil and Samina Peerzada made this serial seem like a secret door into the past of every woman.

5) Shehr-e-Zaat

Director: Sarmad Khoosat Writer: Umera Ahmed

Cast: Mahira Khan, Mikaal Zulfiqar, Mohib Mirza, Samina Peerzada

Mahira Khan and Mikaal Zulfiqar shone in this tale of spiritual awakening.

This story took on some tough subjects like our easy acceptance of materialism, our lack of empathy for those around us and the secret to true contentment in what can only be described as fable for modern times.

Even more than Humsafar, this serial showcased director Sarmad Khoosat’s uniquely artistic and allegorical directorial style.

6) Meri Zaat Zara-e-Benishan

Director: Babar Javed Writer: Umera Ahmed

Cast: Faysal Qureshi, Samiya Mumtaz, Adnan Siddiqui, Imran Abbas, Samina Peerzada

This was one of the milestones of Pakistani television, featuring brilliant performances from Samiya Mumtaz and Faysal Qureshi. This tragic story hit at the heart of how the concept of modesty and virtue can be used against a woman. There is no redemption, no absolution in this story, it serves as reminder that some things just cannot be taken back. Anyone watching this will be reminded of what a great director Babar Javed used to be.

7) Aunn Zara

Director: Haissam Hussain Writer: Faiza Iftikhar

Cast: Osman Khalid Butt, Maya Ali, Sabreen Hisbani, Hina Bayat, Adnan Jaffar, Yasir Mazhar

There is a myth that comedy is easy, when in reality it can be the hardest thing to pull off. This romantic comedy made it deceptively easy: a sparkling script from writer Faiza Iftikhar, handled with skill and creativity by Haissam Hussain won hearts on both sides of the border.

Selfish but sweet Aunn and his couldn’t-be-bothered-to-sharmaofy, very practical bride Zara were a very modern breath of fresh air, bringing younger audiences to a genre that had been long designated to “aunties and uncles”.

Fabulous performances from Osman Khalid Butt and Maya Ali make this serial stand out from the crowd. This serial proved that budget should never be a limitation on quality because strong performances, a good script and great camera work can overcome anything.

8) Roag

Director: Babar Javed Writer: Faiza Iftikhar

Cast: Faysal Qureshi, Sumbal Iqbal, Asif Raza Mir, Mohib Mirza, Yamina Peerzada

Writer Faiza Iftikhar proved her amazing versatility by being able to write this harrowing tale of child rape just as flawlessly as she did the lighthearted Aunn Zara.

This many-layered story explains in detail the fallout from such a tragedy and builds to a shocking climax, while pointing out the way our society fails victims.

Brilliant performances from Faysal Qureshi, Asif Raza Mir, Sumbul Iqbal and Mohib Mirza make this thrilling viewing. Babar Javed and Furqan Khan directed this remarkable serial.

9) Pyaray Afzal

Director: Nadeem Baig Writer: Khalil ur Rehman Qamar

Cast: Hamza Ali Abbasi, Aiza Khan, Sana Javed, Firdous Jamal, Saba Hamid, Sohai Ali Abro, Umer Naru, Anoushay Abbasi

It is a fact that most serials are female-oriented but this beautifully written drama from Khalil Ur Rehman Qamar brought the male protagonist to the fore: introducing us to Afzal Subhanallah.

Flawed, broken, but forever the naïve optimist, it should have been obvious that Afzal would break our hearts. Hamza Ali Abbasi shot to stardom with his wonderful performance under the expert guidance of director Nadeem Baig.

Bolstered by great performances from Firdous Jamal, Saba Hamid and Aiza Khan, this serial maintained a level of exceptional quality. There are those who will ask why is it then at No. 9, when it could have been higher up on the list? The simple answer would be that it is a relatively small payback for killing off our Afzal.

10) Zindagi Gulzar Hai

Director: Sultana Siddiqui Writer: Umera Ahmed

Cast: Sanam Saeed, Fawad Khan, Mansha Pasha, Ayesha Omar, Waseem Abbas, Samina Peerzada, Hina Bayat

This serial was a phenomenon that made its stars insanely popular in both Pakistan and India, boosting the steady trickle of cultural exchange into a river of cross-border friendship. Powerful performances from Sanam Saeed, Samina Peerzada and Fawad Khan made this serial an international favourite.

Honourable mentions

There were so many good dramas that almost made the cut but had to be pushed aside because they were needlessly stretched, or lost out on production value or editing.


Director: Owais Khan Writer: Zanjabeel Asim Shah

Cast: Ahsan Khan, Saba Hamid, Sonya Husain, Urwa Hocane

Ullu Baraye Farokht Nahi

Director: Kashif Nisar Writer: Amna Mufti

Cast: Nauman Ijaz, Uzma Hassan, Saba Qamar, Noman Masood, Irsa Ghazal, Sohail Ahmed and Yumna Zaidi


Director: Haseeb Hasan Writer: Farhat Ishtiaq

Cast: Abid Ali, Sanam Saeed, Mikaal Zulfiqar, Ali Rehman Khan, Hareem Farooq, Osman Khalid Butt, Maya Ali, Ahmad Zeb and Mariyam Nafees

Main Abdul Qadir Hoon

Director: Babar Javed Writer: Sarwat Nazir

Cast: Fahad Mustafa, Alishba Yusuf, Faysal Qureshi, Aamina Sheikh, Asif Raza Mir, Saba Hamid


Director: Mohammed Ehtashamuddin Writer: Farhat Ishtiaq

Cast: Bushra Ansari, Ahsan Khan, Samiya Mumtaz, Farhan Saeed, Urwa Hocane

The ones that got away

Kuch Pyaar Ka Pagalpan, Aik Nayee Cinderella, Rehaii, Sadqay Tumhare, Azar Ki Ayegi Baraat, Ek Nazar Meri Taraf, Mera Saaein, Pani Jaisa Piyar, Vasl, Jal Pari, Saat Pardon Main and Jackson Heights

We dare you to watch just one episode of any of these dramas without waking up two days later and finding you have binge-watched the entire serial. Yes, they are that addictive. So hold on to that diya, Paro, there is still oil in the lamp.

Now that we have posted our list, get those thinking caps on and tell us your favourites in the comments below.


ZM Oct 21, 2016 11:30am
ramsha khan Oct 21, 2016 11:35am
Hey, its seriously an amazing list with exceptional reviews, but you missed one thing "Qaid e Tanhaai" it was really an outstanding drama and could be on the top of the list
Pakistani Oct 21, 2016 11:36am
All dramas mentioned are outstanding but in my opinion Udari tops the list.
Zaman Oct 21, 2016 11:47am
As an ex-avid-viewer of Pakistan TV dramas, I must say that the new life of the small screen ows a lot to these dramas. This article, beyond any shadow of doubt, is a good compilation. A lot of effort has visibly going in and indeed a good result. If I may add my pennyworth of suggestion - enlighten us a little more with what were the criteria for each title to step up the ladder . Also add the year they went on-air and also the channel that broadcast them.
Aamer Oct 21, 2016 12:22pm
Pakistani Dramas are worth watching they are the best.
SM Oct 21, 2016 12:22pm
You forgot to add Man Mayal in the list.
Umair Oct 21, 2016 12:30pm
You missed Daam!!! it was faboulous
Insanely Atheist Oct 21, 2016 12:48pm
being an Indian I don't about other shows mentioned here but I found Humsafar listed at no 2 extremely regressive. Mahira and her Saas were great acting wise; Fawad was average and while watching I could only think that had they been in India they could have easily avoided all Rona Dhona by simply doing a DNA test.
KAK Oct 21, 2016 01:03pm
Kankar? Mera Naam Yousuf Hai? Mohabbat Subah Ka Sitara Hai? Maat?
KAK Oct 21, 2016 01:04pm
@Umair It is already in the list
Rohit Sharma Oct 21, 2016 01:14pm
Zindagi Gulzar hai should be ranked one. Beautiful piece of work.
روعه Oct 21, 2016 01:29pm
I totally agree with the writer !! Daastan was and always will be number one!
Anon Oct 21, 2016 01:38pm
@Insanely Atheist Given the storylines and unbelievable tropes that Indian soaps follow, I find your comment on Humsafar's storyline quite amusing. Also, there was no need for a DNA test as Fawad's character does not deny paternity, and wouldn't have as Mahira provided proof as soon as she returned. Maybe pay attention to the storyline next time?
SHIRISH SAWANT Oct 21, 2016 02:09pm
i love 2 serial most on zindgi.... Aunn Zara ,Zindagi Gulzar Hai . :)
MK Oct 21, 2016 02:21pm
Dillagi, tanhai nay silsilay, mera naseeb, miratul uroos, akbari asghari were missed
Marium Oct 21, 2016 03:14pm
Shanakht should also be added.
Khalid Iqbal Oct 21, 2016 03:18pm
@SM Man Mayal lacked reality. Though, it kept trolling as a very nice drama and people did keep waiting for the next episode, had many stars in it; the critics, however, would rightly judge it that for every problem there was an easy fix. Life isn't that easy to overcome problems in quick successions. It takes time to settle in many years and the value of life that 'Man Mayal showed was nowhere to real happenings - in an ordinary or a well-heeled person's life.
shahzadkhan Oct 21, 2016 03:36pm
How can even ignore khuda aur muhabbat the best drama in the history of Pakistani Dramas
yaqut khan Oct 21, 2016 03:40pm
sange marmar is also best write and article about that drama
Shehry Oct 21, 2016 03:45pm
No Pakistani drama is worth binge-watching.
Ashwin Oct 21, 2016 04:29pm
I watched TV only for three things : Doraemon cartoon, News and Pak dramas. But since Zindagi channel stopped airing Pak serials, it has become totally end for me to watch TV. Watching on Youtube doesn't give you that happiness. The good time has gone. I wish any other channel start airing Pak serials.
Nishat Oct 21, 2016 04:30pm
Maat !
gayaz Oct 21, 2016 05:17pm
Meri zaat.... was not good. It make sick after watching that drama
ntoronto Oct 21, 2016 06:02pm
Zara Yaad Kar was extremely well written...
Yaqoot Oct 21, 2016 06:14pm
Surprised Udaari did not make the list?
Fredy Oct 21, 2016 06:23pm
My goodness Umaira Ahmed , swept the list. Must be a good writer. Should script a movie now . We need these writers to bring in a change.
A Oct 21, 2016 06:42pm
Article forgot to mention - kankar (Fahad Mustafa & Sanam Baloch)
MasoodHaider Oct 21, 2016 06:51pm
The main criticism against Pakistani drama serials is that by and large they cannot get away from depiction of women as helpless, dependent, powerless pathetic creatures i.e. the 'weeping women' syndrome.
ss Oct 21, 2016 06:55pm
All these dramas of recent vintage. I would rank the serials of the eighties - Doop Kinara , Samandar, etc - ahead of most of these.
Hasnain Oct 21, 2016 07:02pm
Wish they could come to Netflix Pakistan.
Arbaz Alam Khan Oct 21, 2016 07:21pm
U forgot 2 dramas Mere qaatil mere dildaar, exceptional drama, everything looked as if it was real. Another Maaye ni, brilliant depiction of love between a mother & son
Rabbiya Oct 21, 2016 08:04pm
@SM Mann Mayal has plot holes. It can never be ranked as the best.
Rabbiya Oct 21, 2016 08:07pm
Humsafar, the one & only. Though I haven't watched Dastaan but it sure deserves to be at the top of the list.
chandarshekhar Oct 21, 2016 08:15pm
i was waiting for such a list ...thank you..its sad pakistani dramas are banned recently here in India ..but i can watch them on youtube ..i loved ZGH and humsafar ..pakistani and indians are not so different they share very much common between them from India
Sadaf Haider Oct 21, 2016 08:35pm
@Zaman Thank you and yes will try to do that in future
Sadaf Haider Oct 21, 2016 08:36pm
@ramsha khan I really wanted to include it was a very close call . It was a brilliant serial
Sadaf Haider Oct 21, 2016 08:36pm
@Umair its at number 3
Sadaf Haider Oct 21, 2016 08:37pm
@yaqut khan coming soon
Sadaf Haider Oct 21, 2016 08:38pm
@Ashwin thanks Ashwin .. lets keep moving for peace and keep watching each others films and dramas and sharing the love
Zubair Siddiqui Oct 21, 2016 08:53pm
A brilliant survey of Pakistan's entertainment industry and TV plays. Often the plays have a useful message along with entertainment and pleasure for the TV watchers especially the housewives. There are many who are critical of the stuff and say that this is a source of 'permissiveness 'in society To an extent it may be true but I think our advertisement industry is more to be blamed for this than the playwrights and their producers.
Dil_hai_hindustani Oct 21, 2016 09:07pm
Big fan of Pakistani serials here. Having Paki ancestary, i truly get feel of desi meeti with these soaps. How sad we gonna miss these now..:(, we should have a channel operating from third country..!
manzer Oct 22, 2016 10:57am
Why no mention of Zidd? That is arguably one of the best dramas. Some of the things were a bit farfetched but on the whole it was great.
Sandeep Kumar Oct 22, 2016 01:01pm
Kankar deserves to be on this list..It was excellent drama..Sanam Baloch is simply the best actress of Pak
Kiran Akhtar Oct 22, 2016 01:55pm
A really impressive list and I am totally with you on the payback for killing Afzal :). I didn't watch roag so I can't say anything about that drama but I loved the rest of them. Like you said there was not room for all the great dramas in this list, so how about coming up with Part 2 of this list
Talha A Oct 22, 2016 02:16pm
Zara yaad kar is being missed out... Then there was Seeli Baarish thats quite an old one though... Rest the list is superb:)
Zala Oct 22, 2016 04:11pm
For those who criticize the crying women theme, they are simply portraying the reality.
Ali Oct 22, 2016 04:22pm
Where is the drama " Kaafir ". That was a masterpiece!
Sophia Oct 22, 2016 10:47pm
You forgot Qaid E Tanhai....
Saadia y Oct 22, 2016 11:23pm
Excellent list I love all these plays & these really are the best dramas in recent past
waqqar Oct 23, 2016 12:19am
1. Ulu Baraye Farokht Nahin for amazing directions (though very bold subject and scenes) 2. Maat for great story. love the new Sang e mar mar for its superb direction and story. Like the Dampukht for great direction, acting and surprises but didn't like the story much.
Mona Oct 23, 2016 08:15am
Love the top 10 list. Thank you I can watch any of these plays over & over again. I would've included Marasim & Dillagi in top 10 also but don't know which one I would exclude? Very tough choice
Sadaf Oct 23, 2016 09:07am
@Kiran Akhtar thanks Kiran .. It's still hurts
Adeela Ashraf Oct 23, 2016 10:32am
Where is Digest Writer????
Drama Buff Oct 23, 2016 10:43am
Wonderful list of iconic plays of this decade, no doubt. Dastaan is hands down a winner and a classic, I've personally watched it many many times and it moves me deeply every single time. I would add the latest 'Dillagi' to the list too.
m Oct 23, 2016 11:02pm
@Insanely Atheist hareem paternity was never an issue but asher's lack of trust and communication. he never once questioned her parentage.
Sadaf Haider Oct 24, 2016 10:20am
@Drama Buff Thanks DB
SAMa Oct 24, 2016 07:30pm
@ss - Some of us were not even born then. This list is very relevant and Dastaan at #1 is justified. I would only make Udaari and Dastaan joint #1 thanks to Paa Imtiaz - SHAZZADDAAA
Ali Oct 25, 2016 08:45am
Where is "Bari Aapa" in the list?
Aamer Oct 25, 2016 12:12pm
@Insanely Atheist yes but DNA test in Indian Drama means 30 episods and a headache.
SJ Oct 25, 2016 09:10pm
Dil Diya Dehleez is still missed out
imran Oct 26, 2016 05:28am
Most of them..Udari is top one
Pakistani Oct 26, 2016 07:28am
How can any one forget Mera naam yousuf hai ?
F Jul 07, 2017 09:38am
Sadqay tumharay???????
Savitha Srinivasan Jul 10, 2017 09:32pm
Got to watch a few serials on Zindagi Channel. Liked them a lot. The serials were short and sweet, not dragging on for years.
Rida Jul 11, 2017 12:55am
Shukk is also the best one
Pallavi Jul 11, 2017 07:12pm
Udaari,zindagi gulzar hain,diyaar-e-dil.....just awesome
Hatim Vohra Jul 12, 2017 07:59pm
@ntoronto no doubt
Hasnain Jul 16, 2017 02:42pm
I have't seen dastaan but I would say muhabbat tum sy nafrat hai is the best drama till now in the history of pak dramas
AHK Mar 28, 2020 12:47pm
You haven't mentioned SANGE MAR MAR & that was for sure the best drama by far as far as protagonist acting skills are concerned.
Ordinary Human Mar 28, 2020 01:44pm
Nothing will ever come even close to what we watched in 80s ...
Pak-UK Mar 28, 2020 01:51pm
Alif should be on the top of the list.
Bhaska Mar 28, 2020 02:58pm
I am a Hindustani, but watching the Pakistan drama is Devine, huge fan. The best.
Babu Mar 28, 2020 04:12pm
You didn't get into the classics, like tanhaiyan
Imran Khan Mar 28, 2020 05:03pm
Yakeen ka Safar should also be in the list.
M.Johri Mar 28, 2020 07:17pm
You missed "QURBAN"
Jack Mar 28, 2020 11:41pm
But if I were to pick the best drama serial ever it would be Un Kahi.
Jack Mar 29, 2020 01:26am
Why Dawn? Why???????
Masood Haider Mar 29, 2020 01:53am
Not a good list. The best almost flawless drama ever made was 'Tapish', not even included in the list. Humsafar despite its huge popularity suffered from serious deficiencies. Zindagi Gulzar Hai was very good.
Super sonic Apr 04, 2020 08:43am
Why you didn't mention Alif in tour list!