Pakistan's Gen Z finally tells its own story in web series Midsummer Chaos
Have you ever browsed through Netflix or Amazon Prime and seen the sheer number of shows targeted towards teenagers or young adults and wondered why Pakistan has little to no representation of young people in its TV series? We have. Pakistan has an overwhelmingly large population of young people yet most of our TV shows don't represent them. That's going to change this Sunday, when Midsummer Chaos releases on YouTube.
The five-episode mini web series will air on Sundays on the Qissa Nagri YouTube channel. Each episode will be 12 minutes long.
The trailer is already out and promises a show for young people by young people.
Most of the cast are newcomers to the industry, with one notable exception — Mehar Bano from Churails. The series stars vlogger and Instagram influencer Mustafa Babar, Momina Duraid's son Shahzayn Duraid, Shameen Tariq, who is about to star in a Hum TV series, Zaina Waraich, Kamila Aazeen, indie rap producer Nael Aamir and Instagram influencer Zainab Ejaz. Another experienced actor in the show is Zara Khan, who also starred in Churails.
"I have, over the past two years, gotten the opportunity of working with incredible artists like Mahira Khan, Saba Qamar, Usman Mukhtar and my lovely Zara Abid, however, Midsummer Chaos required a younger, newer cast," writer and director Ahmed Sarym explained to Images.
"The plot of Midsummer Chaos centres around a group of teenagers in Islamabad that have just gotten done with high school and their shenanigans over the summer before college, and to have it come through as an authentic representation of the Pakistani Gen Z, I felt as if building a cast that understands that narrative would possibly help connect with the people whose story we’re telling," he said.
"It was, of course, challenging since most of the cast is debuting with the series but at the end of the day, it just felt more real, even while I was helming it."
Sarym describes the series as an ode to Islamabad. "It’s a very intricately detailed look at flawed teenagers and their lives as they come of age," he said.
"As somebody who’s 18, if I were to ever turn to contemporary art, specifically in the visual medium, there is nothing I can very personally relate to in Pakistan," he said, and he's right. There are very few, if any, shows targeted towards young people in the country. "There’s an entire audience demographic that is somewhat invisible in Pakistan and these are people with very strong opinions, personalities, they are, quite literally, the future of our country, yet all we ever see are very stereotypically penned scripts on TV and film."
Sarym wanted to be able to tell his story, or his best friend’s story, and have teenagers or young adults watch themselves, see flawed characters they could relate to and know that they are heard, provided for in terms of entertainment. "I hope that [Midsummer Chaos] is able to be what we have intended for it to be."
He believes producers and writers have completely dismissed an entire generation. "So many people in Pakistan consume Netflix, they’re obsessed with Riverdale or Gossip Girl, they look up to these characters and yet they’re unable to take complete ownership of them," the writer explained.
"When I first started writing Midsummer Chaos, I knew we were entering a somewhat alien territory or that we could get massive backlash from religious extremists or conservatives, but the response we’ve received has been beyond overwhelming. I’ve received so many messages from across Pakistan of kids in their O-Levels and A-Levels saying they’re excited to see something so progressive in Pakistan, and all I can hope for now is that the series itself doesn’t disappoint."
But it's difficult to disappoint when there are no competitors. Most shows in Pakistan focus on older people with different problems. The problems that plague Pakistan's Gen Z aren't the same ones faced by Millennials or Gen X. With little to no representation for Gen Z, any content will be welcome.
Sarym also believes that in Pakistan, content with the formulaic saas-bahu, antagonised men, damsels-in-distress apparently sells. "It shocks me, but the fact of the matter is that it actually does. So many problematic stories end up being chartbusters, but then there are also as many people that would call Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar out on social media."
And I think seeing Midsummer Chaos tackling subjects like mental health, or the party culture, friendships, relationships, infidelity, issues with parents and so many more, so sensitively, might just open so many doors for scripts that never find the funding they deserve, he said. The makers of Midsummer Chaos have worked independently on a self-described "shoestring budget" for their own YouTube platform, but Sarym believes the series might serve as wake-up call for big banners to take notice of them.
A space for young actors
For young actors involved in the series, Midsummer Chaos represents them. For Babar, it means change. "We’ve always seen series like these on international OTT platforms and I feel if concepts like these are encouraged, at least people my age will have some sort of content to consume. We’re only targeting middle-aged men and women [currently]," he told Images.
"Actors my age aren’t promoted, scripts aren’t written for us. Stranger Things only consists of kids and I think Midsummer Chaos brings about that [kind of] diversity in Pakistan."
For him, he could see Midsummer Chaos going global, especially since it's on the internet. "It has the potential of introducing the world to a new kind of Pakistan altogether. The dramas and films we see in Pakistan are very myopic, so I could see this changing the way [the] media has exclusively portrayed negative angles of Pakistan over the years, and it might just add newer layers to the industry we have here."
I always wanted to see something like this in Pakistan, said Babar, adding that he's a huge fan of the genre. "As somebody who’s always wanted to pursue acting, I could really see myself in Teen Wolf or Riverdale, but there was never anything for me like that. A producer once told me I was too young to be a protagonist of any project, and if you think about it, that only means there just isn’t content for people my age, and this gave me an opportunity to represent my community."
And he isn't the only one interested in coming-of-age content. Mehar Bano said what the team is coming up with makes "a lot of sense" to her. "It's the story that really pulled me in," she explained, despite the small team. "When I was a teenager, I always wanted to see something like this. I’m a fan of coming-of-age movies and shows, and even in South Asian representation we’ve seen in the genre, it’s been from a very Western viewpoint; this is very authentic."
Filming for the series was completed in February and it took them eight months to finish production. "We were hoping we could put it out sometime last year but with the lockdown and the coronavirus statistics fluctuating every single day, we knew we lived in a scary time and all of us were putting ourselves at risk when we filmed," explained Sarym. "There are certain scenes in public areas, and at times, we had to get shut down restaurants opened up and I think that a part of that kept us going, the fact that all of us knew that there are so many kids our age out there, sitting at home, unable to watch content that is made for them, locally. And thankfully, all of us came out of it uninfected."
Midsummer Chaos is will be available from this Sunday, March 7, on YouTube. It's Qissa Nagri's first mini-series and may even have a second season.