The good, the bad and the strange — 2021 in dramas
This year saw a few good dramas but it seemed as if after flirting with innovative stories like Ghissi Pitti Mohabbat, channels went back to their old patterns of stereotypes and pulp fiction that fit their economic model and brought risk-free ratings. There were few actually all-round good dramas that ticked every box on story, direction and acting but there were plenty that amply reflected the kind of hypocrisy and dysfunction that is culturally acceptable, like Fitoor.
On the lighter side, all that melodrama in pursuit of ratings provided a lot of unintentional humour and meme material.
Here is a roundup of what 2021 was like in terms of dramas.
The best dramas
Dil Naumeed Toh Nahi
Khuda Aur Mohabbat
Hum Kahan Ke Sachay Thay
Both Raqeeb Se and Dil Na Umeed Toh Nahi were the standard-bearers of quality that Pakistani dramas are known for. Both were authentic, nuanced scripts that never lost steam. More importantly, they were fully conceptualised from start to finish and not some ad hoc chimera created to please an array of commercial and career goals.
While serious dramas are tough to make, comedies can be even more difficult because they can easily slip into overdone nonsense. Both Chupke Chupke and Ishq Jalebi were fantastic examples of this genre, contrasting hilarious one liners with often serious situations that connected with the audience. A small aside for producers — why is such light, fun entertainment limited to Ramazan?
Despite regressive themes, Khuda Aur Mohabbat 3 and Hum Kahan Ke Sachay Thay were technically well made, and made some effort to counter the critique levelled at their stories. So why are Fitoor and Rang Mahal — two incredibly additive dramas — missing? Both relied on unthinking nonsensical plot twists to stretch out what could have been good stories.
Parizaad is the standalone — a wonderful combination of mass appeal and intelligent writing, grounded in reality, but not above making that imaginative leap to increase its audiences understanding of the world around them. It is disappointing to see no serial from ARY broke onto this list. Apart from a few better serials like Pardes and Pehli Si Mohabbat, it seems the channel's focus was entirely commercial.
Stand out performances — female
Sania Saeed – Raqeeb Se
Yumna Zaidi – Dil Naumeed Toh Nahi
Mahira Khan – Hum Kahan Ke Sachay Thay
Kubra Khan – Hum Kahan Ke Sachay Thay
Ayeza Khan – Chupke Chupke
Iqra Aziz – Raqeeb Se
A round of applause for these wonderful performances that captured not just our hearts but got us thinking. Thank you Sania Saeed for flawlessly portraying all the disappointments and triumphs of a lifetime of loving; and Iqra Aziz for perfectly capturing the urgency, confusion and ignorance of youth. With just her expressions and an emphasis on a phrase or two, Kubra Khan let us glimpse the world of pain and vulnerability pain hidden behind Mashal’s all-consuming anger and bitterness.
We would like our heroines to be strong, we are taught that if women are patient they will win. Mahira Khan's heartbreaking portrayal of a young woman, gradually breaking down after fighting off a life time of both physical and emotional abuse, looks like a new career high.
Ayeza Khan was the surprise package of 2021, breaking free of the kind serious, staid stereotypes she had been limited to, pulling off the mischievous, fun-loving Meenu with enviable style.
Yumna Zaidi is one consistently great actor who delivers yet again as a victim of sex trafficking, giving a much-needed human face to this cruel business.
Outstanding performances — male
Usman Mukhtar – Hum Kahan Ke Sachay Thay
Feroze Khan – Khuda aur Mohabbat
Osman Khalid Butt – Chupke Chupke
Wahaj Ali – Ishq Jalebi
Sheheryar Munawar – Pehli Si Mohabbat
Ahmed Ali Akbar – Parizaad
If we can be generous and put the completely unnecessary use of black face aside, Ahmed Ali Akbar stole our hearts with this knockout, career-best performance, making people wish Pari could be prime minister. Osman Khalid Butt is a versatile actor but comedy is always his forte — his flawless timing and one liners delivered with deadly accuracy make this almost Austen-esque character one of his best avatars yet.
Toxic lovers have become an art form for Feroze Khan and he is usually lauded for his screen presence and intensity. However, Feedi’s character arc from simple boy from Lahore to at least repentant toxic lover was a role that he carried really well.
We all love to hate Aswad — and there were times that throwing a brick at the television screen seemed like a reasonable option — but while we may not like this character, it is tribute to Usman Mukhtar’s acting that he not only took such a difficult role but made it completely believable.
Cute, devious and someone who needed a major wakeup call, Basim is just one of the exceptional performances Wahaj Ali has given us over the past few seasons.
Last but never least, Sheheryar Munawar made an impressive return to the small screen as Aslam, the boy the next door, and even better as a mature man, making sense of his past.
Kashif Nisar – Dil Na Umeed Toh Nahin
Syed Wajahat – Khuda aur Mohabbat
Farooq Rind – Hum Kahan Ke Sachay Thay
Danish Nawaz – Chupke Chupke
Shehzad Kashmiri – Parizaad
Bee Gul – Raqeeb Se
Amna Mufti – Dil Na Umeed Toh Nahi
Umera Ahmed – Hum Kahan Ke Sachay Thay
Saima Akram Chaudhry – Chupke Chupke
Hashim Nadeem – Parizaad
There are also a number of trends that need to change.
Real charity workers of Pakistan
Forget the Edhi Foundation, marvel instead at these charity workers who are always willing to help, good looking young women in trouble.
Faizullah of Pehli Si Mohabbat who thinks the only way he can help a prostitute escape her situation is by marrying her even if it means ruining his daughter’s life.
Saad of Log Kiya Kahenge who tried to force his best friend’s widow into marrying him till she literally runs away to another city to escape his unwanted attentions.
Marriage can fix it
Marriage continues to be the one and only solution in all situations. In Hum Kahan Ke Sachay Thay, despite a murder case hanging over her head, everyone’s main concern is who Mehreen will marry. Now that she has survived a suicide attempt, whether she will get divorced remains the prime focus rather than healing or recovery. This pattern is played out through every drama, and if this can really fix everything, can our drama makers tell us who needs to marry whom so we can fix bigger issues like global warming, the trade deficit and the price of gas?
Adultery is always a woman’s fault
Fitoor continued the trend of Mere Paas Tum Ho and Jalan where it is only adultery if a woman does it.
World’s worst proposal
Apart from everything else that was wrong with Ishq Hai, it also romanticised the worst kind of behaviour when it showed the hero, Shahzeb, forcing the heroine to marry him by pointing a gun at his head.
The Bholi-est of them all
The competition is tough this year, but we are going to say this years winners are Nimra of Azmaish, Sara Bhabi of Main Haari Piya and Navera of Mohalat. With all the personality of a piece of wet lettuce, these heroines' biggest superpower is the ability to float in rivers of their own tears.
We need to see more of
Salaar of Rang Mahal
A simple middle-class guy from Karachi who empowers rather than rescues, encourages instead of taking over and stands up for the woman he loves when the supposed hero has spent 20 plus episodes calling her a slut. To top it all, fantastic acting from Asim Mehmood had us asking why he isn’t the hero.
Guru from Parizaad
A fascinating transgender character who, despite their dangerous exterior, turned out to be both wise and kind, breaking the usual effeminate stereotypes we see on our screen.
Duelling grandmothers in Chupke Chupke
The epic battles between Naik Parwar and Naik Bhakht were the stuff of legend this Ramazan and added some great new phrases to the comedic lexicon — Paindoo Pastry and Mere Ko Jeenay Dey Mital.
Aslam and Rakshi say goodbye in Pehli Si Mohabbat
While the rest of the drama may have lost its way in long detours, slow-paced direction and stretching, these two beautifully written characters saying goodbye was unforgettable. The last episode of two people letting go of their painful pasts and moving on struck a rare note of authenticity and maturity instead of a forced happy ending.
Most disappointing drama this year
This was a huge missed opportunity to explore the important issues around #MeToo and sexual assault in the workplace. Instead, it devolved into a series of long confrontations across dinner tables and in living rooms that solved nothing. Desperate to create some kind of climax , the creative team came up with the mind boggling scenario where the hero kidnaps the accuser and threatens her with rape so she will admit she has been lying about her previous allegations of rape.