When thinking of Pakistani dramas for teens, there aren’t many that come to mind. Most are the same strange combinations of saas-bahu issues, toxic masculinity, and romances that we fall out of love with by the fifth betrayal. However, in a sea of mediocrity, a few gems always shine. Never for teens, but still. Or at least, not till now.
Being a teen and fitting into the target demographic of a Pakistani show isn’t just a new experience, but an exciting one. Plus, with a show as promising as Green Entertainment’s College Gate, I just had to share my thoughts. After watching just the first episode, it’s clear that the secret to its success thus far has been its charming and unique characters.
Set in a college backdrop, the show follows a group of friends with diverse backgrounds and personalities. It was a promising first episode that established hopeful strengths in the show, but as with light comes dark, all strengths come with weaknesses that I worry may persist. Starting off with the good, let’s discuss the characters first. Each friend possesses distinct traits that represent typical teenage archetypes, so it’s quite an interesting and compelling group.
The cast consists of Hina Chaudhary as hardworking ‘tomboy’ Sam (we’ll delve more into her later on), Khaqan Shahnawaz as ‘desi-rich boy’ Usman Jutt, Mamya Shajaffar as ‘sweet-burger-with-supportive-parents’ Annie, Shuja Asad as ‘rich-rich possible drug addict(?)’ Bilal, Natalia Castillo as ‘rich dumb-blonde’ (but actual brunette) Maria and Zarrar Khan as ‘sweet boy with a love for music and strict parents’ Wahaj Qureshi.
Each of these basic character types were established early on, teasing certain dynamics that kept me wanting to continue. However, while I do think the different dynamics between different friends will be a core element of the story, I’m worried that these first two episodes are the most depth any of them will get. But that’s just a hunch.
Despite the appealing ‘one of a kind’ concept, the execution was lacking as all the information about the characters is told to the audience instead of shown and we’re expected to just follow along with it with no reason, dialogue, or characterisation to support those character archetypes.
The college setting offers a glimpse into the students’ lives and, surprisingly, touches upon relevant teenage issues, such as academic pressure, familial expectations, and cultural diversity, which I think are the most important topics affecting my generation that need to be addressed. It’s sadly quite rare to see any of these topics touched in Pakistani dramas, so it’s quite commendable that they’re bringing these issues to light.
The academic pressure and struggles were handled particularly well, with the writing standing out and going into the depths of the matter. The show discusses more engaging, less conventional and student friendly methods. The theme seems to be in the midst of being properly fleshed out, being something I could actually relate to and is actually presented with a layer of depth thus far. Whether showing different teaching styles (and teachers) starting to butt heads and discussing the actual benefits of interactive, encouraging and less domineering teaching methods which make students actually want to learn, it was all handled quite well.
I look forward to seeing the concept developed further in later episodes. The theme was also complemented by the stellar and subtle performance of Mashal Khan as literature teacher Zara. Honestly, I think this look into the schooling system alone is enough for you to give the show a try.
If that won’t convince you, however, then the humour certainly will. The comedy aspect of the show shines brightest with Usman, and especially so when his family is involved. Their dynamic is just genuinely hilarious, and Khaqan Shahnawaz’s performance certainly enhances that. Just the dynamic of a very rich, very desi family whose son is attending a prestigious college is enough to fuel a ridiculous amount of plot lines alone, but when you add everything else to the mix, it’s a riot.
I was surprised to find myself genuinely liking and laughing at some of the jokes and plot lines being played out, such as when Usaman’s parents are called to school and in his panic that they’ll marry him off young as punishment, he hires actors to come instead. What ensues are honestly some of the funniest scenes I’ve seen in a long time. Even when the family is simply gathered together and having a discussion, there is such a range of personalities and opinions that make it such a joy to watch. My favourite so far has got to be this newest plot line, which I predict will become somewhat of a halal ‘fake dating’ plot, but that’s all I’ll say because it’s so, so funny and oh so cute! If you prioritise comedy, I would say Usman carries that aspect of the show and makes the show worth a watch.
However, once again, some of the other themes are explored superficially, leaving a desire for more in-depth exploration and meaning. When portraying the different kinds of parenting, what exactly are the side effects, positive or negative? How exactly does it affect the children? The effects of good parenting are developed with both Annie and Ayesha’s (played by Washma Fatima) parents by showing support, understanding and communication, but what about the rest? Moreover, in a group with such diverse backgrounds, why is the issue of class never mentioned? None of these questions are explored, nor is it hinted that will ever be explored later on. Perhaps the most jarring area of potential yet to be explored is the character of Sam. She is so underused and misused at the same time that it’s actually quite heartbreaking.
She, apart from maybe Wahaj, appears to be the most hardworking and commendable of the group, helping her softhearted father out with their struggling restaurant as much as she can and being his firm spirited counterpart. She appears to be the least wealthy of the group and spends most of her time outside of college helping at the restaurant. But all everyone talks about is how she’s like a ‘boy’ and doesn’t do ‘girly’ things. She herself insists that she’s ‘not like other girls,’ telling her father — supposedly multiple times — that she isn’t his beti but beta.
Now the question is why? When a female character — the only one in the main six with an actual background so far — has an actual personality, commendable qualities and struggles, why is she rebranded as ‘not a typical girl?’ A typical girl can’t be hardworking or commendable or strong-headed? Is that what the show is trying to say?
Despite its flaws, College Gate does seem to be brimming with potential. If the show can refine its storytelling and character arcs in the upcoming episodes, it might find its footing and improve over time. It’s a good show with room for growth. While it does have its share of flaws, it manages to keep viewers engaged with its interesting, albeit stereotypical, characters and relatable themes. It remains to be seen how the show will evolve and whether it can deliver on its initial promise in the episodes to come, but quite frankly, seeing how the wonderful, strong, lovely, well-written, definitely-not-my-favourite-character Ayesha is developing, I have high hopes!