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Spotlight: A lifeline called Zindagi

Updated June 22, 2014


Shailja Kejriwal
Shailja Kejriwal

Finally, there’s some relief for Indian audiences from never-ending soaps — June 23 marks a new beginning in the history of Indian television. Come Monday, Zee Entertainment Enterprise Limited (Zeel) India will launch their newest venture, Zindagi, featuring top-listed Pakistani dramas. Already, Indian metropolises are festooned with hoardings displaying the launch.

The largest television network of India had been meaning to bring about such a revolution in programming for quite some time now, reveals Shailja Kejriwal, the Chief Creative Head of Special Projects at Zeel for Zindagi. While speaking to Images on Sunday on telephone from Mumbai, Shailja seemed quite excited about the success her project has received. “Even the guys at the Zee offices in Mumbai compete over who gets to display their favourite Pakistani stars as desktop wallpapers,” she added.

According to her, Mahira Khan, Fawad Khan, Sanam Saeed, Imran Abbas, Saba Qamar, Hamza Ali Abbassi, Sanam Baloch, etc, are nothing less than heartthrobs for Indian youth.

Shailja Kejriwal’s name is well-recognised in the Indian television industry after being associated with Star India Pvt Ltd (1998-2007) and NDTV Imagine (2008-2010). She has her finger very much on the pulse of Indian audiences.

Imran Abbas at the launch event
Imran Abbas at the launch event

For Kejriwal, content-based entertainment is her prime forte as a broadcaster and she has been interested in Pakistani dramas way back since the ’90s. “I believe media, and especially television could play a huge role in bringing cultures and thus people closer,” she says. “The proof is Bollywood. It has reached the Pakistani audiences for years and a strong link between people on both sides has formed.

A new Indian channel that brings Pakistani prime time shows to Indian audiences could lead to even bigger things ... who knows!

“Both the nations have had enough of living behind the barriers, and desire to go beyond them. Our cultural similarities make it impossible for us to continue living like this. And particularly in today’s age of globalisation, it is impossible to exist like this. Indian audiences have been deprived of any Pakistani content for the past 65 years. All we receive on both sides through the mainstream television is annoying news. It is best to finish the reign of boundaries through art.”

Talking about an attempt she made back in the ’90s, she reminisced that she had contacted Haseena Moin and Marina Khan and had started working on a family drama called Tanhayi. Unfortunately, it fell victim to the political situation. “It takes someone to make the first move and this would not have materialised without the patronage of the MD and CEO of ZEEL, Punit Goenka, who calls the world his family,” she added.

It was during the ’80s, that PTV drama serials such as Tanhayian and Dhoop Kinarey left a deep imprint on drama buffs throughout India. Shailja Kejriwal remembers, “We used to get these dramas on VHS tapes then. But with time, the trend died out. Then I started watching Pakistani dramas on YouTube in early 2000.” Mentioning her personal favourites, she names Umera Ahmed, Haseena Moin, Farhat Ishtiaq,  Faiza Iftikhar and Samina Peerzada among veterans, and Sanam Saeed and Mahira among new talent. “I grew extremely fond of Umera Ahmed’s stories, ultimately coming to the realisation that she would find a radical following among Indian society.”

Zindagi has procured approximately 200 dramas from local Pakistani channels and production houses — an extraordinary amount of airtime. The content was procured after the standard methods of initial research. In sheer contrast, Pakistani media continues to air Turkish and even Spanish content for the last two years.

Even in the political corridors of Pakistan and India, Zindagi has been well-endorsed. On his recent visit to India, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was presented a bouquet by Zeel Chairman Subhash Chandra to mark the launch of Zindagi.

According to Shailja, the dramas that will be aired during the first spell include Zindagi Gulzar Hai, Aun Zara, Maat, Kash Mein Teri Beti Na Hoti, Yeh Shadi Nahin Ho Sakti, Durre Shehwar and Shehr-i-Zaat to name just a few.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 22nd, 2014