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The story behind the loss of PTV's precious archives

August 15, 2014

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Even with a guaranteed audience and no discernible competition our TV programmes used to go the extra mile to ensure value. - File photo
Even with a guaranteed audience and no discernible competition our TV programmes used to go the extra mile to ensure value. - File photo

In my previous blog post, I had talked about how profitability and creativity are becoming mutually exclusive terms on modern TV in Pakistan. Not to say that everything on TV is atrocious, but there is enough under the cons heading to create imbalance.

In this post, I wanted to rewind to the golden age of our TV history — our shows in the '70s; an age where we had shows to binge watch end to end; an age that gave us our legends and set benchmarks for quality entertainment prevalent to this very day.

The era produced content like the international award winning Akkar Bakkar, a show designed to educate children. Roomi by Haseena Moin was a drama which served as an almost academic study on the intricacies of troubled family life, shown through the eyes of young children.

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Our very first sketch comedy shows included Sach Gupp and Taal Matol. We had Khuda Ki Basti, Kahani ki Talaash, Lakhon Mein 3, the iconic Jazeera and Platform were other examples of TV reaching an art form.

We also had game shows like Kasoti and Sheeshay ka Ghar — a quiz show with cash prizes and a pioneer of its age. Illustrious musical education shows like Kaliyon ki Maala, Sung Sung Chalain and, of course, the legendary Zia Mohyeddin Show.

So, why did I just rattle off a list of shows that a vast majority has not even heard of?

Well, because they shaped entire generations and are now lost to us; some in parts, others completely. Khuda ki Basti had to be shot again as it was extremely popular but the original master record was lost; certain parts had to be recast because the actors had moved on. Numerous episodes of the original airing of Zia Mohyeddin show are now only a part of a few faint memories. Even the second airing is not fully available to public.

Everything on TV once used to be worth looking forward to. Even with a guaranteed audience and no discernible competition, they went the extra mile to ensure value. There was a broadcast mandate in effect, which required a new program cycle after every 13 episodes. These were not just shows, they were life experiences.

'Were', being the operative word. This piece of our history was ravaged cruelly by time, without countermeasures duly enacted. We didn’t lose all of it, but enough to leave it incomplete.

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I was itching to find out where this treasure trove of a history went, so I talked to a senior manager at PTV. He took me back to the time PTV was founded, in November of 1964.


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At that time, a few test transmissions were broadcast, but the majority of programming was live. Live programming meant there was no recording equipment at the time. Since PTV — the country’s (then) most technologically advanced company — did not have the tools required to create backups, that content was considered lost as soon as it aired.

Pre-recorded shows started airing circa 71-72, stored mostly using Video Tape Recorders (VTR). Then, in the late '70s, they started using VPRs. Both were stored in spools. Final cuts of aired shows were archived in a near-freezing room, which was the standard storage requirement of these spools.

Around the early '80s, air conditioning for archives was turned down to inadequate levels. Why? That's subject to speculation. Anyway, that caused the spools to succumb to the heat and fuse together, resulting in loss of data. Data that was not backed up anywhere else, nor transferred to the next leading technology.

When they finally realised, around early '90s, that transfer to digital video was imminent, the required equipment to playback the old spools was no longer even serviceable and replacement parts were almost extinct.

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Some people took it upon themselves to amalgamate a working device by harvesting parts from others to repair a recorder at PTV Islamabad. The Frankensteined device was then used to salvage surviving footage.

This salvaged material was stored at the Shalimar recording company. It is how we are able to air chunks of our history for “50 years of PTV celebration”. Imagine how much grander it would have been had we preserved these archives in time.

Some fans made recordings and preserved them all these years; they are the public’s only source of revisiting those shows. Without them, this part of our history would have been lost within a generation.