50 delightful years: Thank you PTV

Published November 27, 2014
PTV has historically fought against all kinds of adversities.—Image credite: PTV.com.pk
PTV has historically fought against all kinds of adversities.—Image credite: PTV.com.pk

Pakistan Television completed its 50 years on November 26. This is the time to say thank you to PTV.

PTV began its journey from Lahore in 1964, with a staff of 30 people. It started with black and white transmission in the good old days when having a television at your home was considered a luxury.

In the early days of PTV, most localities would only have that one house with a TV set, with neighbours often thronging to that house to catch the 8pm drama or the 9pm news bulletin.

The craze was at such a high that some families used to make telephone calls to their TV-owning friends and family so they could listen to their favourite drama over telephone.

For the first 30 years or so after its inception, PTV remained an invaluable source of knowledge and entertainment, fading out a bit in the last 20 years. During this period, it faced competition from Indian movies, which started sneaking into Pakistani households through VCRs; also from illegal boosters and antennae installed at rooftops to catch international transmissions illegally.

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Even before all that, PTV faced a strict censor policy from the government. Female actors and anchors were bound to follow strict dress codes promulgated by the Ziaul Haq regime. Some actors from the era report that they had to hold a tissue in their hand when touching someone of the opposite sex onscreen, so that it would not technically constitute 'touching'. A number of artists and shows like 'Baleela' fell at the hands of Zia's censorship.

Still, PTV rode all these hindrances, remained steadfast and has continued to air dramas in prime time that keep people glued to their screens.

The list of memorable PTV programmes is endless. One of the first ones was Khuda Ki Basti, a play which first aired in 1969.

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Actor Zahoor Ahmed played the role of Niaz kabaria (scrap dealer). The character became so famous that people, dismissing Zahoor's real name altogether, started calling him Niaz kabaria.

  Zahoor Ahmed as 'Niaz kabariya' in 'Khuda ki Basti'.
Zahoor Ahmed as 'Niaz kabariya' in 'Khuda ki Basti'.

Today, channels are airing round-the-clock transmissions, but none of these bother about creativity and variety, or even about television transmissions as a venerable public service.

PTV, on the other hand, has seven to eight hours of transmission time each day, but it divides this time so methodically that it has something in it for everyone.

Also read: TV soaps: Is the 'shaadi' plot really that bad?

Entertainment channels these days are obsessed with the family’s internal issues, especially playing up the infamous mother-in-law/daughter-in-law angle. Much of these practices can be attributed to following trends set by Indian dramas, and are bent on dramatising family politics more than anything.

PTV, at least in the good old days, was more focused on airing diversified content (even if it incorporated family drama) to highlight the plight of the masses. Waris, Tanhaiyan, Neelay Hath and Andhera Ujala, are only a few examples of the era's meaningful shows.

And of course, having stalwart scriptwriters like Shaukat Siddiqui, Ashfaq Ahmed, Fatima Suraiya Bajia and Noorul Huda Shah never failed to help.

The most charming thing about those days was the way PTV’s programmes would cause delays in wedding events and parties.

Since telecasts were not repeated, missing an episode meant missing it forever. Consequently, people made a point of leaving their homes only after having seen their favourite show.

Read on: The story behind the loss of PTV's precious archives

My own uncle's wedding was delayed because the day of the event was the same day Tanhiyan's last episode was scheduled for airing.

  Shehnaz Shaikh as 'Zara' in the serial 'Tanhaiyan'.
Shehnaz Shaikh as 'Zara' in the serial 'Tanhaiyan'.

My mother decided against waiting for the episode to finish at our house. So we left early and arrived at our grandmother’s house, with the plan to see off our favourite drama there and then leave for the wedding.

We were on time, too, but a few of the family members began dressing up only after the episode had finished, and so the baraat and the bridegroom did not turn up until much later than the scheduled time.

That is one example of how involved PTV was in our lives, back then.

The comedy shows were quite awesome too. Fifty-50 is one such show that is still living on online video sites. Zeba Shehnaz, one of the actors of the show, said a few days ago that she had performed 108 different characters in Fifty-50.

 Fifty-50's cast with the director Shoaib Mansoor in the centre.
Fifty-50's cast with the director Shoaib Mansoor in the centre.

Excessive government influence, however, is one thing that has always demonised the state channel. There is one particular case of state intervention which should particularly interest the reader of today:

One of PTV's most famous comedy shows, Studio Dhai, was nipped in the bud after just five episodes. And the forces behind the ban were none other than the arch-rivals of today: Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif.

Anwar Maqsood, the writer of the show, revealed the story in an interview:

“Pakistan was playing the Sharjah Cup and Aaqib Javed's hat-trick against India became the subject of some debate. I had put in a line that said, 'This is the first instance of a Pakistani team winning a match and the awaam lifting the Sri Lankan umpires up on their shoulders!'

"Imran Khan apparently complained to Mian sahab about the treatment that the TV guys meted out to them even when they won. Mian sahab had Studio Dhai shut down."

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Incidents like these did not deter PTV, though. All of it just serves to indicate the expansive, overwhelming history which lies behind the state channel. We grew up with PTV. Pakistan grew up with PTV.

Today, national days come and go like they are worth nothing. Neelam Ghar's recent spin-offs may be giving away costlier prizes, but are all too gaudy and pointless in comparison.

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Against all adversity, PTV fought well, but at some point in the middle of all those years, it stopped evolving and couldn't present an alternate to the glitter of Star TV and other such channels.

Come the turn of a new century, an all new generation of private channels dealt its viewership a severe blow — particularly in the urban areas of the country — which the channel is still reeling from.

All said, Pakistan Television and all the memories of this institution are still alive.

I hope some dynamic person can get hold of PTV’s reins and restructure it to revive its lost glory.


Participate in the Herald survey: What is the best drama to have aired on PTV?

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