KARACHI: “Our rating system isn’t transparent, a lot of it is just talk not backed up by evidence. Where exactly are the people’s meters being placed? Are they equally distributed among all tiers of society?” questioned Aamina Sheikh, model and actress.
She raised the question at the session ‘PTV aur Aaj ka Drama’ amid actors and actresses from the drama industry, both experienced and young, and it struck a responsive chord all the participants on the final day of the 6th Karachi Literature Festival on Sunday.
Haseena Moin, well-known playwright, remarked: “Channel owners want to earn money; they don’t care about the content at all and blaming it on the ratings is just an easy excuse for them.”
The panellist questioned the placement of some 40 people’s meters that seemed to decide the content and the investment in the drama serials. “The censor board used to dictate us when there was only PTV and now sponsors do the same. My only concern is that a writer should be given the liberty to write freely and I don’t think that’s happening now,” said Sania Saeed, TV host and actress.
The actors relived PTV’s lost glory and the timeless work produced even with censorship laws. “I used to hate people like Ziaul Haq, it was a draconian system at that time. But even now freedom of expression has not even touched us, can we possibly write anything openly about our leaders?” said Sajid Hassan, an actor known for his role in popular serial Dhoop Kinaray.
While most actors in the panel who had begun their careers from the PTV spoke against the commercialisation of channels and ratings, Samira Fazal who is an author and screenwriter of serials such as Mera Naseeb, felt the audience had changed and thus, the dramas produced were not the same either.
“The production houses do not compel us to change a story. We tried doing Tanhaiyyan part two but it did not work as well as the original series. The audience now wants something else; it’s a simple demand-and-supply rule,” she said.
With the advent of 100-plus channels, the content being aired was also called into question. The experienced actors did not feel it was up to the mark and could no more be watched with family.
They also felt that it was easy for the actors now to make it to the cast because of the rising number of channels. Aamina Sheikh, however, did not agree.
“I didn’t just come and conquer, it was a struggle for me, I got no serials for three years and I only did telefilms,” she said.
“There was strong recall value in the 70s, a simple gesture or a punchline by an actor would be remembered and lead to stardom. For an actor now, it’s really hard to stand out.”
So strong was the concern over ratings that almost every actor expressed it during the discourse.
“Ratings have made everything troublesome. I get reminded by channel owners when a serial’s pace gets slow, even by channels like Hum TV,” said Bushra Ansari at a session, ‘The complete performer’ that was devoted to her.
Bushra acknowledged television as money-making business but also made a point about content production that did not seem to cater to all segments of society and their tastes.
“I no longer find any classical music on TV. There is nothing for people who like listening to this music genre or is any space given to people like Zia Mohyeddin.”
In what seemed like a universally felt sentiment against ratings, some actors condemned it with strong words.
“TRPs have become a foul word. Rating is an unseen, abstract thing that is dictating what acting roles we take up and what the audience is watching,” said actress Hina Khwaja Bayat.
She also pointed out that there were no dramas being made solely for children, a fact unanimously agreed upon by panellists in the session ‘Serial aur Soap: Rung Badaltay Dramay’.
“Writing for children is a specialised field. If we could only designate an hour, we may be able to salvage something for our kids. Everything is not for sale,” said actor Khalid Sami.
Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2015