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February 10, 2019


Boy meets girl, external influences attack, boy and girl get separated, endure heartache to the tune of a maudlin background score and then, finally get reunited — the oldest, most hackneyed story in the world is sometimes the most popular. Well-told love stories have a power of their own. Knitted together in a colourful patchwork of intense moments, music, strong visuals and a sprinkling of light-hearted whimsies, they lure the audience in, sometimes making them completely obsessive about the lead couple.

People may begin naming their newborn children after the lead characters. This happened when the drama Humsafar was making waves back in 2012. Suddenly, a plethora of unknowing children were named Ashar or Khirad, the names of the characters played by Fawad Khan and Mahira Khan, respectively!

Quite often, actors begin to get referred to by the names of their characters. To this day, fans approach Sanam Saeed and call her ‘Kashf’, a character that she played back in 2013, in the drama serial Zindagi Gulzar Hai. Sanam may have proceeded to dabble in other projects and, yet, she is remembered most vividly for the forthright character who enamoured Fawad Khan in the drama. Similarly, a debutante Ahad Raza Mir struck gold in 2017’s Yaqeen Ka Safar. Audiences were so captivated by his pairing with Sajal Aly that he was called Dr Asfandyar for some time following the drama.

Come Valentine’s Day and love is in the air. But have you ever wondered why love sells not only on February 14 but also throughout the year — courtesy fashion and entertainment?

On the flip side, actor Gohar Rasheed remembers how two women came up to him at a mall and started screaming at him, reprimanding him for being a bad person. At the time, he had been playing the villain, hampering the romance between Hamza Ali Abbasi and Maya Ali, in the drama serial Mann Mayal. He had been so believably evil that the incensed women decided to berate him in real life!

Fahad Mustafa and Mawra Hocane in Jawani Phir Nahin Aani 2
Fahad Mustafa and Mawra Hocane in Jawani Phir Nahin Aani 2

Long-time film director Syed Noor, who says that he can never create a movie that doesn’t have a love story to it, observes, “We are a nation ruled by our emotions. We take romance very seriously. A movie without a love angle to it would end up falling into the category of parallel cinema. It couldn’t possibly entice commercial audiences.”

Throughout the annals of entertainment, well-conceived romances have proceeded to acquire cult status, the lead pairs lauded as paradigms of love: Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind (1939), Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday (1953), Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca (1942), Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic (1997) or, right across the border, the Bollywood scripts and music that have banked heavily on the on-screen chemistry between Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha, Nargis and Raj Kapoor or Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol. In Pakistani cinema, Waheed Murad and Zeba’s Armaan back in the ’60s. TV took over as cinema began to slump, and dramas such as Ankahi, Dhoop Kinare and, much later, Humsafar set new benchmarks in romantic storytelling.

We are a nation ruled by our emotions. We take romance very seriously. A movie without a love angle to it would end up falling into the category of parallel cinema. It couldn’t possibly entice commercial audiences.” — Syed Noor

But this penchant for love extends beyond merely television and cinema. Poignant love songs have often become classic hits, from the likes of Elton John, George Michael or, closer to home, Mohammad Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Udit Narayan, Alamgir or Vital Signs, eternally destined to be crooned through rainy afternoons. Well-written romantic fiction figures frequently on best-selling lists. Even fashion shoots, cashing in on the chemistry of a popular real or reel-life couple, tend to attract eyeballs and generate sales.

Mahira Khan, Fawad Khan and Naveen Waqar in Humsafar
Mahira Khan, Fawad Khan and Naveen Waqar in Humsafar

Fashion brand Umsha by Uzma Babar recently cashed in on the popularity of actors Ahad Raza Mir and Sajal Aly by featuring the two together in a shoot that appeared on the cover of a fashion magazine and proceeded to go viral on the internet. “It instantly generated mileage for us and a lot of enquiries came in,” confirmed Uzma Babar, the designer. “That’s the first step towards getting more sales.”

All for love

“When there is romance in a story, it immediately becomes relatable to the audience,” says director Asim Raza. “It actually also becomes more relatable to me because it is something that I personally believe in. Whenever I direct, I make an effort to at least capture a whiff of it in the narrative.” This is quite evident in his movies but does he even do so in the many ad films that he directs? “Yes,” he says. “Sometimes, just a single glance or smile can add romance to the narrative.”

Mehwish Hayat and Fahad Mustafa in Load Wedding
Mehwish Hayat and Fahad Mustafa in Load Wedding

Producer Momina Duraid, architect of TV dramas that run the gamut from romances to genres centered round social issues and patriotism, elaborates, “A good romance generates the kind of fan following that obsesses over the lead pair. A lot of young actors have worked with me towards the beginning of their careers and I have always advised them that they need to make people fall in love with them. Then, they can experiment and try out new roles and their fans will accept them and love them, regardless. And these actors need to aim towards delivering one big romantic hit per year. It is what made the audiences fall in love with them in the first place.”

Romance is the single most important element in a story, giving it life, making it gripping. Narratives without love in them are merely qissay [anecdotes] but I write stories.” — Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar

Writer Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar, with an extensive repertoire of intensely romantic scripts to his credits, is yet another enthusiast. “I wouldn’t be able to write a single scene if it didn’t have romance in it. It is the single most important element in a story, giving it life, making it gripping. Narratives without love in them are merely qissay [anecdotes] but I write stories.”

Sultana Siddiqui, CEO of the Hum Network, adds, “There’s nothing wrong with making people happy. That’s what a well-told romantic story does.”

Urwa Hocane in Punjab Nahin Jaoongi
Urwa Hocane in Punjab Nahin Jaoongi

The convenience of love

Then again, do writers, directors and producers opt for romances because they altruistically want to spread happiness? Or are these inclinations simply because a happy audience generates higher ratings, achieves box office records and gets money rolling into the bank?

“We don’t just opt for love stories because they will do well,” points out actor Fahad Mustafa whose production company Big Bang Entertainment helms a large number of television dramas every year. “A story told well will do well, regardless of whether it is romantic or not. People also really tune into stories that are humorous or centered round social dramas or those that are connected in some way to current affairs. A good drama is actually a mix of all the right ingredients.”

Film director and scriptwriter Nabeel Qureshi of Filmwala Productions agrees. “The story needs to be good. Both parts of Na Maloom Afraad were comic con movies with very little romance and, yet, they were a hit because they were interesting. On the other hand, our most recent movie, Load Wedding, had strong romantic elements. It varies with every movie but, usually, it’s great to have an ensemble cast with both male and female actors. Also, a love story usually allows us to add more songs to the movie!”

“Love stories are actually more technically difficult,” observes Momina Duraid. “There are fewer incidents in the story and more emotions. The story relies on capturing just the right subtleties. It can get quite tricky. Also, sometimes the magic of the lead pair becomes so big that you have to hope that the drama continues to live up to it. During Humsafar, Fawad and Mahira became so popular that I made a deliberate decision to cast them with other co-stars in my next projects. The audience had gotten so attached to their characters in Humsafar that there was a chance that they would be rejected if they were seen together so soon, in new roles.”

Danish Taimoor and Sana Javed in Mehrunnisa V Lub U
Danish Taimoor and Sana Javed in Mehrunnisa V Lub U

Actor and scriptwriter of the record-breaking Jawani Phir Nahin Ani movies, Vasay Chaudhry, explains, “There are different genres that will do well. For instance, I feel that current audiences are particularly receptive towards comedies. People are all subconsciously so drained by their fast-paced lives that stress levels run high, and the constant infiltration of news on TV drains us out. People just want to laugh.

“At the same time, the organic growth of a completely romantic drama such as Humsafar was phenomenal,” he continues. “It didn’t need to be pushed forward by social media advertising or paid reviews, which are unfortunately so frequent these days. It just gathered immense strength all on its own and it transformed Fawad and Mahira into stars. Another romantic drama that was very successful was Pyaray Afzal. It was extremely romantic, poignantly sad and it made Hamza Ali Abbasi a household name. That’s the power of a good story, especially a strongly romantic story that just clicks with the audience.”

Then again, not every romance has a happy ending and similarly, not every love story clicks with audiences. The ones that do, though, become iconic, memorable, classics that are watched over and over again.

Published in Dawn, ICON, February 10th, 2019