Post-innocence period

Published September 11, 2020
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

IT has been only two years. We are still getting to know each other. Hence when sometimes it is not immediately clear what the government means by a certain measure it takes, there’s no reason for anyone on this side to be overly alarmed, so long as we keep in mind that almost all approaches on the land are based on cashing in on the same old conservative sentiment — even approaches that have to do with mediums that we were once told thrived on progressive visions. Mediums such as television.

Earlier, it was thought that this was a strict disciplinarian set-up that brooked no diversion. Like everyone else in the business, it sought to combine all the good qualities gifted by religion, an anti-West ideology and this and that foreign and ultra-patriotism to create a proud prototype for the crores in this country to emulate in letter and spirit. But then, there have been episodes where the supposedly rabid system does give some leeway to first-time offenders. Such bumps will surely be smoothened once we know each other better, this term or a few terms from now.

The vigilant Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority has just delivered on its promise. It has asked television channels to refrain from airing two drama series. Both the plays recently ran to crowded TV rooms apparently.

Now it has been decided that an entertainment committee will be formed to decide what is kosher for television audiences in the country. This means we could be in for some real fun and some more actors in the renaissance-bound Turkey will soon be ordering Pakistan-specific dresses as proof of the purity of their art. What is a bonus is that the designs of the greedy profit-makers looking to make easy money by going for a re-telecast so soon after the original runs will stand defeated.

Pemra itself cannot be faulted for jumping into the pool without first telling everyone to cover up.

A ban was expected at anytime even if the reruns, whatever their commercial merits or demerits, were supposed to be a safer bet than your fresh first-time releases. That impression about getting away with second unrevised editions of the old, however, must have suffered a dent after the Urdu translation of an old book on mangoes didn’t go down too well with certain authorities.

Pemra itself cannot be faulted for jumping into the pool without first telling everyone to cover up. Two years ago, it had warned the television ‘content’ producers to behave or get ready to receive advice on what it deemed fit for Pakistani consumption. And before anyone blames the PTI, which is only into its first run, Pemra in 2018 was only echoing Pemra in 2017 or what the authority had been saying even earlier.

I happened to watch a few instalments of Pyaar kay Sadqay, albeit with the guilt of all those loath to be found in the company of ‘digest’ writers masquerading as playwrights. But to tell you the truth my wayward eye could discover little of the sort that could prevent a repeat of the serial on screens.

The play had its frustrating moments for someone essentially looking for entertainment, an escape from the death, disease and debt piling up all around in the wake of Covid-19. The colours could be too in your face and it is perplexing still what the director wanted to do by foisting his heroine on that machan or the hunter’s ambush post for long periods of time.

To tell you the truth, a certain Umair Rana in the role of an evil stepfather out to steal his stepson’s wife would have been easier to watch if one had been on assignment to write on the play. Thanks to Pemra, the ignominy of having watched a mainstream Pakistani TV drama — quite suggestively often pronounced to rhyme with ‘trauma’ — has been avoided. Pyaar kay Sadqay has eventually proved to be worth writing a few paragraphs on.

The play did leave an impression even if it seemed as if it was rather hastily wrapped up. As a non-progressive, art for art’s sake, non-reviewing viewer allergic to tear-jerkers, I could sometimes barely bring myself to watch Umair Rana’s antics, especially towards the end, when perhaps in an effort to wind up fast, the story turns rather blunt-edged and a bit too filmi. The actor did draw a negative reaction, which is a tribute to his skills. Just like that, Yumna Zaidi in the role of his vulnerable prey rekindlee memories of a whole generation of yore. They must still be making them like this to inspire the writers.

I presume it is the conflict between these two characters that has forced the sensitive souls sitting on the Pemra board to raise objections about a second screening of the series. You may want to call it conflict or relationship or exchange or whatever. The first time can be put down to the innocence of the director and writer who had the raw imagination to paste that truly theatrical beard on Munshi Sahib and who had the vision to cast Atiqa Odho in a role where, among other assigned responsibilities, one of her duties was to look aloof. But the second time, it is a sin.

We are in safe hands. When we learn of such steps by Pemra, and when we read in the newspapers that the Pakistan Telecommmunication Authority has put a ban on certain apps used for dating to curb unwanted trends in society, we know we are safe, as safe as we were, say, back in the 1980s. We are safe from exposure to obscenity and vulgarity, and I don’t know whether you are one of us here, because we don’t know how to beat this system of bans when there is so much for a thinking mind to choose from. Those who know are aware that they can easily frustrate these noble plans to preserve their innocence with a few clicks of their empowering gadgets.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, September 11th, 2020


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