Some of those who captivated audiences for long include (clockwise) Roohi Bano, Shakeel, Talat Hussain, Abid Ali and Uzma Gilani. - Photos: Dawn Archives
Some of those who captivated audiences for long include (clockwise) Roohi Bano, Shakeel, Talat Hussain, Abid Ali and Uzma Gilani. - Photos: Dawn Archives

NOVEMBER 26, 1964, is a memorable day in the history of broadcasting in Pakistan. It is the day when the first television transmission was aired in the country. Aslam Azhar was the first managing director of Pakistab Television (PTV), and the first station was set up at Lahore, which was followed by one in Dhaka a month later, in Rawalpindi and Islamabad in 1965, and Karachi in 1966. Peshawar and Quetta centres were added in the mid-1970s.

Growing up in the 1970s and the 1980s, PTV was the main source of entertainment for almost the emtire nation. The transmission would start at a fixed time in the evening and would come to a close around midnight. During that limited time, everybody would find something or the other; even children would schedule their studies in a way so they could watch cartoons or any other interesting programme aired for them.

We are now able to watch dramas 24/7 but during the early days only one drama was telecast each day, between 8pm and 9pm, usually of 50-minute duration with fixed two short breaks — no repeat telecast. So if someone missed an episode, one would have to ask others what happened or wait for a whole week for the next episode and try to make sense from the two-minute recap at the beginning. The dramas would usually be of 13 episodes, or at the most 26. The broadcasting stations took turns; on one day, a production by Lahore would go on air and the next it would be Karachi’s turn and so on.

The characters and drama serials broadcast on PTV are now part of our national lore.

Memorable productions

Nobody can forget plays like Khuda ki Basti, Shehzori, Uncle Urfi, Waris, Kiran Kahani, Dhoop Kinaray, Tanhaiyan, and Angan Terha, to name just a few, that were penned by writers like Haseena Moin, Anwar Maqsood, Noorul Huda Shah, Ishtiaq Ahmed, Bano Qudsia and Kamal Ahmed Rizvi, to name just a few The mere mention of these plays brings to our minds actors like Nilofer Abbasi, Shakeel, Roohi Bano, Talat Hussain, Begum Khursheed Mirza, Arshe Munir, Jamshed Ansari, Irfan Khoosat and Uzma Gillani, to name just a few!

What made these plays memorable was their overall production, their theme and treatment of various subjects. They not only gave good entertainment, as well as value for time, but also gave a glimpse of society at large. We saw glimpses of family life, mannerisms and etiquettes.

On the one hand, we saw the struggle of feudal families to maintain their lands and the inter-family tussles, as in Waris, while on the other, we met ambitious Zara of Tanhaiyan trying to get back her father’s house through sheer hard work, and Dr Zoya of Dhoop Kinary the soft, kind doctor who loved children. Some of the plays were so interesting that roads would be deserted at the time they were aired as people would stay home to watch them.

Dramas, however, were not the only main attraction. Many quiz shows have been aired but none matches the calibre of Kasauti with Quraish Pur as the host and Iftikhar Arif and Obaidullah Baig as experts. Comedy shows, such as Fifty-Fifty, Such Gup, Studio Dhai, Uncle Sargam, Alif Noon, etc. provided entertainment to the whole family with a pinch of salt. Ainak Wala Jin, though meant for children, was watched by one and all as it combined reality with science fiction and magic, and had some sort of moral lesson for children about what is right and what is wrong.

Tariq Aziz’s opening greeting Dekhti ankhoon aur suntay kanon ko Tariq Aziz ka Salam still rings in the ears whenever his name or that of his show, Neelam Ghar, is mentioned. It was probably the longest-running stage show of its kind and the precursor of present-day stage shows that run on many channels.

Window to the world

In the absence of YouTube, Netflix, etc, television was the best source of English movies, especially for those who did not own a VCR or preferred not to go to the cinema. Besides movies, we regularly watched series, such as Six Million Dollar Man, Bionic Woman, CHiPs, Little House on the Prairie, Full House, etc. One programme that I never wanted to miss was the ever-popular Mind Your Language — a perfect antidote for the gloomy mind even today. If one is feeling low for some reason, just go on YouTube and watch a few episodes and refresh your mind.

Though comparison is not intended here, the soft, sobre and subtle style of newscasters, such as Mahpara Safdar, Zubair Ahmed, Shaista Zaid and others of the days of yore is so much in contrast with the present-day style of delivering news that one cannot help but mention it.

With time, changes in policies regarding broadcast and content were noticeable, especially after nationalisation. Though usually subtle, one that raised voices was the move to make all female anchors and newscasters cover their heads during the Ziaul Haq era. Those who didn’t agree found themselves in a situation that they thought it better to leave; a prominent example is that of Mehtab Akbar Rashdi.

Switch to colour

Along with entertaining and informing its viewers, PTV continued to grow over the years. The transmission switched over from its original black-and-white to colour in 1976. In the late 1980s, PTV’s morning transmission was started; initially, it was for a few hours each day, but soon became a 24-hour transmission.

In 1990, the first semi-government TV network in the country, People’s Television Network (PTN), was launched, which was renamed Shalimar Television Network (STN) in 1991. It started from Islamabad, followed by Karachi and Lahore. By the mid-1990s, however, the network had spread to the whole country. Network Television Marketing (NTM) came as a breath of fresh air to Pakistani viewers due to its innovative programming, but went off air in 1999 due to financial losses.

A second channel, PTV-2, was started in 1992 and was renamed PTV World in 1998. It was also the first-ever satellite channel of Pakistan. PTV Network launched a full-scale satellite broadcasting service in 1991-92.

In 2000, private TV channels were allowed to operate and even telecast their news and current affairs content. Today, a plethora of channels, including some in regional languages, are available. It is altogether different world. We ave surely come a long way!

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Twitter: @naqviriz

Opinion

Editorial

KP’s ‘power struggle’
Updated 21 Jun, 2024

KP’s ‘power struggle’

Instead of emboldening protesters, CM Gandapur should encourage his provincial subjects to clear their due bills and ensure theft is minimised.
Journalist’s murder
21 Jun, 2024

Journalist’s murder

ANOTHER name has been added to the list of journalists murdered in Pakistan. On Tuesday, Khalil Jibran’s vehicle...
A leaner government?
21 Jun, 2024

A leaner government?

FINANCE Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb has reiterated his government’s ‘commitment’ to shutting down ministries...
Kindness needed
Updated 20 Jun, 2024

Kindness needed

This year’s World Refugee Day theme — solidarity with refugees — includes keeping our borders accessible and addressing the hurdles they face.
Fitch’s budget note
20 Jun, 2024

Fitch’s budget note

PAKISTAN’S ongoing economic crisis is multifaceted. At one end, the government must pursue stabilisation policies...
Cruelty to animals
20 Jun, 2024

Cruelty to animals

TWO recent incidents illustrate the immense cruelty many in this country subject voiceless animals to. In the first...