How One TV Show from Pakistan Trumps Its Indian Counterparts

Sanam Saeed and Fawad Khan play Kashaf and Zaroon in Zindagi Gulzar Hai

Disclaimers :

1 – This post is not to fan any Indo-Pak rivalry. Our politicians do a fine job at it, so let’s keep that task to them. Also, cricket. (I’m an Indian, by the way)

2 – This post is not to be belittle any art form. It is just my humble opinion on how this TV show from Pakistan is like fresh air amidst the stale offerings on TV

3 – I have watched quite a few TV drama shows, both from the sets of Pakistan and India. I watched Pakistani shows before the one I write about in this post

Zindagi Gulzar Hai is a soap opera from Pakistan. The story, though carries various narratives running simultaneously, revolves around an ambitious girl from the lower-middle class economic strata of Pakistani society – Kashaf Murtaza. Her struggle in a patriarchal society driven by capitalist elites is a recurrent motif of the show.

While the show (the description of which I have withheld to avoid spoilers) could draw similarities to some Indian TV shows, here are some reasons why Zindagi Gulzar Hai trumps all Indian drama shows :

1. Zindagi Gulzar Hai is 26 odd episodes long with each  episode running for a little over 40 minutes each. The reasons for such a short-lived show could be many – budget constraints could be one of them. But this means that the directors and writers have little time to dilly-dally with and have to come up with the best art of story telling within the short span. Indian TV shows have a tendency to stretch for years and in some hazardous cases, generations. This leads to the shows going on tangents that contribute nothing to the soul of the story and frustrate the audience.

2.   It is possible that Pakistan Television industry lacks technology and editing know-how to add visual impact. If that’s the case, there couldn’t be a better blessing in disguise. Zindagi Gulzar Hai is devoid of flashy editing, abnormal use of zoom-in lens and other such production and post-production treatment of scenes that exists in Indian television to give obscure outputs to the viewers (like a word echoing 3 times, a face flashed 4 times or the camera zeroing on an actor from 5  different angles.) This show relies heavily on story, script, dialogues, acting, scene environment, and other tools to communicate effectively with its audience and deliver a compelling story. This is what an average audience look for, and Indian television has rendered them confused at best, and visually impaired at worst.

3. Being a girl in a patriarchal society in this show gives us a more holistic understanding of the challenges. Unlike Indian shows, the perils that come with being a girl child are not reserved to dowry, marriage and some stray incidences of perverts creating mischief in the neighborhood. This show will teach you that it’s also about making the difficult choice of investing limited money in a girl child’s education, the uncertainty of one’s future, the extra-pressure faced without a father’s protection,  and then, of course, the challenges of trusting men after having gone through bad experiences.

4.  Kashaf reminds the Indian audience that falling in love is not a cost-less and a compulsively rosy affair. When you belong to a family struggling to buy ingredients for the next meal, cooking romance is not easy to consider. Indian shows, on the other hand, have a knack for propagating love stories that begin and flourish as easy as spreading a rumour on Whatsapp.

5. Expression of love in Zindagi Gulzar Hai does not involve featuring newly released Bollywood songs in its full length. It looks like demonstration of love in a TV serial in a conservative society like that of Pakistan makes it more exciting and genuine. There is heavy reliance on dialogues that try to poetically communicate  love, and it seems to embrace the characters and audience in a comforting manner and much less a cliche’d one. Expression of love in Indian TV shows these days falls flat due to an identity crisis – it’s not a cartoon show that can be devoid of it, nor is it a feature film that ought to give love & romance prominent screen time. What we get in between is a soup that leaves the taster confused.

6. Expression of poverty and economic struggle in the house of Kashaf Murtaza is not just arranging money to celebrate a festival or for dowry. Getting peeved over electricity bills, increasing prices of vegetables, making the difficult choice of when to prepare non-veg food are things that most middle class citizens of both Pakistan and India can relate to very well. Economically, there’s a lot that bothers a middle-class individual that Indian TV shows have failed to capture. The set up of a chawl with women lined up to collect water in buckets is just one aspect.  

7. Weddings in Indian TV shows go on for weeks as the central theme for all those episodes, much to a viewer’s irritation for utter wastage of time. In a show like Zindagi Gulzar Hai, weddings barely get screen time. This shows that the purpose for ‘weddings’ as a medium for sub-plot and story is not ‘how the wedding is’, rather – “what the weddings MEANS to the plot and characters.” Sometimes it is this crucial difference that helps a viewer continue watching the show or divorce from it.

8. The clash between Kashaf Murtaza and Zaroon Junaid gives a near realistic portrayal of the friction between lower and higher economic classes respectively. Unlike Indian TV shows, it isn’t just about a glittering Mercedes or Ray Ban shades from chor bazaar or the lack of it, it’s about apathetic attitudes towards each other’s socio-economic contexts and the lives that two seemingly different individuals live  – both in their minds and homes. Seldom does Zaroon Junaid’s wealth take the form of excess material display and the audience still manages to receive this comment on Pakistan society.

9. This show does not introduce a plethora of characters and roles, unlike Indian TV shows who have introductions, re-introductions, and re-re-introduction of unnecessary and irrelevant characters. The few characters in Zindagi Gulzar hai all have an important role to play in the wider scheme of the story which results in a capsule of 26 episodes with great acting.

10. It’s rare for the mother of a protagonist to give a performance as compelling as the protagonist, if not more. The mother of Kashaf in Zindagi Gulzar Hai makes the audience cringe when she sighs and laments at the difficulties she goes through in making ends meet. At the same time, like most ‘realistic’ mothers raising children, she tries her best (through acting and dialogues, not editing or background sound) to hide her emotions from their daughters lest she distressed them with her grief.

11. Lastly, since the show ends on a brief yet powerful run, the viewer who started watching the show ends with consuming the message from the programme in its full. Zindagi Gulzar Hai, in particular, is dotted with melancholic narratives of people struggling with money, family, society, and often with their own-selves. It’s conclusion, however, is marked with optimism and replaces the air of uncertainty and doubt that started with the show and followed throughout with that of  positive spirit and content.

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