Welcome to Pakistan, where growing up isn’t always easy and the local media does nothing about it.
- "Almost the entire spectrum of TV serials revolves around relationships of older couples, marriage and the seemingly inevitable chaos that ensues, which ultimately leads to the question: in a country so deeply plagued with social injustice, unfair standards of beauty and acts of terrorism, is that really the only plot line you can come up with?"
- Youth-based content can be immensely helpful in education as well. Using it to touch on topics such as sexual abuse, literacy, protection of minorities and child marriage can be incredibly effective.
When I set myself on a quest for quality young-adult content on Pakistani TV, I did not fully realise the disillusionment I was signing myself up for. After eight hours glued to the TV set (except for the brief moments I closed my eyes while blinking away tears of frustration), it is safe to say that Pakistani TV has nothing to offer the average Pakistani teen (not even a grain of mercy when it comes to those ulcer-inducing fairness cream commercials that make you want to stab yourself in the chest.. repeatedly).
Here is a glimpse of the TV content I stumbled upon, in all its teen-repelling glory: — A typical Pakistani drama with the husband kicking the wife out of the house after accusing her of cheating while the ‘evil phuppi’ looks on (maybe it was the ‘evil saas’. I’m not sure; I can no longer tell them apart).
— A game show with the host hurling prizes at the audience like candy, and the audience reacting like five year-olds on a sugar rush; which admittedly had me clapping like a mentally-challenged seal towards the end, which is when I knew my slow descent into madness had begun.
— And the final push, a one minute and 30 seconds of ‘Fair and Lovely ka Jalwa’. One minute and 30 seconds was all it took to make me curl into a foetal position and lie in a pool tears. Is it a music video? Is it a commercial? Is it a sign of the beginning of the end of the world?! We will never know.
So, welcome to Pakistan, where growing up is not always easy, and the local media does virtually nothing about it.
On my torturous journey through the bizarre world of Pakistani TV, I couldn’t help but ask myself why most of the content was geared towards older, married women with an interest in topics such as marriage, divorce and polygamy. Almost the entire spectrum of TV serials revolves around relationships of older couples, marriage and the seemingly inevitable chaos that ensues, which ultimately led me to ask the question: in a country so deeply plagued with social injustice, unfair standards of beauty and acts of terrorism, is that really the only plot line you can come up with? If it is, step outside and take a look around. If you still believe that the only thing Pakistani young people need to understand is how to deal with overbearing in-laws who like to breathe down your neck till you’re reduced to nothing but a twitching eye, then you, my friend, have a problem.
"Almost the entire spectrum of TV serials revolves around relationships of older couples, marriage and the seemingly inevitable chaos that ensues, which ultimately leads to the question: in a country so deeply plagued with social injustice, unfair standards of beauty and acts of terrorism, is that really the only plot line you can come up with?"
However, there is a reason why I did not hurl at my TV set with a pickaxe, and that reason is because I do not own one and the only thing that stopped me from going out and getting one was that once, long long ago, in a time when Qandeel Baloch did not pollute my morning News Feed (2014. I’m talking about 2014.), Pakistanis were blessed with a glimmer of hope before being plunged into darkness yet again. This glimmer came in the form of Always – Karo Yaqeen. Despite the fact that it was really just an ad stretched over six two minute episodes, it showed me that the media does acknowledge our existence, and doesn’t believe that Pakistan is a country populated solely by women over 30 – or who don’t think beyond marriage, kids and in-laws.
Instead, the production houses made the monumentally idiotic decision to thrust clichéd Bollywood/Hollywood rip-offs in our faces, using scantily-clad women dancing like monkeys as their only means of advertising because hey, why take one step forward when you can take two back! Haven’t you heard? Objectifying women is the new cool. And ingraining a love of patriarchy in the minds of young men is the absolute coolest. So go ahead, sing Tutti Fruitti in front of me one more time. I dare you. Movies seem to have more diversity than TV content, although this diversity is still not enough. Pakistani filmmakers made a few great films this year, yet the young-adult genre remains untouched.
So what do you get when the youth has easy access to western young adult content?
An identity crisis.
The urbanised young struggled to find middle ground, and at some point, fell through the crevices and landed in unclaimed territory. The difference in lifestyle has left the urban young adult population in a ‘cultural limbo’, where they don’t fit into western society, and are shunned by the older population for not being ‘cultured’ enough, being way too anglicised, and moving away from the values Pakistani society is built upon. To sum up: Too angraiz to be desi; too desi to be angraiz.
However, over 60% of the population of Pakistan lives in rural areas, where young people do not have access to the luxury of an alternative and therefore have no option but to accept what the local media sends their way. For them, there is no gap between being a child and an adult. As soon as they become aware of their surroundings they are catapulted into the category of ‘adults’. The intermediate stage between childhood and adulthood is a necessary one and the less-privileged are robbed of the experience.
Youth-based content can be immensely helpful in education as well. Using it to touch on topics such as sexual abuse, literacy, protection of minorities and child marriage can be incredibly effective.
When young people understand these serious predicaments faced by the country, they will not fall prey to them and in turn, will not let their children fall prey to them, and thus, a chain reaction will be propagated where the lives of entire generations are transformed. In films, such topics can be dealt with in a way whereby the storyline revolves around younger people and things are told from their point of view. This would resonate with younger audiences in a much more personal way and have greater impact.
So after eight hours of the slow poison that is Pakistani TV, I salvaged whatever youthfulness had not been sucked out of me and wrote this article.
Here is what we want: — Give us a movie about that one rishtay ki khala who holds a Masters Degree in the art of sticking her nose in other people’s business and a PhD in ruining lives;
— Give us a book that captures how we feel when terrorists run rampant and the sun shines a little less brightly in the skies of our beautiful cities, and how we find the resilience and strength to get through it;
— Give us a TV show about the desi ‘Pakistani experience’ of growing up, and how we love every single bit of it.
Rajaa Moini is a student, freelance graphic designer and an aspiring journalist.