Pakistani drama has been clamouring to make a comeback. Part of the clamour involves becoming misty-eyed, remembering the ‘golden age’ of TV serials when Haseena Moin’s spirited heroines took on the world back in the 1980s. Streets emptied before the next episode went on air and brides shed a few pre-Rukhsati tears as Sana Murad (in Ankahi) discovered that the boss she was infatuated with was married to a woman who now lay comatose. In those days, brides would only proceed with their new lives after Murad was done sorting hers. We conveniently forget that Moin’s lead girls were often criticised (we are Pakistani after all) by the little media we had then, for their modern sensibility and forward ways. And because everything that goes up must come down, shortly after the ‘golden age’ of Pakistani TV serials the ‘dark ages’ arrived, where it seemed that horde after horde of Pakistani TV viewers were lost to the larger than life technicolour world of Indian soap operas.
Uff, those Indians!
Producers and directors spent considerable time and plenty of money dabbling with different techniques to recapture audiences. Everything from imitating Indian-style soaps to multi-starrers set in lower middle class localities were tried with varied success… until along came Humsafar and Pakistanis saw a glimmer of those simple times again, when streets emptied (well, kind of) and dinner hosts once again waited until everyone was through with the latest episode before pressing the send button on their phones urging you to reach the venue. All for the love of TV’s latest blockbuster serial.
Blockbuster? Yup, we finally have a TV serial that has broken through the clutter. We finally have a TV serial that has a cult following. And we finally have a TV play that even some of those Indians (gasp!) catch on YouTube.
So what’s so special about Humsafar? Well to start with, it sparked off a few witty spoofs. There was even quite a race to get hold of a couple of signed coffee mugs on Hum TV’s morning show. Desi Facebookers are regularly uploading the theme song and using their status to vent about the vamp and swoon every time male lead, Fawad Afzal Khan stares deeply into heroine Mahira Khan’s eyes. Fans are known to cook dinner early to watch episodes hassle free and then cook up hysterical conspiracy theories if the channel shows a repeat instead of the latest episode. They also fall over the cereal boxes when they spot the gorgeous (there’s no other word to describe him!) Fawad at grocery stores. In fact, a fan of Fawad (and Facebook) received 48 comments in 15 minutes after she bumped into him at a convenience store and uploaded the photo to prove it. And no surprises… all those who posted a comment were women. Now, if that doesn’t make Humsafar special, what does?
Which brings us to the factors that make this TV serial stand out, despite the clichéd conflicts (rich versus poor and saas versus bahu) that sit at the heart of the plot. To begin with, every character who matters in the plot conforms to the Pakistani definition of physical beauty. Director Sarmad Khoosat was onto something when he made sure everyone, the heroine, the husband, the vamp, the saas, the child and the khala were fair-skinned, and where possible, endowed with light coloured eyes. Unashamedly beautiful people residing in immodestly beautiful surroundings. The Humsafar house is unlike any home seen in a Pakistani serial before. It is a welcome break from the lower middle class quarters that are often the settings for our TV serials and it is also a break from the golden carved sofas and velvet curtains that directors want us to believe are places where the rich and the classy live. If you watch the average Pakistani serial you will soon realise that most times, producers and directors usually settle for any space they can get their hands on.
But not here, no sirree, Humsafar is a break from the visually hackneyed and the crew probably pulled a few fat strings to get a hold of this dream house, which is minimalistic and tastefully decorated with lots of wood, simple lines and empty spaces. There is also an indoor pool which the characters ignore, as they stand by the poolside thrashing out their differences.
And this is what many of our TV directors seem to miss and what Khoosat has caught onto – at the end of the day TV is a visual medium. And it’s mass, so no art films set in seedy shacks please.
Bottom line? Although actors should be able to act, they should also look good, and more importantly, they should look the part. For nothing is worse than when the foreign-returned daughter of a politician sits in an upscale restaurant, complete with indigo contact lenses, calling a phone, ‘fon’ which she uses to do ‘frandship’ with her ‘boyfrand’. The audience, whatever their background, is now wise enough to see through that.
Shahrezad Samiuddin is a pop culture junkie and an aspiring screenwriter.