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Baby Baji, Tere Bin or... Kuch Ankahi?

Which drama do you think is the best?
Updated 18 Sep, 2023 12:26pm

The pain of unrequited expectations can be truly devastating. I remember going into Scott Pilgrim vs The World thinking it was the Citizen Kane of the 21st century, but… pfffft. I haven’t recovered since.

Recently, a phenomenon struck our small screen, a drama called Tere Bin, starring Yumna Zaidi and Wahaj Ali. Fifty plus episodes, airing twice or thrice a week, and a cumulative tally of over one billion (yes, billion with a b) views on YouTube. Yours truly, intrigued by the sheer noise on social media and the mindboggling popularity even across the border, started watching it after Episode 18 or so.

As the drama unfolded, or rather, re-folded, crumpled into an unfathomable ball, and then unfolded again and again, I sat astounded. Every episode had endless blank spaces, sweeping drone shots of the protagonists’ castle, painfully slow camera pans, and very basic dialogue. The flashbacks had flashbacks. A 40-minute episode barely had four minutes’ worth of story, and that story had 400 years’ worth of wrongness. Take your pick **spoilers ahead**– a forced marriage, an undercover adoption, a marital rape that wasn’t treated as one, and yet the heroine chose to separate from her husband and run away into the night. She travelled via a bus, trusting her life and honour with the conductor who was also a rickshaw driver somehow, and started a new life as an adopted daughter of an elderly couple.

Yet, I couldn’t stop watching it – it was something akin to the Stockholm Syndrome. Something so bad, so spectacularly wrong, that you couldn’t stop watching it. Although I do admit that the actors’ admittedly brilliant performances were a reason to do so.

And then we had Baby Baji from ARY – a DAILY soap that really provided all-out entertainment for seven days a week for more than two months. The lure of a daily episode, full of family intrigue and an extraordinarily ill-behaved lady at the centre of it all, proved attractive.

Needless to say, I was hooked to this drama too.

It was like comfort food. **spoilers ahead**– four brothers, a set of parents whose deaths would provide the much-needed emotional stakes, a good cast, and earth-shattering levels of non-stop, offensive yapping from the main villain, the eldest bahu Azra of the titular *Baby Baji*. That her spectacular nonsense was met by silence and burying of necks by the entire household only added fuel to the fire.

Tere Bin’s victims were the quality of entertainment and the sanity of its audience. Baby Baji’s victims were originality and dignified performances. But they both had another victim: another serial that was brilliant, understated, meaningful, and even more entertaining, yet got all but drowned out.

I am talking about Kuch Ankahi which aired on ARY Digital*. A tightly knit family story, which showed strong female characters grappling with everyday situations, had, on the surface, all the hallmarks of a conventional Pakistani soap. Frenemies who are secretly in love, a mother whose one purpose in life is to see her daughters married, a traditional daughter sacrificing her happiness in marriage and putting up with an evil mother-in-law and unfaithful husband, an uppity daughter who likes to defy convention, a phuppo who is eyeing her share of the property, a rich and handsome boss who is the third corner of a love triangle….

And yet, Muhammad Ahmad’s refreshing take on these themes, carried through by subtle jokes, spectacular cinematography, simple and heart-touching dialogue, and absolutely fantastic performances by the ensemble cast made it one of the most memorable serials in recent memory.

While its views may have been eclipsed by Tere Bin and Baby Baji, it arguably made far more of an impact. The themes explored everything from psychological abuse by parents and harassment to business dynamics and the stature of a female in our society, not to mention the wisdom that comes from falling for the wrong person and the tensions that arise between parents and their children. Each and every character was fully fleshed out, so much so that you could easily imagine them having a life outside the studio.

As the drama progressed, one could see that hysterics and sensationalism were the farthest thing from the writer’s mind. Instead, he meant to have a meaningful discourse on all these issues, while conforming firmly to our societal norms. Big reveals were made through deceptively simple lines; the humour also added to the story rather than standing out as comic relief.

This serial showed that there is still a substantial market for such quality fare (Raqeeb Se and Dobara come to mind) even if the market is dominated by low-IQ, bombastic fare. Thanks to streaming platforms like YouTube, there is now hope for all kinds of content. Most importantly, there is still hope for quality out there!

Talha bin Hamid is an accountant and observer of pop culture.

An earlier version of this article stated that *Kuch Ankahi was aired on Hum TV and not ARY Digital. The error is regretted.