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Friday, December 21, 2012

Are Turkish soaps really a challenge for Pakistani TV industry?


What started with a bunch of beautiful Turkish people talking in Urdu has apparently turned into the Pakistani drama industry’s great challenge. Many in the industry and certainly viewers have welcomed and fallen in love with these dramas, coming in as they are from a Muslim country like Turkey, which has been an inspiration for the Islamic world.


The United Producers Association (UPA) –the guild that has poised itself as the vanguard of the local drama industry – recently held a press conference drawing attention to issues with the foreign content. Since then, the matter has turned into a hot news issue.
It is without a doubt an achievement on UPA’s part that both the government and the country’s press, which is traditionally obsessed with politics, have turned their attention to a relatively lighter matter. However, the problems they have highlighted are based heavily on assumptions and only partially on logic.
Among the major problems UPA has highlighted is that Pemra censorship laws hold a double-standard for foreign content, which can show things local dramas are prohibited from showing. For instance, some have argued that Pakistani dramas are not allowed to show liquor, while the Turkish drama ‘Ishq-e-Mamnoon’ (IM) showed a women sipping liquor while lying in a bathtub.
This in itself is an inconsequential argument. IM did not gather ratings from a certain scene showing a pretty woman in a bathtub. Rather, it was successful with audiences due to the strength of its content and production value. By holding cheap tricks responsible for the drama’s success, local artists are attempting to sensationalise an otherwise serious issue and hide their own failure to produce better quality content.
Apart from one inconsequential detail, there is nothing that IM showed which local dramas cannot. While ‘Isabel: Meri Akhri Mohabbat’, the Mexican soap which aired alongside IM on UrduOne, did feature wardrobe (low-cut dresses that display ample cleavage) which could be consider objectionable, the channel blurred out any objectionable images present in the soap.
We recognise that the local industry is full of talented and hardworking people who can compete in any environment. At the same time, using cheap ploys like handing on-screen characters liquor or having them don revealing clothing will not cover for weak content.
Many industry professionals have termed the Turkish soaps a cultural invasion or a ‘yalghaar’ as put by the sensational media. However, this is another misplaced concern. Unlike the infamous Star Plus soaps, which were previously dubbed a cultural invasion as well, the Turkish soaps are devoid of any overt cultural references. This is something the audience can answer itself; How many people can accurately describe Turkish culture and history after watching IM?
In comparison, after watching a StarPlus soap, one could actually describe in detail Indian cultural and religious practices. Moreso, that cultural invasion left Pakistani audiences with a more Sanskritised version of their own language.
What IM did depict was a concept previously thought taboo, both in Pakistan and the Arab world. That is among the reasons of its overwhelming success. The drama, for instance, would not have been as successful in the US, where divorce and infidelity are not taboos.
This is where local artists underestimate the audience’s capability to absorb bold and more progressive ideas. There is nothing wrong with the audience or the drama. Something is terribly wrong with local artists’ perception of their audience.  This is something positive for the industry in general because if nothing else a producer will not be as reluctant to take risks from now on and will in turn rely less on research and more fresh ideas for better content.
The last and by far the least debatable argument of the UPA is based purely on economics  and had a lot of actors not stressed on the cultural aspect instead of the economic one then their plea would have been noticed sooner. For the channels the Turkish soap is a cheaper option because it costs them less than 0.2 million per episode  on an average as compared to a Pakistani drama that costs them around 0.6 million per episode at an average.  Turkish soaps give you better ratings in a lesser amount hence all the major channels are slowly switching to foreign content and that too in prime time by replacing local dramas. Which is a major concern for the producers since the livelihood of artists, producers and countless numbers of daily wage technicians is associated with these dramas .The channels are indeed taking away a level playing field from the local producers ignoring the fact that this could might as well be a short lived bubble and the payment of the whole chain of a production is dependent upon the channel airing it and not the producer completing it. As per the industry practice the payment to a producer is made 90 days after that particular episode is aired as a result of which many producers who have completed their projects will not be paid since channels are not willing to air dramas they themselves previously commissioned.
There is no doubt that a major government intervention is required to save the Pakistani drama industry. All stakeholders need to come forth and resolve the economic challenges presented by the foreign content. At the same time Pakistani producers and writers must draw lessons from this crisis in order to strengthen their content. By raising absurd arguments such as a threat to culture, they are doing both themselves and their audiences a disservice. The entertainment industry must concern itself with entertaining its audience. Waning audience interest will always be a failure on their part.

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