Memories hold on – PTV
People used to wait for the clock to strike 8:00 at night. The khabarnama (News Bulletin) at night was a follow-up delight. Men would come from offices and their businesses in time to enjoy the nashriyats (transmissions) of the Pakistan Television. It was not unusual for the neighbours to gather at a house that had the privilege to have a television. Back then it wasn’t taboo to reveal the absence of luxury. Reaching out to others was the usual way of life that did not require any ostentatious display of a pert lifestyle. Back then not many believed in shortcuts. Therefore we had family men around in bulk (something that we lack today). Pakistan Television became an incubator to enrich the talent and prowess of the writers whose work until the dawn of this new technology was limited to a few books or magazines. This new avenue banded the writers into a group of famous thinkers, who then ruled the PTV and the hearts of its viewers for years. Because PTV was struggling and the technology was at its nascent stage, the quality of the programmes depended to a large extent on the content and the directorial techniques.
The irony is that with the technological ascendance, the quality of the content has nosedived, making those good old days of the PTV a leaf from forgotten history. The methodology of the fast-paced era had taken a toll on the richness that marked the slow-paced era of yesteryears when aspirations and commitment spoke louder than the money each episode would bring to the channel on the back of the drama or a music show. It was a whole lot labour in dignity, in love, in devotion.
Shaukat Siddiqui, Ashfaq Ahmed, Fatima Suraiya Bajia, Bano Qudsia, Munno Bhai, A. Hameed, Amjad Islam Amjad, and others of their likes found stories and characters from amongst us. They endeavoured to give them a voice. Khuda ki Basti, one of the famous plays of the PTV, personified the lives of refugees who had migrated to this land of God, Pakistan and were caught in a life marred by exploitation, corruption, crime and intrigues. The plot of the play was so powerful and of such universal appeal that it was introduced on the syllabi of drama academies in Pune, India and around Europe. The play then focused on the issues faced by the masses. It brought out the abnormalities of the people as they live through different stages of life. The play revealed what ailed and what benefited the society.
In Waris, we found how a feudal with the lordship qualities kept his farmers in a miserable condition. It told us who were the people strengthening the hands of the feudal. The play concluded with a message that when you dig a hole for others, the chances are that you might yourself fall into it. There was always a message, a lesson, a moral left with the viewers at the end of every serial. The serials were not baggage of emotional sufferings that one accumulates over the years. They used to put up the collective sins and virtues of the system that affect people at different levels. Sona Chandi, the famous play by Munno Bhai, narrated stories of various families where the couple worked as maids. It brought home the message that we all were on a different journey. That our reactions, associations and growth potentials entirely depends on the background we come from. This awakening opened up the space for tolerance and patience for others. Until of course, we traded quality for quantity and persistence for shortcuts. Television was not mere entertainment or a mindless activity to pass the time. It nurtured minds and left people with something rational to talk about and debate.
The 80’s brought some remarkable plays penned by Fatima Surya Bajia and Haseena Moeen. Both the writers had their fingers on the pulse of the changing trends and attitudes in society. Girls were becoming more independent and were asserting their right to be educated, to make choices and to earn their living. Tanhaiyan, Ankahi, Alpha Bravo Charlie and Dhoop Kenaray were addressed to the youth of the 80s. These serials talked about the requirements, demands, and needs of changing times. Alpha Bravo Charlie was aimed at rising hope among the middle class to join Pakistan army. Tanhayian characterised the power of women who could take the burden of running a family without the shadow of a man behind her. During 80’s women were becoming more liberated and it was in 1986 that we had our first women prime minister in Pakistan. Even the world was in awe at our magnanimity to allow a woman a chance to reach the pinnacle of power.
With the arrival of new channels, as media opened up in Pakistan, the state television adopted a complacent approach and thought it could never lose its target audience—-people had a nostalgic attachment with the PTV and its artists. The fast-paced new TV channels, with round the clock news telecast, and well-kempt new anchors, the expectations of the viewers rocketed to a new high. However, soon the PTV found itself among one of the competing channels and began filling the gaps. In the process, some bad choices, like outsourcing TV dramas, left the channel gasping for more space. This too has been overcome, and one is hopeful that the PTV would bounce back to the quality production that once was its hallmark!