Indian platform meets Pakistani content through the app, Zee5. Explosions (of all sorts) were expected.
Zee Entertainment Enterprises is that one entertainment group in India that treats Pakistan as their trusted rebound girlfriend. They’ll make us dream of a happily ever after and then ghost us. Leaving us bereft. Then like a classic Ghoster, they’ll arrive and charm us right back with promise of moolah and mileage.
It was back in 2014 when Zee Zindagi first introduced Asher & Khirad to India. It was a case of love at first scene. Film deals were signed. The likes of Fawad Khan, Mahira Khan, Sajal Ali, and Saba Qamar were flown into Mumbai. And then boom. Like all classic love stories, it all came crashing down; leaving us with a forlorn Fawad Khan who refuses to appear on Pakistani screens.
Imagine the trauma.
The Uri Attacks were termed the reason behind the sudden extermination of all business ties between India and Pakistan. Since then, Indian tomatoes have failed to find a home in Pakistani curries and our artists went from having an audience (maybe even earning) of billions to millions.
Amidst the barter of talent and trauma, an expected phenomenon occurred: A considerable chunk of Indian population fell in love with Pakistan’s storytellers. It is for that very reason, that four years later, we again see an Indian platform, Zee5, use Pakistani shows to lure an audience.
This time they’re playing smart. There is no mention of “sarhad paar” or Pakistan in any of the promos surfacing on social media. This is their way of avoiding the wrath of their jingoistic lot. But surely, they can’t deceive them for long, can they?
What if someone develops a crush on Bilal Abbas Khan and Googles him and voila! Or worse – someone falls for Ahad Raza Mir, Googles him, and finds out he’s both Pakistani AND married!
Zee5 arrival bore a close resemblance to Afridi’s arrival at the crease.
The montage, boasting of old and new Pakistani shows, was released one rainy day by Zee5.
One moment, everyone was euphoric; the promise of brighter future and better content was in the air and the next moment everyone was reminded of Karan Johar’s ‘hostage video’, and spirits plummeted just like Afridi’s shot used to plummet right into the hands of the fielder.
A serious debate arose of whether we should be subscribing to an Indian platform, knowing fully well what the Indian government is doing in Kashmir, and looking at their history of sudden bans on anything to do with Pakistan.
At a time like this when Kashmir needs us the most, should we abandon its people and enjoy greener pastures?
Our morals and pride says a huge no.
But what does our brain say?
In order to fight Kashmir’s case, we need to talk. And right now, the two nations aren’t speaking “with” each other. They’re speaking “at” each other. In fact, India’s not even speaking.
What happens now?
Either we stay like this – resembling a stagnant pond – or back door diplomacy steps in.
In 2010, President Pervez Musharaf, employed it and Aman Ki Aasha became an anthem for peace. A decade later, Motion Content Group and Zee Entertainment Enterprises have collaborated to give us Zee5 Premium – where Pakistani content meets Indian platform – paving way for a healthier relationship between the two nations.
An Indo-Pak Collaboration is bound to be shaky.
I spoke with two big names, Haseeb Hassan and Mehreen Jabbar, behind the two most talked about web series soon to be released on Zee5, Dhoop ki Deewar and Aik Jhooti Love Story respectively, and they agreed that a collaboration of this nature was always going to be challenging.
“I have always maintained that we should keep politics separate from art,” explains Haseeb Hassan. “Having said that, as a director my job is to tell a compelling story and that’s what I’ve done in Dhoop Ki Deewar. It is a beautiful story and I’m glad I got the opportunity to share it with a larger audience.”Haseeb Hassan
Mehreen Jabbar had a similar take when I asked her: Didn’t the question arise how public, on both sides of the border, will react to the collaboration?
“Whenever there is such a collaboration there is always this question,” says Jabbar. “Unfortunately arts and culture are the first things that are held hostage in conflicts between nations whereas those are the exact things that can bridge divides.”Mehreen Jabbar
The decision that a Pakistani viewer now needs to make is whether we wish to bridge the gap or widen it further by behaving exactly like those who scream “Ban Pakistan” in India.
The burning question: What is in it for Pakistan?
“Do you realise the number of job opportunities this collaboration created in Pakistan? Also, do you ask your exporters to stop exporting goods to other countries?” asks Hassan.
If you come to think of it, this entire situation is similar to how your export industry works. You make a product, creating a lot of job opportunities locally, and then you sell it at a profit, bringing more money into the country. That does sound like a win for Pakistan.
Did Pakistan make a cultural compromise?
Yes, you do make compromises on some fronts. One can expect to see a more culturally advanced Pakistan on Zee5’s app, which many conservatives in Pakistan might not agree with. We might not even see them establish that these are Pakistani stories. But let’s wait for the web series to release to form an opinion about the content, and meanwhile, let’s open our minds to realities such as cultural evolution and unconventional stories.
Another huge advantage Pakistan gets with Zee5 is the increased reach of over 190 countries.
“I think Pakistan has so much talent and it’s important that it’s seen beyond our own borders,” says Jabbar.
According to Hassan, “Pakistani content’s audience will increase from millions to billions. This will help us build our portfolio and make our case stronger for international platforms such as Netflix. If your content is good enough, these platforms [Netflix] will come to you. We want our content to speak [and reach larger audience] and this is a vital step in that direction.”
This takes us to the most asked question by our jazbaati awaam: Why didn’t our makers opt for Netflix?
Umm, Netflix is the last step. Your industry currently hasn’t even started climbing the stairs. Imagine having one leg at the bottom of the stairs and one at the top most step. Do you get the picture?
But let’s listen to Jabbar explain it more comprehensively and less vividly.
“Well firstly, apart from Netflix originals that Netlfix finances itself, the material that is already made and sold to Netflix is not guaranteed that it will go at a profitable margin for the producer.”
She then goes on to give us an inkling of a good news, “We definitely need local streaming platforms and I know some are being developed, but currently they are at the early stages and will need some time to be viable.”
Local platforms? Excellent! That’s what we’ve all been waiting for and by the time we launch our own Pakistani version, platforms such as Zee5 will help us polish our skills and gain a larger audience.
Why are we harping on and on about the “larger audience”?
Your entire digital world runs on views. The more the views, the more money you make, the more money you make, the more safe your investment is. So in order for Pakistani content makers to invest in a digital platform, they must be sure that they’ll get their return on investment. And that’s only possible when they’re sure that A LOT of people will be subscribing to their platform.
Speaking of subscription, many of us are not willing to pay to watch content that is originally ours.
Sweetie, technically you should be paying to watch your own content. We pay our cable operators and get access to hundreds of channels. Hence, our channels/production houses have to rely on advertisers to earn back the money they’ve invested in making a show.
So local production houses do what we all dread: They stretch the show to the point that it snaps.
One thing that jumps out from the promo shared by Zee5 is the production quality. Did Zee5 support our makers in that department?
The Motion Content Group refused to answer the question, but we got our answer from Haseeb Hassan.
“Everything that you see on screen is ours. We were given a few requirements that we had to meet but that’s about it. This goes on to show that quality shows can be made in Pakistan with Pakistani talent and technicians.”
If you read between the lines of Jabbar’s answer then you’ll know why our local shows look and feel subpar.
Jabbar, when asked why we can’t make web series like these locally, explains, “The digital platform is now the future. Unfortunately at this stage Pakistan doesn’t have a viable streaming platform and our TV channels are not open to new content or even series that are less than 20 episodes.”
In a country where PTA issues warnings to platforms like Tick Tock and the courts delve on whether they should ban YouTube, you can’t really expect production houses to experiment.
And God forbid anyone dares to experiment (think Sarmad Khoosat) their zindagi is becomes a tamasha.
To end the debate on what Pakistan got from the collaboration, let’s agree that Pakistan played smart. Zee5 paid for the content that Pakistani makers were dying to make.
Zee5 will earn a lot from subscriptions – mostly from India because we’re too small a population to actually benefit India economically – sure, but Pakistan got job opportunities, access to global audience, and an opportunity to polish its skills without the fear of monetary loss.
The threat, that looms now, is what if India pulls the plug, leaving the audience and our artists hanging?
“It is a digital collaboration so that won’t happen,” assures Hassan.
Phew. Good to know. It is yet to be seen how Pakistan’s internet users – a small percentage I might add – will react to the launch of the platform on the 27th of July. But to get a rough idea, I conducted a small research in my home. I asked my sister, “Will you subscribe to Zee5 to watch Pakistani web series?” and she replied with a prompt, “No”, and continued watching Indian Matchmaking on Netflix.