Yes; because, like last year, it wasn’t a struggle to come up with my top five favourite Pakistani dramas for 2021. No; because I will never re-watch my top dramas of 2021. Dil Na Umeed Tou Nahi was too heavy on the heart and so was Dhoop Ki Deewar. Parizaad had a wholesome journey but to embark on that journey one more time won’t be as entertaining. The same goes for Raqeeb Se and Akhir Kab Tak – Sakina and Fajar find peace but can we watch them find peace again and again?
At least I can’t. What is it that makes the shows above different from classics like Tanhaiyyan and Dhoop Kinarey or recent hits like Zindagi Gulzar Hai and Yaqeen Ka Safar? The latter two had timeless romance and our PTV classics have enough comic relief in the shape of Qabacha, Aapa Begum, Fassi and Dr. Irfan that one doesn’t mind watching Zara and Saniya struggle with their parent’s death for the 100th time.
This doesn’t mean that we can’t celebrate all these shows that made 2021 entertaining for the audience. Let’s have a look at why the above-mentioned shows stood out – if not on rating charts then at least in people’s hearts.
Dil Na Umeed Tou Nahi By Kashif Nisar And Amna Mufti Was A Wake-up Call
This could’ve looked like a documentary but it didn’t. And that’s its win. Nisar’s direction and Mufti’s screenplay made sure the audience was engaged. How did Rakhi end up at the brothel? Will Jimmy and Rakhi ever meet? If they do, will they ever be able to heal together? These questions kept us hooked and so did the performances by the stellar cast. And that’s stellar with a capital S.
I saw hints of Mahjabeen when she would cry especially in that scene where Ramsha dies. After that, she nailed it but for me, Rizvi’s character and performance both were just too real. The way she attaches herself to Ikram’s legs to help Sumbul run away or her last night before she escapes were too haunting to be ignored.
Raqeeb Se Proved Simple Stories Can Be Engaging Too
Kashif Nisar went from giving us a slightly convoluted Dil Na Umeed Tou Nahi to a very straightforward Raqeeb Se. This show also proved you can center stories on middle-aged people. People above thirty don’t vanish off the face of the earth. They live. They breathe. They have compelling stories to tell. And if performed nicely, the audience will sit back and appreciate.
From a very old-school relationship of Sakina and Maqsood Sahab to a very modern take on relationships between Insha and Abdul, Raqeeb Se held our hand and made us go full circle. The ending could’ve been more uplifting though.
Her character could’ve easily become boring or badtameez – but it became neither.
Dhoop Ki Deewar Was The Right Show At A Wrong Time
When DKD’s trailer was released, the Palestinian social media movement was at its peak, so people went all “Oh India is just like Israel. They’re both oppressors. How can we hurt our Kashmiri brothers and talk about peace with India?” If we don’t talk about ending war then how do we plan to help Kashmir? By killing more people?
The message of the show was very simple – if we don’t end war, it will end us.
The last scene where Vishal and Junaid come face to face portrayed it beautifully. It isn’t easy to pull a trigger on someone you know – someone with a family. So, what do these two army men from India and Pakistan do? They let go because, “abhi ceasefire hua hai aur ab aur aam logon aur bachon ki laashein uthanaey ki himmat nahi hai”. But then what happens? They both get killed by backup soldiers.
Dhoop Ki Deewar ends on the very same note it began. Two families on either side of the borders wake up to the news of the deaths of their sons. It was a harsh reminder of what’s been happening between India and Pakistan since 1947. At least soldiers signed up for it. People of Kashmir didn’t. When will we think of their right to live a peaceful life?
In DKD, Ahad Raza Mir as Vishal was so real and charming with his selfless love for his family and even Sara, that you smile even when he’s being mildly chichora. His relationship with his mother, daadi, and his two sisters is endearing – he’s visibly uncomfortable by all their overflowing emotions after his father’s death, but he learns to navigate through it all.
And the way he very straightforwardly says to Zoya Nasir’s character, “Agar kabhi shaadi ki bhi tou Sara se karunga”. He knows, even then, that shaadi is not on the cards for him, and yet he continues to love this girl he’s never met. We often complain about Umera Ahmed writing vile men. Well, she’s atoned for all her previous male leads by giving us Vishal and boy did Mir deliver!
Parizaad Came Out Of The Blue And Conquered Even Those Hearts That Had Canceled The Show For Using Black-face
It isn’t wrong on our part to demand the makers to never paint a fair-skinned actor black – even if the actor is amazing. Painting someone black isn’t justifiable. And in Parizaad’s case, it wasn’t even required because the story doesn’t revolve around colorism. It was more about this underconfident boy with no resources to pursue his dreams like poetry and playing the piano.
Parizaad does a barter of sorts with each character as he moves through life. He gives them loyalty, love, and sometimes his poetry and in return, he gains…experiences? Because he certainly doesn’t gain confidence or get rid of his insecurities. The only time we see a change in his demeanor is when he inherits all the black money. So if Hashim Nadeem wanted to leave us with a message that keep moving (I won’t say working hard), and one day you’ll get what your heart desires, then that isn’t the case here.
How many of us have rich, shady, lonely bosses who’ll die and give us all their money?
I may not agree with Parizaad’s journey but it was compelling nonetheless. Ahmed Ali Akbar has always been a great actor. I remember referring to him as the “cool guy” when my sister and I spotted him in Ufone Ads and Karachi Se Lahore. Since then, our household has been complaining, “Yaar ye cool guy ko lead roles kyun nahi detay?”
Ehd-e-Wafa and Laal Kabootar played a major role in bringing him to the forefront and now Akbar is here to stay and rule!
The only complaint I had was that sometimes he would turn into a walking-talking Urdu book and that took away the realism.
Akhir Kab Tak Is A Story We’ve Heard A Hundred Times And Yet This One Made Us Tune In Week After Week
Was it Srha Asghar’s performance as a helpless yet resilient Fajar? Was it the chemistry between Ushna Shah and Adeel Hussain’s characters? Or was it the underlying message that the entire world might side with the harasser but if you have only one person supporting you, you have a chance to overcome the trauma.
I’ll be honest I didn’t follow the drama religiously but I liked the direction it was going in. The storytelling could’ve been more seamless; especially since the last episode seemed like a compilation of little nuggets of wisdom instead of a climax of a drama. Then the side characters sometimes ended up acting a bit too much.
The stand-out performer for me was Srha Asghar! Recently, the audience has stopped liking protagonists who whimper about and do nothing to make their lives better.
Ushna Shah also deserves a special mention for making wise script choices after doing a plethora of scripts like Bashar Momin.
These are the shows that ‘could have been’ the biggest hits of 2021. They had all the ingredients of a masterpiece. Big actors. Big production houses. Big writers. Even a big audience. Commercially, they were a hit, but would we want the makers to make more of Khuda Aur Mohabbat, Dunk, Hum Kahan Kay Sachay Thay, Ishq Jalebi, Chupke Chupke, and Ishq-e-Laa?
No, I’m not interested. And I’ll tell you why.
Ishq Jalebi & Chupke Chupke should not set a trend
I’m sure Ramazan show lovers are twisting around in their sofas and beds right now because how dare I demand to snatch away the little humor that Pakistani television has?
Keep the humour. Get rid of the misogyny.
While Saima Akram Chaudhry gets the humour right, she gets women empowerment extremely wrong.
Bela chooses to stay here. Many girls are forced. So, show me a female lead who chooses to leave her family to grow AND show her in positive light like you showed Bela. People already expect girls to sacrifice their dreams for their families and you just cemented that idea – a ‘good’ girl like Bela will have dreams that comply with her family values and traditions. She’ll have no issues being treated like a doormat by her alpha male cousin Basim because…she loves him. Loving someone doesn’t mean you let them disrespect you.
And that’s one complaint I have from Chaudhry’s scripts. Women are every casually disrespected with dialogues like, “inn bewaqoof aurton ko kuch nahi pata.” Such dialogues came after every five minutes in both Chupke Chupke and Ishq Jalebi. Sajjo was evil because she wanted a life outside of Pakistan. Her husband took zero responsibility and only sat and complained about “chalaak aurat who had ruined his relationship with his father”. Mira Sethi’s character was toxic just because she played a nand aur nand tou evil hoti hai.
Also, I’m sure we can think of more plots other than two tharki boys suddenly getting desperate for their cousins! Looking at you Chupke Chupke. Baraat series was a hit and it revolved around Shaadi. It used Punjabi humour. It had Saima Chaudhry who struggled with English and new trends. We enjoyed it. Now give us something else. We don’t need weddings and Saima Chaudhry 2.0s even if they’re utterly hilarious.
Ishq-e-laa and Hum Kahan Kay Sachay Thay – one has a weak director and the other a weak story
The core message that these two shows are trying to give is commendable. On one hand, we have Shanaya who shows you can create a balance between deen and duniya. She navigates through issues of a modern relationship and is an activist of sorts. She seems to be this perfect person then why aren’t we able to connect with her?
Initially, some people (incuding me) thought Sajal Ali was being “too cute” and OTT, but I feel in order to create a marked difference between Shanaya or Rabia from Sinf-e-Aahan or Sara from Dhoop Ki Deewar – she had to employ mannerism that was unique to Shanaya. She did that and we got used to it and her fancy-not-so-practical hair, but still,
And as far as other characters of the show are concerned, we’ve seen them many times in much compelling settings. If you want to sell ‘kharoos guy-angelic yet strong girl’ romance for the millionth time then at least make it charming. I don’t mind the romance everyone is furrowing their brows upon. I did go “woah” initially but then that’s my reaction whenever I witness public displays of affection. I’ve been conditioned to cringe at people showing love. So, if Ishq-e-Laa’s romance makes you uncomfortable, ask yourself why? They aren’t being explicit then why can’t we stomach such scenes with our families?
Hum Kahan Kay Sachay Thay is the one with the weak story.
How was Mashal’s father kept so alienated?
Anyway, moving to the message – don’t compare your children with other more successful kids around. We need more of such messaging. That’s why we should’ve had more scenes of the younger kids being pitched against one another instead of recycling the same old scenes of Mehreen being beaten and dad dying. Show me the instances that sowed the seed of hatred in both Mashal and Mehreen. Give me enough reasons to make me believe Aswad had no other choice but to believe what Mashal fed him.
If you take Mahira Khan, Kubra Khan, and Usman Mukhtar out of the equation then HKKST wouldn’t have gotten the viewership it received. It was their performances and collective star power that looped people in.
So, What’s In Store For 2022?
I’d like to believe that the dynamics of the Pakistani drama audience are changing. Young women who used to watch dramas with – or because of – their mothers are now questioning scripts that refuse to evolve. The three Pakistani dramas that are being loved these days are – Sinf-e-Aahan, Jo Bichar Gaye, and Dobara!
One has five women fighting for their independence. One is a memoir of Z.I Farrukh – a colonel who served in East Pakistan during the turbulent times before it became Bangladesh. And one is a tale of a middle-aged woman rediscovering her life after her controlling husband dies.
What does this tell you?
You need to stop making excuses for not coming up with untold stories. “Audience reject kardegi” is not a good enough excuse anymore. It’s your job to develop their taste for better content. Look at how Turkish and Korean shows have single-handedly helped boost their tourism and import of products like ramen and chopsticks. Pakistan’s production houses need to start thinking on those lines.