There was a time, back in the glory days of PTV, when streets would wear a deserted look during the broadcast of a popular drama serial. People would even schedule wedding functions around them and entire families got together to watch their favourite characters play out their lives on the small screen.
More than a decade later, a Turkish drama dubbed in Urdu came uncomfortably close to recapturing the lost glory. The characters of Ishq-e-Memnu have became household names overnight, their celluloid lives closely followed by not only women, but also the men. Ishq-e-Memnu was aired on the relatively new channel in Pakistan, Urdu1, and other channels have now begun to follow suit.
Members of the local television industry (producers, directors, actors, etc) recently spoke out against the ‘evil’ of foreign, dubbed content on various talk shows and staged a protest outside the Press Club in Karachi. Here, the harbinger of this phenomenon, Faraz Ansari, speaks about his plans of taking Pakistani programmes to an international audience.
Foreign content on a foreign channel vs. foreign content on a local channel “I don’t think people understand what Urdu1 is,” he said while discussing the protests. It is a foreign channel and according to rules and regulations set down by Pemra, 90 per cent of its programming has to have foreign content and only 10pc can be local. “We make sure that the 10pc that we do air, we do so in our prime time so it gets the projection that it deserves,” he added. “We entered the market on favourable payment terms. We paid advances and we even made the local producers’ association as the arbitrators in our agreements. And we made sure that in every possible way that we are a positive change in the local drama and production industry.
“Local channels that are now airing dubbed content have certain other regulations that apply to them — they can’t air more than 10pc of overall foreign content otherwise they are in clear violation of their agreement. They are Pakistani channels and they’ve gotten their licenses based on promoting local content.
“Also, I think what has happened is that some channels have cancelled existing deals with these local producers in favour of these dubbed programmes and that’s what’s hurting them (the protesting members of the television fraternity). But the right way to protest for them would’ve been to go against that channel and voice their concern, rather than going against putting up foreign content,” he added.
On brining radio artists back from oblivion Dubbed content requires a whole new kind of artist: the voice actor. “Directly or indirectly, there are over 200 people employed with us,” said Faraz Ansari. “A lot of these are artists used to do dramas on radio, but had all but disappeared and were having a very difficult time making a living. We’ve given such people a platform to come on board and work with us — along with others that have joined them.”
But before a foreign programme can be dubbed, it needs to be translated into the local language. “These translators work 12-hour cycles, five or six days a week. Previously they would get a job only once or twice every couple of months. Now they have a steady income. This is just another industry that is developing in Pakistan and is contributes a lot towards generating employment.”
Are Turkish programmes aired in Pakistan vulgar? One claim against the popularity of these Turkish dramas was based on the accusation that the characters displayed a lot of skin and the programme promoted cheap vulgarity. “There is nothing vulgar in the version you see on TV. We’ve edited it according to the policies of the Pakistani censor board. Excess skin that is shown is blurred as well,” said Faraz Ansari.
“Turkey is a Muslim country,” he added. “Families have seen it over there as well as in the Middle East. In fact, it was the most-watched show in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — the last episode of Ishq-e-Memnu got 85 million viewers across the Middle East.”
Faraz Ansari is of the opinion that a lot of content in Pakistani dramas is objectionable — from the dialogues to the scenes and storylines. “If you browse through Pemra’s website, you will see a certain number of complaints lodged against each channel, primarily on Pakistani content. By and large, most of the channels that are making claims about obscene content are heavily involved in local content on a similar pattern.
“They are also heavily promoting Indian content where there is a lot of exposure of skin, provocative dance moves, abusive language and violence. But people tend to forget that,” he added.
Pakistani programmes for a foreign audience If Turkish programmes can be customised for a Pakistani audience after getting them dubbed in Urdu, why can’t Pakistani programmes be dubbed in a foreign language for foreign audiences? That is one of the designs Faraz Ansari has for the local drama industry. “We’re doing it at the moment. They have a market restricted to Pakistan which can only make them an X amount of money. If they develop a market of the same size outside Pakistan, they can multiply their viewership and in turn, their earnings.