How to Put on a Good Show

It doesn’t take a lot to make a good TV show. Who am I kidding? It actually takes tonnes of planning, directing, acting and what not. However, switching on the TV these days is anything but uplifting. For one, you get transported back to an endless cycle of birth, shaadis and death, as if you’d have never seen or wanted to see anything else. Is that all we want our TV show seeing audience to know? Are we really that laid-back about the content being aired? Do we really take our masses to be that stupid? The masses are the same people who watched Ankahi and Tanhayian and enabled them to get the critical acclaim they deserved. Why are we then so afraid to experiment in the fear of loosing the support of the people at large?

Times are changing. People are evolving. What was once a fact is now only a distant notion and yet, we sit on our chaarpayis, having huqa, trading our daughters for money and then rushing off to sign off our properties to our sons. No. Our society is better than that but what about our dramas? In order to help them figure this out, here is me
annoyingly listing ten points (no nothing political) that I think every TV show in our country could do well to follow:

1-      The names that get you fame: One of the first things that build interest for a TV show apart from the number of forlorn faces staring back at you from the billboard is its name. The title of the show has to be in line with the narrative, perhaps even be witty but certainly NOT be a sentence. You clearly don’t want to be found saying “Main Abdul Qadir Hoon” and “Meri Zaat Zarra-e-Benishan” when asked about your favourite dramas.

2-      Keep tears in check: As much as our people would like to tackle their problems head on, nobody appreciates wailing mothers and suicidal wives on their TV screens (unless they are really sadistic), more so because the infamous prime time has already reserved for the audience the choicest of distressing visuals, limbs and all. So keep the content in the forefront, the emotions on the side and get the cast of Mujhe Roothnay Ne Dena some tissues.

3-      Show stereotypes the door: Yes, at some point in time you might want to give your villain a stubby nose and characterize him/her just the way you remember your school bully but he/she doesn’t have to be drowning in make-up and jewelry to come across as villainous. After all, the last thing our society needs is a “if you’re well groomed, you’re a villain” message. So repeat this to yourself: I shall leave yoga and other exercises out of my portrayal of the evil character especially if I want to kill her towards the end.

4-      Leave the moral lessons for the storybooks: No, there’s no harm in leaving an underlying message in your work of art. In fact the more “underlying” it is, the better. You don’t have to have a bearded man on a walking stick telling his children to “do good and stay away from evil”. Creating smart situations that reinforce the message instead of spelling it out for the audience actually works like a charm.

5-      Leave the formulas for the pancakes: One of the TV producers I talked to recently spoke about how every story just revolves around five themes as a rule – relationships, character, love, hate and revenge. However, showing hate doesn’t have to revolve around bitchy and elaborate plans on the part of the widowed and “forever alone” characters that have nothing better than to hatch evil designs on somebody’s lamb of a wife. Also, when you’re called Meray Qatil, Meray Dildaar it doesn’t leave a lot to your imagination.

6-      Know your target audience but don’t alienate everyone else: We all know how Pakistani TV shows are all set to target the female audiences by loosely bringing terms like “social issues” and “feminism” to the forefront. But how effective is your process of bringing social change if your content actually alienates half of your population – the men. Do the men really have to be portrayed as either tyrannous cheats (Mera Saeen), rapists or as hen-pecked husbands (Bulbulay) all the time?

7-      Skip the drag: We all know how long concluding messages can now be said in a matter of three alphabets (BRB, if you must know), so there’s no point in using dragging conversations and hour-long sighs in your week long TV shows (commercial breaks, included). At any rate, give as much time to the conclusion as to the premise of a show. Just letting the husband and wife dance in the rain at the end of the show does not constitute a suitable conclusion.

8-      Add more bricks: Everyone is not interested in the mindless glitz and glamour. At the end of the day, most of the people would appreciate a meaningful, yet entertaining experience in the TV shows that they watch. Claiming that the target audience of your TV shows are the “illiterate masses” is not a good enough excuse to add distressing monologues and haunting close ups without offering substance or “food for thought” in the shows. One good idea would be to leave things open to interpretation so that the content becomes more thought provoking than puke inducing.

9-      Do away with the jingle of predictability: Music should be used to accentuate the feel of a show and not to give away the plot. If you use long and orchestral background scores, the audiences will know of the impending death of a character. Build curiosity, don’t kill it. In fact, if you have already surpassed the two hundred episode mark, don’t bother. Chances are the audiences are already sleeping through Yeh Zindagi.

10-    Pay your writers.

Published in The Express Tribune on 5th May 2012.


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