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Indian soaps weave their magic in Pak

Indian TV dramas, which have witnessed several bans in Pakistan, are now being beamed again amid soaring popularity.

tv Updated: Sep 17, 2007 16:03 IST

Indian television dramas and stage and music shows, which have witnessed several bans in Pakistan, are now being beamed here again and are becoming quite popular.

The TV channels were allowed to broadcast in March - after President Pervez Musharraf sacked the chief justice - in an apparent attempt to switch people's interest from politics to popular channels from India.

Once privately owned television channels in Pakistan started giving extensive coverage to the chief justice, cable operators were asked to start relaying Indian channels.

In the process, TV dramas like Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Thodi Khushi Thode Gham and Ek Ladki Anjani Si ended up becoming big hits in Pakistan.

Some Pakistani channels objected to the government move, saying it would be a blow to their advertisement revenue. But the government refused to back off, pushing local television channels to bring in Indian stars and characters to their shows.

Salam Namaste is one such programme on AAJ television in which popular Indian film stars and singers are invited. GEO has started a morning with Nadia Khan where Indians are frequently invited to attract audiences in Pakistan.

Likewise, ARY frequently arranges music and stage shows in the United Arab Emirates with Indian music and film stars and these shows are telecast by ARY. All these shows are recording in Dubai, which has become a major media centre.

TV channels in Pakistan have also started programmes similar to Indian Idol.

"We are pushed into such programmes by the government," said the head of the advertisement department of a mainstream channel. Requesting anonymity, he said: "This is our compulsion to air (Indian style) programmes and shows to attract advertisers."

He said his channel alone was losing 30 million rupees monthly since the government allowed free transmission of Indian channels.

"Advertisers prefer to invest the same amount in the Indian channels. On the other hand, satire and comedy programmes have become popular in Pakistan, and almost every show has an Indian character. AAJ television's 4MAN Show had a look alike of Pakistan Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and his Indian counterpart Lalu Prasad."

In one show on GEO television, Ghinwa Bhutto, the widowed daughter-in-law of former Pakistan prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who is of Lebanese origin, was shown asking Congress president Sonia Gandhi for some tips to win popularity -- and majority seats -- in parliament!

Ghinwa Bhutto contested several seats in the 1997 general election but could not win any. In 2002 she was disqualified for being an under-graduate. Now she has done her graduation and would be leading her Pakistan People's Party (PPP)- Shaheed Bhutto group in the coming elections.

"With the country swinging from one crisis to the other, television programmes provide a good break to viewers," said a marketing manager of Dhoom television.

"With Pakistani channels showing live events like the chief justice's rallies, his speeches, the Lal Masjid attack and Nawaz Sharif's return to the country, we need shows to attract the advertisers," said another marketing person.

The military regime allowed private channels in 2001. Now it can neither ban these channels nor does it want to give them the freedom to openly criticise the military regime and President Pervez Musharraf.

To 'contain' them, sometimes cable operators are instructed to not show specific channels. And sometimes the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) issues notices to channels. And at other times the channels get attacked by law enforcement agencies and political groups.