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Indian TV serials: Best CBM

Beating the ban on Indian channels, Star Plus continues to smuggle its way into homes and hotels in Pakistan, much to the pleasure of the Pakistani couch potatoes.

india Updated: Jan 13, 2004 16:23 IST

Pakistani couch potatoes are unaware that the bahu of Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi has joined A.B. Vajpayee’s saffron Parivar. But they know full well that Tulsi, a.k.a. Smriti Malhotra, is just a click away from their living rooms.

Beating the ban on Indian channels, Star Plus continues to smuggle its way into homes and hotels in Pakistan. In the week coinciding with the Saarc meet, Tulsi was spotted on small screens at Rawalpindi's Pearl Continental, Islamabad's Holiday Inn and at guest houses in Lahore’s posh residential areas.

“Call it pure commerce or cultural diplomacy on the quiet, Star Plus is here for real,” said a PML (Q) MLA. “The people want it and they are having it.” He agreed that the ban on Indian films and channels was seldom observed by cable operators.

Perhaps for this reason, Pakistan expects India to discourage films on the K-theme. “There cannot be a better people-to-people contact than allowing each others’' films, plays and tele-serials,” argued Shakeel Ahmed. “To sustain the process, we must avoid themes that hurt national pride.” In Lahore, his mother had refused to pay when the cablewallah stopped showing Star Plus.

Shakeel is a commoner. But his argument has force.

Before getting down to discussing complex issues, Delhi and Islamabad need to alter old mindsets. Making peace between is mainly about demolishing stereotypes that kept them apart.

If he’s really serious, Pervez Musharraf now has at his disposal private TV channels which, out of market compulsions, have tended to copy Indian channels instead of seeking to compete with them.

The Jung Group-owned GEO, for instance, uplinks its own version of Zee's Aantakshari from the UAE. Titled Gayegi Duniya Geet Mere, the Anu Kapoor show is a mix of Indian and Pakistani songs. This made-in-Dubai CBM is better than any conceived by babus in the two Foreign Offices.

In their search for viewership, private channels have discovered the constituency for peace in Pakistan. The rabidly anti-India order hasn’t vanished. But it cohabits now with a world view that had eluded TV viewers till the Jamali regime let competition replace state monopoly over broadcasting.

If peace with India is, indeed, part of Musharraf's reformed vision, then GEO, Indus and ARY have done wonderfully well by restoring balance to the traditionally one-sided public discourse.

Such is the level of transparency that in a panel discussion on the Saarc meet, an Indian TV anchor had the hardline Jamat-e-Islami's Qazi Hussain Ahmed trembling in rage by calling him the Bal Thackeray of Pakistan.

The winds of change can be felt in the dingy corridors of the PTV headquarters in Islamabad. Recognising the demand for variety in a society fed on official propaganda for years, PTV has permitted a couple of windows on the world beyond it’s decreed to survey.

The irony wasn’t lost on Indian journalists who participated in one such PTV show, called Sach Toh Yeh Hai. In their quest for peace, Vajpayee and Musharraf will have to let truth prevail.

First Published: Jan 13, 2004 02:40 IST