Imagine switching on the idiot box at prime time and not watching a woman dressed in her wedding finery, washing utensils in a kitchen straight out of a home store advert and crying over how her mom-in-law refused to let her have an extra spoon of sugar in her tea? Aren’t we all tired of watching women scheming and plotting against each other in melodramatic kitchen politics beamed into our living rooms day in and day out?
Every time I switch on a Hindi General entertainment channel I shudder at the mediocrity that is on offer. Garish sets, outlandish clothes, over the top acting and perpetually absent story lines- Indian TV is downright boring. Not to forget regressive, reinforcing weird notions of how all that women are capable of is fighting battles in the kitchen.
So when Zindagi TV announced its arrival with the idea of Pakistani shows instead of our regular Ekta Kapoor soaps, people took notice. The new GEC from Zee TV promised a glimpse into the lives of our neighbors, a chance to understand their lives closely and may be bridge the gap between our hearts. While bringing the two peoples together I am not sure of, what the channel has achieved is to break the clutter with a breath of fresh air.
One of the top programming content on the channel has been Zindagi Gulzaar hai, Starring Fawad Khan (soon to be seen opposite Sonam Kapoor in Disney’s Khoobsurat) and Sanam Saeed, this is a story of two individuals from different strata of society who fall in love, marry and then find trouble in their lives.
While the story is not something we haven’t seen before, what sets the serial apart is the fresh treatment it gives to telling the tale of Kashaf, a girl constantly fighting her fate, even when things are going good for her. Instantly, one is reminded of our own serials of yore like Neena Gupta’s Saans and Thoda hai Thode ki Zaroorat Hai, shows that were slice of life, with real people one could relate to.
Zindagi Gulzaar hai also benefits immensely from some stupendous acting. Fawad Khan is a revelation, controlled, charming, restrained and suave as Zaroon, he plays a good rich guy, who begins as an arrogant college kid but morphs into a loving accepting husband eager to understand and accommodate his wife’s anxieties and struggles with her identity.
Model turned actress Sanam Saaed on the other hand gives a brilliant turn as Kashaf, a simpleton who looks at the world with negativity imposed by circumstances. She is at war with herself, struggling with her identity, confident of who she is and what she is capable of, yet unsure of her place in the world at large.
When Kashaf and Zaroon meet, it is a clash of the opposites. Kashaf finds Zaroon undeserving of everything he has, his looks, his popularity, his money. Zaroon is attracted to Kashaf due to her defiance, her strength. Later in the story when they get married, while Zaroon matures as an individual Kashaf is still confused and wary, taking her own time to allow her relationship to blossom.
The best thing about the serial is the fact that it is as close to reality as is possible without alienating the viewers. A middle class family like that of Kashaf is not shown living in a 6 BHK bungalow with designer clothes to sleep in. Neither does the rich Zaroon live in a palace straight out of a KJo film. There is no loud back ground music spoon feeding every twist and turn to the audience, nor are there jerky repetitive camera angles that capture every eye brow raised aka our serials. Captured in soft light, with interesting angles that we only see in off beat films in Hindi, every frame of ZGH draws one in to the lives of Kashaf and Zaroon. What is most amazing however is the fact that the serial ended fast, after it told us the story it wanted to, not unnecessarily stretching into episodes over episodes of reincarnations and time jumps.
Sans melodrama and saas-bahu complications, the serial takes us through modern Pakistani society as well, breaking stereotypes we associate with them. Gun totting bearded men dressed in kurta pyjamas with surma in the eye or burkha clad women who just cook and stay indoors- the common perception of most of the nation is something that the serial shatters. We are introduced to another Pakistan almost, one that is educated, is economically mobile, where women work and study and get out of homes just like ours, where progressive thinking is trying hard to rid people of traditional prejudices. The serial shows us that they are not very different from how we are. And that is perhaps the greatest achievement of the show and the channel together.
Zindagi Gulzar Hai came in like that whiff of a brief spring in the desert that our Idiot box has become. Here is hoping that while Zindagi TV brings us the best of Pakistani content, our own channels wake up and smell the coffee.