New Delhi: From women's empowerment, gender ties to social trends, a bouquet of Pakistani TV shows have hit the Indian small screen and are being appreciated by discerning Indian audiences. The progressive plots are not only creative but entertaining while providing a window to the nation's progress and problems even while shattering many myths and misconceptions.
Beamed on Entertainment channel Zindagi-Jodey Dilon Ko, a new offering from Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited (ZEEL), the first of its kind initiative is not only an eye-opener of sorts, but stories from across the border are also sensitising Indian viewers.
"Unfortunately, the international media showcases a very tiny fraction of our society. But it is our shows and films that show what the majority of our society is like," actress-filmmaker Samina Peerzada told IANS over phone from Lahore.
The channel went live June 23 with four shows and one of them is "Zindagi Gulzar Hai".
Based on prolific writer Umera Ahmad's novel of the same name, the romantic drama focuses on women and shows how equality of girl child and the need for women to have a career are important in their society too.
Set in an urbane milieu, "Zindagi Gulzar Hai", one of the most popular shows of Pakistani channel Hum TV, highlights that if women from well-off families have freedom to make choices, the middle-class is not being shackled by conservatism either.
In the show, female protagonist Kashaf Murtaza's mother Rafia, played by Samina, battles all odds to educate her three daughters after being abandoned by her husband for not giving him a son.
One can certainly expect something like this from director Sultana Siddiqui, president of Hum Network Limited. Very few know that she is said to be the first woman in South Asia to own a broadcast network.
The director-producer is not only credited with starting entertainment channels like Hum TV, but also for reviving drama on TV and giving neck-to-neck competition to Indian shows.
Her success story is a proof of women empowerment in the country.
If that is not convincing, a report by British Council's Maryam Rab, presented at Colombo this year, revealed that in 2011, more than 42 percent of Pakistan's 2.6 million high school students were girls.
Data on employment rates also reflect this improvement. For instance, Pakistan's largest lender, Habib Bank, hires 50 percent female MBA graduates, while Engro Chemicals has 100 women in management positions.
Another well-known director Haissam Hussain's "Aunn-Zara", based on Faiza Iftikhar's novel "Hisaar-e-Muhabbat", revolves around a couple - pampered Aunn and headstrong Zara.
The writer has woven cultural roots of rituals and family ties in the narrative, which has several strong female characters, without being regressive.
All this is a revelation for the audience here especially because media mostly brings disturbing news on Taliban and terrorism and incidents like the attack on student Malala Yousafzai.
But Samina says that stereotypes notwithstanding, they are not different from others.
"We have the same reservations as people anywhere in the world, we're as positive, the mothers here are as caring and loving as anywhere else and we live life a normal life," Samina told IANS.
"We have common human beings here...just like India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh or any other part of the world...we have all kinds of people. So I am very proud and feel humbled that people are getting to see a side of Pakistan they have not seen so far," " she added.
If the above two shows are urbane and elite, "Kaash Main Teri Beti Na Hoti" touches upon trials and tribulations of underprivileged class and their struggle for survival.
"Kitni Girahein Baki Hain" is a fascinating and captivating line-up of tele-films focusing on women from various walks of life.
"Pakistani dramas are a reflection of our society and issues that we face in our day-to-day life. There is no over-the-top dramatisation of characters and situations unlike Indian dramas where they exaggerate," an official from Hum TV told IANS.
"In the absence of a strong film industry in Pakistan, we go out and shoot in foreign locations to make the setting look real. Our stories are realistic too," added the official.
Interestingly, the shows are garnering positive response here.
Praising them, National Award winning Bollywood actress Divya Dutta tweeted: ""Loving t serials on zindagi! Refreshing, crisp n tat beautiful Urdu... Nice!""
Another actress Kamya Punjabi is so impressed with the content that she tweeted that ""I so want to go to pak n be a part of their shows! I hope n wish zee zindagi changes the vision of the makers in television here! (sic)"."
As a filmmaker, Kunal Kohli appreciated the technical side of the shows, saying ""must say the quality of shooting & writing of the shows on #Zindagi is v refreshing.""
Shailja Kejriwal, creative head (Special Project), ZEEL, said that the idea was to use a mass media platform for entertainment with a purpose.
"I believe that with this channel we would showcase not only good stories, but also create a better understanding between the two countries," Shailja told IANS.
"I''m hoping that it will grow into creative collaborations between the two nations. Not only have these shows shattered a lot of myths about our neighbouring nation, but it has also generated a feeling of some kind of a bond, that I see growing rapidly. If that happens, that would be the real achievement and something we would all be really proud of."
The channel started with four shows, but the numbers will go up from this week.
Shailja is confident that Zindagi will introduce a whole new talent pool in India, be it in terms of actors, writers, directors, singers, musicians and producers.