IN THE FIRST EPISODE of Aunn Zara, an egg—lobbed by a mollycoddling aunt in an attempt to ward off the evil eye—lands on Aunn’s head. As the vexed hero of the 2013 Pakistani comic drama squeals his way out of the frame, his mother admonishes the aunt for her superstition: “Ye sarhad paar ke drame mat dekha karo,” she says. “Don’t watch these serials from across the border.”
It’s an offhand comment, yet an appropriate one—not merely because the contemporary Indian soap opera has, at its core, the neat image of a woman taking preventive measures against fate, but also because the makers of Pakistani television serials are aware of their country’s superiority in the genre. This summer, when Zindagi, a new channel from Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited, began broadcasting syndicated shows from across the border, this superiority became apparent to Indian audiences as well—Indian audiences, that is, who did not grow up watching Pakistani teleplays.
In 1989, my uncle and aunt returned to Delhi from a tour of Pakistan bearing dried Kandahari apricots and almonds, “American” synthetic crepe yardage, and grainy VHS tapes of Dhoop Kinare (The Edge of Sunshine, 1987) and Tanhaiyaan (Loneliness, 1985). The owner of our local video store, from whom we routinely rented recordings of slapstick stage plays such as Bakra Qiston Pe (The Goat, in Installments, 1989) and Budhha Ghar Pe Hai (The Old Man is Home, 1989), had alerted them to these teleplays—both scripted by the legendary dramatist Haseena Moin—before their departure.