Pakistan’s Drama Industry

Drama is a form of performing arts. Its history dates back to almost 5th Century B.C from Greece. The present day form of drama is derived through the roots of theater, where dramas were initially started. With time, their mode changed and from stage it was brought on to TV screens.

Pakistan has a very rich history of drama industry. Pakistan had world renowned drama writers who wrote masterpieces that are still remembered and cherished by all. ‘’Khuda ki basti’’ on aired in 1969, was one of the pioneer dramas that depicted the strength of our drama industry. People used to wait for the drama to be aired so that they can watch those dramas and streets used to show deserted looks when these dramas were aired.

Time changed, techniques changed and with that the Pakistan’s drama was also changed. With the introduction of digitization, Pakistan now has a lot of TV channels showing dramas 24/7. And though it has revolutionized the industry and profits are huge, there are also some serious implications as well. And there are also challenges and competitions which are faced by our present drama industry.

Drama is watched all over the world. And is mostly watched by the general masses due to its high reach and closeness with them. The scope of drama basically revolves around its core elements of story, characters, plot, music and dialogues. What makes drama so close to general masses is the connection with stories of these dramas and the characters involved. People tend to get attached by either the stories or the characters or music-original sound tracks (ost) – of these dramas.

Dramas presents the stories in a continuous and regular fashion based on episodes, so people tend to get more excited and curious to know about what will happen next. The modern world drama is immensely focused on either the contemporary topics like the issues of the society, relations, families, economy, politics, society or history.

Stories are created on historic topics and national heroes by the countries having rich and solid history. At one hand, the rich and heavily crafted culture of their societies is depicted along with glorification of their past. Similarly the stories of their legends are told by these dramas in an effective way which the world wouldn’t have come to known otherwise.

Dramas have the highest reach among public and are the most watched genre on TV, they can be effectively used a s a soft power by countries to portray their culture and values in front of the world and gain economic, social and political benefits.

Turkish Drama Industry

Turkey is an excellent example which is using this soft power to build an impressive image the world over. With the rise of its drama industry, Turkey has not only managed to gather viewership of around 500 M people but was also worth $ 250 M till 2015. Turkey is the second largest exporter of its content after US with having viewership in more than 100 countries mainly in Latin America, North Africa, Middle East, Central and South Asia, Europe (Spain, Russia, and Chile, where Chile is the largest consumer of Turkey’s content).

In 1990s, private channels were legalized in Turkey. This was the time when Turkey’s drama industry started flourishing and from that there was no stop. The industry was worth $ 10,000 till 2004, and till 2015 it was $ 250M. The culture ministry of Turkey pledges to support this industry and had contributed $40M in 2017. The president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is of the view that soft power can be effectively used to publish a better image worldwide and invite investments in the country.

The reasons behind this success of Turkish drama industry lies at the fact that the fraternity is very much professional and loyal to it and works hard to bring valuable projects for the viewers. They say that they don’t import anything and everything is being made by themselves. Dr. Arzu Orsturkman, is a senior oral history professor at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul he says that the content produced by turkey is not something ordinary, in fact it’s a genre in the making which they call Dizi.

These Dizis are gaining popularity because of their strong narratives, original locations, strong characterizations and indulging musical scores. One important aspect of the production techniques is the use of real locations most of times and hardly relying on set locations to portray the real beauty of Turkey. With this, Turkey has managed to invite hundreds of visitors who want to experience the beauty in reality which they see in these dramas. This has boosted Turkey’s tourism industry as well.

The family culture, their values and relationships between men and women are the core contents of these productions. The contemporary drama form depicts that how these relations go about in today’s society. Turkish dramas mostly portray strong family bonds and their rich culture which is highlighted through their routine life matters like greeting the elders in most respectable way, eating together, their rich cuisine and strong family relations and backgrounds. The men in these dramas are shown to be very loving, caring and compassionate about their loved ones. That’s one of the reasons why these dramas are this much popular among the general public especially in women. What they always desire from their men to be, they get a chance to see that in these dramas.

The high popularity of Turkish dramas in Middle East and in central and south Asia is because of some connection and affiliation with their pasts. In Arab countries, before the rise of Turkish productions, they used to watch Korean and Spanish content from which they could hardly relate. Arab TV itself lacks strong narrative and production techniques and thereby Turkish content was highly welcomed because it provided them high class narrative and production. In South Asia, although the culture is different from what is portrayed from the content, but the religious bond is something that connects the audience with these dramas and lets them feel the affinity to it. And when dubbed in their local languages, the content seems so much familiar to them because the content is based on local issues like gender equality, love relations, etc. says Professor Asli Tunc, head of the Media School at Istanbul Bilgi University.

This soft power of media has been used by Turkey in a powerful and effective way. With this, the country managed to build a positive image around the world and with high quality productions, there has been increasing demand for their content. The dramas are mostly based on either historic or contemporary themes.

In Middle east however, there have been some controversies and backlashes faced by the Turkish productions and there was also an incident whereby in Saudi Arabia many dramas were taken off air BY MBC which is the biggest broadcaster in Middle East and North Africa.  Saudi Prince Muhamad Bin Salman intended to buy MBC, but found the cost of $3Bn to be huge. In response, many of the MBC’s stakeholders were arrested on the charges of corruption. This might be related to political feuds between KSA and Turkey. The matter was resolved there on. Similarly in Egypt, after the chaos and death of President Mursi, the newly appointed government didn’t allow the Turkish content. So turkey lost its one of the huge markets in Middle East. But it will cover up this loss by North Africa and European countries.

Turkish Dramas in Pakistan

Reasons for rise and liking of Turkish dramas

Turkish dramas may be termed as contemporary dramas. The way they have portrayed the dramas has revolutionized the drama art. And thus has created a tough competition for local producers to be up to the mark. Their topics not only stick to one main issue rather a variety of topics is shown in their dramas ranging from social issues like the survival of a raped woman and her struggle to have a good life to a single mother doing everything to be a good parent to her son, from complicated men women relations to their rich old legacy of ottoman empire. The producers are never afraid to experiment new things.

The dramas are also based on strong human emotions. ”Cesur ve Güzel- Ek Haseena Ek Deewana”– was a drama based on the revenge of a young guy whose family was killed brutally by a rich businessman. The dramas have content, strong story lines, intriguing plots and latest production techniques. The dramas focus on entirety rather than one single piece as we see in Pakistan’s dramas.

In Pakistan’s dramas, the story lines mostly revolve around domestically abused women. Showing a patriarchal society where man is never guilty of his wrong doings and if eventually he is, he can lay off that guilt by either an apology, some tears or with a promise to be a good guy from now on.

There are no obvious and inevitable consequences he has to face. Through this, the dramas deliver a message of ultimate liberty of doing wrong. In a recent drama ‘’ Khaas’’ a self-obsessed man was shown who thinks he is the perfect example of ’’flawless Perfect guy’’. His misogynistic approach towards her wife lets her into a complex and due to societal and family pressure the girl has to suffer his husband’s psychological abuse where her husband lets her feel that she is something less and inferior than him. The drama climaxes where the girl is blamed to have extramarital affair but in reality the guy was the one cheating. In that way the drama normalizes the behavior that a man can have extramarital affair without any shame, but if a girl has a male friend she is the worst ever woman on earth. The guy bears no repercussions of his wrong doings and girl is the one blamed even by her own parents. In the end, though the drama shows that the guy realizes his mistake but he gets away with it only by apologizing. The drama had a strong content, but normalizing abusive behavior needs re-thinking by Pakistan’s dramas.

Another important feature of Turkish dramas is that they have huge casts and each character either main or supportive has a separate story and is also involved in the central plot. They beautifully incorporate all the characters involved the dramas have One central theme, some priorities and a few assignments which lets all the cast to be involved. With this the dramas show big families and intricate relationships. ”Ishq-e-mamnu” was a super hit Turkish drama having a lot of priorities and assignments. The drama also had a huge cast and each character was utilized properly.

Whereas in Pakistan, the dramas only have one central plot with no priorities and a little assignments. Besides having huge casts, they are not utilized in a productive way. The supportive characters are just there to be standing in scene rather than being involved. Recent Drama ‘’Jhooti’’ had a big cast, but the drama wholly revolved around the girl. And no supporting character was strong enough to let the girl realize that she is wrong.

Comparison with Pakistan’s content

With the rising of turklsh dramas in Pakistan and their huge viewership, Pakistan’s producers also tried to copy their content. With the immense polarity of ”Magnificent Century-Mera Sultan”– local producers tried to create a drama called ‘’Mor Mehal’’. Although the drama had a big cast and was an expensive project, it failed to impress the masses because of lack of strong storyline. Turks have a rich ottoman history on which Mera Sultan was based. To compete with that, the makers need to develop strong storyline based on Mughal Empire.

And since ”Ishq-e-mamnu” told a story of a married woman cheating on her husband, several dramas have been made in Pakistan on this issue as well. However, they still lack strong characterizations, real locations, latest technologies and above all strong writers.

This leads us to a question:

What prevents Pakistan from making high level shows?

The drama industry lacks experienced and skillful drama writers. Drama has been converted to a commercial activity rather than an art. Anyone having a popular idea and some links inside the industry would write the drama and it will be produced under any production banner. Gone are the days when we had writers par excellence like Bano Qudsia, Fatima surraiyah, Haseena Moin, Ashfaq Ahmad, Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi and many more. With the lack of professional writers and production houses focusing more on monetary aspects rather than content, the dramas which are produced have weak story lines.

There are no copy rights phenomena in Pakistan. If one theme gets popular, all the channels start showing dramas based on that theme. In contrast, Turkish dramas don’t repeat stories, they uses other sides/aspects of the stories. So if one show might get popular, others won’t because they don’t offer anything new to audiences. This repetition also leads to sanitization of issue. With improper handling of sensitive issues and not contextualizing all the relevant factors involved, such dramas create normalization of sensitive issues of society which leads to assuming it as truth.

How to course correct Pakistan’s dramas by taking Turkish examples?

Pakistan’s dramas have several areas which needs attention,

  • The central theme of dramas: central themes now need a dynamic shift. From women related issues only. There should be dramas which show different psychologies, societal behaviors, human problems, crimes, relations and a lot more.
  • The dramas should have priorities and assignments-The central story should be broad enough to handle the huge cast in productive way.
  • Use of natural locations: Just as Turkish dramas show
  • Stop showing women repressed and abused and try to show that besides having problems, women are also progressing and excelling in their fields.



Pakistan’s dramas have a legacy with outstanding projects that are still remembered by the viewers. Writing is the soul of drama and a drama writer is the one who puts that soul into drama. With marvelous drama writers, Pakistan has witnessed a golden era of drama but todays dramas are more focused on commercial aspects. This commercialization has deteriorated the essence of drama. Weak content of drama is covered up by artificial decoration and glamorization. Sensitive issues are not handled in entirety and thus are sanitized in the society. Turkish dramas are an excellent example for Pakistan’s dramas to focus on quality content rather than objectification. Dramas are an important way to deliver strong messages to society and impact it in a positive way.

Dramas should be delivering messages which the young generations could adopt in their lives. They should not be showing aspects which are not reality. Because dramas influence the societal behavior, and if delivered in a wrong way, it would become normal practice. So it’s pertinent for the industry to take lessons and realize what they are delivering to the society and then course correct itself.