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Pakistan at a screen near you

Lahore ki galiyon se Lucknow ki barandon tak hamare vesh parivesh bhale hi alag ho, hamare kahaniyan ek hi hain.

A scene from the soon-to-be-aired Zindagi Gulzar Hai and (below in picture by B. Halder) Bharat Kumar Ranga at the launch of Zindagi channel

Indian television is reaching out across the border for the first time. Come June 23, serials from Pakistan will be aired on Zindagi, a channel from the Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (Zeel) stable.

“We are so similar to Pakistan culturally but ever since the Partition, we have never gone into each other’s homes. This channel will be a vehicle to start people-to-people contact by showing us their lives through their shows,” said Shailaja Kejriwal, content head, special projects, who has handpicked the shows.

Industry sources said Indian shows like Dance India Dance, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa and Jhalak Dikhla Ja are popular in Pakistani homes but other than pirated CDs in the late 80s with recordings of Pakistani shows like Dhoop Kinare and pixelated Bangladesh shows that TV antennae in Bengal used to catch in the pre-satellite TV days, shows from across the border have never reached Indian screens. Zindagi will be the first Hindi general entertainment channel with content produced overseas.

Initially, the content was offered for a time band on Zee TV. “But we realised it would be a mismatch if these shows were put on Zee. It would have been like taking a flower out of a bouquet and inserting into another. So we decided to offer a whole new channel,” said Bharat Kumar Ranga, chief content and creative officer, Zee.

Among the first shows to be aired is Pakistani TV star Fawad Afzal Khan’s romantic drama Zindagi Gulzar Hai.

The channel authorities were especially struck by the quality of writing of the Pakistani shows. Since television there became HD only in 2013, a lot of the older acquisitions needed technical correction but Ranga thinks that was a small price to pay. “We keep trying to match our production quality to that of American shows. But story-telling is about emotional quotient, not production quality. We were mesmerised by how touchingly these shows were written and neatly enacted,” he said. Unlike Indian serials, the shows have original music with leading voices like Abida Parveen and Ali Zafar.

Ranga is not worried about Zindagi eating into the viewership of the flagship Zee TV. “In future, there will be multiple categories of general entertainment channels and we will look to dominate each category.” Zindagi belongs to the “premium mass viewership category” and is targeted at female viewers aged 15-44 “with progressive mindset”.

The channel has acquired enough content to carry on for a year and a half. TV shows from Turkey, West Asia and even Latin America are next on the radar. “The actors must have a physical resemblance to Indians. The other dipstick test is to see in which countries our serials are popular,” Ranga said.

What’s different

Made in Pakistan
Shot in natural settings rather than on sets
Original music
Finite shows. Most do not exceed 25 episodes
High on romance, no saas-bahu drama