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Pak TV soaps

New Delhi, June 26: Preity Zinta crossed the border and got a taste of Shah Rukh’s Punjab in Veer-Zaara. But countless Indians curious about life in Pakistan need not make that arduous journey.

An Indian TV channel has for the first time started airing four Pakistani shows, offering a peek into lives of people in the neighbouring country and opening a window at a time New Delhi and Islamabad try to improve ties.

Zindagi, a Zee entertainment channel launched on Monday, is running the four family dramas produced in the neighbouring country and starring local actors. That’s not all. Sources said the channel had sourced over 200 shows — telefilms and dramas, of 20 to 25 episodes each —from Pakistan.

Shailja Kejriwal, Zee creative chief of special projects, said the broadcast was a new idea. While some of the shows bought by the channel have already been aired in Pakistan, other are new productions commissioned for Zindagi.

“Since the shows are made in Pakistan, they will connect with the audience in the country (India) because of cultural similarities but will still be distinct in feel and treatment of stories. Indians get to hear a lot about all the violence in Pakistan but have little idea about the lives of the average people there. We thought of making a cultural bridge between the two nations,” Shailja said.

Shailja said she hoped the four shows — Zindagi gulzar hai, Aunn Zara, Kash Main Teri Beti Na Hoti and Kitni Girhain Baaki Hain — would appeal to the legions of Indians curious about social life and changes in Pakistan.

“It is quite surprising that post-Independence, the Indian viewer has rarely seen images of Pakistan. It required courage (to bring the Pakistani shows) because of the fraught political situation but we are very happy with the response we have received so far. It makes business sense too, given the cultural similarities and the fact that a large number of people on both sides of the border speak Urdu, Pakistan’s national tongue which has similarities with Hindi,” Shailja said.

Zindagi — on which Zee has spent Rs 100 crore for marketing — will also feature shows from other countries like Turkey and Egypt later.

Shailja conceded there was no dearth of soaps made in India but insisted that some Pakistani shows had a flavour different from the regular fare. She added that Zeee did not require special permission to air the shows as such broadcasts of overseas content are allowed under existing rules.

But the flow seems one-way for now. Zee has no broadcasting rights in Pakistan despite Indian shows being extremely popular across the border. Indian channels like Zee, Star Plus, Colors and Sony are widely watched, beamed often by local cable operators in violation of government restrictions. According to conservative estimates, Indian shows make up nearly 60 per cent of all foreign programmes watched in Pakistan.

Attempts have also been made for a joint production but some of the initiatives have faltered on the tricky terrain of bilateral relations.

Sources said the co-production of a TV drama series — a rare instance of Indo-Pakistani collaboration in entertainment — had to be halted halfway through filming in 1999 after the incursion in Kargil and the war that followed.