What? No mask, no distancing, no hand sanitiser? This is 2021, COVID is still here and you cannot enter a restaurant, an ice cream shop, a shopping mall, a bank or a grocery store in the real world, without a mask.
But you can do all this, freely, on any TV channel in Pakistan. COVID or no COVID, our dramas, shows, TVCs continue to flourish, as if the whole COVID thing never happened.
Granted, COVID tests and vaccinations are happening, left and right. We are happy to assume that SOPs have been followed, tests have been performed, film and TV shootings are being done in an isolated and secure environment, and anti-bodies, were present in all crew members, either through an unfortunate infection or a vaccination, even though the vaccines are also not 100% effective.
Heroes and heroines continue to showcase their romance, at dangerously close angles. Actors continue to “shake hands” and have their gup shup over chai, at your local Zamzama shop, not very far away from the next table. Waiters are shown serving without masks. In the news, morning, game shows, anchors and their guests are often found seated, tightly together on the same sofa. Studio audience are shown huddled together, as if this virus is a thing of the past. Public awareness & teachable moments about COVID are being missed in our broadcast at a regular frequency.
COVID-19 And The Pakistani Drama Industry
The pandemic started sometime last year, when presumably many of the dramas airing, in 2020 had already been shot. So we can try to forgive the makers of the likes of Ruswai, Sabaat, Pyar Kay sadqay, Suno Chanda 2, Isqiya, Kashf, Mushk, Ghisi Pitti Muhabbat, all big dramas of 2020. But what about Raqse-Bismil, Fitoor, Qayamat, Pehli si Mohabbat, Khuda Aur Mohabbat, all highly watched dramas, that are airing currently?
All of the above are airing as we speak, and so they were presumably shot last year, completely or partially. Was it very difficult or aesthetically unappealing to introduce a few actors wearing masks, anywhere? Even the extras? Some dramas did show a few half worn masks (dangling from the ears, around the neck, everywhere but the nose – remember Khwaja Asif during his press conference?) but not much else was there, COVID related.
Create Awareness by these small steps
Either show the masks or please inform the public through disclaimers and credits that masks are absent because everyone on the set is:
- Already got the infection
- Tested negative in PCR test
- The drama was shot in isolation
Dramas mentioned above have viewership in the thousands and even millions. A mention of SOPs observed during the drama production, tests and vaccinations of the crew or mention of COVID during actual scenes, could have sent a positive message to so many. This can translate into saving lives, as there is credible research backing up precautions such as masks, keeping your distance etc. While the Pakistani government is propagating the “precautions” on phones, radio, tv, we cannot ignore the impact of Pakistani dramas.
The only drama which proved to be an exception to the rule was “Ishq Jalebi”. In fact, my jaw dropped when watching a few episodes of this drama. Bela, our heroine was wearing the mask, the way it should be. The actors were shown using hand sanitiser and observing all precautions when approaching sick family members. The makers of the drama didn’t just do a token mention, they wove the pandemic skillfully in the story.
COVID-19 And The Pakistani shows
The Political Shows
Many Pakistani political news talk shows don’t show the participants sitting at close angles. What a relief! Some positive examples are Live with Dr Shahid Masood, News Beat with Paras Jahanzaib etc. This distancing on the set of such shows was always there so maybe it just happened. However, in some cases, you do find the anchors and guests seated on the same sofa! Many YouTubers including Mubasher Luqman, Imran Khan etc, deserve a mention for doing multiple shows on the virus, and ways to keep yourself safe.
Special mention should be made of the interviews that have been shown of PM Imran Khan. Multiple reputable journalists including Sabir Shakir, Paras Jahanzaib etc. were shown interviewing the premier at very respectable COVID distances. I was impressed. Again, I am not sure if the distancing was due to official protocol or COVID-19 or both. But the optics alone sent a nice message.
The Game Shows
Let’s come to the game shows, which have a huge audience in Pakistan. I saw the grand finale of Jeeto Pakistan on May 12 and whoa!! The studio audience was seated with a gap of 1 seat, between every 2 people. Very nice, not to mention, life saving!! Types of games should also be mentioned, if they involved blowing your breath (GASP!!) into moving a tiny ball or answering a question or two to win that Suzuki….
The Morning Shows
The morning shows are in their own category. I chanced upon an episode of Good Morning Pakistan and I was so disappointed! The guests were seated on a small 3 seater sofa and videos were even shared of large groups with no masks and no social distance. Salaam Zindagi was another disappointment where no gap could be seen in the audience seating arrangement.
Firstly, the Pakistani entertainment industry needs to define its very own custom COVID-19 SOPs. These SOPs should detail how scenes are to be shot, what precautions to take to safeguard the crew, and by default, their loved ones (elderly relatives etc.) and how the guidelines will be enforced. We can take a leaf out of India’s SOPs for their entertainment industry.
Secondly, it must be mandated that SOPs be mentioned as disclaimers or in end credits. In addition, scenes should also showcase a nod to the deadly Pandemic, when possible.
Lastly, the virus is here and we have to co-exist. Moreover, it is absolutely possible to co-exist safely without stopping our routines. But there are precautions and safety measures to be taken, even after getting vaccinated. If we don’t, we are putting lives at risk. There are precious lives already lost (the heartbreaking loss of Sumbul Shahid comes to mind). Let’s not lose lives anymore and do our part. Stay safe!