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Business News/ Mint-lounge / Features/  Heat and lust
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Heat and lust

Zee's new TV channel comprising Pakistani content reignites memories of watching TV series 'Dhoop Kinare' on VHS tape

Illustration by Jayachandran/ MintPremium
Illustration by Jayachandran/ Mint

It was the 1980s. My father had taken a job in Gandhidham, a tiny town some distance from Bhuj in Kutch, Gujarat. Come summer, we would pile into a narrow-gauge train and head there for a three-month-long vacation.

In the desert heat of the sleepy town, holidays were like a long dream. By day we lay low, sleeping, eating mangoes, reading romance novels and murder mysteries we had lugged from New Delhi—Gandhidham had neither library nor book store. In the evenings, my dad would drive us to the town’s lone video library and we would choose one film from the row of pirated VHS tapes. These were intense, rationed pleasures.

In 1988, two friends of mine had come for the vacations. One fateful day, Patel, the library guy, waved a tape before us and said, with the smug air of one who knows he’s going to rock your world, “Yeh bahut chal raha hai. Pakistani serial (This is very popular)." The patchy label on the tape’s side said Dhoop Kinare. We didn’t know it then, but it was Pakistan’s most successful series, starring their biggest TV stars—Marina Khan as the young Dr Zoya and Rahat Kazmi as Dr Ahmer.

Five minutes into Dhoop Kinare, we were hooked and cooked. Everything was forgotten. We developed the vampiric appetite and unholy energy of new lovers and addicts. We reformed our lazy ways, bathing and eating on time, the sooner to assemble before the TV for the next fix of episodes. When we weren’t watching we were discussing our favourite characters, the contemporary salwar-kameez fashions, Zoya’s Lady Di hairstyle or vampy Dr Sheena’s latest attempt to derail the love story.

Fascinated by the way Pakistanis said “karein" or “baithen" instead of “kijiye" or “baithiye", we spent the summer emulating sophisticated Urdu-speaking ladies. It wasn’t just the sexiness of those sinuous “shs" and gravelly “ghs"—it was the conversational world that belonged to that Urdu. The dialogue was juicy with repartee and replete with affectionate sarcasm. They could say something about Life with a capital L that seemed poetic and true without being hokey.

Why did we love it so much? Maybe because it had been some time since we had had a really engrossing series on Indian TV. Buniyaad was long over. There were barely any Indian films that resonated with young, urbanized middle-class audiences. Here was a world, which felt utterly familiar—the same importance to family, the same language, food and clothes—yet ineffably different, just a little bit exotic. It was desi cool, something Indians of my generation didn’t precisely have yet.

We also identified passionately with Zoya. She seemed to be a regular girl like us, excited to explore the world, not interested in being told what to do, hoping romance was going to find us soon but not squeezing into any boxes in the hope of approval or love. There was no preaching, no morals, but rather, a father who believed that “children should be given lots of love, that’s what makes them able to trust life". A world of human detail, not just cultural detail.

Its production values may have been just as rough and ready as any Doordarshan show but Dhoop Kinare—and other such hit shows, like Ankahi and Tanhaiyan—had quality in ways that count. The meticulous direction by Sahira Kazmi (married to the much-desired Rahat Kazmi who played Ahmer) created a natural feel of everyday life. The writer, Haseena Moin, used the conventions of romantic comedy skilfully, creating a world of quirky, lovable characters—the sweet-faced best friend Anji, the acid-tongued but loving nurse Fazeelat, the wry doctor Irfan. As popular television, Dhoop Kinare managed to include simple artistic beauty, including the use of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poetry, without forgetting the accessible pleasures of a conventional narrative—the love story of Zoya and Ahmer.

Cheerful, clueless Zoya and her older boss, Dr Ahmer, a smouldering, brooding, Mills & Boon hero type who spoke in Dilip Kumar style, start off disliking each other. Their dislike turns slowly but inexorably into love. Sitting in Gandhidham, we held our breath as this was tracked with precise, perceptive detail, waiting for the episode when the two would stop hiding this love.

Then, a cold shower hit our orgy. Due to scarcity and high demand, we could only borrow one tape at a time. Arriving breathless at the library, we were informed that tape No.4 had been taken. We struggled to come to terms with this shock. The next day, it was still unreturned. Three days passed. It’s hard to understand in an era of infinite digital copies what we were going through. We lost interest in mangoes, conversation and life. On the fourth day, we broke.

We called the library and demanded to be told: Who was holding on to tape No.4? Hearing the dangerous desperation in our voices, Patel spilled the beans. The tape was with a family called Verma. An investigation was launched.

“We were half-asleep in your room, too paralysed to do anything," my friend remembers. “There was an AC, a rarity in those days, so the door was closed. Then your mum opened the door a crack and peeked in. We looked at her and knew instantly. The tape was here!"

As the tape was inserted into the VCR, our sluggish blood quickened. Finally, Dr Ahmer held his hand out to Zoya. As she took it, we screamed with excitement, “like girls at a Beatles concert", remembers my mum.

My mother’s bold phone call to the unknown Mrs Verma led to a friendship that lasts to this day.

Years later, things came joyfully full circle when I wrote the script for the Pakistani film Khamosh Pani, and my favourite character in it was played by Arshad Mehmood, who had acted as Dr Ahmer’s foster father in Dhoop Kinare. The show continues to live online on a Facebook page that says, “Happiness is, being the self-proclaimed ambassador for Dhoop Kinare".

In 2000, a family wedding took my mother to Karachi, Pakistan, for the first time. Joyful hugs and tearful reminiscences completed, she asked her nephew that all-important question: “Do you know someone who can make me meet Dr Ahmer?"

Sadly, he did not.

Paromita Vohra is a film-maker and writer.

LIFE ON THE OTHER SIDE

Pakistani serials that will be aired on Zee’s Zindagi:

Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd’s latest channel, Zindagi, will go on air on 23 June with syndicated content from Pakistan. It will air romance-based series such as ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hai’, which explores the experiences of a single mother and her three daughters, and ‘Aunn Zara’, a modern-day chronicle of two lovers. The series are a few years old, and have been telecast in Pakistan. Zindagi will eventually broadcast shows from like-minded markets such as Turkey, Egypt and Latin American countries.

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Published: 21 Jun 2014, 12:10 AM IST
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