By Maliha Rehman
Dilawaiz is a pretty young girl fighting against the atrocities that life constantly throws her way. The drama that is her namesake, helmed by 7th Sky Entertainment and airing on Geo TV, has perpetually been hauling in high ratings. This isn’t surprising: ‘Dilawaiz’ is a classic Cinderella story peppered with heavy doses of romance and emotion and even with an evil stepmother and stepsister putting a spanner in the works.
The Pakistani audience, as we all know, is a stickler for angtsy fairytales that wrap up with a happy ending after 40 odd episodes or so.
However, what’s surprising about Dilawaiz’s success is that it’s a drama that doesn’t air at the 8 p.m. primetime. Instead, it can be seen at 9 p.m., daily. This places it into the category of a ‘soap’. But unlike most 9 p.m. daily dramas, Dilawaiz has been shot differently. The sets are lavish, the camera work is aesthetically very pleasing and the cast consists of a range of popular A-listers.
The main leads, Affan Waheed and Kinza Hashmi, for instance, are actors who are associated with prime time slots rather than the daily 9 p.m. soap. Also in the cast are Javeria Abbasi, Seemi Raheel and Sabeena Farooq, among others. The drama is directed by Mazhar Moin. It isn’t your usual soap, rustled up quickly on a budget and streaming out without getting noticed.
Actor Affan Waheed, unarguably one of today’s most popular heroes, reveals, “I hadn’t known that Dilawaiz was going to air at 9 p.m. It was originally supposed to be an 8 p.m. drama. I am glad, though, that things have worked out.”
Kinza Hashmi, whose career has lately been on a roll, says that she knew that the drama would be a hit as soon as she read the script. “It didn’t matter what time it aired because I knew that the TV audience would love the story,” says the actress. “It’s a fantasy, not related to reality at all and I think that audiences have loved it because it provides them with an escape. I also think that people are enjoying the romance.”
Producer Abdullah Kadwani of 7th Sky Entertainment observes that Dilawaiz proves that prime time TV viewership now extends beyond the 8 p.m. drama. “Pakistan’s TV drama industry is constantly expanding and audiences want to watch major dramas even at slots other than the usual 8 p.m. It isn’t an easy decision to make to air an episode daily. It means that regardless of how expensively the drama has been created and the weeks spent in shooting it, it’s going to wrap up in a month or two and then, we’ll be needing more content. This means that as producers, in the span of a year, we need to put out 10 to 12 dramas for airing at 9 p.m. It’s tough work but audiences love to binge on a new episode daily. We’re stepping up the game even though it means that we’ll have to work harder.”
Of course, Dilawaiz is hardly the first drama to be a hit despite not being in the prime time slot. Aik Sitam Aur, currently airing at 9 p.m. for five day stretches on ARY Digital, is also bringing in high ratings. In the past, 7th Sky Entertainment dramas like Fasiq, Rang Mahal, Fitrat and Mohlat were all 9 p.m. dramas. Dilawaiz – it’s very popular cast and the scale at which has shot – is further proof that audiences are very happy to sit in front of the TV later in the night. The constantly high YouTube views indicate that should a story excite them and the production quality be up to mark, people are also very willing to stream a drama daily.
This doesn’t mean that Dilawaiz isn’t without its faults. It’s a sweeping, sweet story which doesn’t pretend to be heavily nuanced or complicated. Audiences who like more layered, less conventional storylines may not enjoy it. This is not your cerebral work of art – it’s more like an easy breezy story that doesn’t require too much analysis. The long pauses and drags are likely to make one impatient now and again – probably, the pressure to churn out a new episode daily may have had lead to these drags.
The women have perpetual perfect blow-dries and most of the characters refer to themselves as ‘hum’, basically because they are from a Nawab’s household. It’s quite funny – although you might get used to it.
The formal way of talking, the elaborate wardrobes, the coiffured madames and the sets build the drama’s premise as a fantasy tale – it reminds one of Bollywood movies from the ‘80’s and ‘70’s that revolved around stories of rajas, maharajas, nawabs and the like. The drama could have had been much better but the trump card, perhaps, is the chemistry between Affan Waheed and Kinza Hashmi – these two act well and look good together!
“The ratings change in a heartbeat,” enthuses Kinza. “If one day, they are slightly low, they’ll be shooting up the very next day! That’s the beauty of a drama that airs daily.”
Nevertheless, a drama that airs daily could also have had bored audiences easily. With multiple options available to them, drama viewers may have had easily switched channels and tuned into some other storyline. The fact that they aren’t doing so and are hanging on to every twist and turns that assails Dilawaiz’s melodramatic life means that this drama’s going to continue topping the ratings’ chart.
It also means that 7th Sky Entertainment’s experimentation with timings has worked and prime time TV drama viewing in Pakistan has extended to the 9 p.m.slot. The game has been stepped up.