Iconic Pakistani Dramas From The 80, 90s That Were Way Ahead Of Their Time

Iconic Pakistani Dramas From The 80, 90s That Were Way Ahead Of Their Time
Raat yun dil mein teri khoyi hui yaad aayi,
jaise veeraane mein chupke se bahaar aa jaye,
jaise sehraaoN mein haulay se chale baad-e-naseem,
jaise beemaar ko be-wajh qaraar aa jaaye


Last night your faded memory came to me
As in the wilderness spring comes quietly,
As, slowly, in the desert, moves the breeze
As, a wound, for no reason, heals....

Originally penned by Faiz Ahmed Faiz and sung by Nayyara Noor, this was the background score for one of my most favourite Pakistani dramas ever: Dhoop Kinare. Released 34 years ago in 1987, Dhoop Kinare is probably one of the most iconic drama serials to have ever graced our television screens. What was it about this serial that made it legendary on all possible accounts? Was it the onscreen chemistry that the leads Dr. Ahmer and Dr. Zoya shared? Was it the storyline? Was it a combination of all of these factors, or is it something entirely different that I am missing? Along the same lines, let’s take a couple steps back and forth and recall Tanhaiyaan and Zara and Zain, Alpha Bravo Charlie and Shehnaz and Gulsher and then Aanch and Khulfat and Jalees. 

I wouldn’t be wrong if I said that there was something truly special about Pakistani dramas from the 80’s and 90’s. And in all honesty, words would truly not do justice in attempting to articulate the feel behind these serials that are being spoken about. 

My last blog post had me take a rather nostalgic walk down memory lane, when I spoke about 90s Pakistani music. Interestingly, the slightest nudge (in the form of the 90s Rafhan Jelly advert) triggered this recollection. But when we talk about the Pakistani media content from back in the day, speaking solely about the music would be incomplete and unfair -- without simultaneously talking about corresponding Pakistani dramas. 

The combined impact of powerful performances, solid/coherent storylines – from start to end, relatability and iconic characters were a constant in drama serials from back in the day. Adding onto the same equation, Pakistani dramas have always had a solid tendency of challenging norms and disrupting viewers’ expectations. Till the late 90s, playwrights consisted of intellectuals – who ensured that their plays were truly an art form. Recall this was the era of Hasina Moin presenting strong female heroes way before it was cool and Shoaib Mansoor – who gave us the likes of Sunhere Din, Gulls and Guys and Ankahi. And if you remember, these dramas often caused streets to be deserted during their respective airtimes; they were strictly quality controlled; they had a defined plot and ended within a definite number of episodes. So essentially, no matter how brilliant Waris, or Ankahi, or Tanhaiyaan was – they were not allowed to overstay their welcome. Ironically and interestingly, this is still largely the case with newer drama serials – but this is a story for later.

Maybe this is why Pakistani dramas struck a chord with viewers – from day one, creating massive viewership (in the process) and leaving audiences looking for more. 

With this in mind, let’s revisit some evergreen gems in our drama industry. Simplifying my own life, this list comprises those drama serials that I felt were relatable and easy to follow. To elaborate, it would have to be incredibly well written, devoid of any redundant dialogues and random reliance on stereotypes or clichés. While I didn’t look at directors, playwrights and story writers, I did ask myself one particular question, “Can and will I watch this again?”. So the common denominator in my selection was rock solid entertainment: the kind that I wouldn’t mind (read: enjoy) watching several times over. While this would obviously be subjective, I am sure there are a few all of us would agree upon:

  1. Aanch

    This was one series way ahead of its time. Released back in 1993, the story revolves around a wealthy businessman, Jalees, whose wife Asma abandons her family to seize an opportunity to relocate abroad. To reinstate a female presence in the family, Jalees re-weds: this time to a working girl, Khulfat – but things do not go as planned as the step mother and the children have a tough time accepting each other. What made this series stand out was the fact that marriage, divorce and remarriage were bold subjects to explore on prime time television – at a time when such practices were either absent and/or largely unheard of and completely taboo topics, in either case.

  2. Ankahi

    Ankahi was quick to reach cult status with its witty dialogues and the strong, candid character of Sana. Boasting a star studded cast including Javed Sheikh, Shakeel, Behroz Sabzwri and Jamshed Ansari – the story revolves around Sana, who wants to be rich like her friend Sara. But as lady luck would have it, her father passes away in her youth and to meet the expenses of her younger brother’s heart surgery, she prematurely enters practical life – setting the tone of the series, with her irresponsible and clumsy attitude towards life.  

Interestingly, Bollywood movie Chal Mere Bhai in 2000 was inspired by Ankahi – saying so much about our drama industry.


3- Alpha Bravo Charlie (1998)

Directed by the renowned Shoaib Mansoor, this drama was so popular that it set new benchmarks in Television Rating Points (TRPS) in Pakistan. Alpha Bravo Charlie follows the lives of three young, nonchalant friends who have just joined the army, and along the course of their lives learn the very important lesson of leading a purposeful and passionate life. I take a chance in saying that this drama influenced the diehard passion us Pakistanis have for our armed forces: for all the right reasons. 

4- Tanhaiyaan (1985)

Tanhaiyaan probably redefined what it was to truly be a cult classic; this drama was aired several times over the years due to its massive popularity. In a sense, Tanhaiyaan challenged gender roles – when for the first time, we saw two young women taking up the traditional role of men: working jobs, running businesses, earning money and making a living for themselves, after their parents died leaving them in extreme debt as inheritance. A spin-off of Tanhaiyaan, in the form of a sequel named Tanhaiyan: Naye Silsilay was aired in 2012 – 27 years after the original airing.

Honourable mentions:

  1. Laag: Released in 1998, Laag was a Pakistani action / crime drama serial, run by PTV – revolving around the issues of Kashmir and mostly shot in Pakistan administered part of Kashmir. 

  2. Khuda Ki Basti (literally translated to God's Own Land), is a Pakistani Urdu novel authored by Shaukat Siddiqui in 1957. The novel revolves around life in a Karachi slum built after the 1947 independence of Pakistan and the struggles its inhabitants regularly face. The TV versions of the novel Khuda Ki Basti TV Drama Serials were made in 1969 and 1974.

So: now here is a thought and you decide. 

Entertainment is often indulged in as a quick fix to temporarily divorce oneself from reality, seeking refuge in “make-believe” for that much time. But when this fictional sanctuary takes on aspects of real life, this “entertainment” becomes “enlightenment”. And traditionally, Pakistani dramas fall into the latter category – taking on powerful storylines with hard-hitting messages. 

As the entertainment industry in Pakistan evolves with newer dramas (Bebasi, Hum Kahan K Sachay Thai) and movies (Khel Khel Mein), it would be interesting to see how far Pakistani dramas continue to stay in the aforementioned “enlightening category”. But given the widespread popularity that these otherwise legendary drama serials continue to enjoy, the question is — do they really need to?