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No longer the best of times

The Tanhaiyan sequel has fallen flat, simply. The initial curiosity sale is over. Streets are not deserted when it’s on air.

Most of it is the same, isn’t it? Many familiar faces. Same soothing background score. It’s based on the same mould, which is why we were all so excited initially. For those of us who have seen Tanhaiyan — the legendary original PTV drama which the current sequel is based on — it was more than just a TV serial. It was not just because Shehzad Khalil’s direction was unmatchable. It was not just because it was Haseena Moin’s Midas touch behind the pen that wrote it. Tanhaiyan became a part of who we are.

Yes, the remake’s direction is weak, the screenplay lacks originality and there is a desperation lurking beneath each move and each tonal improvisation of each character to re-enact the glory of the original. But to me, the reason for its lacklustre response is really quite simple. We, as a nation, have changed.

We have changed because a lot has happened in the last 27 years. Especially post 9/11. Ever since, our vocabulary has changed and expanded. Tanhaiyan, back then, could not have had the words and phrases and references we use now. Back then, we did not know what terrorism was. Or suicide bombings. Or banned outfits. Or drone strikes. We were also less aware, because it was, if I were to borrow from Charles Dickens, “the age of innocence”.

We were also less conscious of what is politically correct and what is not. In one episode, as a very lame joke, they refer to the murder of New York Times journalist Daniel Pearl, who was murdered by extremists. The person I am today does not find a reference to Pearl’s murder funny. This is serious stuff. I also no longer find funny characters on TV serials or advertisements who stutter funny. To me, this is a severe and worrisome dearth of creativity.Stuttering is usually the sign of emotional trauma. Laughing about it is just dim-witted.

But then, our sense of humour has changed, too, hasn’t it? A darker but more witty, quick and street-smart sense of humour has replaced the comedy-of-errors kind of humour of yesteryear Pakistan. But then, we do see genuine signs and symbols of hope. People who are actually making the world better. That is the Pakistan of today.

The fact is, the Tanhaiyan sequel is making a desperate attempt to carry us back to where we once were, while we have moved on. We are more jaded, more aware, a wee bit more awake. We may be politically downtrodden but the average Pakistani can surely spot where something’s wrong.

It would be a naïve hope that Tanhaiyan would catapult us back into our spring of hope. If we see the original even today, we will still be in emotional throngs. It’s also because one thing that is available free of cost in this age of inflation and falling human index levels in Pakistan is emotions. Escapism. Convenient and satisfying. But the sequel is made in today. So, it doesn’t get the same concessions as its original counterpart.

Back then, we had everything before us; today, we don’t have much before us. Back then, we were all going directly to Heaven; today, we are all going directly the other way. I am sure Dickens wrote those lines for the Pakistan of yesterday and today.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 15th, 2012.