Zaroon Junaid and Kashaf Murtaza’s love story struck a chord with millions of young Indians when it first aired in the country. Zindagi Gulzar Hai became a huge hit for dealing with issues of class divide and gender issues through the prism of romance and paved the way for many Pakistani shows to be aired in India. The audiences took to them for projecting characters who were real, reasonable and with flaws. Life was pretty simple as art could be appreciated for art’s sake and Fawad Afzal Khan emerged as a heartthrob on this side of the border too.
As Zindagi Gulzar Hai makes its way back to Indian television once again here is a look back at the show. Will it be able to create the same effect this time?
The show by Sultana Siddiqui is based on Umera Ahmed’s novel of the same name. It first aired on Pakistani television in 2012 and in India in 2014. At a time when the Indian sitcoms portrayed their female lead as ambitious till the time she is married and then committing herself to the rosoda and fulfilling the saas-bahu saga, Kashaf Murtaza (Sanam Saeed) stood apart. Kashaf was real, a woman with ambition, duties, self-respect, independence, focus, responsible and at times full of doubt. Not much has changed about the Indian bahu on television, but that is not the focus of this discussion.
Kashaf gets a scholarship to study at the most prestigious University in the country. Coming from a lower-class neighbourhood, she is the eldest among three siblings. Their father abandoned them and remarried as he wanted a male heir. She is one of those people who has had to work hard for every small thing in life. Her focus in life is to achieve a good education and make life better for herself and her family.
Her experiences in life have made her create an external façade of being unapproachable and she has a deep distrust towards men. Zaroon, (Fawad Afzal Khan) is privileged – rich, intelligent and handsome. He wears his entitlement on his sleeve but he is competitive and cannot take it that he can be outshone by a girl. You know that when these two worlds meet attraction is obvious.
While romance was at the core of the show it weaved in a social commentary through its secondary characters and back stories and that is what made the narrative rich.
Kashaf is a self-made woman who would at no point compromise on her self respect. Zaroon even with his charms doesn’t find it easy to pursue her. The show through its characters put a spotlight on contemporary Pakistani society and broke many myths. Cosmopolitan Karachi was in no way different from New Delhi or Mumbai. The college life, the campus the concerts, the westernised youth, and the middle class striving for betterment through education and better jobs is a story very similar on this side of the border too. The language, cultural similarities, music and food point toward a shared history between the countries.
The show which has been considered a woman-focused show has been criticised for falling victim to gender stereotyping. In an interview with PTI, the screenwriter Umera Ahmed clarified, “Kashaf is a good wife. Now you can say, we didn’t break free from a lot of things, and let some stereotypes remain. But these stereotypes will always remain in our society, whether you believe it or not. ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hai’ wouldn’t have become this huge a hit if it was as revolutionary as some wish. Maybe then it wouldn’t have been enjoyed by everyone.”
While there are flaws with the storytelling, the show still sets the bar in terms of portraying real characters with flaws who have real worries. And that is what has kept the show so relevant even today almost 10 years since it first aired. What the audiences will feel about the show this time, only time will tell.
The views are the author’s own.