Compared to dramas, talk shows and documentaries, news or political satire programmes are relatively new to the Pakistani public. But given Pakistanis’ love for humour and slander – mostly slander – these programs’ popularity has gone off the charts in their short life of ten years. Let’s take a look at a few of these shows – past or present – and find out the reasons behind their popularity.
4 Man Show
Airing on Aaj TV since 2005, 4 Man Show was one of the first news satire shows to be introduced in Pakistan – and also, one of the best. The team consisted of “four men”: three Khalid Butts and one celebrity, played by the ever talented Mir Mohammad Ali. Murtaza Chaudhry, who was also the show’s producer, played Khalid Butt the anchor, who interviewed the plethora of celebrities enacted by Mir Mohammad Ali. List of characters include General Pervez Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto, Javed Miandad, Sheikh Rasheed, Zaid Hamid, and many others.
4 Man Show had many highlights: the script was witty, the newscasters and reporters came up with genuinely humorous satirical stories and the straight-faced, less-than-interested Khalid Butt provided brilliant contrast to the extremely comical characters brought forward by Mir Mohammad Ali. The show’s decline began when Mir Mohammad Ali left Aaj TV to work for Geo TV – he was evidently the life of the show. However, with the Chaudhry brothers still on the team, and new additions, Gabol Mubeen, Mohsin Abbas and Faisal Chaudhry, 4 Man Show still continued strongly. But in 2011, once the Chaudhry brothers abandoned Aaj TV in favour of Geo, 4 Man Show hit levels of mediocrity from which it couldn’t bounce back. The show has been on a hiatus since 2013.
4 Man Show was the ultimate political satire: its unapologetic take on all politicians and even TV channels and news agencies is the hallmark of a true, pungent satire that pokes fun no holds barred. Everything that came afterwards only grew mellower in its satire and generalized in its content.
Another extremely popular humorous show is Dunya TV’s Hasb-e-Haal. The programme, airing since January 2009, is more or less a one man show – pun intended – with the character of Azizi, played by Sohail Ahmed, providing all of its entertainment.
The programme presents three characters: a central host, Junaid Saleem, a supporting hostess, Najia Baig, and Azizi. The show usually begins with Junaid Saleem and Najia Baig discussing current affairs and presenting side stream, mostly social news to the viewers. This provides Azizi the chance to chip in with his comical opinions of those various events, which sooner rather than later turn into a humorous, engaging, and, at times, instructive monologue. Hasb-e-Haal, unlike 4 Man Show, is more of a social satire than a political one, focusing on educating people while providing them with healthy entertainment.
Sohail Ahmed, like Mir Mohammad Ali in 4 Man Show, is also the show’s parodist: he has presented caricatures of the likes of Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif, Imran Khan, Asif Ali Zardari and even of US President Barack Obama. It would not be wrong to say that Hasb-e-Haal’s immense popularity is mostly, if not completely, thanks to Sohail Ahmed’s Azizi – a role for which he received the Pride of Performance Award.
Khabarnaak was Geo TV’s way of one-upping their peers – in more ways than one. First, they poached 4 Man Show’s fan favourite and star performer, Mir Mohammad Ali. Mohammad Ali was assigned the same task that the producers of 4 Man Show had handed him: to enact parodies of famous personalities. Then, they signed the former Hasb-e-Haal host, Aftab Iqbal, to replicate the role he had performed for the Dunya TV show: presenting and discussing news. Finally, to add the final but crucial touches, Geo TV recruited some of the country’s best stage comedians including Saleem Albela, Honey Albela, and Agha Majid – also known as “Aroo Grenade” – whose responsibility was to throw Punjabi one-liners into the mix. The show’s first episode was aired in September 2010 – and it was an instant hit.
The thing that sets Khabarbaak apart from its competitors is that it has a lot of variety and unpredictability – primarily thanks to the two Albelas and their Punjabi quips and exchanges. With their brilliant comic timing, the stage comedians add a lot of spice to the show which both 4 Man Show and Hasb-e-Haal lacked. But this does not mean that the rest of the show is bland. Unlike its peers, Khabarnaak is more rounded and the audience doesn’t have to wait desperately for a certain portion to arrive. Mir Mohammad Ali’s comic renditions of popular characters are just as attractive for viewers as the Punjabi punches; and Aftab Iqbal’s role, though serious, is also very engrossing, much like Khalid Butt’s role in 4 Man Show.
Lastly, while 4 Man Show was more of political satire and Hasb-e-Haal is social satire, Khabarnaak offers both. Aftab Iqbal adds instructive elements to the show while Mir Mohammad Ali’s caricatures poke fun at politicians, and the comedians spray it all with humour – making it more of a wholesome treat than its closest competitors mentioned above.