The most popular shows on Pakistani prime time right now are Turkish soap operas that have been dubbed into Urdu. These shows may sometimes feature Pakistani characters, but for the most part the serials star lighter-skinned Turkish stars and have been dubbed into Urdu and Pakistani viewers are often left in the cold. "If you watch the Turkish and Indian dramas, you will see that nobody can talk about Pakistan like Pakistanis," says actress Yasmin Hug, one of the stars of a new Pakistani version of the American show Glee. They're calling it Taan, which is a musical technique in Hindustani classical music, and it debuts in September.
But American Glee, about singing, dancing high school students and their teachers' dramatic lives, touches on topics considered taboo in Pakistan, particularly the whole man-on-man story lines about young gays. Gay and lesbian sex are illegal in Pakistan.
Nabeel Sarwar and Samar Raza, Taan's producer and director, have found clever ways around this little gay problem. For example, place the "offensive" action happen off screen or have another character offer conservative commentary:
"In one scene the two gay lovers dance and sing in a small room but never embrace - their relationship is suggested rather than overtly shown. The moment is interrupted when a radical Islamist character bursts in.
"Director Samar Raza said representing the lives of gay characters was difficult in a country where homosexuality is still illegal.
"'Let's say in a certain scene, there are two boys talking to each other, they are not allowed to show their physical attachment to each other,' he said. 'So I bring a third character who says: 'God designed Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve'."
Sarwar told the paper they're not trying to stir up controversy. They're just trying to create a show that reflects Pakistan and its evolving society. "Nobody wants to have controversy for the sake of controversy, nobody wants to have an assignment to violence, nobody wants to push a button that would result in a disaster for anyone," he said. "But the truth has to come out somewhere. Where are we going to put a line in the sand and say, 'Look, this is what we are?'"
And what better way to say it than to say it in song?