It is a challenge putting together a list of ten solid Pakistani dramas each year. Generally, I am left mulling over the list of dramas, critiquing potential positives to pull together ten contenders. However, while 2021 has overall given Pakistani drama viewers some disappointments, it has technically been a great year for fans of quality content. Despite the obsession with tear-jerkers, zulm and saas-bahu drama, there have been many writers, directors and actors putting their talent to good use and giving us a lot to cheer about. This year, it was difficult to narrow down the list to only ten dramas….which means a “special mention” list is also in the works. Note: The criteria for including a drama on my list is always based on the year in which the show ends.
So let’s begin discussing the top 10 dramas of 2021!
1) Raqeeb Se
At the number one spot is “Raqeeb Se,” a drama which left its audience an emotional mess week after week, promoting discussion after each episode with its intelligent, well-written, meaningful story. Focusing on a broken love story that engulfs all in its path, “Raqeeb Se” initially seemed to be a story of two women fighting over one man – but left viewers in awe over what transpired. Written by the magnificent Bee Gul and directed by the talented Kashif Nisar, “Raqeeb Se” stars Nauman Ejaz, Sania Saeed, Hadiqa Kiani, Iqra Aziz and Faryal Mehmood in pivotal roles. Few shows leave this sort of impact, a drama which leaves the viewer speechless long after the finale, left to process the events and paralells drawn between characters. “Raqeeb Se,” for many, has been more than just a show – it has been an experience, a moment of reflection, a show that offered deeper meaning and, more than anything, a show about the will and spirit of women and how they are the creators of their own destiny.
2) Ishq Jalebi
A Ramadan show which ran for 30 days, “Ishq Jalebi” came like a breath of fresh air for many who craved intelligent humor. Starring Wahaj Ali, Madiha Imam, Noor Ul Hassan, Hina Bayat, Kashif Mehmood, Irsa Ghazal, Mehmood Aslam, Shaista Jabeen, Maryam Noor, Usama Khan and, of course, Qavi Khan, the story has been written by Saima Akram Chaudhry and directed by Syed Wajahat Hussain. Telling the story of Bela (Madiha Imam) and Basim (Wahaj Ali), two cousins living under one roof, “Ishq Jalebi” takes off when an unexpected family reunion triggered by Covid-19 turns into a dispute over property. While a “silly comedy” on the outlook, “Ishq Jalebi” is a meaningful story about the parents of immigrants, those left behind while their children seek out greater pastures, and how they are affected in their absence. It’s a story about family bonds and loyalty, a story about repairing relationships and fighting for rights within those family ties. It’s a story about young love and fighting for that love against all odds. While “Ishq Jalebi” offered a beautiful love story in the form of Wahaj Ali and Madiha Imam’s Bela and Basim, it gave us an equally beautiful story about the bond between parents and their children – all while incorporating COVID-19 effectively into the narrative. Saima Akram Chaudhry and Syed Wajahat Hussain (and the entire team) deserve a round of applause for giving us a show that will go down in the books as a classic. This is Pakistani drama excellence.
3) Chupke Chupke
Some shows come and go in a flash, their absence leaving a void that becomes difficult to fill. Another Ramadan drama, “Chupke Chupke” cemented its place in the day-to-day routine of Pakistani drama viewers, its characters filling our lives with comedy, laughter and, well, happiness. For a full month, “Chupke Chupke” not only became a rage with Pakistani viewers, but also international viewers around the globe, breaking viewership records on YouTube. Directed by Danish Nawaz and written by Saima Akram Chaudhry, “Chupke Chupke” stars Osman Khalid Butt, Ayeza Khan, Arsalan Naseer, Aymen Saleem, Asma Abbas, Uzma Beg, Mira Sethi, Ali Safina, Farhan Ali Agha, Tara Mehmood, Hira Samroo, Mani, Qavi Khan and many others in a practically ideal ensemble cast. Following the love lives of Fadi (Osman Khalid Butt) and Meenu (Ayeza Khan), along with Hadi (Arsalan Nasir) and Mishi (Aymen Saleem), the love stories created “Feenu” and “HaShi” fandoms, while even Naik Parwar (Asma Abbas) and Bakhtoo (Uzma Beg) found a fan following as the dueling grandmothers. “Chupke Chupke” served as a stress-buster for many, providing much-needed humor during dark times, which left us with one very important question – why is comedy reserved only for Ramadan shows?
4) Ghisi Piti Mohabbat
Ending in the second week of January, “Ghisi Piti Mohabbat” barely made the cut here – but is, without a doubt, one of the best Pakistani shows of 2021. Tackling society’s double-standards and highlighting many cliches viewers have seen time and time again in Pakistani dramas, “Ghisi Piti Mohabbat” follows the romantic life of its female lead, Samiya, played by Ramsha Khan, a young girl who is unlucky in love – and marriage. “Ghisi Piti Mohabbat” is power-packed with hard-hitting dialogues, all while maintaining a light-hearted feel. This is hard to manage, considering the many times our female lead is burdened with heartbreak, but the writer-director duo in Faseeh Bari and Ahmad Bhatti manage to pull it off convincingly. To love someone else, you must first love yourself. This is the message “Ghisi Piti Mohabbat” leaves viewers with. It’s rare that a drama gets everything right from start to finish, but this is a drama that pulls through. With a talented ensemble cast, each actor has a part to play in the success of the show. One of the few “perfect” products out of the Pakistani drama industry, this is a show everyone should watch!
5) Aakhir Kab Tak
“Aakhir Kab Tak” has earned its number five spot and, as its title suggests, tells the story of the abuse and trauma that women suffer. Starring Ushna Shah, Srha Asghar, Adeel Hussain, Haroon Shahid, Azfar Rehman, Javeria Abbasi, Shahood Alvi, Gul E Rana and others, the story has been written by Radain Shah and directed by Syed Ali Raza Usama. Focusing on two female leads – Fajar, who is a victim of sexual assault and blackmail and Noor, a young woman fighting against patriarchy to make something of herself and uplift her family -, “Aakhir Kab Tak” doesn’t shy away from telling a grim, dark story rooted in reality, but with a tone of optimism and hope. This isn’t a dark, dreary show that leaves the audience in a bad place, rather it focuses on providing the viewer with hope, the light at the end of the tunnel. The highlight of this show are its focused characters that push through their misery and attempt to solve their problems rationally. Sure, “Aakhir Kab Tak” falters a bit in places, but does a great job offering solutions for the problems depicted – because honestly, as an audience, how much misery can we take? Aakhir kab tak?
6) Dhoop Ki Deewar
A Pakistani webseries, “Dhoop Ki Deewar” aired on India’s streaming platform Zee5, which limited its viewership. From the onset starting with its platform of choice and then its subject matter, “Dhoop Ki Deewar” was embroiled in controversy throughout its run and was largely ignored. Still, it’s undeniable that this is a show that is one of the best of 2021 in every way. Written by Umera Ahmed and directed by Haseeb Hassan, the show stars Sajal Aly, Ahad Raza Mir, Samiya Mumtaz, Savera Nadeem, Mirza Sehbai, Samina Ahmed, Zeb Rehman and Raza Talish in lead roles. With a total of 18 episodes, “Dhoop Ki Deewar” tells the story of Vishal (Ahad Raza Mir) and Sara (Sajal Aly), the children of war veterans on opposite sides of the border. Post tragedy, they cross paths through social media and, while initially enemies, become friends – and even something more, realizing they are not as different as they once believed. The message behind the story is simple, but meaningful – while India and Pakistan remain in conflict, the lives of young men are lost. Overall, it’s unfortunate that “Dhoop Ki Deewar” did not receive the recognition it deserved from both Pakistani and Indian audiences alike. This is quality storytelling.
7) Dil Na Umeed Toh Nahi
“Dil Na Umeed Toh Nahi” is not a show for the weak of heart. With a grim, serious topic, this show also faced budget constraints and did not boast of high production values – and yet, despite it all, this is a drama that won rave reviews for its realistic portrayal of legitimate issues such as human trafficking, minors working as domestic help and the cultural restrictions placed on women in Pakistani society. Presented by the Kashf Foundation, written by Amna Mufti and directed by Kashif Nisar, “Dil Na Umeed Toh Nahi” stars Yumna Zaidi, Wahaj Ali, Nauman Ejaz, Navid Shahzad, Yasra Rizvi, Omair Rana, Samiya Mumtaz, Adnan Tipu Shah and others. Rarely in real life do all loose ends wind up, negativity ceasing to exist and evil punished through karma. Life moves on, problems continue to arise, grief continues to exist and, through it all, we continue to move forward. This is the message “Dil Na Umeed Toh Nahi” imparts on its audience. Human trafficking will not end. The destructive circle will continue – but the fight is necessary, the drive towards positivity is necessary and, more than anything, hope for a better future is necessary. Life moves on, but one must keep living. “Dil Na Umeed Toh Nahi” is a show that not only leaves the audience satisfied and content, but also happy, putting a smile on the face and allowing us to look beyond the misery of the world and see that out of trauma can also emerge happiness. Hope. Dreams.
A family story spanning two generations, “Pardes” has been a different story for Pakistani drama viewers. Starring Sarmad Khoosat, Shaista Lodhi, Durr E Fishan, Affan Waheed, Gohar Rasheed, Sharmeen Khan, Atiqa Odho and many others, “Pardes” has been written by Sarwat Nazir and directed by Marina Khan. Ahsan, played by Sarmad Khoosat, works abroad in an effort to support his family – but at the cost of his family life, his wife and children neglected in the process. An entertaining show to watch, “Pardes” leaves an impact through its meaningful storytelling. How does a family suffer when the head of their household works out-of-country? While the wounds may not be physical, this situation can leave deep emotional scars. This is the message “Pardes” (successfully) attempts to put across. While we’ve seen shows in the past about characters residing abroad and leaving their families behind for financial security, “Pardes” presents a balanced viewpoint. It does not seek to dissuade Pakistanis from leaving home or encourage them to do so, rather the message has been clear – Money isn’t important when those one is earning for are left suffering due to the absence.
“Saraab” is a drama that centers around a patient with schizophrenia and how Pakistani society, particularly that patient’s loved ones, reacts to her illness. While the show managed to get off-track for several episodes, this drama did largely manage to tell a gripping story with a realistic portrayal of those suffering from mental health disorders and how they are (mis)treated within their own families. Written by Edison Idrees and directed by Mohin Talat, “Saraab” stars Sonya Hussyn, Sami Khan, Nazish Jehengir, Ghana Ali, Kinza Malik and others in supporting roles. While “Saraab” did not manage to garner the sort of viewership it deserved, the love story between Asfandyar and Hoorain, played by Sami Khan and Sonya Hussyn, will always be remembered – a depiction of true love where loyalty and support overcome all. While the show has not been flawless and has been speckled with petty situations, the essential storyline remained the drama’s constant strength throughout. Sonya Hussyn’s portrayal of Hoorain casts light on the plight of those suffering from mental health disorders, while Sami Khan’s role as Asfandyar depicts the sort of loving, dedicated partner women like Hoorain need. Sami Khan and Sonia Hussyn are the backbone of this show and they carry it from beginning to end on their shoulders.
“Mushk” can only be described as an entertainer. Written by Imran Ashraf and directed by Aehsun Talish, “Mushk” is a “complete story,” a drama full of action, romance, drama and all the elements of a sure-fire hit. Starring Imran Ashraf, Urwa Hocane, Osama Tahir, Momal Sheikh, Zara Tareen, Hassan Ahmed and many others, “Mushk” follows many characters in a “haveli” setting, a haveli full of tradition – and secrets. With an interesting story, “Mushk” also has the acting, writing, direction and cinematography to support that story.
These are the top dramas of 2021 based on content, acting, storytelling, direction and overall impact. Which of yours favorites did not make the cut?