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Indian TV channel to show Pakistani soap operas.

LONDON -- For decades soap opera fans in India with a taste for Pakistani drama serials had to rely on pirated recordings to get their fix of shows made in a country long regarded as a mortal enemy.

But what was once just an occasional treat is about to turn into a flood with the launch on Monday of a channel that will show nothing but Pakistani dramas, according to The Guardian.

Hatched by one of the India's biggest media giants Zindagi TV will make some of Pakistan's best shows available to households all over India.

"It requires courage because of the fraught political situation but we think these shows will be liked a great deal," said Shailja Kejriwal, an executive from Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited (Zeel), which is spending almost PS10m just on launching the channel.

The broadcasting of Pakistani programmes for the first time on Indian television comes as hopes rise that newly elected governments in New Delhi and Islamabad will attempt to salve fraught relations between two countries that have gone to war four times in 67 years.

Kejriwal said the Indian public is deeply curious about life in Pakistan, a country many non-Muslims fled during partition in 1947.

"It is quite startling that post-independence the Indian viewer has never actually seen Pakistan visually," she said.

"Test audiences were sort of stunned and excited when we revealed these places were in Pakistan because they felt so familiar to them."

Zeel says it makes business sense given the cultural similarities and the vast numbers of people on both sides of the border speak essentially the same language ? Urdu, Pakistan's national tongue, is very similar to Hindi.

Although shows from Turkey and Egypt will be added to the line-up, the channel will initially only offer Pakistani shows including comedies, one-off television films and classic domestic dramas set around a household of characters.

There is no shortage of such shows already made in India. But, Kejriwal says, like Brits in Hollywood, Pakistani television still enjoys a reputation for being slightly classier than the local fare.

Despite hopes television may help to bring two estranged countries closer together, previous attempts at cultural detente have been scuppered by resurgence of tensions between the two.

In 1999 a rare Indo-Pakistani co-production of a drama series had to be scrapped half-way through filming after Pakistani troops occupied contested peaks in the mountains of Kashmir, precipitating a major crisis.

Hopes are rising of better relations as politicians and big business in both countries call for closer economic ties to fire up much needed growth.

Subhash Chandra, the chairman of Zeel, is among the Mumbai-based tycoons who have lobbied for the current anaemic levels of trade between Pakistan and India to be greatly increased.

In the last two years he has had two meetings with Nawaz Sharif, the industrialist elected prime minister of Pakistan last year who has long been a strong proponent of better relations with India.

Pakistan's powerful army, however, is wary. Institutionally suspicious of India, the generals fear politicians could give too many concessions to India on Kashmir, the former princely state split between the two countries which both claim for themselves.

A more immediate question is whether Indians will be as enthusiastic about Pakistani television as Zeel hopes.

Kitty Kaur, 57, who grew up in New Delhi listening to her father's stories about his home in Lahore that he had to leave during partition, said she thought Zindagi was a "wonderful idea".

"I don't have the courage to go to Lahore and see my home, but I would love to see contemporary Pakistan on television," she said.

Rajan Tripathi, a Mumbai-based television critic, warned Indians will immediately turn against the channel if the two countries return to a war footing.

"This may sound ridiculous but the sudden decision to reject anything and everything connected with Pakistan can never be ruled out," he said.

The opening up of the vast Indian television market is also an enormous opportunity for Pakistan's media business.

But many Pakistanis remain deeply suspicious of India after years of state-sanctioned propaganda against their larger neighbour.

Indian soaps remain banned on Pakistani television.

This year the handful of young Pakistanis who have had some success acting in Bollywood movies were dismissed as "cheap sell-outs" by veteran actor Shaan Shahid.

Shahid's recent blockbuster ? an action adventure film about a heroic retired army major who foils Indian terrorist plots ? was a box-office hit in Pakistan.
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Publication:The Frontier Star (Northwest Frontier Province, Pakistan)
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Jun 24, 2014
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