گاڑی کو چلانا بابو

A classic from the Benjamin sisters.

The aesthetic timbre of this old video is striking. I was drawn to the nature of the studio, having spent some time in studios like this as a child in recordings of TV programs at Pakistan Television studios in colonial Lahore. These studios are huge, hundreds of feet on each side, and often the set itself would be small sections set up in the middle of cavernous halls.

It feels plausible that some of the weight, maturity and seriousness felt in TV transmissions of this time is in some sense a reflection of the spaces within which they are recorded. During General Musharraf’s time, as airwaves opened up to dozens of new television studios we got both sides of the liberalization: new voices previously unheard found an audience, and the influx of new supply brought the average editorial quality down (even as peak quality may arguably have risen). Today, TV sets are often cameras rammed into garish, slowly dismantling fixtures of plywood, and fake posh furniture and light fittings.

One thing I don’t miss about PTV recordings however is the seeming captivity of the audiences on these stages. Often audience members are recorded with the same horror in their faces as a wedding guest caught on camera taking a big mouthful with a blinding flash staring them right in the face. The placidity of these audiences only strengthens my perception of the charisma of many stars of this era – Moin Akhtar, Nazia Hasan, the Vital Signs – who were able to get this audience to laugh and hold their own in these large rooms with no support from the garish colors and loud noise enabled by today’s technology and aesthetic standards.