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A Unique Insight on the Border Regions

In January, PACT Radio was invited to attend the recording for the upcoming second series of An Everyday Story of Afghan Folk. With the original actors, producers and writers of the first series returning, PACT Radio wanted to find out more about the experiences of those involved with the drama, as well as what new insight it has given them on the Pashtoon people of the region where it is based.

Recording took place at a studio in London and through out the process all those involved worked tirelessly on each scene. Director and writer, Liz Rigbey, worked closely with actors and what was particularly pleasing to see was the great efforts put in by all in trying perfect their pronunciations of names and Pashto terms as much as possible. This ensured that despite the drama being in English, attention was continually paid to maintaining an authentic, cultural feel to the drama.

The second series is set roughly six months on from the first and although we return to the same village and characters, the series manages to stand independently.

Last year, some of the storylines explored the dangers of giving refuge to outsiders, widow’s rights and the importance of contemporary education alongside religious education. Those key themes continue to be a part of the drama, but now have a new meaning, particularly in relation to education and recent events in the region.

Liz Rigbey mention how for most Western listeners, the image they are likely to associate with the region currently is that of Malala Yousafzai, who was brutally shot by Taliban gunmen in Swat, following her association with promoting girls education.

The drama already incorporated an educational storyline, one of which was Kashmala’s aspirations to teach, but as Liz discussed, it made her realise what was at stake and how much Kashmala is risking her life. “Even while directing, every actor commented on how brave she was. I found it hard as a Western woman to see some people living with so few choices.”

She continued saying, “I found working on The Pulay Poray fascinating and wanted to share it with British listeners. The familiar medium of radio soap is a good way of introducing the unfamiliar world of the Pashtoons. It’s too easy to distance ourselves from over ten years of national involvement in Afghanistan. This area is often associated with war and that is only a tiny part of our programme.  The drama therefore gives British listeners an accessible way of increasing their understanding of the  region and provides an amazing window on the society.  I am proud of the representation we have given – every single character echoes PACT Radio’s original drama, all fully rounded and full of complexity.”

Producer, Anne-Marie Cole also felt similarly, “It was amazing to have such an insight into this part of Afghanistan through drama. I discovered that there are very close family ties, set social codes and strong notions of hospitality and strict gender boundaries – some of which are being questioned by Pashtoons today, especially in the area of education for women.”

Madhav Sharma, who plays loveable shopkeeper Sardar Aka in the drama and has been acting professionally for the last fifty years provided his perspective, “My own lack of knowledge on the region made me challenge my own ignorance towards such places. It said more to me on my ignorance as the drama looks at all aspects of people – women, education, love, loyalty and humour. The people may have a different way of life, geography and religion, but their feelings are still the same. Looking at Afghanistan, forces you to look at yourself also.”

PACT Radio is concerned with continually providing a true picture of the everyday life of Pashtoon people, which tends to differ from that often portrayed in mainstream media. With this in mind, we were keen to find out how the drama challenged assumptions people had of the region and how these changed after working on it.

Matt Willis, who works as assistant producer for Above the Title said, “The representation is often only from the news and so it can be biased. Doing the right thing, humour and compassion are not often news worthy. The drama presents real issues and scenarios, but we don’t draw threads together. Instead it poses questions, that as a listener you can explore.”

Anne-Marie also said, “I think in the mainstream media we are mostly shown pictures of war, destruction and political infighting in these areas, but with An Everyday Story of Afghan Folk, based on PACT’s original soap, we see that many of the ordinary villagers living there are people trying to earn a living, raise their families and see justice done to wrongdoers – though I can see that the noble practice of giving shelter to strangers poses a major problem when outlaws come to the area and exploit Pashtoon hospitality.”

Madhav Sharma added, “Mainstream media is too general and not easy to identify with. We often hear generalities, but don’t understand what happens in real life. For this reason such dramas can be so beneficial, they allow us to think about bigger issues in a small way and this is the great advantage of soap operas.”

An Everyday Story of Afghan Folk will be broadcast between the 15-19th of April on BBC Radio 4, daily at 1045 and 1945. It will also be available online on BBC iplayer, following the radio broadcasts.
There will be no Wednesday morning broadcast at 1045, instead listeners can tune in at 1945 and listen online.

It is an Above The Title Production for Radio 4 and is based on an original PACT Radio production.

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