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Audience research shows that educational messages hit home on the back of gripping drama

It has been nearly a year now since Da Pulay Poray radio drama was revived. The drama, which previously focused around the lives of refugee families, now centers on the lives of the same families, as returnees in their native Afghanistan. The drama, produced by a PACT Communications production team, now working from Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan, has been broadcast regularly on Arakozia Radio (90.3FM) in the southern and eastern provinces of Afghanistan – exactly the areas where Da Pulay Poray seeks to make its mark.

According to audience research just conducted into listenership and impact of the drama, Da Pulay Poray is making a mark. Some ten months and 175 episodes after its relaunch in April 2014, Da Pulay Poray conducted audience research, to see what listeners really thought of the drama, did it reflect life, was it gripping drama, was its educational content effective? The researchers used an amalgamation of questionnaire-based and semi-structured interviews to gain a rounded impression of the reaction of Afghanistan’s substantial radio audience to the radio drama.

According to the respondents, Da Pulay Poray was the most popular of all Arakozia programmes mentioned, with almost total listenership (96 per cent) among women who listened to Arakozia, and 87 per cent among men also. Overwhelmingly, the reason for people liking Da Pulay Poray was it being a “true reflection of life”. 30 per cent of women and 20 per cent of men cited this as the main reason for them liking the drama.

This contrasted strongly with Turkish and Indian dramas, which have become popular on TV in Afghanistan. As one female listener, Layluma Sherzad from Khogyani district in Nangarhar put it: “Radio dramas are our own product which reflect purely Afghan lifestyle.” In Kandahar, Qasim Sanjer added: “The advantages of radio drama I think is they tell our life’s stories. They reflect our real life; problems, history, customs and culture.” “Radio is better for new returnees,” Mehr Taj in Jalalabad City put it pointedly. “They can learn how life is inside Afghanistan.”

Despite being an educational drama, people are tuning into Da Pulay Poray for its dramatic appeal. “The educational content of the drama rides on the back of its entertainment value,” the report points out, and the figures are there to substantiate this. The most resonant storyline appears to have been the story of Kashmala, a young widow who held out against forced remarriage, pursued her career as a teacher and returned – it would be more accurate to say she again became a refugee from her in-laws who were forcing her into remarriage – to her own country, eventually to willingly remarry a fellow teacher.

The audience was gripped to the tale of Kashmala’s flight from her in-laws, her taking the permission of her father to marry the man of her – and his – choice. At the same time, along with the story, the message was also getting through: of all the story lines cited in the research, the one that stood out concerned the right of widows to remarry, in accordance with the Hadith: “A widow has more right to forge her own future than her guardian.” This was the message of the drama that had resonated most among both men and women, with 57 per cent of women mentioning this as the most memorable message, as well as a sizeable number of men – 31 per cent.

When the research tried to ascertain in what areas practice – in addition to knowledge and attitudes – might have been altered due to drama, again this was the area which scored highest: 19 per cent of men and 53 per cent of women said that after listening to the drama, they were more likely to allow their widowed daughter-in-law, daughter or sister to remarry according to her own wishes.

Along with story lines, the characters of drama play a pivotal role in communicating the educational messages of the drama. Here also, in choosing their favourite characters, the audience went for convincing acting ability (40 per cent of men and 30 per cent women) or the character being “true to life” (26 per cent men; 22 per cent of women) as opposed to the character being a good role model (just 13 per cent altogether). Even to the extent, according to the research, of choosing a negative character – a villain – as their favourite character. Malik Ghani turned out to be the favourite character of 29 per cent of men and 22 per cent of women, ahead of the female role models, Malik Ghani’s wife Gul Bibi1 (6 per cent of men and 25 per cent of women) and the widow Kashmala (14 per cent of men and 30 per cent of women).

This need not lead to any concern that, from an educational point of view, the audience are relating to the wrong characters. Indeed, the popularity of Malik Ghani is enabling real life Maliks to laugh at themselves, an important component in self-reform. As two Maliks, included in the research, said: “Since I am Malik, I like Malik Ghani’s role,” said Malik Abdul Khalil Aziz, Head of Mir Akbari Village Council. “We are on the same page.” “I like Malik Ghani’s role,” added Malik Noor Agha of Samar Khel Village, Nangarhar. “His role is prevailing. You will many Maliks in this role in our society.”

The research showed that people chose their favourite characters first and foremost because of their acting ability (40 per cent of men and 30 per cent of women) and secondly because of the character being “true to life” (26 per cent of men and 22 per cent of women). In choosing their favourite character, the audience appears comparatively uninterested in the character being a “good role model” (13 per cent of the audience overall).

Far from meaning that the educational messages of the drama are passing people by, the research shows that the more convincing the characters, the more gripping the storylines, the more the educational messages are being effectively communicated. People appreciate the educational content of the drama. It is the “moral of the story” element in drama, without which no story would be complete. But people do not listen to stories for the moral: they listen because of the compelling nature of the story. But the moral also resonates with listeners. “Drama should be both entertainment and educational,’ as one listener from Khost put it. “That is what radio drama does. But Indian and Turkish TV drama are only entertainment. They divert and distort people.”

There is a way to go, but as both entertainment and education, the research shows that Da Pulay Poray is on the right track.

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