Bulbulay: When a poor man’s distress is funny

Published: July 21, 2013

I’m familiar with dark humour, but this is supposed to be family comedy. PHOTO: https://www.facebook.com/pages/BulbulayARY-digital/198829273499667

The TV-show Bulbulayenjoys a sizable fan-following in Pakistan, but I’ve never really been a part of that base. On watching its most recent episode, my face appears to have been restructured to bear a permanent grimace.

The story went something like this (needless to say, you’ll find spoilers here!):

A penniless man arrives at the family’s doorstep begging for food. He stays at the door for several hours, sobbing uncontrollably about his woeful condition. The fact that the show’s writers managed to squeeze jokes into the episode with such a background story, is a remarkable feat.

But wait, it gets funnier! Momo- that silly amnesic goose, forgets to feed the beggar and he starves to death at their threshold. The household enters a state of panic; the trademark, overacted ‘family crisis’ scenario that is the heart of the show’s success.

Hilarity ensues as they come together to figure out ways to dispose of the beggar’s corpse, and avoid taking responsibility for his demise. The writers decide that the situation isn’t sepulchral enough, so they add another twist: the poor man’s son arrives at the door, inquiring about his father.

Momo’s husband accidentally informs the son that his father is dead (funny sound effects are played in the background). At the end of this – let’s say ‘awkward’ conversation – the son rushes over the father’s dead body, hugging it and moaning inconsolably.

A final twist in the story ultimately pulls it out of its morbid state, but by then I had already switched off the TV in disgust (I later called a friend to find out what the ending was, so I could finish writing this blog.)

I’m familiar with dark humour, but this is supposed to be family comedy for ammi, abu, nanu, guria and munna to enjoy together. There may be an audience for the show that lol’d and rofl’d through the episode, but I didn’t.

My lack of amusement was blamed on my missing sense of humour, or my alleged hypersensitivity. But I had my reasons to frown:

One, that the episode is airing in a country where there’s an obvious culture of treating beggars as sub-humans; pestilent beings who cause such great inconvenience to us haves by dropping dead on or near our properties.

Also, it’s thing like these that fuel our annoyance towards the poor. They are consistently represented as brutes, con-artists or members of a begging ‘industry’, a street syndicate, running a lucrative business based on our generosity.

These cases are certainly not non-existent. But they are wildly exaggerated by privileged Pakistanis so they can feel less guilty about not giving a damn about the poor. So that we may ignore, insult and shoo away the needy, without an ounce of remorse.

Under these prevailing social conditions, the episode in question came off (at least to me) as callous and excruciatingly unfunny.

Call me ‘sensitive’, but it worries me that we’re a society where human starvation is passé enough to be spun casually into a family comedy for us all to laugh at, and move on with our businesses.

Read more by Faraz here, or follow him on Twitter @FarazTalat 

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat

A medical doctor and bubble-wrap enthusiast from Rawalpindi, who writes mostly about science and social politics (and bubble-wrap). He tweets @FarazTalat (twitter.com/FarazTalat)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Mohammad Assad

    In that particular episode, the old man was faking his death so that his son could take money from the family as compensation. At the end of the show, they father-son duo was shown fleecing another man where the son was pretending to be blind. This sort of story line is fairly common in many many local dramas/movies.
    Besides, in another episode Nabeel shot the policeman Butt Sahabs, brother, and only in the last 5 mins do we find out that he is actually dreaming. Or in one episode, Mehmood sahabs friend from Swat comes who is shown as a brute who has 4 wives and has forced his youngest wife into marrying him because her father didnt payback his loan. One could equally take offense at those episodes as well. Not to mention many others, in the 220+ epsiode life of Bulbulay.
    But at the end of the day, its just a 20 minute sitcom, filled with silly jokes which are though stale most of the times, but are still funny. And we need some laughter in our lives these days.Recommend

  • Waqas

    That is a really annoying show. But so is this blog post. The self-hating Pakistani bit is getting old. There are similar stories about ‘poor’ men in several American sitcoms. If you can watch and like them, then you can watch and like this. (Now I don’t know if you watch or like them, but please do if you don’t, because we need more needless blogs here.)Recommend

  • Captain Obvious

    Wow, I’d never watch stuff like this, but I’m surprised with this storyline, this “family drama” has made it on the air Recommend

  • Sensible

    i hate this show!Recommend

  • pakistani

    atleast they make us laugh…thats what we need …Recommend

  • danny boy

    The jokes in Bulbulay are predictable, cliched and repititive. The fact that poor comedy like this is such a big hit in Pakistan shows the lack of intellect in our people and how entertainment starved they are. No offense to those who ‘LOL’ or ‘ROFL’ over it…Recommend

  • shahzad

    Pathetic article , nothing wrong with the drama, dont be so sensitive. Triibune blogs are alyas uselessRecommend

  • http://haroonriaz.wordpress.com Haroon Riaz

    I think Bulbulay is rubbish. But so is this article.Recommend

  • Parvez

    ………..arn’t you reading too much into a TV play aptly called ‘ Bulbulay ‘.
    Suggest you watch some of the many, many Ramzan shows being aired in this holy month and try reconciling what they show with ground reality…………and you will have a worthy topic to write on.
    Incidently when ever I see your picture on the page I always make it a point to read you.Recommend

  • Javeria

    You really need to chill out. I bet you must have seen a beggar so many times in your life but did YOU stop to feed him or provide him with shelter or help? No, you didnt.
    You are the person who loves to complain about our illiterate Pakistani state and at the same time, you are not willing to do anything about it. You would run to the US the first chance you get.

  • Muhammad Ishfaq

    Much ado about nothing……Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/430/faraz-talat/ Faraz Talat

    Again, there are many things so obviously unfunny in real life – slipping and falling, getting punched, getting hit by a truck – that are portrayed as funny in TV-shows.

    But it is insensitive to poke fun at something of which there is an existing culture. For instance, I would laugh at a woman on TV getting hit on the head by a flying bucket, but I will gasp if the woman gets acid splashed in her face in the same comedy routine.

    It’s because not only the latter is part of a horrific culture (final few paragraphs of the article) that stirs painful thoughts of ongoing events, it attempts to normalize it as well.Recommend

  • Asif Butt

    @Faraz Talat , The Author/Writer

    You have made a tough call.

    Times have changed and further changing.

    Its a global dilemma.

    Even when countries/governments talk of planned and projected progress the ugly truth is that the really poor are never in picture of that national progress.

    I think it is in human nature to be selfish and self centered.

    The books teach us wrong you know.

    We learn the word “SOCIETY” whereas actually there are SOCIETIES and in modern era GROUPS OF SOCIETIES or even SOCIETY of SOCIETIES.

    The things which you are talking about and the expectations which you have are no more rational.

    The only thing which can not be diminished is HUMANITY.

    The world is running on it and hopefully humanity makes a few people like you or me to care.

    SOCIETY ? a totally different story.Recommend

  • Saad

    Its called “satire”. -.-Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/Pugnate Noman Ansari

    I caught a few glimpses of this show on TV and though it was terribly unfunny stuff that was probably filler material for the networks. The fact that it has a sizable following in Pakistan is disappointing. Recommend

  • http://gujrat Zalim singh
  • john

    can we please stop making an issue out of everything?
    countless gutter gibberish has happened in western shows, dare write a post on that. Stop this self-slapping I-hate-Pakistan already.Recommend

  • uzma

    so what you people want them to watch? Grey’s anatomy or Desperate housewives type of stuff… suggest!!!!Recommend

  • uzma

    you should go through “Quddoosi SAhab ki Bewa ” you will feel better….
    I am not a fan of Bulbulay myself but do consider the options the audience has!!!Recommend

  • Haider

    this drama serial and ” quddosi sahb ki bewa” have become a head ache now. there is nothing new other than low level comedy specially “quddosi sahb ki bewa” which is a complete disgrace for the society.Recommend

  • http://think-islam.blogspot.com PostMan

    choose only one please. Bulbulay or Aamir Liaqat Hussain? Recommend

  • Rakshinda

    Oh come on people!
    Our frustrated society needs to laugh out at the sitcoms that originate for Pakistan rather than falling from angrezi shows like grey’s anatomy (doctors ki mohabbatain) and bla bla. Laughter knows no boundaries, for the love of GOD stop crying over it!
    Faraz Talat, it was a good read. Recommend

  • Shamy

    I live “pul kay us paar” and people call me a burger….yet i love this show. I think the writer is a genius !Recommend

  • Nasreen

    How do you write a blog about or critique a show you never completely watched? How unprofessional!!Recommend

  • Khan

    Agreed, its the most original comedy on tv right now. I find each episode hilarious :D


  • Zara

    you’re over-reacting, besides there is much going on tv that has to be criticised…..Recommend

  • Reader

    There appears to be an unwanted urge in this write up of explaining people how desensitised Pakistanis have become. The same old expression of being a perfect humanist is used here. We can call it uncalled for criticism. There’s genuine worse being projected internationally, in movies and in TV series. Having a TV set at home nowadays with cable means that you cannot avoid diversity of any kind. Nor it can be avoided from the backhand. Because what you think about something and the way you think, another man doesn’t think and believe the same. Bear with it or throw the TV out in the street and go “into the wild”.Recommend

  • http://bigsaf.newsvine.com bigsaf

    @Faraz Talat:

    I hate to admit it, but from time to time, I do find myself enjoying the ridiculously silly and cheesy comedy. However, you’re not alone in noticing a certain current of cruelty in their unintended (or maybe intended?) dark humour, and I feel it just maybe the writers reflection of the society.

    There was this episode a year back where kidnappers had suggested cutting off the family’s hostage baby’s finger to send a message. I was with family when watching that scene. It was incredibly distasteful and painful dialogue to hear and certainly did not seem like something that should belong in a family comedy, nor did I find it serving a purpose in highlighting the kidnapping issue in Pak – it seemed like they somehow internalized and accepted this sort of behaviour.

    It did leave an ill feeling and always felt like someone should let their producers know. I’m glad I’m not the only one whose noticed such a mindset and despite what the detractors say, I think you were absolutely right in bringing this topic up. Recommend

  • Khalil

    is this Bulbulay even humorous or funy? if it seems funny to our people then i really feel reading Khalil Gibran’s “Pity the Nation”. Recommend

  • choclet

    after reading this offended momo: chup bay! (a term picked up by children watching this inane show!) Recommend

  • http://rorolia.wordpress.com Xain Gardezi

    Lol! Ppl find ‘issues’ with just about everything. It was just a show and a satire. a rather poor one, but thats a different story. Concerned about misery of poor ppl? Help them! Recommend

  • Supporter

    Have you seen the Brook Girls? In that sitcom they make fun of a waitress and a girl whose father got into jail and was very rich.Have you watched any English sitcom (well they have nothing funny except the adult content)?
    We need to appreciate our people or support the stupid Turkish serials.Recommend

  • sage

    Come on…. are you not tired of sad and bad news and pathetic dramas with sick stories being played by almost all the channels…. If there is some one laughing… though on silly joke…. what is your issue… and instead of promoting some light comedy for audience… you are playing your role of negative critic…. sometimes it become difficult to digest the story of dramas after a full hectic dayRecommend

  • Pakistan

    All the people who are criticizing Bulbulay inculding the writer I bet that they all watched it and continuously following it if not they will not be able to comment.

    Wts wrong with all of you guys its just a sitcom dont take it seroiusly.Dont be so negetive on everything.

    The show is great and I love the show.Recommend

  • someone

    One man’s tragedy is other man’s comedy. That is the rule. I am sure author must have laughed a lot on Charlie Chaplin’s movies where he is getting bruised and falling off.Recommend

  • Hira

    Although I agree with the writer about the dark humor being presented in Bulbulay, it still remains a 15+ minute comedy show that lightens up one’s mood for some time. The episode you watched may have been considerably gruesome, but in reality sometimes one just needs to lie back and laugh on senseless things to lighten up the mood.