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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Social Media ka Humsafar

The word Humsafar itself means travel companion, or to give it a more significantly richer meaning, it is commonly used to refer to a life long companion. It is indeed a sweet word with an even sweeter meaning, how wonderful are those individuals who are either our travel companions or our life long ones. Growing up in Pakistan, for me, Humsafar was also the low production quality in flight magazine found in every seat of a domestic or an international flight of the nation's flag carrier PIA (Pakistan International Airlines).However if you are a Pakistan, or a member of the South Asian diaspora living in any corner of the world, the word Humsafar carries with it an additional meaning and a reference to something in popular culture.

That alternative Humsafar which is what most Pakistanis in particular can identify or relate with is the Hum TV drama Humsafar which debut on weekend prime time television in September last year. Starring young talents such as Fawad Khan, Mahira Khan Askari and Naveen Waqar, this prime time drama has gone on to become the most successful Pakistani prime time drama of all time breaking unexpected viewing records. By sheer coincidence the evening the pilot episode aired on prime time television in Pakistan was also the evening I arrived in London to start graduate study. As I was making way out of Heathrow airport, people were tuning into what was the start of an extraordinary journey, an extraordinary tale of love, family, deceit, betrayal and our impulsive judgmental attitude, all attributes which make us human. Having been introduced to the show by a friend just close to a fortnight ago, I was astonished to see the remarkable following that this television show had managed to pull towards itself. As far as myself as an individual was concerned, I just wanted to see what the big deal was, what was the fuss all about, why are millions of people around the world absolutely crazy about a prime time drama on television back home.

The drama itself is none the less remarkable and has managed to create a new bar for quality of prime time weekend viewing and will create high expectations among those who have become fans of the young and energetic caste as well as the writer and her team behind it. For my non Asian (Indo-Pak) friends, who are unfamiliar with Humsafar, it is the story of Ashar and Khirad, who due to unfortunate circumstances find themselves find themselves married to one another. It is the story of how their love evolves and blossoms, and the unthinkable tragedy and misunderstanding that will push them apart for many years. For more details here is the Wikipedia link

 Living in the age of digital and social media such as that of today's world, I am certain that digital technology and social media played a significant role in the popular appeal of Humsafar, and assisted Humsafar in evolving from a good prime time drama to that off a revolutionary trend setter. Living abroad, my access to viewing past episodes of Humsafar was courtesy of Youtube which is currently owned by the internet giant Google. Youtube allows users with an account to upload videos and other forms of audio visual content to share with other users on the world wide web. Fan's of Humsafar, as well as the channel sanctioned Youtube users uploaded all the episodes of the show that had been aired to date. Those searching Humsafar had the option of watching each 35-40 minute episode split into ten minute video slots in a high resolution or watch a full single video of the whole episode with a slightly toned down resolution. Youtube has played a significant role in the popular growth of the Humsafar phenomenon, it has allowed fans from all corners of the globe to be able to follow the show, as well as allow current viewers a chance to catch up with their beloved show, but most importantly what reflects the fan following is the viewer count, usually found in the tens of thousands, and the hundreds if not thousands of comments that follow the episode on youtube. That is significant volumes of qualitative user generated content. My friends and cousins back home, who would otherwise not know how to use Youtube proudly tell me how they have seen each episode multiple times courtesy of Youtube. Even the title track of the show sung by Qurat-alain Baloch has become a chart topper with a very large fan base through out Pakistan.

Facebook is another very effective social media platform that has played a significant role in the growth and popularity of Humsafar. The official Humsafar fan page on Facebook has over a 170,000, who have been regularly sharing their feedback and thoughts about the show using that page as a source. The nature of comments include what the viewer response and reaction to each passing episode was, including guess work on the route that the drama would take and what to expect in the coming episodes. This user generated feedback on a personal level played a significant role in convincing me to check out the show for myself and see what is it that has captivated millions of Pakistanis. The Facebook fan page for Humsafar has also served as a very useful platform for Hum TV to introduce and market their upcoming prime time television drama's that will be airing on the channel in the months to come, including the one that will take up Humsafar's precious Saturday night 8 pm time slot. These up coming shows are introduced with fan pages of their own, which within days have tens of thousands of followers of their own. Traffic to the individual fan pages of leading cast members Fahad Khan, Mahira Khan Askari and Naveen Waqar has also multiplied in the weeks and months that followed the premier of this prime time drama. One could say that through Humsafar and its presence on social media and social networking platforms has played a great role in generating significant brand equity for its cast members as individuals, as well as for Hum TV itself which will be regarded as the premier channel for prime time television. Something marketers might want to consider if they wish to get through marketing communication across to their relevant audiences.

Finally, in social media and social networking tools, its the blogging world that has taken a significant liking for Humsafar. Even this blog is about Humsafar, to go with the thousands of blogs already written about Humsafar, analyzing the show from multiple angles and viewpoints. Through blog sites such as blogspot and wordpress, followers of Humsafar have not only discussed the show, but have gone on to discuss and write about issues relating to society, family affairs, misunderstandings, selfishness, love, deceit, u name it, people have blogged about it in the light of Humsafar. As the show heads towards its close with the finale in just a few days time, I can only hope there will be other productions of such quality that will have the power to have a significant impact on their audiences at home and beyond. 

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