BY SAFA IMRAN
I recently read a Tweet from Mustafa Babar, the protagonist of the new teen-directed web series Midsummer Chaos, which chronicles the lives of Pakistani Gen Z and the antics they get up to the summers before they leave for college. He argued in defense of the series, saying that it has “bought stories which are untapped or not talked about since they’re contentious.”
This is the narrative that a lot of the cast and directors put forth when questioned about their work. Ahmed Sarym, the young director, stated in an interview that his intent was to show an “intricately detailed look at flawed teenagers and their lives as they come of age.” He goes on to state “As somebody who’s 18, if I were to ever turn to contemporary art, specifically in the visual medium, there is nothing I can very personally relate to in Pakistan. There’s an entire audience demographic that is somewhat invisible in Pakistan and these are people with very strong opinions, personalities, they are, quite literally, the future of our country, yet all we ever see are very stereotypically penned scripts on TV and film."
However, upon viewing the series, my initial thoughts were that what made it so bad was not that it represented only wealthy people, or it was geared towards teenagers and their frivolous lives. After all, teen shows that display wealth and luxury usually experience success due to the fun, drama and escapism they offer (think: Gossip Girl). The reason that Midsummer Chaos received relentless criticism was because it portrayed exactly what the director tried to avoid: a tired, stereotypical script with stories that have been told numerous times before. Each character in the series, be it the Instagram star Sameer or the jaded, angst-filled teen Harris, lacked so much depth and nuances that they were left merely as tropes. Audiences can never relate to characters that are predictable and do not offer complexity and humanity. Moreover, even various scenes from the series, such as the phadda at the pool party or the unnecessarily dramatic break up at the Hot Spot ice cream parlour, are so embedded in stereotypical teenage behaviour that it fails to be realistic and comes across as comedic instead.
Therefore, I fundamentally disagree with Mustafa Babar when he feels that Midsummer Chaos brings forth untapped and contentious stories. Midsummer Chaos instead perfectly reflects the biggest issue with the Pakistani film industry: it relies upon selling stereotypical stories packaged fancily with elite, good looking and well-connected casts in order to attract audience attention. And that is exactly what Midsummer Chaos did too; the cast of the web series is star-studded as it features the massively popular TikTok celebrity Mustafa Babar, famous young models Hiba Ajaz and Mamia Jaffer, and Mehar Bano, the actress from the acclaimed web series Churails alongside of other TV dramas. It is a sad reality of the industry that connections, wealth and frivolous plot lines can get you on the forefront, while works such as Sarmad Khoosat’s Zindagi Tamasha face state censorship due to actually touching upon contentious social topics like criticising the ulema.