Qubool Hai 2.0: Why Did A Soapy Television Rom-Com Go The India-Pakistan Route?

The successful soap opera on Zee TV, starring Karan Singh Grover and Surbhi Jyoti, got a fresh lease of life as a web-show on Zee5
Qubool Hai 2.0: Why Did A Soapy Television Rom-Com Go The India-Pakistan Route?

The soap-opera Qubool Hai has 864 episodes that ran on ZeeTV from 2012 to 2016 in batches of four twisty seasons. The narrative began with a rather simple premise: a love story between Zoya (Surbhi Jyoti) and Asad (Karan Singh Grover). Set in Bhopal, the show begins with the free-spirited Zoya who comes from America, in pursuit of her biological father. She takes refuge, living under the house of her foster-sister's aunt, the steel-spined Asad's mother. Their worldviews clash, where what Zoya sees as pabandi, restrictions, Asad sees as tehzeeb, culture, and their regular banter — him calling her "Miss Farooqui" and her calling him "Mister Khan" — becomes part of the world-building. 

Zee5, Zee TV's affiliated streaming platform, has taken this television show's initial premise and made a snappy 10-part web-show,
Qubool Hai 2.0 (hereon, 2.0). Released on March 12, it has garnered over a million views within its first week on the platform. 

2.0 is not a continuation of Qubool Hai, which began with the innocuous idea of simple love in a Muslim mileu that morphed into genocidal vamps, generational shifts, drugged sex, swapped brides, rebirth, and vampires till it fizzled out entirely. Over the course of the four seasons Surbhi Jyoti has played Zoya, both of Zoya's twin-daughters, and a reincarnation of one of Zoya's twin-daughters. This kind of drama is clearly not conducive for streaming. 

An attempt at creating a family-tree of Qubool Hai, how characters are related to, not related, or murdered by one another. Courtesy Kaavya Ramamoorthy
An attempt at creating a family-tree of Qubool Hai, how characters are related to, not related, or murdered by one another. Courtesy Kaavya Ramamoorthy

Instead, 2.0 merely builds a new world with the same characters who have similar trappings, tweaked to accommodate the changing times. 

So What Changed?

In the television series, Asad is a regressive, conservative man with a cloistered perspective on freedom. Zoya, seen mostly in jeans, freewheeling opinions like it's nobody business, strikes sour with him. In one of the episodes he dismisses her as, "ghair-zimmedar, azaad-khayal, aur badtameez". He insists she not wear jeans and tops, not go out at night by herself, and not litter. 

It is only the last of the three complaints that makes it to Qubool Hai 2.0. Here, Asad's conservatism is morphed into excessive "OCD", where he requires things (not people) to be in their place —  predictable and clean. His sister Najma, who sat around the house in fine salwars in the television show is now an ethical hacker sitting around the house in hoodies, tapping away at the laptop.

Instead of tier-2 Bhopal, the scale of web-show is now expanded to include Belgrade and Delhi. Asad, who was a suit-boot-business person on the television show is now a competitive sharp-shooter who represents India. 

Asad meets Zoya in 2.0 the same way he met her on the television show —  Zoya is a run-away bride and in her wedding finery (bright red in the television show, and snow white in 2.0, marking the shift of bridal colours over the years) falls in front of Asad's car, which he swerves violently. In both shows, the car swirls as if inhabited by a Rohit Shetty spirit of rotating dervishes. Zoya and Asad blame each other for being an irresponsible driver and pedestrian, respectively — it's the same set of dialogues, repurposed for nostalgia. 

"Aapko gaadi chalane ki tameez nahin hai, toh gaadi kyun chalate hain aap?"

"Aapko sadak par chalne ki tameez nahin hai, toh ghar par kyun nahin rehti hai?"

"Aapko baat karne ko tameez nahin hai, toh baat kyun karte hain aap?"

There is thus, a very clear intention to tap into the 2012-2013 nostalgia for Qubool Hai, where the joy of watching it is not just experiencing the story, but thinking back to that moment of watching the show which aired on television Monday-Friday without fail — the show played at 9:30 p.m. a prime-spot, with a rerun at 4:30 p.m., when most kids got back from school, and nothing exciting was happening on television, in that vacuum between getting back from school and playtime. It is this time-spot, when people of my generation, then school-going, consumed this. When the coronavirus lockdown was announced, ZeeTV decided to rerun Qubool Hai at 8 p.m., another prime slot. 

It is to refresh this nostalgia that similar scenarios and familiar tropes play out. Zoya prefaces every complaint with "Allah miyan", a trait that doesn't get lost in translation from a television to a web-show. In both Qubool Hai and 2.0, Zoya walks in on Asad bathing, only to ogle at him like fresh meat, the camera's gaze on Grover's abs. 

However, 2.0 quickly becomes something else — a spy story with an India-Pakistan angle, with Mandira Bedi as the silver-fox Chief of the Indian National Security who stares at maps with the same dedication of Zoya's thirsty gaze. The "banter" which was mostly for framing the Zoya-Asad romance is used further in 2.0 for India-Pakistan verbal jabs. The title "Qubool Hai" itself, while referring to the vow of marriage during the nikah, is given another function in 2.0 — the pledge of allegiance to one's country, as seen when Asad accepts a national security assignment, and with the forthright zeal notes, "Qubool Hai". 

The ten episodes end on a cliff-hanger, promising further seasons, and further ways of repurposing pre-streaming nostalgia for the post-streaming world. 

Why Was Qubool Hai So Coveted? 

From the beginning Qubool Hai was under the gaze of the hot-press. Karan Singh Grover was fresh off the success of Star One's Dill Mill Gaye, a medical drama that played from 2007-2010, where he played Armaan Malik, a young, charming medical intern who rises up the ranks. His sharp cheekbones, wide eyes, and built body clothed with tight shirts made the requisite impression. 

Initially, the speculation was which show would be moved to accommodate Qubool Hai, a big show by TV standards given Karan Singh Grover's popularity among the soap-opera audience. It was also Zee TV's first Muslim social drama

Within a few months, Qubool Hai cozied up the TRP ranks, which was attributed to both "Karan Singh Grover's charisma and also an honour killing track", both seem to have forged a connection with the audience — one social issue, and one sensual issue. Within a year it was one of the top shows on television. 

Then, in December 2013 Karan Singh Grover was dropped from the show due to his "unprofessional behaviour". Hate mail for his replacement and petitions to bring him back were roving the internet. (A similar thing happened in Dill Mill Gaye, where Grover was told to leave, but unlike Qubool Hai, six months later he was brought back due to popular sentiment.) 

 Qubool Hai is the adaab-irshaad genre of Muslim representation, where the trials of being a Muslim in modern India, a state that is clamping down on minorities, is hidden under the veneer of Urdu prose, as if the only difference between a Hindu and Muslim household is an aesthetic one. It is the kind of representation that doesn't muddy itself in lived-in politics.  

The idea is that every few years, even as some part of the aspirational love aesthetic changes, other parts remain the same. The gamble is in trying to figure out which is which.

Besides it had its own issues to deal with vis-a-vis censorship. Twice, the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council issued notices against Qubool Hai due to excessive violence against women — once when vamp mixed acid in the mehendi, and another time when a woman was being suffocated by her in-laws with a plastic bag, and forcibly trying to take her thumb impression on some papers. 

Qubool Hai isn't the first television show to get a fresh lease of life on streaming. Zee TV's Ishq Subhan Allah also got a streaming spinoff in 2019 with Ishq Aaj Kal, which released each of its 4 seasons over the course of the year. It's a new kind of model that is stripping television content of its twisty, inconsistent quality, and draping it with sharper visuals, better costumes, a musical track that is indistinguishable from Hindi film music, and some on-screen kissing. The kiss in Qubool Hai 2.0 seemed to be a constant question asked to the actors, as if it's still a big deal. 

Never Kiss Your Best Friend (left) and Qubool Hai 2.0 (right)
Never Kiss Your Best Friend (left) and Qubool Hai 2.0 (right)

The title song of 2.0 doesn't have that slow-drone feeling of soap opera title tracks. It's snappier, and designed not so much to introduce a show as to be downloaded from Mp3 sites. Never Kiss Your Best Friend that released on Zee5 last year is one such example of doing this well, where despite the formulaic tendencies, there is a sensual suggestion of sex without showing sex, there is a more urban, less theatrical quality to the banter which is still an important part of world-setting. The idea is that every few years, even as some part of the aspirational love aesthetic changes, other parts remain the same. The gamble is in trying to figure out which is which.

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