Pakistani TV Dramas are loved nation-wide. There’s something about them, be it the writing, character development or the acting, that makes them unforgettable; they leave you with some degree of impact. Outside of all the love these dramas receive, there is criticism over how there has been little growth in terms of storyline in the last few years. While screenplay writers have been aware of the changing societal dynamics, there is still a lot of room for growth.
A major area of improvement for dramas is the depiction of women in Pakistan.
You know the stereotype; to a ‘good, pious’ woman, she must wear Pakistani clothes and have a dupatta over her head, anything outside of that is seen as a ‘liberal’ woman who goes around in jeans. Other than this, women are always shown as a weeping, sad character who can never speak for herself and somehow is always a pushover.
So, in a Pakistani drama, “Dil mom ka diya” the character of Ulfat is the most nasty and evil because she went for abortion. Additionally, she isn’t soft spoken and sacrificing like the other “good girl” Tamkinath.
Give me a break from promoting submissiveness of women. Please?
— Naima (@Naima5622) October 23, 2018
Is it at all possible to show women who aren't miserable or bitchy in Pakistani drama serials?
— Fifi Haroon (@fifiharoon) December 15, 2016
More often than not, women are shown with little to no agency and are at the mercy of the men in their lives.
— naeem rizwan ditta (@no_more_trouble) March 6, 2019
This wasn’t always the case.
Pakistani dramas between the 1980s and 1990s had very well written female characters. By this, I mean that these characters were in-depth and showcased a wide array of women, without showing one as ‘good and pious’ while the other is ‘bitchy and mean’. These women had more agency and freedom of thought, even if they were working or stayed at home.
One of the most iconic examples of this is Dr. Zoya Ali Khan in ‘Dhoop Kinaray’ played by the talented Marina Khan.
Dr. Zoya is exemplary because she knew what she wanted to do and made it a point to realize her dream and aspirations. More than just that, she embraces her personality fully and unapologetically. Zoya is a lively person and is someone who spreads joy in others. Even when another doctor, Dr. Ahmer, tells her off for her antics in the hospital, she challenges him and remains firm in her personality.
Another example of this in an often forgotten character from ‘Tanhaiyan’.
Vida was introduced to us as Zain’s fiance, but later her engagement broke off and Zain and Zara (Vida’s business partner at the time) became the drama’s main couple. That, without a doubt, is a major point of tension in the story of the show, however, Vida NEVER lets to become that. Her calm and collected nature persists, because of which she doesn’t become a vindictive character. Despite the engagement fiasco, she helps and supports Zara, and then quietly leaves the scene.
Lastly, Shahnaaz from ‘Alpha Bravo Charlie’ touched so many hearts with her soulful performance.
She showed us the beauty and intensity of friendship, and how women can very strong, emotionally, as compared to men. Shehnaaz becomes the pillar of strength, not only for her husband but also for his friends too. She’s immensely empathetic and depicts the beauty of friendship with her big heart and solid gems of advice. Again, she isn’t shown as weak or as a bechari, she’s equal to her male counterparts and takes part in the show just as much as they do.
This ‘bechari’ complex became far too rampant in our dramas.
For the past few years, most female characters weren’t shown as strong people. They had submitted themselves to a certain fate and an idea of what a perfect life should be. They weren’t shown to have aspiration or dreams, and even if they did have any, they were discouraged from aspiring towards them. If you watched these dramas mindlessly, you’d believe that a woman’s sole purpose was to get married and take care of her ‘new’ family.
It wouldn’t be entirely right to say we’ve rid ourselves of this complex, but in recent times, female characters have gotten better. This is a good sign, it just means our writers and producers are responding to a simple demand- create more realistic female characters. Characters like Kashaf, Khirad and Dr. Zubia stand out in recent times because they were bold and strong, giving the audience something different. One character, and particularly one scene, recently stuck with me.
In the recent drama, ‘Balaa’, Samina Peerzada plays the strong, protective mother.
While some of her dialogues propagate certain ideals, this moment showed what the character really stood. When Taimur discovers his sister out with a man, he becomes furious, to the point of being violent. The mom stands up for her daughter and her rights like we’ve never seen before. She says in this scene; ‘Larki apni izzat ki khud maalik hoti hai.’
This scene from the latest episode of Balaa will send chills down your spine.
Read the review here: https://t.co/SpzppP7SGU
Click here for the whole video: https://t.co/IZ4TWebQlY pic.twitter.com/4zWwioMzWv
— ARY Digital (@arydigitalasia) November 7, 2018
Somewhere between the ‘Alpha Bravo Charlie’ period, and the current time we’re in, something went wrong with how women were represented. Our industry falls easily to copying off themes that worked for others, so maybe one drama that worked got copied over and over until it became the norm. Because of these dramas constantly being churned out, female characters began taking a back seat, as their trajectory was set and there was no incentive for change, until now when people raised their voice against it.
Stuff is generally getting better with respect to female characters. The future of Pakistani dramas needs to be rooted in its past- a past that had free-er, more independent female characters. These characters will team Pakistani women how to live their life on their terms. This is how we’ll move forward.
Cover Photo Courtesy: Shalimar Recording Company and HUM TV