Chit Chat Aur Chai ~ How do women fare in our ‘women-oriented’ dramas?

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Saas-bahus, glamorous girlfriends, conniving nands, bojh bani betiyan, bechari bhabhis, sariyal sisters, pareshan pehli biwis, dayan doosri biwis, nosy rishtey wali aunties…. matlab ke bas soch hai aap ki. Pick any drama on any channel at random and you are highly likely to find a woman holding court.

There is, therefore, no arguing the fact that our drama industry is very female focused in terms of the kinds of stories they choose to tell. Ask the industry people about this phenomenon and they will happily acknowledge that this is no accident. Given that the majority of their viewers are women there is a conscious effort to package and present stories in a way that would be attractive to this demographic, hence the plethora of ‘women-oriented’ dramas, where women and their issues are the focus of attention.

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So far so good. But what does it actually mean for a drama to be woman-oriented? Is it enough to say that just because it features a woman in a lead role it is a woman-oriented serial? Should we be still calling it a woman-oriented story if the woman in question has no say in her own story and is effectively powerless to make decisions about her life? What about the question of her agency?

Closely related to the question of women’s empowerment is the overly simplified distinction that viewers tend to draw between a ‘weak’ woman and a ‘strong’ woman. Is it really as easy as saying that a woman who cries is weak and the one who doesn’t is strong? How do we differentiate between the two? And does this have to be a case of an either or situation? Can a woman not be ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ in equal measures depending on her particular circumstances?

These are but only a few questions that come to mind whenever the term woman-oriented drama is used to describe what we see unfold on our TV screens day in day out, there is so much more here that can and should be questioned and discussed. I invite you all to join me for a cup of chai and share your thoughts, feel free to illustrate your responses with pertinent examples from dramas.

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I have started the ball rolling with this recent article that I wrote for The Friday Times, where I reviewed four recent serials with similar questions in mind. In addition to addressing the above-mentioned issues I have also highlighted how differently a same old story reads when we change the protagonists from female to male, thus underscoring the point about the very limited, if any, agency assigned to women in our everyday serials.

I now look forward to reading your thoughts so bas ab aap log jaldi se aa jayenchit chat aur chai awaits you!

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Written by SZ~

Link to my Friday Times article

The usual, the bad and ‘hat ke’

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39 replies

  1. Anmol in Dillagi reminds me of Aafiya in Mera Naam Yousaf Hai. She may talk the talk but in the end her decisions are dependent on the actions made by the male protagonists. But doesn’t that just reflect the reality of the conservative patriarchal part of Pakistani society? Men can get away with certain actions that women can’t. Even in the west a man can be a playboy or just playing the field but if a woman acts the same way there are a number of negative descriptions used.

    In this patriarchal society it is conceivable that Wali can kidnap his wife and the police won’t do anything to assist. Or that Zuliekha’s father in MNYH could persuade and bribe the police to kidnap his daughter under his watchful eye to force the ruksati. What I liked about Fara and Zuilekha was that despite these adversities they stayed mentally strong and refused to be cowed by the actions of their menfolk.

    In Aunn Zara when Aunn’s niece gets sick in the middle of the night, Aunn has to go with his phuppo to the hospital as it wasn’t prudent for a woman to go on her own during the night.

    Anmol even acknowledges this in a conversation with her sister when talking about her sister’s fiance, saying that they are three women alone and its best that neither sister gets married to a man with a strong character who could take advantage of the family.

    We all think the women of Tanhiyan, Ankahi and Dhoop Kinray were great (and they were) but were they in some ways not a true reflection of the lives of (lower?) middle class women in Pakistan. I used to watch these dramas in the U.K. in the 80s and see the women with their jobs, no pressure to get married before the age of 25 (did anyone actually bring up age), talking freely with the guy next door etc etc. But these dramas never reflected my experience of Pakistani women when I visited. Perhaps I came from a conservative background, like most people I had relatives who were very well off financially while others were not so good, so it wasn’t a financial situation that made anyone more liberal or conservative. Perhaps my experience was just more conservative than others.

    The thing with Shagufta and Shazma, both dramas I have not watched properly but from what I did watch, both female leads were able to do what they did because no male protagonist stopped them or intervened.

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    • @NKhan Anmol doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk, she runs, chases ghundas and beats them up in the street too! If Afia was anything like Anmol, Waji Ahmed would’ve been too scared of her to ditch her lol

      Re women of Tanhiyan, Ankahi and Dhoop Kinray : I hear you that they were not everyday women. Saniya and Zara were daughters of some sort of celebrity artists… regardless, no doubt these were ideal – women of substance… That was almost 30 yrs ago!.. but sadly, although in real life women in our society have moved forward and become more independent, unfortunately the women in our dramas have regressed..

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      • @FA Lol. You are right Anmol would eat the coward Waji Ahmed alive. But there is also a question of financial independence. Aafiya was only able to leave Waji Ahmed because her son gave her the financial independence to do so. Anmol and family are not dependent on any man financially and just about have their own house.

        Yes our dramas have regressed, Today in 2016 I can relate to these independent women of the dramas that were made in the 1980s. When visiting Pakistan today I see female relatives working, driving, having a say in their marriage arrangements and a (slow) acceptance of sending daughters overseas to study which previously only sons did . Although there were some strong women in our family who ruled the roost over their men folk back in the 80s.

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  2. SZ, thanks for the chai invitation. Your column in the newspaper was quite thought-provoking. Coming to your questions: (Apologies, I don’t know how to type in italics, so I am marking your questions with quotation marks.)

    “But what does it actually mean for a drama to be woman-oriented? Is it enough to say that just because it features a woman in a lead role it is a woman-oriented serial?”

    – Rather than calling today’s dramas women-oriented, it will be fair to say that they are told from a woman’s point of view. That is why something like Bhai appears different – for once we see issues like rejection, favouritism etc from a man’s point of view. Unfortunately in most cases, stories are told from the point of view of a woman who is uni-dimensional, who is an amalgam of extremes in the society. There is no nuance and no balance. I am not watching Bhai, so I can’t comment if Nauman Ijaz’s character is nuanced or not.

    “Should we be still calling it a woman-oriented story if the woman in question has no say in her own story and is effectively powerless to make decisions about her life? What about the question of her agency?”

    – A story can be woman-oriented, even if she doesn’t have a say in it. It can of course be about someone who is powerless, telling her story. There are many sections of our society where women have very little or no say in what they do, what they wear, whom they talk to, what they eat… Are their stories not women-oriented?

    The problem with plays today, is more with how they tell these stories. Certain elements of women’s lives are deliberately highlighted to provoke an emotional response from the audience, rather than make them think, analyse, i.e., rather than provoke an intellectual response.

    Women (in fact almost all characters) and the situations they face are “dumbed down” and slotted into labelled pigeonholes, when the truth is that human beings can rarely be pigeon-holed so conveniently. This over-simplification (as you so aptly put it) has the big advantage that it can be used to churn out thousands of dramas without much effort in terms of writing it or directing it (and if a limited set of actors are available, then acting it out as well). Writing nuanced characters, directing them etc takes time, effort and talent. The uni-dimensional formulaic characters don’t need those.

    The distinction between strong and weak as portrayed in our dramas is again an attempt to slot characters to ostensibly make it simple for the audience, but in reality, to make it easier to write and present such characters on screen. The less the audience thinks, the less the work of the team presenting the play.

    The reality, of course, is that characters oscillate between being strong and weak based not only on circumstances but also on the other parties involved (for example I may be strong in professional matters, but a weak before my family – case in point the recent Preet’s Shagufta Shehzadi or Dr Sheena in Dhoop Kinaray). Which is why relatable and nuanced characters catch our eye. But channels don’t want to work so hard. The simpler the story, the easier the sell, translating into more revenue of course.

    That way Shazma of Mujhe Kuch is indeed a welcome step forward, because they tried to show something relatable within the confines of the formula. As you point out in your article may be the audience has to be weaned slowly?

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  3. @SZ As much as I was excited to see the chai ki invitation, honestly speaking, when I first saw the ‘women oriented’ in your post I was like – not again! Khair how could I ignore the chai and the vai 🙂 So here I am, and am I glad to be here!! You guys amaze me! There’s always something new to discuss in an apparently age-old topic and new perspectives to look out for! 👏👏👏

    Re strength : Again I think @VZ has put this so eloquently. One is never weak or strong at all times. Khirad might’ve been strong but there was a breaking point for her. She had to turn to her husband and ask for help. But I thought that showed as much strength as weekness even inthat moment. It wasn’t easy for her to put her ego aside and stoop down do that level. That requires alot of strength!.. It was her daughter who gave her that strength but also weakened her resolve at the same time.. It is the nuance that make these characters and situations relatable and interesting.

    Whenever we talk about strong vs weak, I can’t help but think of Pehchan, and how beautifully that was portrayed. A seemingly strong and independent Kuku had her own set of fears and weaknesses.

    I feel different people have different ideas and measures for strength… I’ve heard ppl argue that it’s to do with how much one can endure, while others may measure it against how much one can assert or inflict, others see it as power… Some may take it literally and physically (read Anmol in Dillagi lol).. But no matter which way you look at it, most interesting characters show just as much weakness as strength … Abb even Superman has kryptonite to weaken him lol

    On a separate note, I also feel there is such a huge divide within our society, that often it’s hard for women from end to relate to the other, and same goes with the characters. The difference isn’t only in the financial and social set ups, but also in the ideologies. What’s acceptable with one segment of the society is a taboo for the other and what might classify as strength in one may be seen as weakness. Unfortunately because most of the content is geared towards a certain segment of the society, as @VZ puts it, its easier to write and present the uni-dimensional, formulaic characters it works for drama industrialists, it’s even easier for that audience to accept it. Present them Kuku or Shagufta Shehzadi, Pehchan or Preet and they will run a mile!

    Women of Tanhaiyan and Doop Kinare etc were inspirational characters. I dont think people tried to relate with them at the time as such.. They had a certain feel good factor about them.. Unfortunately that’s what’s missing these days.. It’s hard to find characters that ‘inspire’ in our dramaland.

    Regardless of what we might feel about her, I think Kashaf became popular because many people from similar financial and social set up could relate to her one way or the other, and many others found her inspirational – ie someone who could pave her own way through that mess of a life to become something in life – an independent woman. Unfortunately, for many in our society, that is still an aspiration….

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    • FA, enjoyed reading your take on this.

      Your point about the definition of strength is something that struck a chord with me: what defines a strong character?

      To me, it’s someone who faces a difficult situation, which pushes them into a corner, from which they pick themselves up and tackle that situation with a positive spirit. It doesn’t matter if they win or not, it’s about not giving up or giving in to haalaat.

      Like you pointed out a Khirad or a Haniya (MeJ) or a Mahi (Malal) are strong. Kuku too. And the mother in Dukhtar. Characters like Gul e Rana aren’t, by the same token, because you don’t see them make a positive contribution either to the story or to their own lives. And it’s not because GeR is oppressed etc, it’s just poor writing.

      We have a plethora of these heroines whose only contribution to the story is to dress up pretty and blush or shed tears. Again, it’s in the mediocre/poor writing, the mechanical production of plays just to get the numbers.

      Your point about the divide in society, what is strong for one segment is weak for another, is a good one. Stories like Tanhaiyan or Dhoop Kinaray definitely were positive, feel good, inspirational. As you say, their stories may have appealed more to certain classes of society than to others. But there is no reason why there can’t be such stories that are relevant to other classes as well or cut across classes, for example Daam.

      The sad fact is that channels have found easy ways out of not telling compelling, nuanced stories. They do lip service to female empowerment, strong women characters and the like, but what they are presenting is 99% fluff.

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      • @VZ re Tanhaaiyyan and Dhoop Kinaray etc : I think these stories did appeal to most people. Even though they didn’t reflect the majority, they were inspiration / aspiration for women in all segments of the society… and still are!
        And that’s the point I was trying to make, that unfortunately our drama industrialists are too busy churning out the ususals and not going out of their way to aspire us…
        Re cutting across classes : I think we do get to see that every now and then, but again (thanks to TRP) they are shown from a certain point of view eg although ZGH was as much of Zaroons story, Kashaf’s version resonated with the audience, perhaps because that’s where it was targetted – women from a certain background…
        On a separate note isnt it interesting that although Haseena Moin’s girls played dumb, but never dumbed down the audience, and aspired so many! That’s intelligent writing and clever presentation. These days we get Romaisa (MSKSH) who plays dumb, and only aspires to be a duck or a fish! , or Faara (DeD) who might be a medical student but cries like a baby every 10 minutes..

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  4. @All: My sincerest apologies, ladies. As is now usual for me – I do try my best to be good, I try, honestly, I do! – I am late to my own party and now feel overwhelmed ke kahan se shuru karoon — all these are fab points of view that you all bring to the table….

    Beginning with @Nkhan’s excellent point about Hasina Moin’s writing and its disjunction with in-the-ground realities of Pakistani society at the time, you are absolutely spot on in your observation. Pakistan of the ’80s was not a great place to be for women, no matter what strata of the society you belonged to .. heavy handed dictatorship and introduction of draconian anti-women laws were not conducive to propagating a female-friendly culture and as such the middle class mainstream woman was not likely to be a stand-in for a Sana Murad.. this is not to say women like that did not exist, they did, but they were a handful, no matter what strata of society you looked at .. infact Hasina Moin herself has talked about the fact that her heroines were not based on what she saw around her..Rather, they were based on what she thought an ideal Pakistani woman should be like . or where she would’ve like to see Pakistani women … so in that sense they were aspirational. As someone who saw these dramas when they first aired I remember getting inspired by the professional women in Tanhaiyan and Dhoop Kinarey . in fact they were my role models because I could identify with them much more than I could say with a heroine in a Hollywood or Bollywood production .. and that is why these heroines caught everybody’s imaginations .. you could do it all while living in the confines of a patriarchal society… they sold us new dreams… so even if I, who came from a very conserative background, knew that I would never be allowed to work or some such, still could be inspired and aspire to new goals … so seen that way Hasina’s writing of women was and continues to be a valuable contributions to society.. this is what I would term as almost being educational or goal oriented programming rather than the stupid churning out of the rona dhona we see now …

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    • @SZ Re the 80’s Pakistan : That’s a valid point, and that’s why these women aspired women of every segment of the society.

      Coming back to my point of divide in the society in the current day and age, who will be the ideal character that will still inspire/resonate with women from all walks of life and every segment of the society? – what is the new common ‘dream’? – We have Dr. Zaras and Sana Murads.. What are their dreams now? Can women who are still stuck in the 80s relate to those new dreams? Can we / Do we have a common dream?

      80s also made me think that it was a time when men ”and” women used to watch dramas.. It was family viewing.. Unlike today when target audience is the ghareloo housewife, dramas in those days were perhaps catered for both male as well as female audiences, hence more balanced viewing which is rare these days. Although Haseenas dramas were ‘women-oriented’ , they engaged the male audience just as much… Aaj how many men would sit and watch a roti dhoti, mazloom aurat aur zalim mard ki kahani for 30 weeks?….

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  5. Re: VZ’s point about women-oriented stories, I remember reading about begining of feminist writing and how when the field first started developing, as a serious academic discipline, there was a general criticism about how pointless it all was because it was not as if there weren’t women writing already and neither was it the case that nobody was writing about women. Basically the point was that there was nothing ‘new’ being offered here .. In response the question of the story-teller’s location in the story was raised.. as in it was not a question about the subject of the story but the position of the narrator in that story … this concept was a game changer because it brought forth a whole new consideration that just because a story was about a woman it did not necessarily mean that it was being told in that particular woman’s voice … or that we as readers were being made privy to her fears and doubts …I am not sure if I make sense because I am writing as I am thinking and simplifying decades worth of intellectual debates … but basically to bring it all back to our dramas . yes, these are all about women and they have female leads but we never get to see them thinking beyond the moment.. the “dumbing down” as you put it so well .. So for me at least, for a drama/story to be woman-oriented means that we see events unfold from her perspective, from her orientation, something which is most definitely not happening. What we are seeing in its stead is quite the obverse, where the woman is actually marginalized in her own story and all we see being reinforced time and over again is patriarchy. Hence, rather than giving voice to a woman our women-oriented stories show women being muted and quite roughly at that.

    Also, as you have pointed our very astutely about the mechanization of our stories .. actually these days i feel there are hardly any stories worth engaging with, forget about doing it seriously, just because they are not even being written as stories, they are just coloring in pre-existing templates and that too quite clunkily … Reminds me of an analogy I heard yesterday: About a place where graves were dug beforehand and then the powers that be would go looking for a dead body that fit that grave .. nobody cared later if there was a hand or a foot hanging out … it was all about the bottom line – murda dafan tau ho gaya na …

    :

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  6. Re: NKhan’s point about patriarchy and how women can move forward only if men do not come in their way: I agree with you about cultural constraints and economic dependence, but I would say that even within that there are always situations where strength or rather emotional resilience is depicted through the choices made .. in MNYH, yes, Afia does move out only after her son makes it possible for her financially, but remember she is the one who chose to move out … she could’ve just as easily stayed with Wajih Ahmed and “forgiven” him .. I dont know what the original ending was, but as @HinaB told us she pushed for that ending, refusing to shoot the end if Afia went back home, and she also wrote how others didn’t see why she was pushing for that changed ending .. and this is what I mean by a string character .. where it is not about what a character says but about what the character does..

    Anmol in Dillai is a whole other kettle of fish and in fact I dont see her as strong at all.. at least not up until ths point, and I have written so in that TFT piece…. Afia earns my respect because she puts up with a lot but then when it comes to her daughters she refuses to let Wajih Ahmed set the rules .. so yes he can arrange nikahs but he is thwarted by his wife when she arranges for her daughter to go away …Its not Zulekha’s strength, rather her mother’s emotional support that empowers her to go file for a khula so by the time the police comes around she’s already filed her application …

    I agree with you totally in that rules are very different when it comes to women and men .. As @FA pointed out, Pehchan is an excellent example of that where Kuku is the “buri aurat” but her lover Mansoor is still a “catch”, someone who can and does expect his wife to put up with his philandering ways and when she walks out on him, he is totally clueless as to why she would do that …
    But again, in that case too, Laila could’ve stayed in that marriage but she walked out … so again its a matter of choices … yet financial independence made it possible for her, but then look at Shazma .. unlike the others her husband divorced her in the middle of the night, leaving her with two teenaged daughters and no source of income .. and she earns my respect because after she is done crying she struggles to find a job and make it on her own .. there are plenty of challenges in her way (character blackening, shuk,etc) but she strives through .. not once does she go to her rich husband begging for help even though she is advised to do so by her friends, she doesnt even ask him for help with her daughters’ expenses ..
    Similarly in Preet, we see the young pregnant woman let on her own, without family support and she makes it through on account f her own grit and determination …
    And so yes, these might not be women who live next door to us, but they do offer inspiration for women across the board … if Goshi can become a politician who is to say somebody else cant at least become a teacher if they find themselves in a similar situation…

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  7. Re: @FA’s point about ideological differences between various strata of society or the difference in what is deemed acceptable, I would say that yes, up to a certain point I buy that, but again there are always choices even with that as @VZ points out with Daam… what we are missing are stories that take universal ideals – say for instance self-respect, education, confidence – and use these as leitmotifs … empower women by showing them a way forward: get educated and you become like a Zara or a Sania or a Sana or Shagufta Shehzadi … what really annoys me these days are thepyar-ishq-muhabbat stories … I as a viewer am at a loss as to what do I learn from them.. should I consider my life a failure if nobody knocks on my door and informs me that he is in love with my name or is there something wrong with me if I dont fall in love with my tutor/teacher/prof or if I dont find my soulmate in my class? But while I don’t get that bit I clearly get that these woman-oriented stories dont expect me to go to college so that I can actually study so that I can better my life…. I dunno but something tells me that no matter what class I am from I should not be watching these dramas 😂

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    • @SZ I’m with you on that one. I just hope and wish that these drama industrialists opt out of the easy way and work towards finding the common ground and universal ideals and hopefully help bridge the gap too..
      I feel the stories of Dr Zoya, Zara, Sania and Sana Murad weren’t just about their struggles in life.. They had a very positive vibe about them. These days our dramaland aurat is always a bechari and every aspect of her life is a real struggle.. She becomes a ‘bechari Digest Writer’ who can’t even keep masala and oil marks off their manuscripts ..shes a bechari before shadi and a bigger bechari afterwards.. a bechari beti, a bechari maan, a bechari bahu and sometimes a bechari some looli langri professional.. she’s always miserable and her life always seems bleak.. ghar mein bhi aur bahar bhi..
      If they were making Dhoop Kinaray today it would’ve been about a bechari Dr. Zoya and her struggle to become a doctor..
      Zara was an entrepreneur and she was working very hard… but it was something she enjoyed.. something she also took great pride in.. Aaj ki Zara would be a total bechari, bebass, yateem, with no opportunities and the entire universe working against her, until the last ep when she would finally land the dream contract.. or most likely a marriage proposal and shadi and a happily ever after..

      I feel we need a more positive portrayal. Women who are not just struggling and stumbling to become something but who might be natural at it, and those who have dreams and are working their way to achieve their goals.. They have ups and downs in life but its the positivity that carries them through..

      These women had a support system around them. Be it their families, or colleagues, or friends.. like we all have in real life.. not like the bechari qismat ki mari (more like self pity ki mari) heroines these days who seem to have nothing going for them.. Who love self loathing and can only dream of shadi pyar muhabbat…
      The dramaland aurat kick starts the show with having some goals and aspirations then calamity hits her, she either falls in love and / or she gets married and we never hear of those ever again.. like they never existed..

      I think i have deviated from the real topic in discussion, but point I was trying to make was that our women- oriented stories don’t have to be so bleak and depict such a dark picture of a womans life.. they can be more positive with not just a light at the end of a very dark tunnel but a yellow brick road.. not just a struggle but also an exciting adventure..

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  8. @All: I havent yet watched the latest ep of Mein Sitara, so will have that review up by later tonight.. I missed it last night because I went to watch “Main Aur Kaifi” a live performance by Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar, where they narrated a beautifully knit love story of Shaba Azmi’s parents, the very illustrious Shaukat and Kaifi Azmi .. and wow! What a performance that was! If you ever get a chance to attend it you must go .. what a story and what people .. fantastic!

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  9. SZ thanks for such a wonderful topic . I am enjoy reading and some of the thing I didnot think about it .so much to learn from each and everyone’s input . Thanks
    I enjoy the Preet drama .

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  10. @SZ and all. Many interesting points here.

    One of the things I notice, which troubles me no end, is that it’s the women in (far too) many dramas who insist that our young heroines conform in terms of dress, demeanor, NOT go to college, should be seen and not heard etc. Many a time it is the women who are scheming when it comes to the second marriage, whether it’s the saas or other women in the household, and often our female protagonist quietly and obediently (I don’t know if valiantly is an appropriate word here) accepts.

    The nature of this portrayal makes it appear that it is the women who want this, women who are participating in and perpetuating these values and practices.Women in society are the staunch holder-uppers of these norms. (I don’t mean the female actors.)

    Apart from the rona-dhona of these characters, their demeanor, their ways of ‘being and becoming’ in the world so-to-speak, are troubling. I wonder about a whole generation emulating these images or should we call them archetypes?
    I see it this side of the border, where a whole generation of men are raised with the Bollywood concepts of (hyper)masculinity, not just in the ways in which they carry themselves (body image and posturing), but the manner in which they deal with women, and the kind of language they use. It is a completely warped conceptual system/model. Even if we accept that it is not all men, it certainly is pervasive enough for many, many women to encounter it on the streets, in public transportation, in the work place, and even in the domestic sphere.

    Getting back to young women emulating these heroines who cannot get two words out (or they are the opposite mean, calculating, manipulative) I wonder how socially inept they might become? What happens when they are thrown together in the workplace, on buses, and other areas of society? Of course, those who emulate the mean, calculating, manipulative role models will just become sociopaths. 🙂

    My favorite women, by far, are all the characters in the Kiski Ayegi Baraat series. They loved their guys, they fought with them, they danced with them. It seemed natural even taking into consideration issues of class. Someone mentioned above, these shows cater to different groups of society. I’m curious, was this series a big hit across the board with local audiences? Or did all the female characters achieve cult status in underground graphic novels? 🙂

    Taking a late-night (or early a.m.) break from grading, so if this is disjointed and doesn’t make sense, ignore it please, and maaph kar do!

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  11. Wow I didn’t know that the original plan was for Afiya to go back to Wajid Ahmed in MNYH. Hats off to Hina Bayat for insisting on that ending.

    We only started watching Pakistani dramas again about two years ago. Since then only watched a handful so can’t comment about too many dramas. The first drama we watched was Vasl, in which the female lead (Ayesha Khan?) gets dumped and divorced by her husband in Pakistan while he returns to the U.S. The female character spends her whole time moping around feeling sorry for herself. Her brothers and her bhabi eventually see her as a burden. The younger unmarried brother is shown as a modern guy with a female best friend but even he does not offer much emotional support for his divorced sister. Release from this situation only comes through a marriage to Faisal Rehman. Throughout this the heroine does nothing to help herself, just waits and mopes around for others to make decisions for her. Only in the last couple episodes does she suddenly (out of character) finds strength to resolve her situation.

    I mention this particular plot because firstly, although as I already mentioned parts of my family in Pakistan are conservative this didn’t mean they were or are emotionally regressive. They may have been conservative but there was no way they would have treated their sisters like the way Zuilaka’s brother did in MNYH. I had a female relative who was divorced by her husband after a month’s marriage. She found herself pregnant. With the support of her family she bought up and educated her son with no financial support from the father. The callous way in which some of the female characters in dramas are treated by their own relatives who on the face of it appear liberal but suddenly revert to a caveman mentality and law of the jungle instead of providing emotional support to their female relatives.

    This leads me onto my second point, female characters have regressed but it seems to me so have the male characters. I think SZ mentioned that it’s all about the masculine Bollywood type that we see appear on the screen. Would any of the men from Dhoop Kinray, Tanhayian or Ankahi behave like the men in our dramas today? It’s been a while since I watched Ankahi but Javid Sheikh leaves it to Sana’s character to make her choice but is there just to support her instead of saying “it’s me or I will die without you”. I could write more about the emotional maturity of the men from these dramas. If Hasina Moin wanted to write about the ideal Pakistani woman in the 1980s, I think she did a decent job with the ideal Pakistani man.

    Another point I think is that the ‘dumbing down’ of TV content is a phenomenon in other parts of the world. You cannot believe the popularity of these mindless reality tv programmes in the U.K. People’s attention span is so much less nowadays. Despite this shows like Game of Thrones and House of Cards (and my favourite Battlestar Galactica) prove that with good characters and script people will watch. Just to mention if you watched Indian dramas before the Ekita Kapoor era, in the late 80s and early 90s they had some good stories and strong female leads.

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  12. @All, Thank you for this post SZ! I am so happy to read everyone’s take here and I have been thinking on the same lines, completely frustrated that there is no decent content on the dozen’s of channels and 100’s of Pakistani drama’s currently on air. I decided to give Mann Mayal a go last week and I got so angry! Mannu’s character is so poorly written, it’s a complete joke.

    Although Dhoop Kinare and Ankahi were on air when I was too young to fully understand, even in the late 90s’ which was not the booming times of Pakistani drama’s there were some very well written stories and characters, such as “Tum Hi to Ho” with Vaneeza Malik and Atiqa Odho and I had the pleasure of watching recently “Aur Zindagi Badalti hain” with Sania Saeed and Nadia Jamil. These serials depict women who have the full authority to make their own decisions. I see women like these more and more in our Pakistani society who have the freedom to learn, work and travel as they seem fit. Why we cannot have this translated in our drama’s is beyond my comprehension.

    Living in the western part of the world, I do believe that so called “feminism” is a very romanticized word, which has less of a meaning then intended. Even in society here where women are supposedly empowered, women often struggle and make compromises because of men who wreak havoc in their lives. Even so here women are at least making their own decisions even if they are off for the worst. It is the true essence of any human being to be able to think and do as they please. It is the supporting cast who keep badgering the leading women in our current drama’s who are getting harder and harder to digest. How can they show a women thinking for herself and having some common sense if they have to show a sad mother, angry brother and/ or dying father having their way? If family members start blackmailing the girl…..how can she not sulk and turn into a crying zombie (bechari)?

    It is this mentality which needs to change and set the tone for some improvement in the current content.

    Sorry I can keep ranting about this 🙂

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    • @Seher: Hello! Thank you for joining in and sharing your thoughts 🙂

      Your point about feminism is well taken .. Not just that it is romanticized but I actually find the whole term self-defeating in its purpose … one the hand we push for a woman’s voice to be mainstreamed. but then on the other we single it out and label it as “feminist” .. by the same token I also dont get why a woman who stands up for her right to be heard or counted should be called a feminist .. what does gender have to do with asking for your basic human rights?

      The reason I brought up the term ‘woman-oriented’ (and put it in quotes) was because the drama industry itself describes their dramas as such and so the basic point was to ask how do these dramas get away with describing themselves as such when clearly they are not doing women any favours in the stories they are portraying … and your example illustrates this point so well. And yes definitely time for a change!

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    • @VZ: You are such a sweetheart! Thank you for checking in 😘

      I’ve been around … just been really scattered in my head and more and more am finding myself unable to juggle things properly and then ofcourse the longer I stay away the more there is to catch up on – sorry! I desperately need to re-up my organizational skills and do better time management 😦

      That said, I will watch Udaari tonight and write that up, IA.. Mein Sitara is pending ..so will do an update up this coming week …

      But just because Ive not written here doesn’t mean I havent been thinking of you all and our convos .. about strong women and female drama characters so I thought who best to talk about all these issues than the person whose dramas we refer to so often here and who is arguably one of the most intelligent actresses around .. so I am thrilled to share that Sania Saeed has graciously agreed to a QnA session with us!! bas ab start gathering your thoughts and think of questions .. considering how media shy she is and how seldom she does interviews, I am honored that she agreed to this interview with all of us… will have the post up soon 🙂

      Ab milte hain on the Udaari thread 🙂

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      • SZ, please don’t worry about the posts. I am glad to hear that your health is OK.

        Sania Saeed’s Q&A should be quite a treat, will look forward to that!

        Haven’t watched Udaari, will watch it over the next couple of days and join you and other friends in the discussion IA.

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      • SZ thank you for replying to my post… the word “feminist” was created by a Man so that basically explains the why!

        Sania Saeed!! Great 😀 Looking forward to it!

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  13. @SS. Agreed about supporting characters. Examples in current shows on air Dillagi – Anmol’s mother; Gul e rana’s mother; Ashraf’s mother in Bhai. Haay haay!

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  14. @ SZ,VZ,Sehar,NKhan, FA, Ranjan, JR n all those who I can’t recall!!!!
    Hi every one there! I had been missing all of you friends, how about you guys??? Hope all is well with friend & sure SZ ur blog must be running full speed….. I was very sick after my trip from my beloved Pakistan ( don’t we love it with all it’s faults) I was trying to get back to normal activities & thank God I am doing great…… Loved every bodies say on female centerric roles or being feminist….. I agree with lot of you that any women who stands up for her rights in the society is labeled as feminist, what gender has to do with this mind set…. I can never understand how all the Karachites drama producers, director & writter can’t see how women are taking control of their lives in there n all over Pakistan….. They are highly educated competing for job, making all decision at their will and for good….
    In drams we see only rooti dhoti, bechari mazlom aurat or a zalim sas, nand aur zalim baap,bhai & shoher and great irony is the writters n producers are all female please for God sake shake urselves up n dust your minds, why any male director or producer have to show otherwise when there are enough women to kill the image of themselves…………. My latest experience of Pakistani women is very different than shown in dramas( not talking about mader pider azadi)……
    So excited about Sania Saeed !!!!!! Looking forward to it anxiously……

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    • @Shamim Hasan: Welcome back ji! You’ve been missed! Sorry to hear you werent well but am glad to know you’re feeling better – will be looking forward to your comments from now on .. aajkal we are watching Mein Sitara and Udaari that I have just started .. catch upi on those and join in ..

      And yes, Sania S IA this weekend will have the post up … 🙂

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    • Dear Shamim, it’s good to hear from you. Sorry to hear about your illness, glad to hear you’re now alright.

      You are so right that instead of highlighting every bit of progress women are making, these serial makers are bent upon taking the easy way out and showing only mazloom auratein stuck in I don’t know which era! I feel like labelling them serial killers lol, they have killed all creativity and nuance. Instead of showing positive role models, they only show these extreme characters none of whom I’ve met in my life, who only exist in these TV scripts.

      As SZ mentioned, Mein Sitara is so far quite good, realistic characters and also quite a bit of nostalgia in terms of songs and music from the golden era of cinema. Apart from that I am not watching anything, not even for guilty pleasure.

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  15. Hi Shamim . Glad to hear that you are feeling better . We had the same problem when I came back from India. Thanks .
    @ SZ what is the meaning of “udaari” I watch first episod , and the language is different , is it Punjabi ? So far I like it . Hope you will right the review.

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    • @Ranjan: Udaari means flight. and here it is implied that it is a flight to freedom…
      I will hopefully review it this week .. will look fwd to your thoughts then 🙂

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  16. hey SZ.. okay so I am really really late to the chai party – thanks to my laptop which broke down… but thankfully all’s well now so I can finally share my thoughts.

    In almost all women-oriented stories, I find at least one woman with agency who manages to manipulate others (including men) till the very last episode. This is true especially of soaps. Which is why I don’t understand what’s going on – if a woman can plot and scheme and destroy so many lives, why can’t she actually do something positive? Why is she depicted as helpless to make things better? Why can she only make things worse? I was recently watching the last two episodes of Main Adhuri and honestly the way Saba Hameed’s character plays with people’s lives is beyond me. Masla yeh hai keh all writer need such characters to “take the story forward” and here is where the prowess of the script writer manifests itself. What’s the use of showing empowerment only in the last episode when 30 or so episodes before have firmly propagated the idea that if you’re good, you’re helpless…

    Unfortunately, I don’t see things changing much. I saw a bit of Talat Hussain on Nadia Khan’s show and I agreed with him when he said that we are not producing drama serials these days… we are only producing soaps.

    But there are some exceptions.

    I gave Tera Mera Rishta a go last month – I was horrified at its synopsis: a girl married off to her brother’s suspected murderer as a legal settlement between two families. But the way that girl goes on to discover the hidden skeletons of her in-laws and finally use their influence to bring the murderer to justice was – though filmy – quite a good watch. It didn’t rely on the last episode to show empowerment.

    As for the characters who are supposedly strong like Anmol in Dillagi, I say pooh! No kidding… but Dillagi is distasteful to the nth degree. Anmol is a highly unrealistic character but there are plenty of Mohids around playing with and destroying people’s lives. I know Faiza Iftikhar’s heroes tend to stalk (Aarib of Khoya Khoya Chand a good example) but now I think at least Aarib was not a gun wielding gunda. And Ahmereen (even though she gives a good pitai to the guy she thinks is following her) was still a believable character. Dillagi main tou everything has gone haywire… The only good thing is it’s not getting a high rating and instead, Aabro which, from what I’ve read, is about a couple trying to make up for their mistakes and give a better life to their daughter is leading the time slot.

    @ VZ

    Thanks for sharing that link. Finally, finally someone writes about this. I hope the drama makers take some serious notice. Though I think not – Saba Qamar is nominated for best actress for Sangat in Hum Awards. That just about says it all.

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  17. @ DB

    Good insight. Completely agree that most of the times a ‘bechari’ woman’s state is caused by another woman, it always makes me sad to see the IQ level of the men in most drama’s. Again stereotypes are all around. I agree with your take on Dillagi. The drama started out with a lot of potential, but last week’s episode was so disgusting, that I will take a break. It is very hard for me to digest how actions such as ‘shaadi’ or ‘talaaq’ are used as power plays. Every drama uses it as a climax or cliffhanger or sometimes just a way to move the pathetic drama forward (Mann Mayal style). I refuse to believe this is a depiction of how our society is currently. Kya humare values itne ghir gahe hain. Where is this trend going? What are we showing society to be acceptable?

    @ VZ, thank you for sharing the link. It is a good article highlighting one of the many problems in drama’s these days. If only producers would take heed. At the current state Pakistani movies have better stories now than the drama’s.

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