Sixteen episodes in, Team O Rungreza continues to paint an incisive portrait of a societal setup with which we are all intimately familiar. Patriarchy and patriarchal honor, gender roles, social hypocrisy, gender and power dynamics… this serial is as if holding up a mirror to society at large. Reflected back is a grotesque image of what we proudly claim as humara culture and humari values.
But what is this culture and what are its values that we as a society want to protect?
A patriarchal culture is premised on the notion of honor. Izzat. Murders are committed over izzat and naik-naami. Magar hai kiya cheez yeh izzat? Naik-nami kiya hoti hai? Why isn’t his izzat at stake when Khayyam repeatedly cheats on Mammo and ends up at Sonya Jahan’s house? How come his friends don’t abandon him even after he is caught up in Sonya’s disappearance scandal? Similarly Tipu. He slaps Meena and pretty much nothing changes. Life still continues. Nobody’s izzat is bothered. Sassi’s behaviour on the other hand is a source of great concern and ire. Duniya kya kahegi… baap ki izzat ka khayal karo… yeh kaisi badtameez larki hai…
Why is a man’s izzat not determined by his own behaviour? Why is Khayyam’s izzat predicated on Sassi’s behaviour and not Tipu’s? Why is Sassi’s tameez such an issue while Tipu gets away with pretty much everything?
In a patriarchal society women and their bodies act as the repositories of male honor. Izzat is measured in terms of not what men themselves do but in terms of the control they exert over the women in their lives. Aurat kiya karti hai, kiya kehti hai, kiya pehenti hai, all is a matter of honor for men. What they themselves do has no impact on their honor.
Women, therefore, have to bear the brunt not only of their own deeds but also the misdeeds of the men in their lives. Centuries of conditioning has normalized this injustice and inequality to the point that a girl like Sassi, who chooses to live life on her own terms, comes off as an aberration.
I am neither condoning nor condemning Sassi’s behavior, rather questioning why she makes us uncomfortable. Comments on social media vary from: Larkiyon ko aisa nahin hona chahiye to yeh kaisi larki hai to aisi larkiyan kahan hoti hain to is she real or a figment of the writer’s imagination? By the same token, though we find Tipu annoying and irritating but there is no wondering about such a character. He is a man – it’s okay for him to be the way he is. So entrenched are these desi gender roles that a Sassi is difficult to accept.
Similarly Qasim. Here is a man unlike the other “manly men” we see on our TV screens. Much like Sassi he too does not fall under an easy label. If Sassi cannot be described as typical sharmeeli, mashriqi heroine, Qasim too is not the typical alpha male hero. But just because they do not fall into easy categories does this mean that they are somehow not normal?
Qasim burst into tears when Tipu shot his birds, should he not have done that? Why is Qasim’s gentleness equated with weakness? Why the calls for him to mard bano? Why this disdain for men and women who don’t fit a traditional mold?
What O Rungreza does, and quite brilliantly at that, is to bring to the fore societal hypocrisy and double standards. We condemn violence, dominance, misogyny, mazloomiyat, but at the same time expect compliance with socially prescribed norms, which preach exactly that. It may seem like a no-brainer, but it is extremely important to unpack and understand the damage being done by these unsaid, unwritten expectations. Equating Qasim’ plight to that of caged birds’ was a beautiful touch on Saji Gul’s part, a metaphor that spoke on many levels.
Meena is the latest entrant in Khayyam Sani’s household. Initially her presence was a source of discomfort for both Mammo and Bua. After all she was not ehl-i kitab. As they have all gotten to know her better, now seeing beyond the obvious, they are begining to appreciate her for the sensitive and kind girl that she is. Mammo has, perhaps, for the first time found in Meena someone who sees her as an entity in her own right.
Meena brings with her yet another color to add to the vibrant canvas of this haveli. Her recent brush with Qasim has opened up a new avenue of thought and it will be interesting to see how these two wounded souls help each other heal.
And on wounded souls, ever so gradually there is a sense of Mammo the woman. She is neither dumb nor deaf. She may pretend otherwise but she has a finger on her husband’s pulse. That little dig about Khayyam and his ghalatis definitely did not go unnoticed. A prefect embodiment of patriarchy, Khayyam may think he is the man of the house but he would be wrong in this thought. It is Mammo who ensures the haveli and indeed Khayyam’s izzat remain above reproach. Patriarchy survives not merely because of men like Khayyam but in large part because of women like Mammo.
O Rungreza is a serial where the text is merely an introduction. It is in the gradual unfolding of the layers of subtext that the true beauty of this story reveals itself. Bas koi dil ki nazar se parhne wala chahiye ...
And this was my take. What about you all? Looking forward to your thoughts!
Written by SZ~