The problem with our drama industry and its depiction of Pakistani women

Published: March 15, 2014

Somewhere, this over projection is making the idea of domestic violence socially acceptable as the constant exposure can make the society immune to it and further reiterate the patriarchal system.

The troubled image of modern Pakistani women conjured up by Pakistani dramas is extremely distorted and single dimensional. Stories, it is said, are a subtle yet are the most influential way of documenting the social evolution of a society. The story of a woman sells but the modern media has gone one step ahead by proving that the story of a woman being abused, tortured, beaten and humiliated sells faster.

The massive projection of domestic and women related violence might appear as an attempt to serve the cause but a closer look will reveal an entirely different and gross story. The disturbing image of woman being pushed, slapped, bad mouthed (mostly by close family) constantly overwhelms the TV screen. No matter how fast you switch channels, it is impossible to escape the harrowing images.

Domestic violence is a highly sensitive area and must be advocated in subtle and meaningful ways. If mishandled – the way it is on our dramas – it could create an impact far more unsettling than sexually explicit content. Such disturbing content must appear with prior warnings to avoid the uneasy situation in a family living room.

When children see family settings in a drama they instantly relate it to their own family and when it turns violent it certainly creates unfathomable effects of insecurity and fear in their subconscious. The sight of explicitly treated domestic violence creates embarrassing situation among the family as well.

Just to quote an example, Hum Tv’s Kisay Apna Kahen shows the character Iqra cutting her wrist and soaking in blood over little skirmish in the house.

What kind of message are we sending across to the young girls especially with newspaper already filled of such news?

Somewhere, this over projection is making the idea of domestic violence socially acceptable as the constant exposure can make the society immune to it and further reiterate the patriarchal system. It is lethal for an audience already overdosed on terrorism and violence.

Projection of reality is one thing but the exploitation of domestic abuse to gain ratings is inhumane. Special care is being taken to make these sensational visuals part of the advertisement, which makes it even more unnerving. Geo Tv’s drama serial Bewafae’s ad shows the husband slapping and abusing his wife. The popular Turkish drama serial Ferihas ad has the protagonist beaten by her father, brother and then by her husband. The drama has much more to it, like the ambition of a girl to do something better with her life, but these visuals are specially chosen to grab viewers’ attention.

The women in our contemporary dramas are objectified and the only purpose they serve is to win a man’s heart. The conflict is just one: how she could win this man and rest of the plot sails on her manoeuvres in this ordeal. It trivialises inter-woman relationship by pitting one woman against the other and that too for the sake of a man.

ARY’s Shukk spins the same formula by making the hero ending up with two wives and both of them are clinging to the man, unwilling to let go, as if it is impossible for them to survive on their own. ARY’s Kabhi Kabhi Pyar May starts with an independent, strong headed heroine Eshal but after being divorced by the love of her life, she tries to find refuge with another man.

There are no dilemmas, self-discovery and development of the female characters. The female leads are no more interesting, inspiring and awe worthy like they used to be; in fact, they have become repetitive, mindless, muted, predictable and flat.

The degeneration reminds me of strong female leads we used to have. I remember Shahnaz of Alpha Bravo Charlie, she chose Gul Sher over his stronger friends and his death led her to a profound road of self-discovery, instead of marrying one of the other friends. Zara of Tanhaiyan, turned an entrepreneur after her parents death and took care of her sister without looking for any fancy shortcuts. The character of Nazli in Dhuwan avenges her lover’s death independently, instead of sulking in the Bechari-syndrome.

Nazli of Dhuaan (L), Shahnaz of Alpha Bravo Charlie (C) and Zara of Tanhayan (R)

We are psyched into believing that the violence is fed to us on our demand but the reality is, like a curse, the degeneration of society has seeped into our dramas. Drama industry is cocooned into the safe zone and not ready to venture out and experiment.

We are living in the exciting times of Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, Samina Baig and Malala Yousafzai, so let them shine in our stories. Trust me, their stories will sell too.

Fatima Majeed

Fatima Majeed

An avid reader, freelance writer and home maker.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • MrRollsRoyce

    Excellent writeup, and makes me realize that this generation is missing the artistically and ethically far better TV series of the 80s and early 90s.Recommend

  • Omair Shahid

    Excellently put couldn’t agree more our drama which used to be great now have lost all it’s touch our dramas used to have story, character, a very good message but unfortunately nowadays they have none of that Recommend

  • edge2609

    Kudos …very well explainedRecommend

  • sj

    after so many days, this write-up finally says all that i have against the current material Pakistani tv is spewing.Recommend

  • Ali Dude

    they dont even know a bit of drama they just know to include glamour and things like cheapnes in dramas in this way they can only increase these social issuesRecommend

  • Basit

    Our dramas have lost their everything…vision, sense, pride, dignity, self esteem and more importantly…creativity and courage to be creative.Recommend

  • http://futurecmo.org/ Babar Khan

    yeah I mean when oppression existed in the Prophet’s time, it was because of the TV shows.Recommend

  • Ahsan Ali

    TOtally Agree…. But u have to understand the deeper meaning behind
    this kind of massive blunder. Its a multi-million dollar Pakistani drama
    industry behind this. They make a lot of money out of it.
    Overprojection of explicit domestic violence sure does makes the society
    immune to it. ANd thiis means we are marching towards a more & more
    non-tolerant & rude society day by day… @drahsanaliRecommend

  • Iftikhar Ali

    dramaybaazRecommend

  • Umm Ali

    I’d like to print a thousand copies of this article and send it to all those ridiculous writers of today who seem to think the only aspiration a girl has is to land a husband. Enough with the damn weddings, affairs, and abuse in dramas!Recommend

  • Zahra Mirza

    Thank you so much Fatima for giving a voice to the million thoughts out there. I came across in a conversation with a writer of the drama where when spoken to about different ideas we’d want to see in the dramas, she said the channels straight away reject those scripts & they force the writers to come up with such stories which will help them grab the TRP’s. Sadly, these days they think showing domestic stuff in a negative light is going to sell their dramas.

    TV is the best way of mind control & brain feeding, so, we know what our channels are demanding from the writers so that they can feed it into our minds. Not only domestic violence but accusations of infidelity, accusations of extramarital affairs, a girl hooking her father with her best friend for the sake of property, a girl getting married to the supposed spouse of her own sister & then a girl wrecking a home of her own sister are a few examples of the prevailing trend in our dramas. No doubt Pakistani drama industry has progressed but they think it’s going to stay the same. Every sun has to set & with the current state of our industry, I can see the downfall just around the corner.Recommend

  • Pappu

    Author should blame female actors who are ready to sell their dignity for some bucks. Women characters accepting “continuous humiliation” are bad role models for the society. Such women have no respect in my eyes.Recommend

  • Nadeem

    A very unfortunate state of affairs. Profit making minds among media industry including actors are playing with the minds of young generation. Pakistani drama industry is magnifying everyday situations within families in a very harrowing way. Thank you so much for writing on this. Recommend

  • Farah Ahmed

    Thank you Fatima, a very well written article. I really enjoyed it.Recommend

  • Lucid

    Exactly! nowadays they totally ‘legitimize ‘ domestic violence esp slapping.Its like if you raise your voice or try to argue its completely your fault and you deserve to be hit or slapped.Thats super disturbing because everyday globally many people esp women lose their lives due to domestic violence,its a very serious topic and what disgusts me the most is that in our dramas its depicted that the victims seem to be kind of okay with all that,they show no signs of retaliation and hatred and above all the abuser is never remorseful but instead is shown otherwise a good person.I mean what exactly do they want to show us?someone needs to knock some sense into these writers and directors.Absolutely deplorable.Recommend

  • TSil

    Repression of women is part of Shariah…so accept it as a way of life….

    I dont think women of Pakistan have it in them to stand up to the mullahs and the male supremacists….Women today dont want power, they want comfort and security – which is provided by men (supposedly)…

    And they end up getting exploited..

    I wish however, that women can organize themselves to fight oppressive traditions….Recommend

  • Ashley Razi

    Thanks Fatima for writing this wonderful article, that’s the reason I quit watching all leading channel drama’s. Actually our media think that these violent type shows in which they show a mazloom aurat beaten by husband and threaten by in laws or by their own family become more popular so this is the biggest mistake of our Tele industry bcx now a days viewers are more intelligent and smart they don’t like such type of elements. I know lots of stories in which women are strong and get success in their life and our production companies can make drama’s on these stories.
    But let see when new change will come and we will see such 80’s and early 90’s type show again.Recommend

  • abubakar

    Some of these things like domestic violence and polygamy (the subjects of almost every pakistani drama these days) do exist in reality in our society to a great extent. But the bottom line is current pakistani dramas are worst in the world, maybe second only to indian dramasRecommend

  • Dr Shehryar

    Pyaaray Afzal and Bayemaan Mohabbat are 2 more examples of women dominating the men in their lives!Recommend

  • Dr Sheheryar

    The article shows lack of research on the writer’s part as there are many drama serials being shown that do not depict women as weak or oppressed. They are dominating the society around them and playing an influential role in their men’s lives in dramas like Dil Majboor Sa Lage esp episode 7, Bayemaan Mohabbat, Ishq Mein Teray, Khalish, Pyaray Afzal and Bunty I Love You. The writer should expand the scope of her research before generalising.Recommend

  • Umer Ijaz

    No idea how much latitude today’s Pakistani women want. They have been doing, wearing and moving the way they prefer. No sensible projection of women to guide this sick society and no maturity in scripts can be observed in dramas nowadays. No innocence is prevailing among majority then which deprived women class our drama serials portraying?Recommend

  • Shehla

    Madam, one only has to venture out from the comfort of the house to see and feel the reality of the female in our society. It is a male dominated society where a woman is better off with the shelter of her father, husband, brother and later in life the son. Highlighting issues women face in our society is one way of bringing awareness among the people about the wrong practices prevalent here.Recommend

  • Zaynab Q

    When a woman is married and living in the comfort of her husband’s house who is earning a living it is very easy to criticize others for being weak and submissive…women in our society do suffer humiliations just to keep the security of a marriage. That is a REALITY portrayed in some of the dramas and we should open our eyes to it.Recommend

  • Taz Qureshi

    exactly.. we need inspirational female leads in our dramas.. i remember when i watched ABC , i was a child and i looked upto shehnaz’s character.. the 90s dramas depicted many female characters which could serve as a role model for our new generation.. i wonder what has gone wrong with our dramas nowadays??Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/shoaib_112 Mirza Shoaib Ahmad Jarral

    sorry did you say Malala Yousafzai?i mean really?Recommend

  • Umar Ansari

    Pakistani TV/Film industry believes in depicting society for what it really is. Therein lies the problem. By depicting society for what it is, they’re not doing anything good. I mean, where’s the entertainment? I watch TV for entertainment not for a synopsis of how badly a woman is being treated. That is depressing. While fans of these shows think they’re sending the right message. They look at it and go, “Oh, wow. Yes! That’s exactly what happens in our house. This is the state of our society and people need to see it!”

    My question is, what are YOU going to do about it? Are you going to change it? Are you going to improve your households? Are you going to start treating your women rightfully now that you’ve seen how bad things are?

    I beg Pakistani TV/Film writers to start writing about positive things. Show the opposite of what’s going on. Show the good side! Show how problem-free a Pakistani family unit CAN be, not how it currently IS! When you do that, people watching the show will follow. A Pakistani society that respects both men and women alike will rise. The world will follow.Recommend

  • Abtom

    In older times like the 90s, there were action dramas like DHUWAN, SHAHPAR, ABC etc which would fill passion & encourage the young to serve the country but now nothing is even near to action. Most dramas are either based on romance, halla gulla or domestic problems..Recommend