Why is domestic abuse the selling point of Pakistani dramas?

Published: April 20, 2016

A show’s success doesn’t demand women at the forefront. But, it doesn’t mean that they need to be victims of abuse.

The drama industry in Pakistan has grown exponentially and is a very valuable export of ours. These dramas have turned Fawad Khan and Mahira Khan into household names. For Pakistanis living abroad, they serve as a potent link to life back home and provide a much needed break from reality. However, there is still room for improvement.

One particular thing that really irks me is the propensity to show violence against women on screen. There have been numerous incidents where a young member of my own family might be playing with a toy and they are suddenly transfixed to the TV screen, because they can hear loud screaming and women being pushed around like cattle. I have to think quickly and change the channel to avoid any permanent emotional damage being done to them.

Just like smoking on screen includes a cautionary proviso in small print underneath the screen that it’s dangerous for health, some of these dramas should come with a warning that the drama may be violent. If not that, they should at least cutback on the inherently distressing scenes being shown so brazenly.

Just by way of example, there is one drama in which a woman is continuously harangued and vilified by her husband. He uses derogatory language against her all the time and even violence. She is pushed around, thrown onto a bed and treated just one step short of a trash can. What’s worse is that the wife quietly tolerates the abuse being meted out against her for the sake of her daughter.

These images are not healthy. They are not helpful for women who are facing this reality every single day.

This was just one example; there are many other dramas where women are either being violently abused, beaten and/or constantly faint upon facing extreme external pressure. Are our women so fragile and devoid of reason that they have to be shown like this? Why is fainting considered to be a way of dealing with our emotions?  Is this what actually happens in real life?

I understand that the purpose behind such dramas is to mimic and exaggerate public life, but there is something very disturbing with the manner in which it is being shown on TV. These dramas try to harness drama, in every sense of the word, to exaggerate circumstances and make them entertaining for viewers. Not that I’m deriding the purpose behind how ‘dramatic’ these shows are, because that is their appeal. However, why is it always at a cost to gender? It’s as if there is no more creativity left in our television industry and they have to repeat similar narratives – the cheating husband, the domesticated wife, the loveless marriage.

I, for one, wish these dramas would showcase stronger female role models; the kind that would not condone abuse at all, the kind that are not afraid to fight back. It is not at all acceptable to portray women as frail and deserving of such treatment because it allows violence to become acceptable and reinforces gender roles.

Take a look at American television for instance. Scandal features an extremely strong and empowered woman in the realm of politics. People come to her to get their problems fixed. Friends is an amusing story of a group of friends who try to tackle everyday problems, while staying connected to one another. The three main female characters have never had to faint or endure any form of abuse.

Tyrant features a royal middle-eastern family trying to combat a country that is plagued with terrorism and corruption. The women in this show are strong, powerful, and independent. Even Game of Thrones, set in a completely fictional world, where noble families fight for power – features women being just as involved in the fight for power.

The mention of these television series by no means tries to compare the west with Pakistan. Despite how diverse these shows are from one another, they have all been successful at some point, if not always, even in our country, without having to succumb to projecting women as weak figures or being subjected to domestic abuse.

A show’s success doesn’t demand women at the forefront all the time. But, it doesn’t mean that they need to be victims of abuse either.

What we need is a strong script, an explosive cast and an excellent storyline to keep us glued to the screen. Instead, it’s all about women falling to the ground or being screamed and shouted at, or damsels in distress that need to be rescued by a rich man in his Corolla. There is still much work to be done to improve on our dramas and if they are being outsourced to foreign countries, then they need to start radically depicting our women as human instead of fodder for abuse.

Faiza Iqbal

Faiza Iqbal

A law graduate from King's College, London Nottingham Law School. Having worked at Mandviwalla & Zafar as an Associate, she now writes freelance articles and is trying to qualify as a barrister in Canada.

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

  • Saad Salman Zia

    One word: Fiction.

    I get your point but you cannot make everything politically correct. I personally dislike the drama serial in question too but I don’t think I should be calling for a certain type of storyline and expect the producers to abide by it. They are free to create a fictional story as they please. What can make or break it is public demand.Recommend

  • DevilHunterX

    None of the women in those western shows are good examples of strong female characters.Recommend

  • Sane

    Domestic abuse against women infested dramas are the best like for women. Why then? Behind almost all domestic violence a women is there. Either mother-in-law (mother of the man), Nand (sister of the man), mehbooba (lover of the man). Who must be blamed then?Recommend

  • S25

    It’s not just this but it’s alarming how young girls are stereotyped in every other drama. The good girl who is also acing at her school (and will eventual get admission in medicine school) will only wear shalwar kameez while the one wearing jeans is most likely to go to clubs, sleep around and fail at school. This has already spread generalisation in the society that women wearing jeans or any western attire are “bad”. Our dramas are doing no favour to the society.Recommend

  • ZeroLoss

    exaggerated truth sellsRecommend

  • Parvez

    Possibly its because the audience can relate to this story line.Recommend

  • Sane

    See the drama ‘Dil Lagi’ to observe exaggeration.Recommend

  • Laskero

    They show what is actually happening in the society. We have an abysmal record on domestic abuse and the sad truth is many forms of abuse are perfectly acceptable in our society.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    “Why is domestic abuse the selling point of Pakistani dramas?”

    Because of lack of ideas and intellect. Same in India too.

    Can you imagine how an abused women looks so beautiful not losing an inch of her make up and the taste for the latest fashion trends, the house looks less of a home and more of a palace, I can go on and on…

    Surprisingly it is the women who love to see other women in such misery, not sure if they enjoy these soaps because of the story line which does not exist in the first place or it is because they get to see the latest fashion trends being displayed by some of the most miserable looking women on the planet.Recommend