Za Pakhtoon Yum: A mind-altering foray into Pukhtun life and culture

Published: October 26, 2014

The drama portrays the Pashtuns’ true love and respect for their culture, language and country. PHOTO: ZA PAKHTOON YUM FACEBOOK PAGE

The drama portrays the Pashtuns’ true love and respect for their culture, language and country. PHOTO: ZA PAKHTOON YUM FACEBOOK PAGE The drama portrays the Pashtuns’ true love and respect for their culture, language and country. PHOTO: ZA PAKHTOON YUM FACEBOOK PAGE

So far, our dramas have revolved around the vicious circle of poverty, a miserable daughter-in-law suffering at the hands of her evil in-laws, societal customs, dowry issues, giving birth to a male child or the perfect ‘rishta’ (proposal). Indeed these are issues which need to be addressed in dramas or movies, but there are other issues that require our attention as well.

With the passage of time, we, Pakistanis, have come across many complex issues segregating our society into small groups, each intolerable for the other. We have issues ranging from the Shia-Sunni to the Punjabi-Pukhtun, anti-women empowerment to pro-women empowerment, even from the pro-Malala to the anti-Malala groups. These issues are addressed in one way or the other in Urdu dramas within a specific cultural framework. But as far as Pukhtun dramas are concerned, they rarely address these issues in order to raise awareness amongst its audience.

Despite the liberalisation and easy access to media, we have not witnessed any significant change in the so-called orthodox issues in Pukhtun dramas and movies, whose plot remains to be family enmity filled with killings, bloodshed and misinterpretation of women. The misconstrued notion that militancy arises from the hub of Pukhtun culture needs to be addressed. The attitude of Pukhtuns towards militancy and liberal women is also, more often than not, misinterpreted. Their dramas and movies entail songs, dancing and a hero with a gun and a blood-stained face. They are not war-mongers or hateful people and this is not what their culture is about. In actuality, they are peace-loving, patriotic and hospitable people. So why this ugly depiction of them and their culture?

It may be easier said than done, but raising awareness is far from easy; it requires an effort, commitment and an initiative towards the right direction. The one person who has taken the initiative to portray the Pukhtuns and their culture in a realist light is Azeem Sajjad, writer and director of ‘Za Pakhtoon Yum’ (I am a Pukhtun). Not only has he set the wheels in the right direction, he has also set a benchmark for upcoming dramas and movies, and hopefully, it will change the repetition of exhausted plots.

The drama has raised different complex issues regarding the Pukhtuns and their culture. The first and most important issue addressed in the drama is the misconception that terrorism is associated to religion and the region. The drama explores how innocent people are trapped by impostors, possessing a manipulated knowledge of Islam, for the sake of ‘protecting’ and ‘reviving’ Islam. The drama starts with the murder of a folk singer in a tribal area monopolised by a terrorist group who identify themselves as the ‘defenders’ and ‘true preachers’ of Islam.

Photo: Za Pakhtoon Yum Facebook Page

Secondly, Sajjad has focused on the role of patriotic citizens – students, writers, singers and/or people from other professions showing how well aware they are of their responsibilities towards their country, all-the-while performing their duties in their own unique manner. In the drama, the tribal head (Bahadar Khan) raises his voice against terrorism being carried out by the group and ends up being martyred in the process. His daughter Laleen, a medical student by profession, takes it upon herself to carry forward her father’s formidable task. She observes the situation and concludes that the Taliban are nothing but a foreign agenda and do not represent Islam from anywhere. She devotes her life to creating awareness amongst the people of her tribe in order to reveal the true face of the Taliban and struggles to get rid of the impostors of Islam. In one of the scenes, she is seen educating terrorists about the true spirit of Islam whilst being in their custody.

Photo: Za Pakhtoon Yum Facebook Page

Nowadays, the image of our police force is clouded with allegations of corruption, dishonesty and inefficiency, a vision this drama endeavours to fix in order to restore faith in our police force. SP Adam Khan, in his role, does exactly that; his duty to serve his nation is sacred to him. He loses his only child in a battle against terrorism, but his rebellious nature keeps him going until the end.

Photo: Za Pakhtoon Yum Facebook Page

Above and beyond all the other preconceived notions people may have of a Pukhtun society, the one it tackles head-on acknowledging the importance of educating women in a Pukhtun society. It ventures into its viewers minds and undoes the knot of misconstrued ideas they may have of the way Pukhtuns treat women. Zarmina, wife of SP Khan, plays the role of a well-known columnist and plays a considerable role in the drama.

Photo: Za Pakhtoon Yum Facebook Page

This drama exhibits the versatility present within the country and should be appreciated for trying to correct the contentious view, fueled by misconceptions, held by many about a very large population of Pakistan. It forays into the real life of a Pukhtun, his love for his country, respect for culture, language and yes, women too. It has been scripted and presented in Urdu so it can be viewed and understood by everyone and not just one ethnicity in particular. The power and influence of the media is unquestionable; why not make it a source of awareness as well as a medium for entertainment?

Sara Jabeen

Sara Jabeen

A phd scholar of economics at PIDE, Islamabad.

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