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Dissecting Bulbulay's Problematic Portrayal of the Khawajasira Community



Rated 7.7 on IMDB, Bulbulay is one of the most popular television shows of all time in Pakistan, and even if you're not a viewer yourself, it's likely that you recognize names like Mehmood Sahab, Nabeel, Khoobsurat, and Momo. It's almost certain that among your acquaintances, there is at least one dedicated fan of the show who brings others along to watch it. Written by Ali Imran and Saba Hassan, the show is a successful family sitcom with a high TRP (Target Rating Point) and holds the record for Pakistan's longest-running television series with 662 episodes as of June 6th, 2023.


While the show aims to entertain, it falls into the trap of perpetuating harmful stereotypes and mocking a marginalized community. In this article, we delve into the problematic portrayal of Khawasiras in 'Bulbulay' and explore the impact it has on society.


The primary focus will be on season 2 episode 43, since in this particular episode, the character Mumtaz impersonates a transgender individual inadvertently perpetuating a distorted, one-dimensional view of the community. The character uses exaggerated gestures, loud makeup, and comedic dialogue to elicit laughter from the audience, but at the expense of the dignity and respect of the already 'belittled' community.



Screenplay:

[15:02 - 15:50]

Mehmood: "Arey tum tou meri biwi hou, Mumtaz!"
Mumtaz: "Haye! mein tou hijra hun, tumnay nahin dekhe mere thumkay? Agar bol tou mein dikhaun dou chaar"

[Continued]

Nabeel: "Arey tou aap bahir kiya karnay jarhi hain?"
Mumtaz: "Badhaiyan lene! Ghar ghar jaungi, naach gaana karungi"
Khoobsurat: "Aap jayein inkay peechay puray mohallay kou pata lag jayega"

As the screenplay suggests, Bulbulay fails to capture the true essence of the Khawajasira community and instead reduces them to mere caricatures. The show portrays transgender individuals as objects of ridicule, emphasizing exaggerated mannerisms and dressing in an attempt to generate laughs. This portrayal not only reinforces stereotypes but also dehumanizes an already marginalized community.


The damaging effect of such depictions cannot be overstated. 'Bulbulay' contributes to the propagation of discrimination and prejudice towards Khawajasiras by portraying them as objects of contempt. It promotes the idea that they are somehow inferior to others and contributes to societal stigmatisation.


Missed Opportunities for Empathy and Understanding


Comedy has the potential to bridge gaps, foster empathy, and promote understanding. 'Bulbulay,' unfortunately, fails to recognize this potential and misses an opportunity to shed light on the challenges faced by the transgender community. By resorting to cheap laughs through mockery, the show sidesteps meaningful conversations about acceptance, inclusion, and the struggles faced by Khawasiras in Pakistani society.


As viewers, it is crucial to demand responsible representation in the media we consume. 'Bulbulay' has a vast audience, and with great popularity comes great responsibility. It is vital for the show's creators and writers to be aware of the impact their content has on society, especially on marginalized communities. Sensitivity and understanding should guide the portrayal of any group, ensuring that stereotypes are not perpetuated and that dignity and respect are maintained. It is crucial for the media industry to recognize its power and responsibility in shaping societal perceptions. By promoting authentic and respectful storytelling, we can strive for a more inclusive future where all communities are treated with empathy and understanding.

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9 comentários


I find it so alarming that as someone that had Bulbulay playing as background noise in her house, no one ever noticed the problematic things that it showcased. It's also more alarming that educated actors like Ayesha Omar, and Mehmood Aslam were willing to enact this scene (considering that Mehmood Saab's own daughter is a lawyer that quite literally fights for minority rights ☹️) Thank you for pointing this out. I think this blogpost is really eye-opening and has made me realise how important it is to be aware of the content we consume, and to not let it slide by in the name of 'comedy' or 'a light-watch.' What we consume is what we become, and to be respectful…

Curtir

You brought up such important points regarding an equally important topic, thank you!

While this sort of exaggerated representation is already harmful, the fact that Bulbulay is a comedy show makes it even more dangerous because we automatically tend to make light of it and therefore, not take it as seriously.

This is also the perfect example of reducing certain marginalised groups into essentialist categories and taking away from their struggle in the process.

I do however think that things might be changing for the better with regards ARY’s recent drama “Sar-e-Rah”, where they show how accepting and supporting a father is towards his intersex son, and the role of the father is interestingly also played by Nabeel. Although, I…

Curtir
Mubashir Mémon
Mubashir Mémon
18 de jun. de 2023
Respondendo a

Agreed! Nabeel's role in 'Sar e Rah' marks a significant milestone in the representation of intersex individuals in the Pakistani entertainment industry. If you wanna know a little bit of backstory to it, Nabeel had faced massive backlash when Bulbulay made mockery out of a Pakhtun character in an episode, which led to the hashtag #BanARYDigital gaining popularity on twitter. This consequently led to his public apology and a proposed change to the dynamics of roles he intended to take in future. You can find articles on this online which go into further detail.


But, given the portrayal of intersex characters has been largely absent or been done for comedic purposes in mainstream media, Nabeel and the creators of the…

Curtir

A very well written analysis! I completely agree with you on how harmful this is. When transgenders are consistently used as comic relief it also reinforces societal prejudices against them. I also think shows like bulbulay that are consumed on a nationwide scale, should assume greater responsibility and not misrepresent an already marginalised community.

Also when you mentioned nabeel I was thinking about the drama Sar re rah; I remember watching a clip of the exact same actor having a nuanced discussion with his son on gender identity so I think that’s one example of recent attempts to subvert problematic portrayals and tackle such topics with the sensitivity and empathy they deserve. However that’s just one exception and in general…

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Mubashir Mémon
Mubashir Mémon
18 de jun. de 2023
Respondendo a

It is very important for these mainstream shows to assume greater responsibility in their representations of the marginalized communities. And while this article only focuses on one particular episode, there have been much more instances of similar comedic portrayals of the khawajasira community. As I can recollect, there's one where Mehmood's character takes on the role of impersonating a khawajasira and it showcases the lack of empathy the show writers have on the repercussions of their actions on the marginalized community. This also adds onto show how normalized these comedic portrayals have become in our culture, given the negative backlash Sar e Rah received on its attempt at subverting these depictions.

Curtir

Bulbulay is SUCH and important show because almost everyone has grown up watching it and there are tons of problematic narratives that the show seems to put forward. Like you mentioned, a lot of it does tend to hide behind this idea of 'humor' and this is where problematic jokes come in. Even while growing up I've seen people around me make jokes with this idea to not take them 'seriously' or the fact that they're "just jokes." But I think shows like Bulbulay are places where people learn to make uncomfortable and problematic jokes and thinks it's okay because it's only comedy. And comedy combined with representation become tricky, especially when you're representing a group like transgenders who already…


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Mubashir Mémon
Mubashir Mémon
18 de jun. de 2023
Respondendo a

Comedy is indeed a powerful tool and needs to be approached with sensitivity and an understanding of the potential impact it can have. One of the main problems with comedic portrayals of transgender individuals is the reinforcement of stereotypes and misconceptions. Such portrayals often rely on outdated and offensive stereotypes, portraying trans people as odd, abnormal, or objects of ridicule. This not only perpetuates harmful stereotypes but also contributes to a culture of mockery and discrimination. Also kudos to your cast member for taking up the role in face of all the negativity they had to face.

Curtir

it is true how you mentioned the marginalization and mockery of the transgender community continues to occur in tv dramas and movies and it is even more unfortunate to think that it is rather promoted even in nationwide popular show like bulbulay that is supposed to be a family friendly sitcom. I believe that the mere use of "hijra" is problematic as that is used in a rather negative essence. being watched throughout the country means being watched by all sorts of people that identify and classify themselves beyond a man and woman. the show was perhaps attempting to mirror the everyday experience but with the amount of popularity and fame it gained, it showed have used its influence rather…

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Mubashir Mémon
Mubashir Mémon
14 de jun. de 2023
Respondendo a

That is a great insight. Not only the use of the word 'hijra' is problematic, but the screenplay comment 'naach gaana karungi' also portrays the transgender community in a derogatory essence, reducing their identities to mere objects of ridicule or amusement. Such objectification is dehumanizing to say the least and reflects the deep-rooted prejudice and transphobia prevalent in our society.

Curtir
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