Rethinking Female Representation in Pakistani Dramas - by Syed Haris Ali
In current times, the media plays a crucial role in making or breaking public perceptions and opinions. It will not be a stretch to say that we do get a sense of our cultural traditions and moral values largely from our dramas. For-example dramas shape our perception of the ideal lifestyle and influence our opinions regarding issues like ‘pedophilia’ and ‘vani’ or ‘swara.’ Pakistani dramas have always managed to help attract a wide audience to television. From Bakhtiyar Ahmed and Qasim Jalali ‘s ‘Khuda ki Basti’ aired in 1974 to Sahira Kazmi and Haseena Moin’s Dhoop Kinaray aired in 1987, the drama industry promised innovative premises and issues to discuss with each new production.
Since the early 2000s, the dramas grew more women-centric in their content and hence started attracting a higher number of female viewers. With the airing of dramas like ‘Meri Zaat Zarra-e-Benishan’ and ‘Humsafar’ in the late 2000s, came crawling the trend of celebrating the ‘miserable,’ ‘helpless,’ and ‘suppressed’ woman. Ph.D. professors like Rabia Ali and Saira Batool in their study argued, “that the media images of women are advertised, publicized and promoted for marketing and enhancing profit at the expense their false and unrealistic descriptions. More important issues depicting real day to day lives of women are seldom considered worth representing.” The women in the Pakistani dramas are shown to be completely lacking agency and having dull and rigid personalities. This is not to say that women don’t have problems in their lives or they never become the victims of regressive traditions but it is to say that ‘tragedy’ and ‘helplessness’ are not the essences of the lives of women.
Women in our society study, work and continue to support their families. They have ambitions they aspire to. They may have to conform to many societal expectations but there are many decisions they handle by themselves. By portraying so-called ‘good women’ as stupid, oppressed and helpless, these dramas are teaching young girls that tragedy and suffering are the secret ingredients for their ultimate happiness. In this age when women are trying to occupy the public space, dramas should empower and encourage them through the portrayal of strong female characters. Be it the Mehwish or the teacher Haniya from ‘Meray Pass Tum Ho’, none of these two is a character that inspires women because their lives necessarily revolve around the men in the drama. These women simply have no ambitions of their own. In the drama ‘Ruswai,’ the female lead is well-educated and belongs to an upper-middle-class family but is portrayed to be a completely helpless woman suffering violence silently at the hands of her husband.
The dramas today only seem to promote a regressive and stereotypical image of women while the need of the hour is to inspire and empower women. It is important to revive the spirit and strength of characters like ‘Zoya’ from ‘Dhoop Kinaray,’ who is a straightforward, fun-loving and graceful woman, to highlight the fact that women do have ambitions and personalities of their own. It is high time that the authors of the current dramas acknowledge that women can be responsible and tolerant without being completely helpless and they can be well-educated without having forgotten their traditions and moralities.
In a nutshell, Pakistani dramas should promote body positivity and women in stronger roles. Women working outside should be portrayed in a positive light and should be appreciated for their willingness to not depend on anyone. As our society is progressing, so should our representation of women in media. Instead of romanticizing violence, women should be represented to be brave enough to stand up for themselves and to fight for their rights. This will give hope and provide alternative ways of being to women who are struggling in their lives and going through issues similar to those broadcasted in these dramas.