The Othering of Women in Pakistani Dramas

A few days ago, I was watching this interview my friend hosted for one of LUMS’s own societies, Dramaline (link to the interview given at the end!!). They had invited the actress Mashal Khan, and at one point they asked her about her upcoming project. One of the hosts, Zahra, asked Mashal whether there was anything they had incorporated into her new drama that the industry has not previously touched upon. Mashal replied, “for the first time they’ve shown the educated and modern girl to be the innocent and the good one rather than the evil one”.


This statement really stuck with me and I found myself thinking it over the next couple of days. I had previously noticed this aspect of Pakistani dramas but I had never given myself the chance to fully think about the implications it has. The industry carries out an “othering” of women wherein women are portrayed either as good or bad with no complex character falling in the middle. Subsequently, the traits associated with the “good” woman is that she is home-oriented, innocent and submissive. On the other hand, the “bad” woman is cunning, scheming and bold, always looking out for the chance to use her agency to harm others out of spite. What I hadn’t picked up on before though, and what Mashal pointed out, was the wealth and class aspect to it. It was always the wealthy woman or the modern, working woman that was portrayed as the evil one, whereas the poor, home-oriented woman was the victim.


This made me think about the sort of ideas that Pakistani media is propagating, as it is indirectly brainwashing not only young girls (who are undoubtedly exposed to these dramas when their elders watch them) but also older women, entrapping them into the false narrative of what makes a woman “good”. The media is at least in some part responsible for the obstacles and hardships that working women (or worse, working moms!) have to deal with since these women are subconsciously associated with the cunning and conniving women portrayed in dramas. They are assumed to be neglecting their “primary” duty, which is allegedly looking after their families and sacrificing all the “meaningless” or “unimportant” dreams and desires of their own, since for them family should be everything.


I have seen very few Pakistani dramas but the point that Mashal made was evident through the glimpses I’ve seen or the dialogues I’ve overheard when my grandmother religiously watches Hum TV every evening. However, I will talk about how this idea applies to two dramas that I have watched, which are “Humsafar” and “Zindagi Gulzaar Hai”.


In “Humsafar”, the protagonist, Khirad (played by Mahira Khan) is initially poor, innocent and dependant on her husband, Ashar (played by Fawad Khan) after her mother passes away. It can be seen that she is home-oriented and possesses the desired qualities of innocence and submission. On the other hand, the antagonist, Sarah (played by Naveen Waqar) is a wealthy and modern working woman who is determined to ‘steal’ Khirad’s husband through her cunning and spiteful schemes. This link between wealth and immorality is extended to the mothers of Khirad and Ashar, with Khirad’s hard-working and ‘moral’ mother portrayed as the epitome of all that is good, and Ashar’s wealthy mother as the epitome of evil.


Similar ideas are propagated in “Zindagi Gulzaar Hai”, which follows the journey of the hardworking and ‘moral’ protagonist, Kashaf (played by Sanam Saeed) who, while she is not submissive, comes from a poor household and has to struggle to get where she is. On the other hand, the antagonist, Asmara (played by Mehreen Raheel) is portrayed as rude, class conscious and arrogant. Kashaf and Asmara’s rivalry also seems to revolve around a man, Zaroon (played by Fawad Khan), who is involved with Asmara initially, but then when it comes to marriage, he realises he prefers a ‘seedhi-saadhi larki’ like Kashaf.


Another important aspect I noticed was the use of religion as a cornerstone of morality. The “good” character was always portrayed as religious, for example in scenes where they are shown praying namaz or reciting the Quran (seen numerous times in Humsafar). On the other hand, the wealthy, ‘immoral’ upper class is portrayed as being distant from God and religion, as accurately portrayed in the scene in “Zindagi Gulzaar Hai” where Zaroon panicks when Kashaf’s father invites him to come and pray at the mosque together. He asks Kashaf what namaz it is and is then shown as not knowing how to ‘wudu’. Again, this is sending out the message that the ‘good’, ‘moral’ citizen is not only one who is submissive, obeys elders and doesn’t assert their own agency, but one who is ‘moral’ and religious.




If you guys know of any any other dramas where the wealthy, or modern woman is portrayed as the ‘evil’ one, and the poor home-oriented damsel in distress is portrayed as the ‘good’ one, please drop down the names!!

P.S. Here’s the link for the Dramaline interview with Mashal Khan!

(the part I have referenced to is from 10:50 to 12:00)


https://www.instagram.com/tv/CHSuu0Rhowe/?igshid=cmkqe7ucbnw9

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