Zindagi Gulzaar Hay- Empowering or Problematic?
As a ten-year-old, I vividly remember getting hooked on the screen every Thursday, 8 pm sharp, with my grandmother, eagerly watching "Zindagi Gulzar Hai." As a young girl, I remember feeling disgusted by the cruel and unfair attitude of kashaf's father towards his daughters and wife; this was my primary exposure to patriarchy, a cultural norm in most of the traditional homes in Pakistan.
To begin with, the drama itself is seen as one of our industry's masterpieces. It aired in 2012 when the entire film industry only produced stereotypical content promoting Patriarchy, and violence against women was shown as a norm. Patriarchy was stronger in the country than today, and the content wouldn't seem to go beyond typical saas-bahu rivalries. The male was shown as the meek character who would be indecisive about whose side to take. Thankfully, in the present, we can see the industry producing meaningful content promoting women's empowerment and defying the gender norms like Sinf-e- Aahan. Although the content and dialogues in the present are far better off in defying gender norms, the industry still has a long way to go in showing meaningful and unproblematic content.
Coming towards Zindagi Gulzar Hai, the drama where it received great applause from the audience, it also got called out for succumbing to gender stereotypes, owing to the problematic dialogues by Zaroon while he is addressing his wife, Kashaf. Although Zaroon belongs to a high-class family, living in posh areas, he does seem to have a typical desi, conservative mindset. In one scene, he legitimizes his authority to question his sister for dressing up "Inappropriately." On the other, he is seen forcing and emotionally blackmailing Asmara not to go on a trip with male friends. He also calls out Asmara as an ‘invitation for harassment.’ He is shown to have a male chauvinistic mindset which, in my opinion, is overlooked by the audience due to the charismatic looks and personality of "Fawad Khan," who played the role of Zaroon in the drama. Kashaf’s father’s patriarchal mindset, along with Zaroon’s, thus reflects the fact that irrespective of class, desi men will always be men exerting their male authority, and it doesn’t matter how educated they are or what class structure they belong to. Consequently, viewers seem confused if the drama successfully defies stereotypes or unintentionally promotes male chauvinism and Patriarchy.
Kashaf, the drama's main female character, played by Sanam Saeed, is shown as an average-looking woman belonging to the lower middle class. She is a determined woman who hopes to restore her mother's lost pride. Kashaf and her family are affected by the oppression of her father who is hugely against his daughter’s education and thinks that marrying her daughter to her cousin as a better option. Against all odds, Kashaf gets enrolled into an MBA program in a renowned institution, hence shown as a strong independent woman. She can be seen as an inspiration to young girls who can relate to the lifestyle of Kashaf, thus empowering the youth to achieve their goals against all odds. Furthermore, the fact that Kashaf, who is an average-looking girl, gets the attention of Zaroon, -a guy who was considered to be the most good-looking man of her batch, totally defies society's set unrealistic beauty standards and the faux concept instilled by Cinderella and other Disney princesses tales that only the most beautiful girl will get prince charming. Kashaf is a dark skin tone character whose dressing is simple and minimal. Her confidence, compassion, and well-educated are elements of her personality that viewers greatly admire.
Another aspect I see in the show is the two different, contrasting kinds of freedom demanded by women belonging to two other classes. In a sense, Kashaf, who belongs to the lower middle class, requires independence in terms of choosing her career over marriage and making her own decisions, while on the other hand, Zaroon’s sister and mother demand freedom of not being questioned by the men of the family and being able to travel and avail luxuries of this world without being answerable to anyone. With this, we can conclude that women, regardless of their class, are in search of liberty and freedom to make their decisions singlehandedly.
The greedy mindset of Desi men for wanting sons over daughters is highlighted in the show through the lens of Kashaf’s father. He left his first wife ever since she gave birth to four daughters. The story later shows that the daughters, along with Kashaf, proved to be strong and independent and were able to run the house along with their mother, thus supporting her in every way. We see a sudden shift in the rigid attitude of Kashaf’s father when he sees his daughter become successful and reach higher positions after acing the CSS examinations. It can be comprehended that Kashaf’s father is now ready to accept his daughter because of her finances and high-ranked job.
Another significant aspect I found empowering about the drama was the intense portrayal of sisterhood in Kashaf’s home. The way a family consisting of five women can run the house singlehandedly while managing work and homemaking simultaneously defies stereotypes that females are dependent on men and cannot live without having them by their sides. This is a common notion in desi families that a woman should be called ‘settled’ only if she gets married and has children. Society refuses to call a career-oriented, independent woman ‘settled.’ Even in today’s times, I see my friends using this word in an entirely wrong way, this shows that we need such content as Zindagi Gulzar Hai in our media to further eradicate the taboos associated with the female gender. In conclusion, although I see drama as revolutionary and one of a kind, I still acknowledge its flaws where it gets problematic and hopes that the drama industry realizes these mistakes and becomes successful in producing better empowering content in the future.