I: Hum Kahan Kai Sachay Thay
Throughout these turbulent times between stay-at-home orders and erratic bursts of outside freedoms, TV has played a vital role in all of our lives and its importance in our day-to-day discussions cannot be disregarded anymore. However, questions have been constantly raised the representation of women on TV.
It’s not a secret that many of our drama productions center around the misfortune of women, their rescue by a tall, broody gentlemen that’s either a rich man or an overly entitled cousin who’s just moved back from ‘abroad’. Conversations have also centered around abuse and its aftereffects on our ever so sanctimonious family hierarchy. Despite these discussions, the issue of domestic and emotional abuse, its representation on TV is often met with ambivalence by the narrators that have taken the responsibility to tell these important stories where almost always, women are relegated to play these divine sacrificial deities that only serve at the behest of their abusers. The larger conversation moves away from the discernible physical and emotional abuse towards our ever so favorite topic “How do I fix this man”.
It may be dismissed as political correctness or seen as a minor issue in light of other “bigger” social injustices, yet representation matters. And it is of particular importance in relation to gender equality and violence against women because the way we talk about fiction can influence how we view the same type of stories in real life. How we talk about movies and dramas says something about what we value as a society – and whose truth we believe. Hania Amir is a leading actress on TV and her popularity is undeniable with audiences, especially on social media. When asked to explain why female characters are drawn with such regressive connotations, she said: “I see again and again the discussion on female representation and what is happening on screen is so different than what’s typically happening all around us?” Hania furthers goes ahead to say: “I want to talk about it, there are certain characterisations and narrative patterns in these drama productions that have become so established and ingrained that we seem to be stuck with them, inside and outside of our TV screen.”
Let’s go back to a recent popular drama serial Hum Kahan Kai Sachay Thay. Among the many story threads of this particular show, which is set amid a very simple and wealthy household, is that of severe emotional abuse at the behest of Mahira Khan’s love interest Asfad (Usman Mukhtar), who is shown as a volatile, vengeful man that attacks her physically and mentally. Sometimes, the violence occurs just because of his own guilt while the seemingly settled Mehreen (Mahira Khan) disintegrates when Asfad becomes increasingly dangerous as the drama progresses. In a twist of events, when the truth comes out, that of Mehreen’s innocence, all Asfad has to do is cry and plead for forgiveness which is accepted by Mehreen with full enthusiasm. Amina Wazir, a leading therapist in Lahore who also runs an amazing program called Islam and Therapy on Instagram, spoke candidly on the discourse of women and abuse: “Most of the women in our society go through some form of abuse, whether physical or emotional abuse that affects their sense of self.” She further explains: ”Often in the representation of abuse, I see many times that the victim turns towards the abuser, which is a toxic cycle. The need for a new narrative is imperative; seeing more empowered women who are not dependent on the male figures in their life and have a sense of self-worth that is exclusively theirs. Another thing lacking on TV is a sense of authority that women don’t seem to possess which doesn’t come from a male patriarchal figure.”
Here I ask, why? Does forgiveness for the man’s hideous actions always need to constitute a lifelong continuation with your abuser? Or is the fact that many women who choose to walk away from abusive relationships just not make for good TV? Why are many of these prominent ‘critics’ who don’t see beyond campaigning for YouTube views and Instagram likes asking these much-needed questions on why domestic violence is not taken seriously as a subject worthy of serious TV. Why aren’t critics questioning that? Why aren’t we all?
As someone who looks at the cultural impact of TV and film, it’s hard to argue otherwise that these aren’t real and lived experiences of women. And for that, there needs to be compassion and support. So, us as audiences need to get answers to one fundamental question: “Whose voices are we hearing?”
We asked Saim Sadiq, an internationally renowned film-maker, to explain his stance on the matter: “It’s okay if a more progressive women is shown however it matters as to the light she is shown under, which is usually in a negative narrative. She is shown as someone other women shouldn’t aspire to be, and of course, there is always another women portrayed who is more obedient is more widely acceptable.” He concludes his statement quite aptly when he says: “While portrayal is important, what is more important is the light these progressive, independent, strong women are shown in.”