It was in November 2006 when the first batch of Lady Cadets were inducted for military training at the Pakistan Milatary Academy (PMA) and after six months of training, in April 2007, the first ever batch of forty-four joined Pakistan Army as officers. Before this, women were only part of Army Medical Corps and Army Forces Nursing Service. Since then, each year many women have honourably passed out from PMA to join the profession of arms.
Every year, a substantial number of academically successful and physically fit Pakistani women from different social and ethnic backgrounds, passionately apply to become commissioned officers of the Pakistan Army. It is in thousands that aspire, but the funnel of different tests, including Inter Services Selection Board (ISSB), shortlists a handful, who finally make it to PMA.
Many women who qualify for PMA feel like they have ‘won’ but it is only once they are inside the PMA Gate, that they realize that a new and highly challenging phase of their lives has just begun. With every passing day, they become aware of their hidden strengths as well as their weaknesses. These women undergo a rigorous course of military training, which is indeed very rare and exceptional. However, it was quite ironic that little was known about their awe-inspiring journey of transformation, their story of trials, tribulations and achievements and their walk on a very tight rope of competence and courage, which promises them success and pride at the other end. To fill this void, a drama serial was conceived by ISPR in collaboration with ARY Digital: Sinf-e-Aahan ¬— an endeavour to present ‘Army Lady Officer’ as a viable career for Pakistani women.
In pursuance of the desired objectives, characters from different ethnic, religious and social backgrounds have been made part of the storyline, and the most suitable actors, conforming to their roles have been cast.
Rabia: Sajjal Ali plays the role of Rabia Alam, the daughter of a retired Army officer, who is inspired by her brother to join the Army. She wants to outdo the performance standards set by her brother in the PMA. There are some interesting transformations awaiting Rabia.
Arzoo: A Christian and daughter of a midwife and school music teacher, hailing from Yuhanabad, Lahore, Arzoo Daniel is played by Syra Yousuf. She joins the Army to bring respect to her parents, who have made many sacrifices for her upbringing and education. She excels in debates and essay writing in PMA.
Pariwash: Played by Ramsha Khan, Pariwash, belongs to Sibbi, Balochistan. She is the daughter of a man, who sends her to PMA without the consent of their tribal Sardar. The Sardar’s son is also undergoing training at PMA. Pariwash outperforms the Sardar’s son in the firing competition and wins laurels as the pride of her tribe including their Sardar.
Shaista: One of five daughters, Shaista, played by Yumna Zaidi, hails from a Pakhtun family from Waziristan. Her parents, who have not been blessed with a son, are worried about their daughters’ future. Shaista decides to step into the shoes that are commonly believed to be of a son. She joins the Army and paves the way for a brighter future for her family.
Mahjabeen: Belonging to a very modern and affluent urban family, Mahjabeen Mastaan played by Kubra Khan is a pampered young woman, who is fond of expensive makeup and branded clothes. In PMA, her life finds a new direction beyond the luxury that has always surrounded her. She realizes that life is much more beautiful and precious when there is a goal to pursue.
Sidra: The only daughter of a conservative religious family, Syeda Sidra, played by Dananeer Mobeen, is very dear to her parents, but also slightly impulsive and childish. An interesting character, who likes to form instantaneous bonds of friendship, familiarity and frankness, she brings in the much needed humour in the disciplined routine of training at PMA.
Nethmi: Played by Yehali Tashiya is a Lady Cadet from Sri Lanka, Nethmi Parera, joins PMA to undergo training in Pakistan. She is the daughter of martyred Sri Lankan military officer who, coincidently, had also passed out from PMA. Nethmi soon becomes accustomed to the rich Pakistani culture, language, social values and way of life. She also forms lifelong friendships with other Lady Cadets during the course of her training.
Major Usama: Shehryar Munawar plays Major Usama, a smart, physically robust and decorated officer, who is posted to PMA as Term Commander of the Lady Cadet Course (LCC). He is a perfect role model for the Lady Cadets. On one hand, he is a master trainer, pushing the cadets to meet the required standards, on the other hand, he believes in supporting and taking the best care of his cadets in all matters of personal grooming. He is married to the widow of his martyred coursemate and takes care of his stepdaughter as his own.
The storyline most delicately touches upon different aspects of transformation of a woman from Sinf-e-Nazuk to Sinf-e-Aahan including the induction process and the rigors of Lady Cadets’ training at PMA. It gradually develops a few main plots and some sub-plots to project uniform treatment of cadets in PMA, irrespective of their gender, social class, ethnic identity, regional loyalty or religious preferences.
The project was initially conceived by ISPR in August 2020. It was then processed as a concept by Production Division of ISPR in October and finally approved for execution in November 2020. As a preliminary idea, it was envisaged as a sequel to the ISPR documentary, Sisters in Arms, however, late in September 2020, the mandate was modified to a drama serial. The complete concept was then developed, wherein the main plots and sub-plots were conceived by Lieutenant Colonel Rehan from whom Lieutenant Colonel Umair later took over, finalising the screenplay and ensuring timely completion of the serial. The name of the drama, Sinf-e-Aahan, was formulated by SPR Director Productions Brigadier Imran Naqvi and, after the approval process, the formal go-ahead for script writing was given.
For this special project, one of the most renowned producers in the industry, Humayun Saeed was called in. After going through the concept, it was Humayun, who suggested Umera Ahmed as the writer and Nadeem Baig as the Director of the serial. Being a project highlighting empowerment of women, Sana Shahnawaz and Samina Humayun were brought in to collaborate on the venture. Shahnawaz, a successful TV producer, held Sinf-e-Aahan very close to her heart from the outset. The selection of the cast, logistics and the quality of production were all ensured by her. The iconic medallion symbolizing the title of the drama has also been designed by her with the able consultancy of Shahzad Nawaz. The medallion bears two crossed Swords pointing down, symbolising peace and a fight that is over. The fight is a metaphor for the struggles and trials that are over for the lady cadets as they get commissioned in the Pakistan Army. Meanwhile, Umera Ahmed, a widely read and popular Urdu fiction novelist and celebrated screenplay writer of this era got very keenly and passionately involved in scripting the drama, as the subject of women emancipation is close to her heart. On the hand, Nadeem Baig had the toughest time directing the shoot. Abiding by the decorum of PMA and their disciplined schedule, keeping the cast happy and the whole crew onboard for almost four months was not at all an easy undertaking.
The high standards of training at PMA are known around the world and its proof is that so many allied cadets from different countries come to train at PMA. As regards allied Lady Cadets, Sri Lanka was the first country to send their Lady Cadets to Pakistan. It was for this reason that ISPR approached Sri Lankan Army Headquarters through the Pakistani High Commission and as a result Yehali Tashiya Kalidasa came to be cast as Nethmi Parera, a Sri Lankan Lady Cadet.
Major General Omer Bokhari, incumbent Commandant PMA, along with his eminent team of faculty members has a significant role in maintaining the standard of production. The Commandant took personal interest in ensuring that anything which went on-camera reflected PMA standards. Having played the role of a young Corporal in drama serial Sunehre Din, the Commandant has definitely come full circle.
The achievements of Pakistani women are too overwhelmingly significant to be summed up in one drama serial. This project is an effort to recognise the struggles, conflicts and prejudices that women have to face in pursuit of their dreams. By formulating a system of vigorously training Lady Cadets and then inducting them as officers, Pakistan Army endeavours to get rid of negative stereotypes prevailing in our society. No nation can truly prosper without giving its women a fair chance to realise their potential and to contribute to the strengthening of society. This reality is beautifully summarized in one of the best dialogues of this drama: “men fight to defeat the enemy but it is our women who make us invincible.”