Emancipation on screen

May 7, 2023

A seven-episode spin by the end of which we may end up being better people

Emancipation on screen


ar-i-raah, a drama series with seven episodes, sparked and sustained the interest of a large primetime audience. The play, which was aired earlier this year, was a springtime treat. It put a novel spin on the struggles and resilience of working-class women and gender minorities.

The story takes the viewer by the hand, and gently tows them along. We are introduced to Rania, a young woman who suddenly faces a crisis. We are privy to her transformation from a strong-headed but flighty girl to an iron-willed woman when her father, who drives a taxi to make ends meet, suffers from a medical condition that keeps him from fending for the family.

Rania takes on the responsibility of being the breadwinner for her family. She decides to fight the gender stereotypes by choosing her father’s profession as a taxi driver.

As she sets off on her journey, she notices those on the peripheries and has the compassion to help them out. Her interactions with other characters teach her more about the harsh realities of the world. They also guide her through the process of self-cultivation.

The drama is worth watching not just because of its female protagonist and the intersectional lens it applies to the struggles of working-class women but also because of its plotline which captures the absurd spectacles and bizarre choices that women and gender minorities are compelled to make in order to survive.

Unlike many other television productions - think Sinf-i-Ahan and Meri Zaat Zarra-i-Benishan - plays like Sar-i-raah, Udaari, Baaghi, Aakhri Station, Ankahi and Yaqeen Ka Safar deviate from a template depiction of female characters.

Sar-i-raah reveals a distinct sense of responsibility on the writer’s part to realistically point out the problems faced by various genders.

The story is to the point, and there aren’t a lot of unnecessary stretches in the storyline. To a part of the prime time TV audience, accustomed to plays having no moral lessons and an abundance of non-essential shots, the production might have appeared sparse and plain but it resonated with a niche alienated from primetime television precisely because of the overstretched storylines, redundant messaging and lack of depth.

Sar-i-raah succeeds because it brings something new to the table and proceeds to unpack it thoroughly. All seven episodes deal with issues related to gender and its performative nature.

The first two episodes set a canvas and introduce the characters. We also get an overview of the dynamics between the family of the protagonist and her in-laws. The protagonist’s decision to earn a living for her family causes a rift between the two households.

This drama is worth watching not just because of its female protagonist, and the intersectional lens it applies to the struggles of working-class women but also because of its plotline which captures the absurd spectacles and bizarre choices that women and gender minorities are compelled to make in order to survive in a man’s world.

The storyline lacks a little in the depiction of Rania’s struggles and the micro-aggressions she faces on a routine basis. The focus shifts a lot among the various characters appearing in the sub-plots. Some viewers might say that the whole doesn’t come together as a sum of its parts. However, the loss is more than made up for in terms of characterisation.

The last five episodes span four subplots featuring the stories of three women and a gender non-conforming person who faces discrimination because they are not ‘masculine enough’ in the way they behave. Rania manages to help all these characters in one way or another.

Rania’s character has a tinge of heroism to it. Her story sounds like a bit of a legacy, which is not very different from the characters of female protagonists in most TV dramas today, for instance, Kashf Murtaza, played by Sanam Saeed in Zindagi Gulzar Hai. Rania and Kashf share a sense of responsibility that they owe to their family members. Their success in their professional lives, is mostly the result of this feeling. This can be a point of relatability for some viewers. In terms of characterisation, Rania seems to needs a little more depth and justification for her altruism.

The most remarkable thing about the play is the subplots in the script and their depiction. The various stories, which tie back to the main narrative of the play, set the premise for an uninterrupted delineation of the challenges people face, and the price they have to pay, for merely existing.

The subplots cover a range of gender-related issues. Harassment is one of them. Sar-i-raah is worth a watch because there is a lot to learn. It raises awareness about how gender discrimination and roles work, as well as the any types of intimidation that the stakeholders face and how they handle them.

For example, the handling of workspace harassment through lobbying is apt.

At several points in the plotline, the lead and supporting characters are seen facing workspace harassment, cyber harassment, street harassment, gender harassment and the use of power. Not treating it as a once in a lifetime happening women cannot handle, is where the drama serial has done justice to the presentation of the issue.

There are two other notable topics. First, the role of housewives with a degree in medicine and its impact on the society. Second, the right of runaways over their inheritance and how they can claim it.

The cinematography technique used is helpful and does not impede the playwright’s commitment to showing non-conventional interactions between individuals against diverse economic and social backdrops. The production style is simple and meaningful. Sar-i-raah is quite wholesome in its picturisation of the impacts of sexism in the society on individuals.

TV productions like this one add to the discussion around the emancipation of women and gender minorities.

The writer is a theatre practitioner and a drama critic

Emancipation on screen