There was a time when women were confined to being cast as damsels in distress, clueless and mostly characterless individuals dependent on men for basically everything. I’m delighted to say that’s not always the case anymore.
I must confess that I’m a fairly new TV viewer. Before this year I would watch the odd, highly rated and talked about drama but I wasn’t ever following television as voraciously as I am now. But what I have observed, in my brief but concentrated association, is the way women’s roles are slowly albeit steadily changing. There was a time when women whined, wailed and complained through their stories; they were damsels in distress, helpless deer caught in the headlights, clueless and mostly characterless individuals dependent on men for basically everything. I’m delighted to say that’s not always the case anymore.
Dil Kiya Karey’s Aymen is nothing short of a warrior. Having suffered her parents’ tragic death in an air crash followed by her husband and love-of-life’s abduction and murder, she would have crumbled and crashed had she been a Pakistani drama heroine, circa 2009. Not only does Aymen swing back to life, nursing her love and commitment to her deceased husband, but she vows to avenge his death while nurturing his dream and allowing his unfortunate parents to bond and raise their newborn son. There are other women in the story, like the matriarchal Suhana or Rabia, a widow who’s ready to give love and marriage a second chance, that prove to be inspirational for real women.
Yumna Zaidi’s character, Hajra, in drama serial Inkaar is just as strong. Not only does she refuse to live her life against her will, she continuously reinforces the importance of the word ‘no’. Inkaar plays on the subject of consent in a relationship, starting with giving women the right to marry at will, and then the right to choose their own life partners and in that respect, Hajra is turning out to be an impressive protagonist. Having taken several knife wounds to the stomach, she is fighting the system and is adamant to take her assaulter - who wouldn’t take no for an answer – to task.
Who else? There’s Iqra Aziz, who’s played the fire-fighting Noor Bano in the recently concluded Ranjha Ranjha Kardi. Noor Bano, without being idealistically and unrealistically perfect (she has her share of flaws) dealt with the odds of an unfair social system and a mentally challenged husband, trying to make sense of her life while at it. She rarely wept and was strong and defiant in her actions and behaviour. The messages conveyed through this strong female protagonist were many; Noori showed how one woman could change the fate of a family, her emancipated attitude towards problems defied stereotypes and social taboos as well as unnecessary social pressures. She convinced her mother in law that relying on pir fakirs on matters of life and death was equivalent to shirk; she committed to her husband and nursed him back to life. Noor Bano was quite the revolutionary character.
Similarly, Saba Qamar is a strong role model - an inspiring female protagonist – that much has been evident in her recent choice of roles. Last year she picked up accolades for her portrayal of Qandeel Baloch in drama serial Baaghi and this year she’s back on screens in drama serial Cheekh as Mannat, a young woman who’s adamant to get justice for her deceased friend Nayyab, who was murdered by Mannat’s brother in law. It’s not an easy task and she faces multiple challenges, but as Cheekh nears its end, Mannat’s character emerges as the single most powerful thing about the story. It shows how a woman cannot be weakened until she allows herself to be.
Mawra Hocane’s portrayal of the progressive Aaliya in Aangan is another example of how we’d like to see our heroines. Aangan is a period play set in the forties, unraveling the story of a family pulled apart during partition, but Aaliya’s character is ahead of its time. She’s a character that displays love, affection and loyalty. She’s educated and is the bread winner for her family. She is socially progressive and speaks for the rights of those less fortunate than her and her general thought process is what one aspires to see more of. Righteous but not preachy, beautiful and unapologetically glamorous, Aaliya is someone we can all be proud of.
Sohai Ali Abro has emerged as an all-rounder of roles and I look forward to seeing her portray the challenges and struggles of an acid attack survivor in the upcoming Surkh Chandni. Sohai is choosing her characters carefully and it’s a relief. She has come a long way from her JPNA and Wrong No. days but the best thing is that she has never denounced them either. She’s as happy with the comedy, the dance and the drama as she is with the serious, social cause. Sohai’s portrayal of the brave Zenith Irfan in Motorcyle Girl was undoubtedly the turning point in her career.
And of course there’s real life rebel, Mehwish Hayat, who carefully picks her characters and is almost always seen as a woman with a back bone. Mehwish hasn’t been on TV since Dil Lagi but her character, Zoya Rafaqat Ali, in the recently released film, Chhalawa, is as gutsy as we expect Mehwish to be.
I do feel this is a new era for the female actor. I would like to think that all these fun, fearless and equally gorgeous actresses - challenging stereotypes on television and occasionally in films – have a role to play in the way women are being portrayed. I’d like to believe that they are rewriting and tweaking their onscreen characters to be a little more emancipated, progressive.
In a recent interview with Mawra and Urwa Hocane, the two sisters shared how they were often approached to play the role of two competitive, rivaling sisters on TV; they had always refused these offers. I would like to see more actresses taking responsibility for how women are portrayed on TV and film. We need more forward thinking writers - like Asma Nabeel and Faiza Iftikhar – and more adventurous, progressive directors and producers who don’t fear showing women as bold and beautiful.