Till she do us part

While the themes of infidelity and heartbreak are synonymous with Pakistani TV, Mere Paas Tum Ho’s depiction has gained both acclaim and notoriety

As we stepped into 2020, a television phenomenon had gripped the nation. With over 325 million views on YouTube, and the finale screened in cinemas, Mere Paas Tum Ho has set new records in Pakistani television drama.

In a sense, the story is truly modern. Breaking from the large extended family narrative, there is no saas-bahu drama, no familial politics – rather most of the characters are young, married and living independently.

Visually, there is a disregard for traditional TV shots with film inspired cinematography, offering relief from the bipolar switch between wide shots and close-ups, which has plagued the small screen since its inception.

The lackluster acting and dialogue delivery in some of the most intense scenes between Danish (played by Humayun Saeed) and Mehwish (played by Ayeza Khan), was only outperformed by Savera Nadeem’s robotic facial expressions. Adnan Siddique’s subtle villain, Hira Mani’s natural charm and refreshing performances from a previously unknown supporting cast, under Nadeem Baig’s direction helped shape up the entire act.

However, the heart of the matter lies the script. A simple story, stretched over a few months, about a loving husband betrayed by his beautiful wife. While the themes of infidelity, tragedy and heartbreak are synonymous with Pakistani TV, MPTH’s depiction has gained both acclaim and notoriety, for its writer, Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar.

The writer has made his place as one of the highly sought after playwrights. In a TV interview, Qamar claimed that “this play was mainly written for men” in an industry producing content primarily for women.

The script is heavily loaded, yet precisely to the point. The conversation focuses on questions of how an honest man negotiates a corrupt government; how a child comprehends his parents’ divorce and whether it is possible to fall out of love or to love again. Illustrative language, simple imagery, and crafted one-liners convey Qamar’s profound ideas of love, loyalty and betrayal. Equally profound and nuanced is his misogyny.

Good woman, bad woman

In a series of TV interviews, the writer claims that he is a staunch advocate of women’s rights. In fact, he claims that a ‘good woman’ is better than a good man, whereas a ‘bad woman’ is not a woman. Thus Qamar claims the role of defining, assigning value to and promoting the idea of woman. Feminists argue that in appropriating women to sexist notions of femininity, Qamar’s is the problematic male gaze which threatens to strip a woman of her identity if she does not conform to his chauvinist ideals of respectability. In order to validate Mehwish’s depiction as an adulterator, she is also portrayed as dishonest, unmoved by corruption, materialistic, cunning, a negligent mother and a self-serving friend. There are no redeeming qualities for the character except her beauty.

The working woman

By all appearances, female characters [apart from Mehwish] appear to be economically and socially emancipated. Aisha, Maham, Hania (Hira Mani) and Wateera are shown as working women, dressing as they please. The conversation with women and among them is still about sentimentalities. The only woman whose job description is discussed is Mehwish. She is being paid an exuberant salary for pleasing her illicit lover Shehwar – stopping him from smoking and making sure he’s well fed and hydrated. This is socially insensitive at a time when women are trying to eradicate negative stereotypes regarding their professionalism.

Do takay ki aurat

Ever more problematic is Qamar’s commodification of women. A recurring theme and contrast, is the kamai (earning) of a man versus the qeemat (price) of a woman. Danish and Shehwar are contrasted as the honest poor husband and the cunning, rich lover – yet while this determines their economic and social standing, it is still contrasted in terms of men who earn. Mehwish has a price. Shehwar offers Danish Rs 50 million in return for his wife. Danish says that Shehwar is paying too high a price for a do takay ki aurat – a line which sparked outrage, as it objectified Mehwish in transactional terms, bought and sold between two men. Similarly, Maham offers Mehwish money as her qeemat for staying with Shehwar for five months, adding that as Mehwish had been playing her role as a wife, she deserved to be compensated. Attaching monetary value to the female, is not merely repulsive but also ignorant to the fact that exchange in matters regarding marriage and property is the commodified reality of many women in Pakistan

Faithless and loveless

“When a man cheats, he has made a mistake. When a woman cheats, she has sinned,” Haniya tells Mehwish – mistakes are redeemable, sins are not. Once a woman has sinned, she is no longer a woman. Perhaps God can forgive her, but society will not. She cannot die – despite Mehwish’s attempted suicide – for death would be release. Herein lies the root cause of feminist contention with Qamar, he has portrayed love as discriminatory. Love is political, governed by gendered and societal norms. One can truly appreciate the depths of Qamar’s misogyny, by his idea of love – love sees and allows a gender imbalance; love is not blind. Danish admits that his love is possessive. Shehwar goes from madly desiring Mehwish to regarding her as the scum of the earth. Even the man who starts it all lays the blame on the woman he relentlessly pursues.

The last scene, showing Danish dying from a broken heart at Mehwish’s doorstep is laying out how infidelity is synonymous with murder. The apartment, in which they got married, raised their child, where Mehwish left and betrayed him, is where she returns. When Danish has a heart attack, he refuses to permit Mehwish to touch him, punishing her with all he has left – his last few breaths.

In killing Danish, the writer has tried to immortalise him as the ultimate martyr. Mehwish on the other hand, is now a single-mother, whose punishment is to spend the rest of her life with blood and responsibility on her hands.

By allowing men to justify their behaviour through wayward desires as essential to masculinity, women are being asked to bear unequal emotional labour in a relationship. For only a man has the right to betray, a woman can only sin.

Love, loving and being loved are the essence of being human. To construct it as that which does not grant a woman the same forgiveness as her partner in transgression, is to say that in love’s verdict and kindness there is injustice. Forgive me, but I cannot rationally believe that love is as msyogonistic as Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar makes it out to be.

The writer is a staff member. She can be reached at syedamehrm@gmail.com

Revisiting Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar's 'Mere Paas Tum Ho’