Did Ruswai deliver what it promised?

April 19, 2020

Projected as the inspirational story of a gang rape survivor, Ruswai derailed and fell off the track midway its journey. Director Rubina Ashraf and writer Naila Ansari weigh in on what happened…

Sana Javed with the resilient Mukhtaran Mai, a sexual assault survivor who made a special appearance in the last episode of Ruswai.

Stories that revolve around socially relevant themes have become a recent norm and the recently concluded Ruswai, on the same track of social awareness, was projected as the story of a gang rape survivor. Starring Sana Javed as the protagonist, Ruswai initially gained traction for treating the subject of sexual assault with the sensitivity it demands, with less drama and more precision.

Director Rubina Ashraf and writer Naila Ansari share that no character arc was stretched over the course of the play and all the tracks were important to build the narrative and present a well-rounded story.

The drama began on solid ground, relaying several important messages until justice was served in the final episode. There were instances where one could feel the pain of the victim as well as her family and it wasn’t easy to watch them suffer. Probably for the first time, we saw conviction in a rape victim and her story, how her family suffered and yet eventually learned to put their daughter’s need for justice above society’s approval and expectations.

Sameera, the protagonist, portrayed very convincingly by Sana Javed, became the target of gang rape and her life after that certainly changed. A doctor by profession, she felt like a burden on her family while she faced rejection from her love interest Salman (Mikaal Zulfiqar), who married her but later divorced her. Salman’s sister Wardah (Minna Tariq) was married to Sameera’s brother Hamza (Osama Tahir) and their relationship also suffered throughout for obvious reasons. Salman’s mother, played by Irsa Ghazal, who gave a brilliant performance, made sure Sameera suffered more abuse every day she was married to her son.

As the drama progressed, various characters came into play and viewers were dragged into the lives and complications of Hamza and Wardah’s relationship. Sameera’s journey got sidelined until the end, when she decided to reopen the case and fight for justice. It is during the last three episodes that Sameera found strong support from her colleague and suiter Dr Feroze (Adnan Jaffar); Salman was shown to regret his behavior and lost his life saving Sameera’s. In the last episode, justice was served, Sameera’s culprits were sentenced to jail and a special appearance from the iconic Mukhtaran Mai won hearts and flooded Twitter with applause for the drama.

The ensemble cast that did justice to their roles and delivered commendable performances. This was Sana Javed’s best performance till date while Syed Mohammad Ahmed and Seemi Raheel nailed it as her traumatized parents. Osama Tahir’s delivery as Hamza was impressive; Mikaal Zulfiqar as the confused, self-indulgent Salman and Irsa Ghazal as his obsessive mother were a treat to watch. Minaa Tariq as Wardah became a central character while one wished Adnan Jaffar as Dr Feroze had been given more scenes. His was an inspirational character.

While the very sensitive scenes post the assault were handled extremely well, Ruswai gradually lost the plot. Midway the focus shifted from Sameera to Hamza and Wardah and their issues.

“Had I not entangled the story in relationships, it would have gotten lost somewhere,” Naila Ansari, the writer explained in an exclusive conversation with Instep. “We are not just catering to a small chunk of viewers from DHA or those based overseas; we need to add some masala in addition to sending out important messages. Episodes that just focused on Sameera’s struggle saw a decline in ratings on the graph.”

“A writer has to look at the story from every character’s perspective, not just the protagonist,” she continued. “I wanted each character to play their part, from mothers to fathers to siblings. It was important to show how an incident affects each and every person related to the victim; the culprits don’t realize its repercussions while they are at it. I hope the drama creates awareness surrounding it. If it wasn’t Wardah or Hamza, where would we have taken the story then? I hope women get inspiration from Sameera’s strength.”

Addressing similar concerns in an exclusive conversation with Instep after the last episode, director Rubina Ashraf informed that they had so much content that it was difficult to chop it at times. Though the drama ended up having 29 episodes instead of 24, there was still a lot that they couldn’t include. She reiterated that the script was not changed as such; however, it was her who insisted on adding the court sequence as well as having Mukhtaran Mai in the final episode, which wasn’t part of the original plan.

“We could not tackle rape more than we did, as per the channel that wanted to bring in domestic issues; watta satta was their saving grace,” Rubina Ashraf revealed, informing that the mother in law was against Sameera even before she met that accident.

“If you look at it, Sameera’s wedding was the wedding of a rape victim and these things happen to them if you ask one,” she elaborated. “It is the family, the relatives and/or in-laws and love interest the victim returns to before she turns to the court. When she finally decided to marry Salman and move on, the case had to be sidelined and the track between Hamza and Wardah had become important by then. Hamza was a key character since the beginning, even more than Salman; Wardah was just there to identify how he was as a brother and son. It was to show Hamza’s journey with reference to characters associated with him.”

Given that Minna Tariq, the actor who essayed the role of Wardah, is Rubina Ashraf’s daughter, the director has been under scrutiny for probable nepotism. When asked to comment on this, Rubina Ashraf noted that Minna wasn’t given any special place. “None of the relatives get the privilege; we are in fact reluctant to do it so that they don’t spoil our name,” she asserted. “It was a very well-rounded script and all the scenes were important for the treatment of the narrative. If anyone has any concern, they can speak to me or the team and find it out themselves.”

Nonetheless, we feel some sequences could have been shorter and there was room for more information on Sameera’s journey, which was hastily wrapped up in the last episode. Salman’s death was unnecessary and actually helped shift him from a negative character to a hero. However, as the writer and director share, while they took creative liberty to showcase a few things, they were under certain obligations from the channel, which restricted their imagination.

Projected as inspirational story of a gang rape survivor, Ruswai derailed and fell off track midway its journey