Are women only saints or sinners?

August 23, 2020

The portrayal of most female characters on television is being either sanctified or demonized to the extent that they no longer connect as nuanced human beings.

The women in Asim Abbasi’s Churails were hailed for their feminism but they were also, at the same time, criticized for their ‘shocking’ characterization. Their intoxicated, brazen, foul mouthed ways were looked down upon by many people who dismissed the reasons that actually explained the way they were, thus rejecting them. The way one sees it, these people should be more worried about the portrayal of women on television these days; it’s the average girls next door that are inflicting more damage to women and the way they should be represented. The more TV dramas I watch, the more I see women being characterized in all shades of regression.

Most of them have nothing to do except manage their love lives, manipulate the men in their lives or then scheme, plot, plan or indulge in mindless intrigue. But that’s not the biggest problem. The bigger issue is in the way they are written. They are seldom shown as balanced individuals with both virtues and vices; they are more often either saints or irredeemable demons.

Take drama serial Jalan, for example. The character of Nisha, played by Minal Khan, has been demonized to the extent of her being one of the most offensive faces of womanhood on TV these days. Initially Nisha appeared to be longing for the kind of wealth and lifestyle that her lovely sister Misha (Areeba Habib) had married into, but a couple of episodes in, it’s apparent that it’s not just that the luxuries that she’s longing for. It’s also the man that she’s shamelessly lusting after. Not only has she pushed herself into her brother in law Asfandyar’s life, but she is adamant that he divorce her sister and marry her instead. “You just have to say three small words,” she says, referring to the Triple Talaq. She even demands that he convince her sister to abort the child she is expecting. Nisha has absolutely no redeeming qualities that might humanize her but her sister Misha, on the other hand, is so saintly that she doesn’t appear real either.

Then there’s a character called Zoya. Played by Sabeena Farooq, Zoya is the protagonist Kashf’s little sister in drama serial Kashf. Right from the beginning, she is shown to have the hots for her sister’s fiance, who also happens to be their paternal first cousin. Despite the fact that Wajdhan (Junaid Khan) is madly in love with Kashf (Hira Mani), Zoya is constantly trying to push her way into his life. This week, after nothing short of continuous humiliation and rejection, she pledges allegiance with the family enemy and conspires to destroy Kashf’s reputation by leaking a private video of hers on the internet. If a sister pursuing her future brother-in-law wasn’t bad enough, the whole defamation situation takes things to a whole new low. Zoya is the ultimate sinner whereas Kashf bibi, puritanical to the core, can do no wrong.

In Mohabbat Tujhe Alvida, another drama serial that is currently presenting women in a terrible light, we are introduced to Shahan (Zahid Ahmad) and Ulfat (Sonya Hussyn) as a very happily married couple. Ulfat is greedy, however, and her greed gets the better of her and she practically sells her husband (pushing him to marry a rich woman obsessed with him) for a cool 15 crores. The buyer and other woman is none other than Shahan’s boss, Shafaq (Mansha Pasha). Shafaq knows how madly Shahan is in love with his wife, he’s expressed it over and over again, but she somehow feels that he’ll shower her with the same love and affection if they’re married. She’s rejected, refused and humiliated by Shahan but instead of looking for some self-respect, she resorts to attempted suicide to get her way. And she’ll obviously succeed. To be fair, Shafaq and Ulfat are grey characters and have redeeming qualities, but they’re nothing to be proud of.

The vilification of female protagonists doesn’t end there, unfortunately.

There’s the absolutely psychotic Miraal (Sarah Khan), who has ruined her brother’s life by refusing to accept and acknowledge his wife. Not only has Miraal repeatedly verbally abused Hassan (Ameer Gilani) and Anaya (Mawra Hocane) but she has stalked and threatened her former fiance and is making her current husband, Dr Harris’ life miserable. Dr Harris (Usman Mukhtar), a psychiatrist, should have known better than to marry such a character but that’s not the point. Miraal is.

Miraal is no better than Jhooti’s Nimra (Iqra Aziz), who takes down her entire family with her lying and scheming ways, or Dilruba’s Sanam (Hania Amir) who leads men on before dumping them and moving on. Her biggest failure, however, would be marrying for money and neglecting her child in the process.

Flawed women have been characterized in literature through history; classics are full of them. Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlet O’ Hara was anything but perfect, Tagore’s Binodini sins throughout the story, Manto’s women are thoroughly grey and there are countless other examples. They’re not offensive because they are written as humans, with good and bad characteristics whereas these women in today’s TV dramas are cast as either saints or sinners. One does see the occasional Momina Sultan (Sajal Aly in Alif), Mahjabeen (Yumna Zaidi in Pyar Ke Sadqe), Hajra (Yumna Zaidi in Inkaar) or even Noor Bano (Iqra Aziz in Ranjha Ranjha Kardi) as inspirational, balanced and believable characters but the ‘fallen’ women hold a stronger position in the wider landscape. The landscape needs to be redefined.

Are women only saints or sinners?