TV dramas have gone a bit too far when it comes to trivialising something as grave as suicide and further romanticising it as the ultimate test of true love
Suicide is a global public health issue and in Pakistan alone, 15-35 people commit suicide every day, with annual reported suicides crossing 13,000, according to the World Health Organization.
That being said, our country’s priceite television seems to have made a joke out of this incredibly serious problem by airing dramas in which characters casually seem to want to end their lives to either seek attention, prove the intensity of their passion for their lover or use suicide attempts as pressure tactics to make their families succumb to their demands. Instead of highlighting the dire consequences of suicide, or showcasing the repercussions of ignoring mental health problems that lead to a person harming themselves and ending their lives, these dramas have misrepresented suicidal tendencies in tragically deplorable ways.
Some of the drama serials that have recently trivialised, romanticised and glorified something as grave as suicide, are as follows…
The dialogues surrounding suicide in Mohabbat Tujhe Alvida were extremely objectionable. Shahaan (Zahid Khan) agrees to marry Shafaq (Mansha Pasha) after she decides to kill herself on being rejected by him; he valourises her suicide attempt as an act of ‘junoon’ or pure passion and embraces her. As if this was not enough, Shahaan’s first wife Ulfat (Sonya Hussyn) consumes sleeping pills and tries to drown herself in a tub of water so that she can win the jaded affection of her husband, which she successfully does when all else fails.
The currently trending Fitoor showed us that suicide is as simple as slicing fruit when it comes to slitting one’s own wrist. The manner in which Humza (Wahaj Ali), a character hurt and betrayed by his lover, chose to end his life in the most casual way possible, was reckless. Unsuccessful in convincing his parents to support his choice of wife, he seeks closure by slitting his wrist with a fruit knife, which is conveniently placed on the drawing room coffee table. He survives, and his pressure tactics work; his parents agree.
It was presumably simple for Lukman’s bride in Prem Gali to drink poison and end her life on her wedding night because she couldn’t marry the man of her choice. This left someone like Lukman, who barely knew her, so traumatised for decades he was never able to move on. Is his bride’s suicide part of comic relief? Are we supposed to laugh this off till he finds another potential partner?
The hugely problematic drama serial Jalan showed Misha (Areeba Habib), a beautiful, educated woman with a relatively stable and affluent family background, set herself ablaze and die as her love for her husband was unreciprocated and rejected. But was being cheated on by her husband reason enough for her to abandon her new born child and leave her parents devastated? Most certainly not.
Log Kya Kahenge showed Haseeb (Aijaz Aslam) as the sole breadwinner of his family who was also father to two kids; he ended his life because he could not find a practical way to deal with bankruptcy.
This drama was marketed by the channel as a “potpourri of emotions” and we want to know exactly what ludicrous emotions is the play propagating by showcasing suicide on screen? We have yet to see a single act of suicide propel a drama forward or serve as a major or necessary plot twist in any story. Life is never going to be easy but ending it to terminate one’s suffering is not a solution.
When in doubt, resort to suicide, which this is exactly what family dramas like Aulaad are reinstating. This drama shows how young adults can use suicide as a means to make their families succumb to their demands. Aulaad probably began as a positive reminder that parents undergo a lot of grief if their children disrespect and alienate them but now the story seems to be heading in a completely aberrant direction and the plot seems absurd and so do the characters. When Bilal (Nabeel Zuberi) attempts suicide because his parents do not agree to transfer their entire property to his love interest, his parents give into this pressure tactic and he wins the battle. So what potent message is the drama propagating?
Is suicide a means to garner attention or be heard? Pyar Ke Sadqay showed Shanzey (Yashma Gill) attempting to end her life just to get Abdullah (Bilal Abbas Khan) to get engaged to her and shower her with the kind of attention she wanted. Her attempted suicide was the perfect means to the end she wanted.
In Ghisi Piti Mohabbat, Amtul Bhabi (Javeria Abbasi) tries to hang herself (or stages it) in order to profess her love and inadvertently get her brother-in-law’s attention. Could she simply not just express her feelings and get done with it?
When will television shows stop misrepresenting the severity of suicide and trivialising this serious issue? Not only is this a grievous and concerning subject, the incorrect and baseless glorification of self-harm on popular priceite television is having the polar opposite impact on audiences and can have serious consequences on the masses consuming this content. Smoking on screen comes with a disclaimer, but suicide does not come with a trigger warning. How does this make sense?
Dramas possess the indomitable power to raise awareness around mental health issues, portray healthy romantic relationships and alternatively show jilted lovers who can project their grief stemming from unrequited love differently. This would be a conducive way to show strong willed characters channel the hurt from their loss in productive and progressive ways. Even family sagas can be more nuanced and written differently whilst avoiding tropes like manipulative pressure tactics, arguments surrounding arranged/love marriages or a battle around family honour. Suicide should not be presented as the easy way out to every tough situation, especially when our life poses us with challenges and mainstream television can certainly help reinforce constructive narratives to counter this global and grievous issue.
Afreen Seher is a creative writer and a Digital Media professional with interests in TV and pop culture. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org