Pushing boundaries

April 18, 2021

It is heartening to see that we have writers like Bee Gul and Amna Mufti, who are willing to push the envelope and explore dark subjects

Writers like Amna Mufti (Dil Na-umeed Tou Nahin, DNTN) and Bee Gul (Raqeeb Say) have definitely raised the bar for TV shows with the quality of the scripts they are producing. Both these shows do not play to the masses. Rather, they endeavour to entertain and educate a niche, rapidly shrinking, audience. Sex trafficking is considered a taboo subject, which is why the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority considered issuing a ban on the DNTN, on the pretext that it portrayed a distorted view of the society. A number of other social issues like dowry, excessive religiosity and child labour, to name a few, have also been raised on the show. These issues are so subtly and expertly woven into the narrative that the viewer doesn’t feel overwhelmed and the storytelling doesn’t seem overwrought. In fact, the skilled and sensitive treatment of these subjects manages to keep the viewer engaged. The scenes are short, the dialogues razor sharp and the narrative expertly weaves in and out of the many parallel storylines without confusing the viewer.

On the other hand, serials like Aulaad still prefer to follow the tried and tested path. The family politics of a joint-family system play out, with gratuitous, exaggerated melodrama and histrionics. There is absolutely no relief for the viewer and the writer keeps piling on the misery, which becomes a little too much to stomach after a while and the plot is, at times, rather unbelievable. Other shows like Nand and Jalan also play to the masses and fuel the misogynistic mind sets by depicting scheming and conniving women, hatching plots and conspiracies against one another.

The Aurat March, last month, shed light on a number of pertinent issues related to women but, as usual, the media coverage focused more on the outrageous slogans that some demonstrators were carrying, than addressing serious issues like maternal mortality, sexual abuse and the lack of healthcare facilities provided to women, especially those in rural and economically repressed parts of the country. The news media distorts the reality in order to downplay the gravity of the issues being addressed through these marches, because they directly challenge the patriarchal approaches. The issues raised by the movement are sensationalised and trivialised, so that the entire march, organised through painstaking efforts, becomes a farce. The march is portrayed as an opportunity for the women participating in it to grab the limelight. However, despite the media’s best efforts to quash this dialogue, the Aurat March is gaining rapid momentum and more and more women from all strata of society are raising their voices against feudal and patriarchal mind sets.

If the leader of the political party in power makes remarks fuelling this ingrained patriarchy and entrenched misogyny, however, it is a setback for the movement. Imran Khan, as PM, has a responsibility towards the huge female following of his party, and his insensitive and blasé remarks about sexual violence will only serve to antagonise them. He often talks about turning Pakistan into Riayasat-i-Madina. Madina was definitely not the kind of society that his remarks lead us to envision. Islam is a very progressive religion that gives equal rights to both men and women. Imran Khan appears to be promoting his own distorted version of what he thinks a society built on the model of Riayasat-i-Madina should look like, and comes across as an extremely regressive and backward individual, rather than the enlightened, dynamic and progressive leader he claims to be.

The prime minister’s remarks in this context have only added fuel to the fire. Imran Khan, branded by some detractors as Taliban Khan, goes to great lengths not to upset the mullah brigade and is willing to pander to their idiosyncrasies. Rather than empowering women, who make up more than half the population, victim shaming and blaming in rape cases tends to escalate an already tense situation. The prime minister of a country, especially the leader of a party that has a strong female following, should exercise more prudence when talking about issues like rape and paedophilia.

The media have a responsibility to report these issues with sensitivity and give the marches and protests the sort of coverage that will help bring women’s issues out into the open. The entrenched misogyny that plays out on television, in an effort to gain ratings, makes a mockery of protests like the Aurat March.

We have become so accustomed to negative portrayals of women that when intelligent and nuanced shows like Raqeeb Say and Dil Na-umeed Tou Nahin come along and challenge the ingrained stereotypes, it is hard for the average viewer to absorb these. Shows of this kind cater to the thoughtful viewer and rely on a niche audience, which most of our shows ignore or, maybe, which has shrunk to such an extent that it is considered negligible. We need to keep producing quality content and actively encourage budding young writers to come forward and experiment.

In times like these, it is heartening to see that we have writers like Bee Gul and Amna Mufti, among others, who are willing to push the envelope and explore dark subjects that are usually brushed under the carpet. They are both extremely talented and accomplished women, who refuse to write stories for mass consumption and who do not insult the intelligence of their audience. We need writers who are willing to explore the dark underbelly of the society and who do not paint scenarios or characters as black and white. It is much more interesting and easier to identify with complex characters, who are like us; not entirely good or bad, but human.

Story telling need not be complicated. Pure and simple stories, narrated beautifully, have a greater impact than unnecessary melodrama and histrionics. It is about time that we revisit some of the ingrained stereotypes of our society and, through the powerful visual medium of television, make an effort to counter them.

The writer is an educationist. She can be reached at [email protected]

Pushing boundaries